Get a Monk on
If the trout are hot and bothered, try for carp on fly. Peter Cockwill tests out his new patterns
THERE’S nothing quite like a challenge in fly-fishing, principally because we are trying to convince a fish to take something entirely artificial and which, in essence, comprises a big, curved, piece of metal. Apply this fly-fishing to carp and things start to get really interesting, because this is one super smart fish, which definitely appears to learn from its mistakes. Here in the UK we don’t have much chance of fishing for carp in waters which are dead clear and where they mostly only have natural food items. Although, if you have that opportunity, they’re as much a challenge as any wild-bred trout, if not more so. Waters on the Continent, the Canaries and throughout the USA are popular with carp on fly anglers, and deservedly so.
Carp are getting wiser
Most of the fisheries available here in the UK are the stocked and managed commercials but there’s nothing wrong with that if there’s nothing else within reach. One of the waters I’ve fished for quite some time is Willinghurst in Surrey and indeed it was back in 2002 that we first ran a carp on fly feature from here. As it became more popular so have the fish become that bit harder to catch and, although I don’t get much chance to fish for seemingly ever more complex reasons, I do keep in touch with what’s going on there. A year or so back I had been talking with Rick Gardner of Gardner Carp Tackle. He fishes there a lot and is a naturally talented angler who thinks deeply about the sport. Like me, he had noted the increase in the ratio of last-second refusals from the carp to the fly and on a few occasions had seen carp lift their head out of the water, right alongside the fly, as though to inspect it. Rick surmised that the conventional deer hair ‘pellet fly’ was tied too bulky and the carp were checking it out. The inducement to get the carp on top is the freebie dog biscuits and these sit almost flat in the surface film such that the higher profile ‘fly’ isn’t quite right – and the carp know it. Rick then started to trim the fly so that it had a lower profile and sat more ‘in’ the surface and that did indeed begin to change the balance of takes to hook-ups. That got me thinking and after a bit of messing around at the vice I came up with a fly made from Glo-Bug ‘egg yarn’ and a piece of foam. I had some brown, olive, black and white egg yarn in stock and picked up from fishing stores in Alaska when I was away each summer on my escorted trips. I felt that this was maybe the basis for the new pattern. Egg yarn is soft and fluffy and can be easily trimmed to shape. It quickly absorbs water (more on this in a minute) but can be made water repellent with any of the gel floatants. Better still is to treat it with a permanent waterproofer before use.
Monk Head fly is born
What I wanted was a fly that sat absolutely in the surface, looked like the real thing (a dog biscuit) and which I could also see, so that’s how the trimmed egg yarn, with a piece of ethafoam over the top, came out of the vice. Now all it needed was testing so I used it on guided carp days when guests such as Clem Booth were willing to try another of my mad ideas. Clem is a thinking angler and intensely keen and between us we soon proved that the idea worked, especially on some of the heavily fly-fished carp waters. The follow up was to use the same egg yarn
“It’s also good when there’s a frenzy going on with groups of smaller carp, which tend to knock the floater about but which take the subsurface fly.”
but now to tie it up as an ‘Egg’ without the foam and put it under an indicator. This would let it hang just under the surface, so that carp on the cruise for the freebies would either think it a slow-sinking option or simply something too good to refuse. This is where the egg yarn is handy as, unless treated, it has the ability to absorb water and slowly sinks. This presentation is no different to a carp anglers ‘zig rig’ where a piece of foam or similar is suspended off the bottom and it has since proved its worth many times over. Indeed, I was using it way back in that 2002 article although then it was with more conventional orange/peach Egg flies which, incidentally, still work now. What Clem and I have found is that the indicator/Egg works well on cruisers – those carp which seem to be haphazardly wandering around and don’t settle to taking freebies off the top. It’s also good when there’s a bit of a frenzy going on with groups of smaller carp, which tend to knock the floater about but which take the
subsurface pattern more confidently. It takes a bit of experimenting to get the depth right but start off around nine inches and if things are slow go a bit deeper. If the fish are really up on top then shallow it up. I use indicators called Thingamabobbers as they are easy to put on and can be adjusted. They’re easily visible with the colour options and real handy too if you are introducing someone to carp and their reactions or eyesight aren’t quite up to using the surface fly. To prove that this worked by getting some pictures we went back to Willinghurst in the heatwave period. Stuart Barrett and I met up with TF photographer Peter Gathercole and thought we were on a winner when Stuart had a 16lb 4oz mirror as soon as we started. It was Stuart who last year started to call the fly a ‘Monk Head’ after the commonlydepicted ‘hairstyle’ of medieval monks. Typical of carp these fish then became real picky with long periods of inactivity and our freebie baits only served to attract more and more water fowl. I quite like mandarins, Egyptian geese and mallards – but not when I am carping – and they are seemingly impossible to ‘fill up’. We looked to some of the other lakes on this large complex although they were pretty busy either with matches on the go or conventional carpers at work. But there were a few fish working the surface in one quiet corner just behind us and I thought that a few biscuits popped in there every so often might just soften them up for later.
A take under your feet
My cunning plan for this trip had been to bring an extra outfit because I know that Peter Gathercole likes to try the carp too, and he’s an ace angler anyway. It was several hours before the next incident and this went to Peter when he said a fish showed right at his feet, confidently took a couple of freebies and then his Monk Head fly absolutely right in front of him. He was literally looking down its throat! It takes nerves of steel to resist striking until the fish turns down but there then followed a real fun battle, which took the efforts of all three of us as the fish repeatedly went around a tree and under overhanging shrubbery until finally we had a super, long and lean common carp with a huge tail. That was job almost done but I just had to try the corner of the next lake where the same few fish were cruising and another nice chunky mirror fell for the Monk again. Finally we went to one of the smaller lakes
“To prove that this worked, we went back to Willinghurst in the heatwave period. Stuart had a 16lb 4oz mirror as soon as we started...”
Pictures: Peter Gathercole Words: Peter Cockwill
Peter holds a very fine common carp that took a Monk Head fly close in. A Monk Head fly in the scissors – where we fly anglers want it to be.
Peter weighs Stuart’s first fish of the session – a 16lb-plus mirror.
Expect strong fights. You’ll need all your skills to tame carp.