Sunday, July 28, 2013

Flipping, Pitching, and Stack Mending your Tippet: Carp Tactics for Weedy Stillwaters

In my former days flippin’ & pitchin’ was done with 3/8 to 1/2 ounce jig and pig combos. Over the years I've been doing it with a fly that weighs only a few milligrams. Who would have thought that some of my old bass fishing tactics would help me catch carp?

For those of you who don't know what “flipping and pitching” is, it’s an underhand swing which propels your fly swiftly and accurately to a given target. As for “stack mending”, if you’re a seasoned trout fisherman you already know what this is and are very good at it. When trout fishing, stack mending is typically used to create or extend a dead-drift when fishing across an area of mixed current. For example, when nymphing a slow seam on the edge of fast current you would throw tiny roll cast like mends into the slow seam thus "stacking" your line. This slows down your drift and as the stacked line unfolds in the current it maximizes the length of your drift before the current produces drag on your rig. Now that’s enough silly trout talk…

In the summer months my stillwaters become thick with weeds. The only way to successfully target carp is to incorporate flipping and pitching into my casting repertoire. This is executed at very close range, usually within a few feet. Although once proficient you can successfully and accurately drop your fly on targets as far as fifteen feet away with little effort. Accuracy is very important when it comes to this technique, most of the time I’m flipping my fly into an area that’s only a few inches in diameter. If the target is very close to you stack mending is usually not required but the further you are from your target stack mending becomes crucial to present your fly to the fish. 

Let’s say you successfully creep to within fifteen feet of a carp feeding/cruising under dense surface vegetation. You will need locate a hole/pocket in the weeds and time your flip/pitch as to intercept the fish and present your (weightless) fly on the drop. In other words, make sure the fish sees the fly parachute to the bottom because after the fly hits the water you don’t apply any additional action to the fly at all. Once you've successfully flip/pitched your fly into an opening in the weeds that is any distance greater than a rod length away you’ll need to stack mend your tippet on top of the opening. This needs to be done constantly to allow the fly to free fall to the bottom. If you don’t stack mend your tippet the fly will hang in weeds well above the fish and you'll miss your chance. This type of mending must be done delicately as not to create ripples on the surface, any sort of disturbance will send my fish in the other direction. Also, knowing when to set the hook is dictated by your sixth sense because nine times out of ten you will not visually see the fish eat.  

As with any new technique, practice makes perfect. It can be extremely frustrating even once proficient. More often than not when you accomplish that perfect flip and mend a sunfish will be right there to blow your chances at gold. Keep your head up and stay with it. You will eventually be rewarded.    

My weapon of choice for flipping and pitching... 
A Carp Damsel tied on a Gamakatsu split shot/drop shot hook.

Even this scenario calls for flipping and pitching...
Notice all the small pieces of weedy debris floating on the surface. Although it looks like open water, a weightless fly will not sink to the proper depth if your tippet is lying in surface debris.   

How many carp do you see?

Carp Dragons are another excellent choice. They tend to hold more water and break the surface a bit harder but once you get the hang of flipping you can slow down the entry of the fly, reducing the risk of spooking fish in shallow water. They are also bulkier than the damsel, they create more drag in the water which makes it easier to stack mend your tippet without pulling the fly upwards in the water column.

This is a carpers worst nightmare...
Venues with thick weed mats that consume the entire water column are still fishable if your're willing to go for a swim to untangle and dig up your fish.

Victory in Vegetation! 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

River Magic

Our last action on magicicada dry flies came in late June on a local river. It came after a long sibling biking trip when I was able to survey a large portion of the watershed. While my brother and sister were enjoying the scenery, I constantly had my neck turned towards the river and my ears perked towards the trees. I was able to pinpoint exact locations of cicada gatherings. A few days later, I got my chance to check out the water and its resident trout. 

My brother accompanied me on the first day while my buddy Ryan came on the next. We worked an inside/outside game where one angler focused on the inside portion of the river with a single hand rod. The other focused on the more difficult to reach outside seams using a switch rod. The switch rod was a game changer, especially in the narrow confines of a gorge, with deep water, and limited back cast room. Over-lined with sharkskin fly line, the switch rod was absolutely deadly fishing a large cicada along the opposite banks, eddies, and seams. I felt under-gunned whenever I had a single hander in my hand. The largest fish all came on the opposite side of the river on the switch rod. 

The highlight of our river fishing came on a beautiful riffle/pool flanked by large boulders. On the opposite bank was a large rock flanked by some serious flowing water. Behind the rock was a foam eddy. After helping to fix my brothers two handed switch casting and also how best to get a short dead drift in the zone, he launched a good cast across river. The fly plopped down at the base of the boulder and after a big mend ran along that seam and foam line. A large brown slowly rose and opened wide, taking in the cicada. Atop my perch, I saw the entire cast, mend, take, set, and fight as my brother landed his largest resident brown trout ever. I was as happy for him as he was for himself. Frankly, the pictures did not do this fish justice, she was a pig. 

Overall, the fishing was slow but the moments more than made up for it. After an extended lull in the action a missed hook set or lost fish (there were a lot) could be heartbreaking, if only for a second or two. We had the river and its fish to ourselves and the scenery was phenomenal. Besides, there are few moments in fly fishing that can beat a slow rise to a size 4 dry fly. I am glad that I was able to witness and take advantage of the 17-year cycle of brood II. It's easy to dismiss their presence and continue your normal fishing routine but a 17-year hatch is a moment that doesn't come around often. I am already thinking about the possibilities for myself in 2030 at the ripe age of 43. That is a long way away. 


One Happy Dude

I thought I had a large smallmouth...

A potential wild brook trout caught near a cold tributary...he missed. 

Even the chubs got in on the action...the smallmouth did not.

Naturals collected in eddies and foam lines...

Friday, July 12, 2013


The first week of June usually signals the beginning of that special time of year. Mulberry time. The mulberries are now ripe enough to attract the attention of hungry birds and squirrels. Usually multiple squirrels and a variety of birds can be found in a mulberry tree at any given time. They feed on these berries quite aggressively because the unripe fruit is hard to pull from the tree. Due to their violent pulling and shaking of the branches they knock down as many berries as they eat, if not more. These berries fall into the water below and are quickly located by cruising fish. Carp will congregate underneath these trees to take advantage of this plentiful food source. Dry fly fishing is a blast and a welcome change of pace. Throughout the month I concentrated my efforts at a tiny retention pond which is home to a army of small fish. Size doesn't matter to me when they are eating my fly off the surface. I caught dozens of fish but one in particular was quite special. I caught the same grey and white linear mirror as I did last year. An absolute stunner. It was a nice surprise.

Even though the fish were small, casting accuracy was a must and extremely difficult to achieve. This made the small fish 100x more rewarding than they should have been. The fish fed heaviest underneath a section of very low hanging branches, a few even touching the surface. Shooting your fly down and under these branches from across the pond was a feat in itself. It was a game of inches. The fish are smart enough not cruise open water in search of berries because the berries don't drift away from the tree in stagnant water. This was especially true on sunny days where they felt safest in the shade of the tree. Towards the end of the season there was more flies hanging in the tree than actual berries. No risk, no reward.  

Although the dry fly action was hard to beat, I did crave bigger fish. Over the course of the month I fished other venues in search of larger fish. Sadly no mulberry trees are present at these venues. I had to go back to the basics and fish weightless nymphs at close range to weary fish. I was rewarded with a few decent specimens but I really had to work for them. These fish feed heaviest during low light conditions which makes sight fishing difficult. To combat this I incorporate large chartreuse eyes on my dragon and damsel patterns. This modification makes them a lot easier to see as they parachute down in the water column. Also, since I do the majority of my fishing in low light I made the switch back in January from amber polarized lenses to yellow lenses. The light yellow color greatly increases visibility.

Not close enough...

Just a few inches closer does the trick.

Unripe Mulberry





A blurry gator.

Sometimes you have to rest them on your knee...

The Damsel.

Carp Damsel tied with chartreuse eyes, responsible for all my larger fish

Carp Dragon doing work too...