People commonly mistake foul-hooked fish for valid hook-ups. It is obvious what happened when you bring back a scale but it is good to learn to how to call your own fouls. The hookup often feels odd, coming with a weird thump and at a time that just does not seem right. Fish hooked in the dorsal fin, pectoral fin or elsewhere on the main body are bullish and hard to turn with little or no pulsating sensation in the rod. Fish hooked in the tail seem unreasonably strong with a rapid frantic pulsating sensation. More often that not the hook just mysteriously pulls out under minimal pressure when you least expect it.
You expect to foul some fish when you are fly fishing for carp but if you are snagging lots of fish you should change up your presentation. Snagging is rough on the fish, doesn't count as real fishing and when it happens you have blown any shot at that carp and any of his pals that are close by!
Are You a Pushover?
You may not be fighting carp effectively. In order to land large carp at a high clip you should learn how to let your rod, drag system and spool/knob do their jobs. The rod is used to absorb shock, apply pressure, align the pressure and gain line. The drag system is used to make sure that you do not exceed the capability of the leader and rod. The spool/knob systems only job is to retrieve and store line that you have already gained with the rod.
Four important concepts for getting everything working together are authority, side pressure, using the butt of the rod and pumping the rod.
Authority: Are you in control or is the fish in control? For smaller or lethargic carp you should be the boss from the get-go. For bigger and hotter carp they may be the boss for the first run or two but then you should take over.
Side Pressure: When the fish are fairly close (<50ft) you should be maintain as much side pressure as possible. This does not mean that you have the rod to the side and low, although that is one of your tools. It means that you are always adjusting the orientation of your rod so that you pulling to the side and maybe just a little towards the tail. Side pressure is the most awkward and confusing direction for a fish to resist and it tends to wear out the fish much faster. Just standing there with the rod bowed in the same orientation at all times lets the fish find the direction that makes life easiest. To help explain I made this ridiculously amateurish graphic!
When you have turned the fish or it voluntarily switches direction that is usually a good thing. This means that the fish is tired of being pulled in an awkward direction and is making a play for something easier. You have asserted yourself, at least temporarily. In the famous words of Cartman from South Park "You will respect ma atoratayyyyy". Now you can change the angle of your rod or even switch it to the other side to keep the pressure on and maintain this new-found authority.
When a carp has made a long run and is far away it is more difficult to apply side pressure. In rivers you can sometimes follow the fish up or downstream. In lakes the fish has effectively taken control for a while. At this point you adjust the drag here and there but otherwise you sit back a little, let your drag do it's job and wait for your turn. When the fish slows down or turns that is your signal to take a shot at being the boss and recovering some line.
Using the butt of the rod: Your maximum authority occurs when the rod tip is relatively low and you are bending the rod near the butt section. It may seem counter-intuitive but when the rod tip is high over your head and bending at the tip your rod is no longer effective. My seven year old could do better than the next graphic, but here it is:
Pumping the rod: In order to use this technique you must first set your drag and trust it to work in conjunction with the rod to protect your tippet. While starting in position A from diagram 2 keep your off-hand away from the the knob and try to gain line with the rod. Your drag sometimes slips during the process resulting in not gaining or even losing line and that is fine. At the best that means that all the hard earned money you spent on a fancy reel is not wasted and you are applying the maximum safe pressure without breaking your leader or rod. At worst you need to tighten the drag a little and try again. Once the rod tip is nearing point B your spool/knob gets to do it's only job which is to retrieve and store line. While slowly letting the rod tip move towards the fish reel in the line. When properly done you are smoothly reeling the rod tip down the line towards the fish while maintaining constant pressure. Repeat and rinse.
I usually fish an anti-reverse (AR) reel which works a little like a spinning reel in that the knob is isolated from the spool through the drag system. Those who are used to fighting big fish with a spinning reel or AR fly reel have probably already learned to pump the rod or gotten really really fit. Why really fit? Because you can knock yourself out and turn that knob as fast and as furiously as you want but if the tension in the line exceeds the drag setting nothing happens or the line even goes out! This annoys the heck out of you the first time you use an AR but it forces you to learn how to fight fish with the rod and trust your drag.
Getting All Knotted Up
Nearly all of us, including myself, could do better with their knots. If you are breaking off many fish, the most common culprit is your tippet connection if you use tippet. Avoid a tippet connection by using a straight tapered leader, or learn one of the 100% class-tippet knots such as the Bimini Twist. If you frequently break off directly at the fly you can practice the fine details of your fly connection or switch knots. You can and go with heavier line, but most of us do not take advantage of the full capability of our tippet as it is.
Timing The Take
Sometimes you may be slightly early or late on the take and get shallow penetration in the carp's lips. The fish also sometimes misses a little on accident or on purpose and does not fully engulf the fly. This seems to be a little more common in rivers where the current adds extra complexity to the process for us and the fish. Both are more likely to miss the mark just a little bit when current is involved. This still happens to me fairly regularly. Unfortunately I know no easy fix beyond perseverance and experience.
Not Using a Net?
Until last year I preffered to beach carp and did not even carry a net. I have changed my tune a little. I now think it is a little less stressfull for me and the fish to scoop them up. Using a net helps your landing rate at least a little bit, particularly at the end game, but it can be difficult to find a net that is large enough for carp and easy to pack around.
Tore Up From The Floor Up
For some reason a really hot carp will sometimes just tear you a new one from the start. Sweet.