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Carp on the Fly with Paul Sharman

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Location, location, location

So where are the best places to target for carp when flinging a fly you may ask? As mentioned a couple of times since starting this column a few months back, this is primarily a sight fishing game and so typically shallow water is the key. This will of course usually coincide with anywhere the carp typically visit to search for food and so their movements whether visible in clear water, or betrayed by water disturbance in murky conditions will be the best clue as to the frame of mind they are in. This of course is no different from any other type of carp fishing where it makes sense to target actively feeding fish wherever possible.

When visiting a new lake or location I typically have either done some advance research looking for maps online, or checked into local message boards or contacts to get the heads up on likely locations. Failing that then it really is worth taking a little time at the start of a session to scout around for flats, or obviously active and hopefully feeding fish in other locations that may also be suitable for approaching with the fly. These can include margin feeders for example in otherwise deep water where a cast from shore can reach them. Where a flat is located, then I will put on my polarized sunglasses to reduce the surface glare and see if I can see any evidence of fish. In extreme shallow water of only inches this is usually obvious as you can't miss a big old humpy back cruising along out of the water. Where the water just covers their backs then we often look for fish 'pushing water' which means as they move forward, you can see a bulge of water being displaced ahead of them as they travel. Other signs in this depth may be an occasional tail wagging above the surface as they put their heads down to feed, or just a swirl or other disturbance in the water where they have changed direction. A lack of wind is very helpful when looking for these signs so the water surface is mirror calm, and especially when learning them. Once they are mastered then a bit of chop on the water is less of a problem and you will still see the signs often.

If you are quiet you can sneak up on carp that will happily cruise shallow flats looking for food

One particular experience I had in the USA where I used to live was that creek mouths can often attract fish at certain times of year. Lake Morena in the hills above San Diego has a large head of commons and mirrors in the 5-10lb range which provide a great target most of the year. However come early spring when spawning starts to enter their minds and the winter rains have swollen the otherwise usually dry Cottonwood creek bed, hundreds or probably thousands of these fish stack up around and in the creek mouth and lots of them actually try to run up the creek like salmon. While those actively engaged in trying to run the creek are usually pre-occupied, the rest of them further downstream are usually hungry and it is not uncommon to have double-figure days in this situation in what can only be described as a scene very reminiscent of those in Alaska when the salmon are milling around in pools. I have not as yet seen this anywhere else but then I have not come across a similar set of circumstances/geography so it makes me wonder if this happens elsewhere - I think it is very likely and worth checking out if you know of a similar location near to you.

Perhaps the best sign you can see on a flat is mudding activity. A redfish guide in Louisiana referred to it as 'smoke' each time we saw it on a trip to the delta last year - a pretty apt description of the puff of silt staining the surrounding water caused by carp rooting around for food items. On a calm day this cloud can become quite large and sometimes it is hard to work out where the fish may be before casting, however on a windy day watch for the cloud to act like a vapor trail with a distinct head and tail indicating the location and direction of the fish as it works along.

Lastly, one location I have not tried to target with the fly as yet is also one of my favorite habitats - a reed line. There used to be a series of small lakes near me where reed beds are separated from the shore by some deeper channels, giving easy casting across to the edge of the bed. With regular tackle this allows me to chum some floating breadcrust to wake up any feeders and then freeline my bait in amongst them. The burst of energy when a fish is hooked and that first battle to keep them from heading deep into the reeds is hard to beat in my book. On fly tackle it should be quite interesting to see if enough stopping power can be generated to turn that head the first time but now at last with some samples of imitation breadcrust and dog-biscuit flies in hand I can at least give it a try.

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