With carp now Britain’s most popular sport fish, it’s no surprise that fly anglers are getting in on the act. But while bait-style patterns represent an easy way in, the greatest thrill of all is tricking carp on natural, imitative flies. So where do we start? Check out some proven patterns for carp on the fly.
“Are carp becoming the saviour of summer fly fishing in Britain? It might seem a bold claim, but they have so much going for them. Carp fight hard, look beautiful and eat all manner of natural food. But equally, unlike trout, they are far hardier in the face of the hot summers now the norm. So what’s not to love?
Two times in as many sessions this summer, I have been taken into my backing by these tenacious fish! Stalking the waters of Bellbrook Carp Fishery, here in Devon, it has been exhilarating to witness fish cruising, investigating and – (sometimes!) accepting various flies. It’s endlessly riveting stuff- and there is no need whatsoever to go chucking in bait. You can catch some of the action and get some tips on this fishing in a new video, shot by John Deprieelle.
One question that comes up time and again however, is: which are the best flies to use for carp fishing in the UK? While many patterns originate from Spain and the USA, our own scene is quite different. Our fish see far more human pressure and bait, generally. But while you’re unlikely to get them chasing streamers, they absolutely will take natural fly patterns- even on waters where boilies and pellets dominate! The natural approach has worked for me everywhere from day ticket commercials to weedy natural lakes, in fact. It just needs some effort and a willingness to ditch the dog biscuits.
Recommended flies for carp fishing in the UK
Ok, so you want to catch carp on the fly - but where do you turn first? Well, with carp being supreme generalists, the good news is you don’t always need carbon –copy flies. Sure, if you fish a lake with a reliable hatch of mayfly, beetles or flying ants- go for it! The rest of the time, however, a common successful theme is to select solid general-fit patterns. In particular, a great formula for success is “dark and edible looking, with just a hint of brighter colour.”
To avoid confusion here, what I’m not about to do is throw dozens and dozens of flies at you. In truth, hundreds will work; but that’s not going to help you choose an effective snack. Instead, a more helpful way to start is to break our flies down into three basic categories with just a few examples.
So here goes:
DRY FLIES FOR CARP
Just like trout, carp will feed at various depths. If you can find them right on the top, browsing for things that have fallen in, ideal. Great areas to try this include corners with the wind blowing in, lily pads and any areas where debris collects.
Here we have a selection of suitable dry flies for carp (L to R):
Green Foam Beetle + Black Foam Beetle
Easy to spot for both angler and carp, this is a good general pattern to try on the surface. A bit of shimmer on the belly- some simple legs, it has a bit of everything. 90% of the time you’ll be fishing static, though, because most of our carp are too cautious for “popping”, tempting as it is.
Flash Belly Hopper, Black
Hoppers are generally worth a go for carp- and this does a reasonable impression of various dark, leggy insects.
Various foam ants are worth a try for carp. Especially if you hit those heady days in late summer, when lots of clumsy flyers are about!
A quick word here on surface fished flies- by all means try them but if the fish are not having them don’t worry about changing plans. When dry fly works it can be magical! But if it doesn’t (and just like other fish, carp don’t always want to rise) it’s time for our next category.
SLOW SINKING WET FLIES FOR CARP
Our next type of fly is ideal for targeting fish you see swimming around in the upper layers of the water. Very often, fish that won’t munch off the top will more happily investigate a slow sinking fly. Packing a few makes sense. For example, slightly heavier for fish that are a bit deeper in the water- or perhaps brightly coloured alternatives if the clarity isn’t great.
The trick is usually not to retrieve at all, bar the most gentle of draws. You’re aiming for a gentle, accurate cast, making it easy for the fish to gobble the fly up. Lots of patterns will work, but these three have caught me dozens of carp over many years:
Hot Spot Black and Peacock Spider
So simple, but deadly. The key is the mobile hackle- which must be hen, not cock.
The body can be natural peacock, but I prefer Hemingways Peacock Dubbing, which I think is even better. The butt is usually bright orange or lime yarn. You’ll see my own version here is tied with an extra strong, forged carp hook, for waters where I might encounter very big fish!
Kill Devil Spider
Very much like a wet Coch-y-Bonddu, it fits the carp blueprint of “generally edible looking with just a bit of bling”. In this case a bit of flash in the butt. It does a great impression of a fallen beetle or terrestrial- and the carp certainly like it, especially when they’re browsing under trees and foliage.
Red Diawl Bach
One common obstacle in carp fly fishing is iffy clarity. This is especially true as algal blooms occur in summer- or in lakes that are simply murky. One solution is to go a bit brighter- and a bit of red can make all the difference.
SINKING FLIES AND HEAVIER PATTERNS
Now we get into the larger stuff! While there isn’t the space here to go into vast detail, there will be times when the fish want to feed on the bottom. You may even see them “tailing”. In these circumstances, a “drag and drop” approach is needed. In other words, you want to give just a little movement to alert the carp that there is something edible present, before letting old rubber lips do the rest. Avoid the temptation to keep retrieving- these fish are not rainbow trout! Shown above are (L to R):
Does a good general fit “bigger nymph” impression. I also like these tied smaller, with pheasant instead of the usual chenille.
The Slag of All Flies ™ - love or hate them, they work! As do other big, mobile patterns.
Black Teaser and Olive Teaser
Dumbell weighted flies seem popular for carp the world over, in no small part because patterns that fish “hook point up” are ideal to present low and slow without getting snagged. These particular flies are general fit rather than specific- and ideal for “drag and drop” fishing for bottom foraging carp.
OTHER FLIES, FROM CLOSE COPY TO BAIT STYLE PATTERNS
Without wanting to muddy the waters any further over fly selection, we should also quickly mention other suitable patterns. First up, it’s so important to treat fly fishing for carp as an open church.
Carp have supremely wide tastes, which could mean anything from caddis larvae to beetles to classic mayflies! Part of the fun is in sussing out things your way- and while “general fit” flies are great, it’s always worth keeping an eye out for regular hatches and freak occurrences. Flying ants are a great example of this in late summer- when even the most featureless manmade waters can become inundated! The sky is the limit:
Finally, Turrall and other companies also produce “bait style” flies. They are not s natural in any way, of course, and nor are they strictly artificial flies in the traditional sense. But for anyone coming from a coarse and carp fishing background, they can be a handy way in to trying a fly rod. That’s all we’ll say here!
From my point of view, there is no harm in this whatsoever and I detest snobbery in angling. Most fly fishers will want to fish natural patterns as they progress with carp. However, the primary reason should be because this is fascinating and challenging sport- and never because we want to look down our noses at other anglers or methods!
However, if you really want to catch carp on natural flies, one sure fire way to tempt failure is to take bait flies and a tub of bait with you “just in case”. Persistence and experimentation are required- and that doesn’t always mean quick success. That is why it’s so satisfying when you do hook a carp that has completely accepted your artificial fly to be a real insect.
This gorgeous mirror carp took a Kill Devil Spider, cast gently in front of it. No retrieve whatsoever was needed- and the cue to strike was a sudden gobbling of lips!
Which leaders for carp fly fishing?
Before we conclude, just a very quick note should also be included on leader materials and how long the leader should be. Again, there is no set answer, but here are some pointers:
For dry fly fishing for carp, a tapered leader makes sense. A simple copolymer model of around a rods length (nine feet typically) in at least 6lb breaking strain is a good starting point.
For sinking flies, a similar leader length is a good starting point, fashioned from fluorocarbon typically. For general use and “drag and drop” fishing with patterns near the bottom there is little need to go below around 6lbs.
Perhaps the toughest situation is with cautious but big fish in weedy or snaggy water. In which case, it really does pay to use the best leader materials that money can buy. Cortland Ultra Premium is my choice. Yes, it’s pricey, but with this stuff I can get superb presentation and decent finesse and yet still have high breaking strains to deal with large, powerful fish that dive for cover.
We’ve not discussed actual fly rods for carp, of course, but these must also balanced to the size of fish and snags expected. For open water fishing and single figure carp typically, 6lb leaders would be fine, with a rod anywhere from four to seven weight.
For larger fish, say regularly to “doubles”, and waters where snags are common, my starting point would be at least a 7wt and 8-10lb leader, very possibly stepping up higher if the setting demanded.
We don’t have space for endless discussion here- but for further reading, do check out my previous book Flyfishing For Coarse Fish, which has further ideas and a host of other successful patterns, including water snails, leeches and more.