Let battle commence
Peter Cockwill gets his string pulled by powerful carp for a modest ticket price...
Peter Cockwill picks a scorching summer day to target powerful carp with a fly
IN the Millennium year I was seriously getting into f ly f ishing for carp and with word getting around that this was a great alternative to trout, in our increasingly diff icult summer seasons, it was time to publicise. My f irst carp feature was published in this magazine back in 2002 and certainly stirred the pot with many readers upset that we were veering away from trout, while others quickly realised that here was a way to catch big f ish on the f ly ver y inexpensively and without the need to travel far. We took those f irst feature pictures at Willinghurst in Surrey, which in 1968 was one of the earliest of the stocked trout f isheries but is now entirely over to coarse, with an expanding complex to what is now an estate of 10 lakes. Its owner, Mark Syms – a lifelong f ly fisher – has always welcomed the carp f ly f ishers and many, other wise serious carp anglers, have come here to appreciate how their favourite quarr y is a testing beastie when tackled on the f ly. The f isher y’s best so far on the f ly is a 34lb common to Kent’s Andy Parker, who often contributes to this magazine. A nother of A ndy’s favourite waters is in the village of Newdigate, also in Surrey, and it’s here that I put the challenge to a group of friends to catch some f ish for Peter Gathercole’s camera. Somehow, in the middle of changeable weather, I pick an absolute scorcher of a day and as soon as we start mid-morning the carp are quickly up on top for our catapulted freebie dog biscuits. Out goes the deer hair ‘pellet’ f lies and battle commences. I have to say that it’s nowhere as easy as it was some 17 odd years ago. Quite simply because carp are smart and ver y quickly learn that some dog biscuits aren’t necessarily edible. Time after time you get
what seems to be the most perfect take, which results in nothing, no matter how you time the strike. I’m a great believer in an instant response but it’s a while before the f irst fish is on. The carp here at Newdigate Fisheries are a really serious f ight against 7 and 8w t rods and our fish today range from 12 to 16lb and a mix of commons and mirrors, which when hooked give plenty of action for Peter to photograph. Little surprise that it isn’t long before my gear is commandeered by Peter who wants in on the action. He’s an excellent, long distance caster and is able to put the f ly out against an island where the most positive takes seem to happen. Having said that, it’s open water hook-ups for Stuart Barrett who’s taking a break from managing Dever Springs, and proving that he can handle big carp just as easily as the trophy trout he rears at his famous Hampshire fisher y. Come mid-afternoon we’re all a bit sunburnt and the f ish have pretty well sussed our efforts so it’s job done and time for us all to hit the road. I know for absolute certainty that the evening would have been by far the best of the day’s sport, but the f isher y is only a half-hour for me and I can come back again.
What to expect
You must accept that carp are smart and you’ll have days that can be really frustrating along with others when you truly think you have cracked it. These f ish are no different to others in that their behaviour is strongly inf luenced by the weather, their need for food, security and company with the big difference for us in that they get caught many, many times in their long lives and they most def initely learn! These past few years I have so enjoyed doing guided evenings for carp on f ly and it’s real fun when serious trout guys come along to just ‘see what it’s all about’. Invariably they quickly realise it’s not quite as easy as it seems and that these f ish really do pull back. Ver y soon they are carp converts!
Use the right gear
Depending on where you are going to fish I really can’t see any point at all in tackling carp with inadequate gear. It’s not fair on the f ish or indeed the f isher y and if there is a possibility you will make contact with carp over 10lb then you need a minimum 7 w t and no less than a 10lb leader. There are stacks of readily available carp f lies and they all have their moment, but the deer hair ‘pellet’” pattern probably ranks as the number one choice. Because you’ll certainly miss a lot of
“You must accept that carp are smart and you’ll have days that can be really frustrating along with others when you think you’ve cracked it.”
takes the f ish in your area will become more cautious and that’s when I tend to start tr y ing other patterns, which might well not look like your free offerings but are nevertheless taken by the evercurious carp. The white deer hair pellet pattern is a good option and so too are Boobies in black or white. A mini pellet pattern can work some days, as can the slow sinking ‘Bread Fly’. This one is especially good on days when you can actually see the carp cruising just sub-surface. It takes a ver y accurate cast to drop the f ly into the f ishes’ path so that it is intercepted by the cr uising f ish, but it is really effective in the right hands on the right day. A nother technique I use to good effect is a sor t of reverse to the carp angler’s ‘zig rig’ where a simple Egg Fly is suspended under an indicator. Goodness only knows why the carp take it, but they do and just as frustratingly they will also have a go at the indicator. These are curious fish that will tr y most things they come across. You will see them take loose feathers, catkins, bits of leaf and all manner of surface debris so don’t
be shy about tr ying something different. I have many times caught them on Mayf ly and Sedge patterns, as well as a simple length of foam tube lashed on to a hook. And while on the subject of hooks, don’t take a cheap option. It takes a good hook to withstand the determined, prolonged pulling of a big carp on a heav y leader. I don’t use long leaders but I do often use a f luorocarbon tippet length and a f ive-foot f loating polyleader to keep the main leader from sinking and getting fouled by cruising carp, which can then lead to foul hooking. Believe me, you don’t want a foul-hooked double-figure carp. Not ever y coarse f isher y will allow you to f ish the f ly but there are stacks more carp waters than there are trout f isheries and for certain there will be one in your area. You absolutely must have an unhooking mat, a big enough soft mesh net, and check other f isher y regulations. Hooks are almost always barbless and this is usually compulsor y. Sometimes you must also have a certain size net and appropriate unhooking gear. As always, the fish themselves demand your respect, as does the f isher y and I don’t have a problem occasionally going around a favourite water and having a litter clear-up. Little things like that will always gain street cred for us f ly f ishers (note this magazine’s Bankside Clear-up Campaign).
On this trip, I used a 9ft 6in 7wt rod, f loating line and a nine-foot length of 10lb nylon. All types of dog or cat biscuits can do for the free offerings and you may well need a half bucket of bait for a session with more if you need to tr y and ‘feed off ’ a lot of ducks, geese or swans. It’s staggering how much our feathered friends can eat!
“As always, the fish themselves demand your respect as does the fishery and I don’t have a problem having a little clear up.”
Hooking and playing a carp on fly gear won’t leave you disappointed.
Carp on fly action is ferocious so make sure tackle is strong enough. Dever manager Stuart Barrett (right) poses with a mirror carp. A beautifully-scaled common carp rolls during the fight.
Deer hair patterns spun in the shape of dog biscuits are popular. Stuart weighs a fish in the net before releasing .
This partially-scaled mirror carp is a thing of sheer beauty.
Black flies stand out in coloured water.