Thursday, July 7, 2011

Coaxing Carp On The Drop

I have mentioned catching carp on the drop many times.  I am not sure I have adequately explained what I mean.

Catching huge fish on the strip is hard-on quality cool but it requires a special kind of carp with a certain level of aggression.  Carp with that level of aggression are really only common at certain times of year and in certain parts of the country.  On the other hand there is something about food dropping from the heavens that frequently triggers a strong and visible reaction, even with extremely passive carp. 

What is on the drop? 
The idea is pretty simple really and is hardly worth a long post.  You are aiming to get the fly above the dinner plate and let it drop straight to the bottom in the carp’s field of vision. 

That may be all anybody needs to know, but there are some subtle complexities in the drop presentation. 

Why does it work?:
Are carp really used to food dropping magically from the sky?  The average Musky hunter probably doesn’t really care why the figure 8 triggers a strike.  It just does, and that is pretty cool.  On the same level I barely care why carp find food drifting down from the heavens to be appealing.  What is important to me is that it works on passive carp.  Here in CO we have an abundance of passive carp and something on the order of ¾ of my happiness seems to come on the drop.

What to look for:
If the fish is going to take the fly there will usually be some indication before the fly hits the bottom.  You are looking for any changes in body posture or motion.  A furiously tailing fish that stops suddenly might be spooked, but it could also be leveling off to make a move on the fly.  Likewise when a slowly tailing fish starts tailing furiously it is very likely to be after your fly.  When a still or slowly cruising fish surges forward, well you get the picture.  In clear water you may see the mouth or gill-plates pulsate as the fish sucks in the fly.  All of these changes and many more indicate a take. 

 If the fly reaches the bottom without any visible reaction from the carp either it did not see it or was simply not interested.  You can try and ignite some passion with a twitch, strip or even by jigging the fly but often your best bet is to pull out and try another drop at a slightly different distance and/or orientation to the head.    

Getting in the Zone:
 How you get your fly into the drop varies based on the situation.  If the fish are very close you can simply extend the rod and lower the fly into place.  This is deadly even if it occasionally doesn’t feel like fly fishing.  When they are a little further out you can try a “lob drag and drop” style presentation where you lob-cast the fly past the carp and maneuver the fly into the zone at or near the top of the water column before letting it drop.  At extreme distances you may have to attempt to cast and strip the fly into the zone or even just aim for the magic distance where the fly landing does not scare the carp but they still see it drop. 

Speaking of the Zone: 
The size of the zone is a complicated subject of it’s own but there is no doubt that it often helps to have the fly drop a little to the side of the fishes head instead of directly in front.  I loved this great article "You gotta make em move" from Carp On The Fly which explains it better than I ever could.

Action during the Drop:
I have the most success with a dead drop.  By this I mean that I am not stripping or working the fly at all as the fly drops and the fly is dropping as vertical as possible.  Another option that can be extremely effective is to let the fly drop partially through the column and then just when it seems to have gotten attention give it some slow action with a strip or by lifting the rod.  Sometimes it spooks the carp.  Sometimes you get unlucky and actually pull the fly out of what would otherwise have been a take.  It is worth trying though, because occasionally a carp will react violently to the idea of a recently acquired target trying to escape.  These rare takes can be thunderous. 

On the rise:
A similar technique can result in a take I am thinking of as “on the rise”.  Although I have only gotten it to work about 10 times now, I have a method that occasionally works and has me very excited.  These few have started with a slowly cruising or mildly tailing fish coming directly at me.  I land fly past the carp and slowly drag it forward and a couple of inches to the side of the fish.  As the fly approaches the head I let the fly drop on a slow arc down and past the eye.  Just when the fish seems to have noticed the fly you drag the fly slowly forward just fast enough so that it planes back upward.  If you are really lucky the carp may rise up and grab the rising fly.  Coolest dang thing I have ever seen!    Maybe we will get lucky and Mr P will weigh in because he is reputed to have mastered this or something similar. 

Fly Design:
The drop plays heavily into what I think about when tying carp flies.
1)      Sink Rate.  Your fly can either plummet for the bottom or sink slowly down.  Different water conditions and fish behavior dictates different sink rates.  A high sink rate sometimes triggers extremely aggressive takes from otherwise passive carp when they try and get the fly before it hits bottom.  At other times it seems that a quickly sinking fly is too much work or does not give the carp enough time to acquire the target.
2)      Splash-Down:  Heavy and bulky flies hit the water harder. 
3)      Drop Attitude:  Your fly can either go into a dive bomb or sink relatively flat.  The placement of the weight is important but equally important is the placement of materials and how that affects the distribution of drag on the fly.  For example adding a tail has a tendency to drag that end of the fly up and give a little more of a dive-bomb attitude.   
4)      Flutter:   Some flies flutter and breathe as they drop (carp-stew, soft-hackles) while some (hairs ear nymph) are pretty action free. 
5)      Putting it all together:  The balance between drag, weight, sink rate, flutter and splash down gets complicated and fascinating.  More weight = faster sink but more splash.  More material = slower sink with more splash but more flutter.  Less material = faster sink with less splash but less action on the drop. 


  1. This post was super helpful. Thanks for sharing your experience with catching carp and presentations. I have only caught 5 carp now and my last 3 were on the drop with a carp carrot. All of my carp were in close. I had to be stealthy on the bank. Great post man.

  2. Great post. I will have to put the tactics to work.

  3. This post was helpful and I knew some of it but I'm still basically just as confused at how exactly to catch them. All of your casting techniques I've experienced. The part I'd like to see more info on is the blind take. How do you detect a strike without seeing the carp suck in the fly. I try to keep tension on the line but I think the focus on that some times pulls the fly away. Many times I look for a jerk in the line or leader. I think I've lost a few takes by the carp picking and spitting the fly in the mud plumes and I never saw a thing.

  4. @Justin - Shhh...dont let out carpins dirty little secret (that a shocking number of fish are caught within 10 feet). Wouldnt want anybody to think we werent bonefishing.
    @Ken - I personally think that is by far the hardest thing about carpin, particularly in off-color water and it may be imporssible to fully learn from words. It is one of the intangibles that seperates the masters from journeymen like myself. One bit of advice I got from John Montana that has been helping me a ton lately is to treat it like nymph fishing. Look for excuses to set the hook instead of looking for excuses to not set the hook.

  5. Great post! I definitely haven't been giving my fly design enough thought. Really good info in there. Thanks for sharing this McTage.

  6. I thought you were showed the "look for excuses to set the hook instead of looking for excuses to not set the hook" many years ago when you started salmon / steelhead fishing back when you live in MI?

  7. Maybe I havent been watching enough JT videos lately. If you still have that one you should mail it out to me for some remedial flossing guidance!

  8. Great read and always useful tips to try!


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