Thursday, June 18, 2020

Variable Fly Design for Carping the Column

From CarpPro Magazine Issue 3 (Click)

Fly-fishing for carp in deep, stillwaters has presented a unique set of challenges for my friends and I over the years. Conventional carp flies and strategies wouldn’t work for us so we had to forge ahead on an entirely different set of ideas. Most of the credit for this innovation has to go to Adam Hope, who has spent more time doing this than anyone I know.  His original “Damsel” fly was able to crack the proverbial code that afforded us success on our difficult home waters. The Damsel fly featured certain characteristics that could be replicated in other patterns. This breakthrough allowed us to develop a series of interchangeable variables that achieve different sink rates for carping the water column. 

The first characteristic that is an absolute necessity is a lack of weight. When we began targeting carp on spring-fed ponds and deep canals, we quickly realized that traditional weighted flies fished along the bottom would not work. In the spring fed ponds, the weighted flies sank into muck or were lost in thick weed beds. In the deep canals, we lost sight of the patterns and often snagged the debris on the bottom. When we tried to target mid-column carp, the flies would descend in the water column too quickly for a carp to pick them up as they fell. In addition, these wary carp would often spook during the presentation due to the noise and vibration of a weighted pattern hitting the water. We needed to design new flies that would land softly and sink slowly in order to allow the carp sufficient time to feed upon them.

To achieve a weightless effect, we removed or replaced lead dumbbell eyes and bead heads on all of our nymph flies that were used in stillwater applications. For damsels and dragons that have large pronounced eyes, a key “trigger” in getting a carp’s attention, we had to incorporate alternative and nearly weightless materials. To replicate this, we turned to using mono eyes or craft beads. If the situation called for a deeper presentation, we simply added bead-chain eyes in various sizes or lead wire to the underbodies of our nymphs. By incorporating these three different weight applications, we could fish all three levels of the water column. 

The second major characteristic is utilizing materials to slow the descent of the fly. The key here is to create a parachute effect and achieve a sink rate that will allow your fly to stay in the strike zone for the longest time. The pattern must sink slowly enough for the carp to be able to track and consume the fly. The best material for the parachute effect is rubber legs. Tied in as legs or as part of the tail, the rubber creates enough drag to sufficiently slow the descent of the fly. This can be slowed down even further by tying in thicker rubber legs or by using flattened instead of round diameter legs.  Most of my patterns tend to use micro centipede legs and if I want to slow things down, I’ll simply tie in more of them. 

The second way to create a parachute effect is by incorporating hackle feathers of the saddle or schlappen variety. In a free fall scenario, hackle will protrude outwards and increase the amount of drag as the fly sinks. To achieve varying sink rates one can simply increase or decrease the density of the hackle used. Schlappen hackle is much longer and will cause the fly to sink slower.

Keep in mind the following tips when constructing and fishing flies:

  • Tip 1# In order to effectively achieve the parachute effect, be sure to always use a non-slip mono loop to connect your fly to your fluorocarbon tippet. This will allow your fly to achieve a more realistic action in the water and have the freedom to sink in a natural way.
  • Tip #2: Nymph patterns aren’t the only flies that will catch fish in the middle of the water column. Egg patterns are also extremely effective at enticing carp that are on the prowl. Glo bugs and sucker spawn imitations are incredibly productive patterns whose sink rate can be easily adjusted. This can be achieved by varying the amount that the fly is saturated by water. I often pinch my fly after casts to get the excess water out of the fly. This allows a softer presentation and a slower sink rate. If I want a faster sink rate, I’ll quickly dunk the fly in the water before casting. If I want it to sink slower, I’ll simply false cast several times. Without having to change flies, egg patterns allow you to fish the entire water column. 

  • Tip #3: A huge variable in fly construction for carp is foam. Most carp fishermen tend to walk past or completely avoid laid up fish because of their complacent inactivity. These fish are often sunning themselves a few inches below the surface of water in pods or around vegetation. During the dog days of summer, this might be the only activity a carp fisherman will see. In order to target these fish, we began implementing foam into our nymph patterns (most often on the thorax and head). With the added foam, our flies would either stick into the surface film like an emerging insect or hover a few inches below the surface at the carp’s level. The foam allowed the flies to land much like a dry fly. This opened the door to these wary, laid-up fish and it wasn’t long before we experienced some great summertime action. 

  • Tip #4: The chosen materials and the amount of the material used will also have an impact on the sink rate of your fly. Certain materials simply hold more water once saturated compared to others. A few strategies I employ are varying the amount or type of dubbing used on a pattern. On damsels, I tend to use a large amount of dubbing that is packed tightly together to add bulk. Once saturated, this will increase the sinking rate of your pattern. Another option is substituting striped rabbit fur instead of using marabou or striped hackle for tails and legs. Rabbit holds more water than the aforementioned hackle, and also produces an excellent action in the water. 

Hook choice provides a third major characteristic to either add or subtract weight from the fly. Obviously, larger hooks with thicker diameters will cause patterns to sink much more quickly in the water column while smaller and thinly wired hooks will do the opposite. In addition to simply adding weight, thicker hooks like the Gamakatsu SL45 (stout and strong enough to hold monster fish) can be used to provide balance to fly patterns and allow bulkier patterns like Dragon nymphs to sink more efficiently. Thinner hooks like the Partridge’s CZ Czech Nymph Hook are ultra lightweight and are used to achieve the opposite effect of the SL45. They will allow already lightweight flies to sink even slower. The downside to a light wire hook is that you run the risk of bending one out on a very large fish. Keep in mind that stillwater carp aren’t able to exert as much force upon a hook as a river fish so you can get away with lighter hooks in ponds and lakes. In addition, river fish seem to be more much more active fighters when compared to still-water carp. 

A final characteristic to take into account is the diameter and type of leader or tippet used. Long leaders are a must when fly-fishing for carp in still water and fluorocarbon and\or nylon leaders can be employed depending on the situation. In really deep water, it pays to have a fluorocarbon leader because of its higher sink rate. Furthermore, fluorocarbon’s refractive index is much closer to that of water, making it nearly invisible when submerged. Another benefit is its increased abrasion resistance, which will come in handy when faced with the many snags common in ponds and lakes. 

I prefer not to use a fluorocarbon leader in shallow water conditions because of its sink rate, which might cause the leader to sink into debris and hinder the hook set. Here I usually employ a nylon leader that is greased to float.  For tippet, I use an extended amount of fluorocarbon. 

In all cases, I prefer fluorocarbon tippet from 2x-5x depending on the situation, water clarity, and size of the quarry. The diameter of the tippet will also influence the sink rate of your fly. A 2x piece of tippet will sink slower than a 5x piece because of its larger diameter and, thus, larger surface area. This creates drag, and slows the descent of your fly. Increasing or decreasing the size of your tippet is the final variable in your setup to adjust your presentation to mid-column carp. 

Casting and presenting flies to carp in the middle of the water column is an unconventional technique. Not all carp need to be mudding or on the bottom to be caught. Playing with these variables will open up more water for you to target. Filling your fly boxes with a variety of patterns that incorporate different weights, materials, and hook sizes will allow you to effectively target fish throughout the entire water column.  With the right presentation and technique you will be able to start catching more carp in a variety of different ways. 

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