Thursday, January 7, 2016

So, you want to tie carp flies? First, break all the rules. Then write your own.

Written by Brian Shepherd

To be honest, I am probably a better fly tier than I am a fly angler. Truth is, I spend more time at the vise than I do on the water.  That is probably true for most fly anglers. All that said, fly tying is in many ways equally as fun as getting them in front of the fish.  As you tie classic trout patterns such as the pheasant tail nymph, the parachute Adams, or Clouser minnow you get excited thinking about the thrill when your indicator stops suddenly, or a trout sips your dry fly off the surface, or your streamer gets whacked on the swing.  For many (myself included) the excitement increases when you get back to the vise and think of ways to tweak, adjust, or otherwise improve your patterns to achieve greater success on the water.  With many trout patterns though, your creativity is typically limited to the extent that the pattern fails to resemble any stage of aquatic insect life (attractors are of course an exception).  To be clear, I love fly fishing for trout and I love tying trout flies.  But we are talking about carp here.
With most carp flies, you do not need to fret over whether your hackle fibers are too long (or too short), you do not need perfectly evenly spaced wraps of wire on the abdomen, nor do you need bifocals in order to thread a micro bead on a size 26 midge emerger hook.  Not at all.  What you need is permission from yourself to say, "hey, I know my carp and I know what they like. To heck with all the rules with fly tying.  I am going to create, experiment, and catch a ton of carp on the flies that I tie - even if I never get approached by Umpqua."
Here are my recommendations for getting into carp fly tying.  These are based on my own experience and what worked for me. 
1. Go to and type in "how to tie carp flies" and skip the rest of this post.
2. Pick up some Gamakatsu bonefish hooks or Carp-Pro hooks.  You will be thankful for the indestructible nature of these hooks as well as the wide gap to keep the carp buttoned-on.  Get some size 8 and 10 but also get some of the big fella size 4 hooks too.

Carp hooks need not be large.  But they better be strong.

 3. Create hook-point up or head-stand style flies using bead chain or dumbbell eyes.  I use headstand looks on crayfish patterns as well as nymph patterns.  Bead chain eyes provide a touch of weight and enable a slow back-and-forth action when falling through the water column (think of dropping a piece of paper from high up).  Also, the hook-point up feature will prevent snags along the bottom.
Bead chain or heavier dumbbell eyes help keep that hook off the bottom and enhance the action of carp flies.
4. Marabou and rabbit zonker strips are your new best friends.  The undulation and tantalizing "breathing" that these materials do in the water are enough reason to list them here.  Warning: marabou and rabbit fur are very buoyant and will only sink slowly even after being heavily saturated with water.  When using larger portions of these materials, you want to make sure you are adding proper amounts of weight.  Otherwise your fly will sit just under the film.

5. You know those mottled India hen saddles with feathers too big for conventional trout patterns that you have had in your bench since two Christmases ago?  Yeah those.  Time to do some collaring soft-hackle style!  Hey, you don't even need to strip off the webby stuff at the bottom of the stem.

The natural tans, browns, and orange colors on India hen saddles are ideal colors for carp flies.
6. Learn a few of the standard carp patterns (such as the backstabber, chubby chaser, mcluvin, Barry's carp bitters, or Montana hybrid) given to us by the pros: Jay Zimmerman, Trevor Tanner, Barry Reynolds, and John Montana.  Try them out and you will see why these guys catch a ton of carp.  Definitely read / watch anything and everything these guys put out. 

7. Tie your patterns in natural colors such as black, brown, green, orange, and yellow.  Tie up a few bright obnoxious colored patterns as well.  While I err on the drab colors, carp continue to surprise me.
Yes, that is John Barr's "Barr Flies" book.

8. Put new twists on the old.  Tie hares ears using wide gapped hooks.  Add a stub or two of rubber legs.  Use extra long saddle hackle for legs.  Rabbit fur and marabou are never a bad idea either.  The hares ear was by and far my most successful carp pattern in 2015.
There is no limit to how you dress your hares ears.

Most of my carp patterns do not even have names. 

9. Do not be overly concerned with proportions.  While proportions are somewhat important when tying carp flies, a fly that is slightly out of proportion is far more problematic on a trout stream than on the mud flat.  Do you best but don't be too critical.
10. Get out on the water and use them.  Observe how they move in the water.  How do the carp react to them?  Have fun.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

When the Ice Melts Away the Carp Will Play

Written by Brian Shepherd

It was inevitable that at some point slow moving creeks, such as the one I where I target carp in the cold months, would succumb to the low temperatures and freeze over.  With the recent freeze of Big Dry Creek, my lone winter carp spot was rendered useless.  I had abandoned still water in October once the colder temperatures drove the carp out of sight and into the deep.  In late fall, Big Dry Creek became the last bastion of hope (close to home) and the carp took flies up to the week before Christmas.

Nothing precludes you from fly fishing for carp like 2 inches of ice on your favorite creek.
Then it got cold, really cold.  In the days of deep cold before the ice-over, the carp all but disappeared.  It seemed futile to even go out there when they would not even reveal themselves.  I knew in my heart it was over for a while.  I even considered hanging up the carp gear (and pride) for a few months and thought about shifting my focus to fly fishing midge hatches for browns and rainbows (which is always fun by the way).  Then we got a few days where the mercury got up to 40 degrees or just below.  Whatever it was, it was enough to melt off some of the ice.

Any veteran carp angler will tell you that there is always a chance of catching carp when you can actually see the carp.  I might add that open unfrozen water helps too.
Reason #457 why I love Colorado.

You talk about some seriously cold fingers after releasing these fish into water that is a touch above freezing.
The crap selfie...sometimes you get a good shot but more often than not it is a carp shoot.