Monday, January 31, 2011

Beating The “Dinner Plate Paradox” For Tailing Carp

The dinner plate paradox is the conflict of requirements to get a tailing carp to eat a fly.  First of all you have to get the fly on the bottom into the feeding zone or the “dinner plate”.  This zone can range from several inches to several feet around the carps head.  At the same time if you actually land your fly in that zone it frequently becomes the Ahh-Shit zone as the carp runs in terror.  To make matters worst the feeding zone and Ahh-Shit zone are often about the same size!

What to do?  One approach is to keep trying.  The odds are that eventually you land a fly right where you wanted it (miracle1), you wanted it in the right spot (miracle 2), it doesn’t spook the fish (miracle 3), the carp immediately jumps the fly (miracle 4) and you set the hook at the right time (miracle 5).  OK, for some fish in the right mood it isn’t quite that big of a miracle, but are we looking to apply for saint-hood or catch carp?

Other options are to strip the fly through the zone instead of landing it there or to go with a much lighter fly.  I have ocasional luck with stripping it past tailers, but only for fish in the right aggressive moods.  I have had very little luck with very light flies.  I am not sure why although it is something I intend to sort out this year.

Another approach is to completely change up your tactics. 


First of all try and get as close to the fish as possible without scaring them.  The closer you are the easier it becomes to beat the paradox.  To the ridiculous extreme, If you get close enough you can dabble or even under-hand pendulum cast the fly right in front of the carps eye with nearly no splash-down.  Learn to pay attention to your profile, any potential cover that is available and how you are walking or wading. 


Secondly add the lob-drag-drop to your toolbox.  There is absolutely no rule that says your fly has to land where you eventually want it to hit bottom.  This is where the lob-drag-drop presentation comes along.

The lob-drag-drop is a method for casting away from the fish and then drawing the fly across or just under the top of the water until it is over the feeding zone and then letting it drop. 

1)      LOB:  For the first part you want to use an extremely open-loop high cast with a subtle stop at the end that results in just the fly hitting the water WELL past the fish with your fly-rod angled up about 30 to 45 degrees.   It really feels like you are lobbing the fly out there instead of casting it.
2)      DRAG:  When the fly hits the water you immediately start to raise the rod tip and draw the fly back to you with small side-to-side corrections as required.  The fly is kind of attacking the carp so unfortunately you will spook the occasional fish during this stage.  Try and keep the drag nice and slow but at the top of the water-column if you can.
3)      DROP:  When it is approaching the zone you drop the tip and let the fly drop into the zone.  I prefer the drop to be as vertical as possible.
4)      RECOVER:  I didn’t put it in the name but the final step is to recover line.  As you drop the fly you will develop a ton of slack.  If you do get a take you will want a good hook-set and any slack you recover before the take helps.

Here is the cool part – when done properly nothing but your fly ever touches the water until the drop.  The fly lands far away, you don’t line the fish and with a little practice you can pretty regularly put a fly in even ridiculously small feeding zones.  Everybody is happy and the paradox has been defeated.

Unfortunately the lob-drag-drop only fully works to about 30feet and it rarely results in a true vertical drop out past 20 feet.  For this and other reasons (surprisingly, shoulder and back fatigue is one) this shouldn’t be the only tool in your arsenal but it should be there for sure.


  1. Great info McTage. I have struggled with this as well. This is one of the main reasons I fish mainly small nymph patterns, #10 or #12 pheasant-tails, hare's ears, etc. I spook a lot fewer fish and get a lot more takes with these small flies. I've also found that putting the fly just to the side of the carp's head rather than in front of it often results in a take. The fish doesn't see the fly until it turns to investigate the "plip" sound of the fly hitting the water. These seems to spook fewer fish for me. Great article.

  2. I use nymphs sometimes (mostly hares ears) but probably under-utilize them for tailers. Do you use more weigthed or unweighted nymphs?

  3. Weightless most of the time. Less commotion on hitting the water and a slower descent through the water column. I like to give the carp as much time as possible to spot the fly drifting to the bottom. I'm typically fishing in very shallow water where the carp's tail and even it's back are above the surface.


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