Fly Fishing Lessons for Coarse Species

No longer the domain of an eccentric few, casting flies to tempt carp, chub, pike and a huge range of species is now an established trend for both coarse and game anglers. The fishing world is changing, the snobs have shut up and a growing army are discovering a world of possibilities.

Now beginning its fourth year, the Fly For Coarse competition enjoyed another brilliantly varied set of results in 2015 (just take a look at the 2015 catch gallery and you’ll see what we mean). Having sponsored the event from the very beginning, Turrall have seen a big rise in interest for fly patterns to catch coarse species. Pike and carp on the fly are still the biggest targets, but other species are now catching up. Hardly surprising when you consider the huge variety of affordable waters all over the UK where you can catch anything from specimen perch to dace, chub and many other species.  Here are just some of the highlights and lessons learned from the past year of Fly For Coarse.

  1. There is no time of year you cannot catch coarse fish on the fly.
    There might be some folks reading that sentence with a pinch of salt, but it is absolutely true. It doesn’t matter how cold it gets, or how high the rivers rise, there is always a fish that will take your fly somewhere. And in this case we don’t mean the local trout fishery.

    You do often have to suss out your best option though. Rivers come into their own in freezing temperatures; pike will still feed, while weighted nymphs will pick up roach and chub on the stream. When the floods hit home on rivers, sheltered canals and ponds will still produce predators too, with perch an especially viable option.

    How cold does it have to be before fish switch off? Pretty damned Siberian, judging by the 2015 catch list. David West Beale, for example, caught a fine 3lbs 2oz perch through one of only a handful of ice-free sections on his local Grand Union Canal!

    2. Coarse species represent the best value fly fishing in the UK!
    The myth is still sadly prevalent that fly fishing is an expensive, elite sport. How wrong can you get! Never mind a day ticket, an entire season ticket on many canal fisheries and smaller coarse fishing clubs will often cost you below £50! Free fishing stretches from Devon to Derbyshire can also prove excellent, requiring nothing more than your EA license.

    The canals have been the perfect example of top class sport when it comes to affordable fly fishing, whether you live in Somerset or Scotland. The Grand Union, in particular, produced fine roach, rudd, perch, pike and chub. It even produced a Hare’s Ear caught bream (below) for Linda Summerfield, who made the 2015 top ten caught bream

    3. Coloured water is not always the kiss of death.
    As fly fishers, we always dream of finding crystal clear conditions and excellent visibility. But do you need clear water to fly fish? The short answer is no! While it’s true that chocolate coloured water can be tough, don’t despair if you find your local fishery rather murkier than you’d hoped.

    Fish can see a lot more than we give them credit for. Think about it; how else would they eat in rough conditions or on waters that are never especially clear?
    Fly fishing in coloured water can still be productive, although a good general rule is to make your flies a bit bigger and brighter. Pink is one of the best fly colours for all kinds of conditions. Micro bloodworm Turrall
    If you still don’t believe us about dirty water, consider many commercial fisheries. Several entries came from quite muddy water- and specialists catch carp even on flies down to size 18s and 20s here, such as our Micro Bloodworm.


  1. Fly fishing works for wily, big fish
    There is still a certain assumption in some quarters that fly fishing is fussy, tricky or not very efficient. But with specialists starting to catch more and more large, cagey fish from waters that receive a lot of fishing pressure, a lot of anglers are being forced to reassess this idea!

    Anglers such as John Bailey and Catching the Impossible star Martin Bowler have both been in print catching big coarse fish on the fly. To state the bleeding obvious, these guys don’t bother with methods that don’t catch good-sized fish. Specimen pike angler Andy Black is another who considers fly fishing a highly effective way to fool big pike.

specimen carp on the fly

In the 2015 contest, Andy Parkinson caught a carp of over 31lbs (above). It was no accident because Andy has been doing this for many years and often rates fly fishing as the best method when carp are at the surface. It offers a subtle presentation and he often catches fish while those with splashy controller floats or fishing multiple bolt rigs blank. Draw your own conclusions…

  1. But it isn’t so much the size of the fish as the size of the challenge…
    The monsters will always grab headlines, but we must also be wary of the size obsession of coarse fishing as a whole, now also creeping into fly fishing. “We must be wary not to go down too far down the route of specimen hunting with a fly rod” writes Fly For Coarse Panelist Matt Hayes, whose favourite entry of 2015 was a half pound dace taken on the rise. “We’re not just looking for size,” he advises “and it would be great to more fish on dry flies this year.”

Fly caught bleakOf course, the other great joy of fly fishing is the sheer variety of sport. It is great fun to see just how many types of fish you can catch and we had lots of “mini species” entries since the competition started, from free rising bleak (above) to bitterling!

  1. Fly fishing for coarse fish is still growing!
    Still think a fly rod is only for game fish? It’s your call, but if you only fish for trout and salmon, you are effectively limiting yourself to only a minority of UK fisheries! It’s similar story across Europe too.

    It has never been easier to expand your horizons either. Tackle, tactics and flies are developing all the time. We now produce flies for most major coarse species, with more flies for perch, pike, chub and zander coming out this year. And while you can use your normal fly gear, tackle companies such as Snowbee now sell rods designed specially for target species such as carp and pike. Meanwhile, coverage in print and online continues to grow. Fly Fishing & Fly Tying Magazine have been the most active source for multi-species fly angling, but even the coarse fishing titles are featuring coverage, while Merlin Unwin Books’ Flyfishing for Coarse Fish has consistently been among Amazon’s bestselling fly fishing books for over four years now.
    Fly casting

There are all sorts of ways you can get into the action too. The Flyfishing for Coarse Fish Facebook Group is a great forum for questions, flies and new ideas. Meanwhile, the Fly For Coarse competition and site continue to grow, with prizes, tips and fisheries to try. Do also keep an eye on the Turrall flies blog, Facebook Page and our growing range of fly patterns for coarse fish, now available from many UK fly stockists and online retailers.

Watch this space in 2016 for even more developments, including new predator flies and terrestrials for chub.


Fly Fishing For Perch – Tips and Fly Patterns

This month, Turrall blogger and fly designer Dom Garnett provides timely advice, tips and fly patterns for perch.

They’re beautiful yet common as muck. They take a fly gamely and fight well on light tackle. So why isn’t every man and his dog fly fishing for perch this season? Across waters all over Britain and Europe, you’ll find perch an absorbing quarry. The smaller ones can be seriously greedy, while the big ones are a genuine challenge. Here are some handy perch fishing tips for your next trip:

perch fly fishing

  1. Key locations: Almost every angler in the UK will have perch within striking distance of where they live. And while the big reservoirs might hold large fish, smaller waters such as canals, drains and rivers are an easier place to start.

Perch are one of those reassuringly predictably fish when it comes to feature finding. Snags, overhangs, bridges and walls are all worth searching thoroughly. But also look out for any concentrations of fry or small fish. Any areas where you have a sudden drop off are less visible but can also be key.

  1. Tackle & Leaders: Perch don’t demand the heaviest tackle, but with bigger than average flies and often the risk of pike, it’s unwise to go too light. Some of my friends have fished with as light as three or four weight tackle on waters where there are no pike! A more common starting point would be a six or seven weight outfit on most waters, but go heavier if pike are common.

You can use a floating line on many shallower waters, along with a leader of 7-8 feet. But where greater depths exist, a fast intermediate or a full sinker will often serve you well too, with a shorter leader of as little as five feet.

Where pike are not an issue, fluorocarbon is fine to use as leader- but there’s no need to go lighter than about 8lbs. If there are pike, step up to at least 12lbs strength and add a wire trace. Small, unobtrusive snap links and fine, knottable wires are subtlest option- avoid thick wire and bulky swivels and hardware.

jack pike
Jack pike are also fond of perch flies- so on many venues you must be prepared and fish a bit heavier.

3. Flies for Perch: Various designs will work for perch, but my own have plenty of flash and movement, and are rather bigger than the lures you’d typically use for trout. The Perch Special and Drop Shot Minnow Flies are ideal for shallower water and useful where you want a slow sinking fly to keep above weed or cover.

Turrall perch flies- Dropshot Minnows and Perch Special

For a lot of structure fishing or deeper water however, weighted patterns such as my Perch Jig Flies will get down better. Flies that fish “point up” are also handy to lessen the risk of snagging.

jig flies for perch

If you tie your own, you can also have some fun. Typically, I would recommend hooks in sizes 1-4 and my absolute favourite colours for perch would be white and yellow, often with a hint of red in the mix, plus a few strands of pearl, silver or gold flash material (Krinkleflash or Multi Flash are both very good).

  1. The Right Retrieve
    Perch are not as quick or as willing to move several feet to grab a fly as pike, so the key is often in getting the fly close to the fish. My retrieve tends to be twitchy and “busy” but not overly fast, unless the fish are obviously scattering fry near the surface.

More often it’s a case of keeping your perch fly moving, but not stripping so fast that your artificial lifts up in the water, out of the strike zone. If it’s really cold or challenging though, another useful trick with the jig flies is to twitch or “hop” them across the bottom. 

Retrieve speed and keeping the fly at the right depth are crucial for perch.

Don’t always feel that you need to cast far for perch. The other advantage with weighted flies is that you can work them right under the rod tip along structures or around cover. 

  1. Striking and Playing Fish: Perch don’t always give the biggest bites and nor will they always hook themselves. Keep your rod tip low while retrieving and be alert for any little nips or picks on the line. Strike at any decisive movement, but do so with the line, only lifting if you feel contact. Quite often you will get a nip or two, but by continuing the retrieve or having another shot you will get a second or third chance and a solid hook up.

Perch fight well on light tackle, but can quite easily come adrift. A forgiving rod is ideal to play fish smoothly and cushion those head shakes that often betray a hooked perch. I like to use a nice through actioned 9ft 6/7 weight- although if pike  are a regular threat an eight might need to come out to play.

6. Change your clock and your mindset! The unwritten rule in so much of perch fishing is that it becomes a tough exercise at the wrong time or in the wrong conditions. Find the right time and local feeding spells and you will catch in a fraction of the time.

On big, deep waters or those that are murky, sunny weather can work. But more commonly, on small clear drains, rivers and canals, an overcast or downright grotty day will serve you much better (the specimen perch pictured at the top of this post was caught during a drizzly day with winds consistently over 20mph!) .

The first and last hours of light are very often peaks of activity- so do be prepared to make an early start or have your excuses ready for a late finish.

Perch of all sizes are fun to catch.

Further Information

For more on the subject of perch fishing on the fly, Dom Garnett’s book Flyfishing For Coarse Fish has more handy information, tips and fly patterns to try. You can order this, along with ideal fly patterns for perch at


 Do also keep an eye on the special site for more news, tips and catches, plus an exciting annual competition judged by a panel including Matt Hayes and John Bailey.