Undoubtedly the most critical part of enticing a carp to eat your fly is your presentation! More carp are lost, spooked or otherwise discouraged from eating your fly by our presentation. Cast too close to a feeding fish and you are more than likely to spook it. Cast too far away and they may never see it or they may change direction before you can intercept the fish with your fly.
Additionally, too light of a fly may not reach the proper depths where the carp is feeding and a fly weighted too heavily will more than likely spook the fish particularly while they are feeding in relatively shallow water. This is the game we play with carp and for me at least, what makes them so much fun to pursue!
I first started trying to catch carp on the fly almost thirty years ago. You noticed I said “trying,” as most of my early experiences were miserable failures and led me to believe carp could not be taken on a fly with any regularity. There were guys, and still are today, that would chum the carp up with bread or corn and then throw out a matching fly to take carp regularly, but that to me is not fly fishing. Deep down inside I knew there was a way to take carp on the fly on a regular basis. Over the years and through observation I began to put parts of the puzzle together and this is what I have learned.
Learning to read and understand carp postures and body movements is critical to our decision on what presentation will work best, if at all. In about 8 out of 10 cases I can tell you whether a carp will eat your fly before you even cast to it! Is the carp sunning below the surface with little or no movement? Is the carp moving quickly in mid water depths or is it slowly cruising holding tight to the bottom and dropping its head on occasion to root through the debris on the bottom? Are there multiple fish or is it just a single? What time year? These are all logical questions and ones you must cipher through to be consistent in taking carp on the fly.
For those who still look at carp as a big, dumb, stupid fish that takes very little effort to catch you are in for a rude awakening!
From a practical standpoint let’s look at identifying feeding carp and then how we can best make our presentations to them. Carp body posture and movements during the feed can be broken down into four basic categories, tailing, rooting or mudding, clooping, and cruisers. Let’s take a closer look at each and how I like to present the fly to them.
Tailing is probably one of the most easily identifiable feeding behaviors. Tailers are quite simply carp feeding on the bottom in water so shallow that as they drop their nose to feed they reveal their tail above the surface where they are easily spotted. This is very similar to what one might expect to find while fishing the flats for bonefish or redfish. In this case the carp are sifting through bottom matter looking for small crayfish, aquatic worms, leeches, or aquatic nymphs - not corn or bread! These are some of the most visually exciting and sometimes most frustrating carp you can chase but my favorite nonetheless.
When presenting the fly to tailers a couple things to consider before casting are in order: water clarity and water depth. The shallower and clearer the water, the easier it is for us to see the fish but the spookier they become, making the carp much harder to approach and present the fly to without spooking them. Many anglers prefer to use very lightly weighted or unweighted flies when carp are found in these situations as the splash will spook the fish. The risk you run with these light flies is not getting them down quickly enough to the carp and their feeding window, particularly in moving water situations.
I choose to use a heavily weighted fly even in the skinniest of water but instead of presenting the fly close to the fish I will cast well beyond the fish and then quickly strip the fly back to where the fish is feeding and allow it to fall in front of them. Given the correct angles you should be able to present the heaviest of flies and still not spook the carp.
Once the fly is stripped back in front of the carp and has sunk to the bottom I will give it one quick firm strip to get the attention of the fish. At this point the carp normally sees the fly and moves in to suck it off the bottom. Start with your fly several feet away from the fish and move each successive presentation closer until the carp reacts either by eating the fly or moving off because it did not like your offering. Many times the carp will move to your offering and appear to be ready to eat it only to reject it at the last moment. This will escalate your heart rate either way. As I stated earlier this is both some of the most visually exciting fishing you will find and some of the most frustrating as well.
* Read Carp on the Fly Part 2 for presenting to tailers/rooters and clooping carp.
© 2022 Barry Reynolds
About the author, Barry Reynolds:
Barry Reynolds is credited as one of the leading warmwater anglers in the sport of fly fishing. An author, TV and video personality, professional guide, and teacher, Barry has propelled the sport of fly fishing into new realms like no other. He has dedicated his fishing life to species such as carp, pike, bass, walleye, wiper and numerous saltwater species. He has authored/co-authored several books and produced DVD’s about catching these “alternate” species on the fly rod. Barry is a regular in speaking series and on seminar circuits and is sponsored by Ross Reels and Ross Worldwide, Rio Fly Lines, Smith Action Optics, Simms, and Umpqua Feather Merchants.