Sight fishing has been a huge part of fly fishing for quite some time, and I’ve never met any fly fisherman that just detested it. Maybe this is why carp on the fly has become so popular and why it is so much fun. Couple the sight fishing with lots of refusals, and the eventual take is all that more rewarding. But carp are the teenage girls of the fish world; they are very hard to predict and change their minds regularly. That’s why we as fly anglers need to experiment like a hippy at Woodstock with respect to our tactics. One simple yet effective approach is “the drop”. No “the drop” is not some ride at Disneyland. It is, however, an essential technique for carp fly fishing success.
The technique of the drop is more or less straightforward. Unlike with other fish that almost always require some form of retrieve, carp very often want the fly stationary when they eat, not necessarily when they see the fly. Similar to permit, the carp can be unpredictable, and each fish may want something different from the last. The drop is similar to a permit presentation in which the crab falls directly in front of the fish like a falling crab, but the fall itself is the trigger, not when the fly lands. To accomplish this with carp, you need to cast well before the fish and drag the fly over the surface and then drop the fly right in front of the fish. If a short cast or dap is necessary, then simply dangle the fly and drop it directly in front of the fish. Use a weighted fly or some split shot to get the fly down. It is very important to not let the fly splash anywhere near the fish in most cases and particularly in areas where fishing pressure is common. I have not observed a perfect speed for the drop, so experiment with this. Once you have dropped the fly in front of the fish, the carp will turn down and follow and, more times than not, take your imitation on the drop itself, not when the fly has landed, although this happens too since a fly on the bottom is probably the most common technique in clear to semi-clear water. I want to distinguish this technique as a trigger on the fall versus the drag-and-drop technique, which is the most common technique for positioning the fly in front of a fish on the bottom. Any hookset is usually effective whether it be a strip set or a “trout set”. At really close distances, I always lift the rod on the hookset. Most of my experience with the drop has been at close distances (within 30 feet), and I have never missed a fish because of the hookset with this technique, when the fish has committed.
Gear with this carp fly fishing technique is your standard carp gear and more or less dependent on the size of the fish and present vegetation of the fish’s environment. I fish an eight weight and have broken a six weight or two on carp. Tracking the fly, particularly in murky water, is a challenge, but this technique allows you at least to stay in the game when the water is murky and you can’t see takes on the bottom. For tracking my fly in murky water, I will attach a small indicator within a foot to a foot and a half of the fly. The indicator sinks and causes no problems with casting. My indicator of choice is a used fly line, nail-knotted to the line. You can go one to three turns with the nail-knot depending on how much you need on the line. I use bright orange from a heavy weighted line like an 8-10 weight, and I use a washed-out chartreuse from a 3-4 weight for clearer water. Experiment with what works for you, but get something to help you track your fly in murky water that doesn’t interfere with your casting or presentation. The drop does not work all of the time, but it is very effective in certain instances. When should you fish the drop and when should you not fish it?
WHEN AND WHEN NOT TO DO “THE DROP”
Carp are not the freshwater bonefish. They eat like bones and permit, but they eat much more like a redfish, i.e., they eat at all levels of the water column more frequently, and grass carp feed on top like a spring creek brown trout. Whatever the saltwater equivalent, carp are most susceptible to the drop as a trigger to feed when they are closer to the surface or swimming with their heads parallel to the surface in the intermediate depths. I have also been successful with the drop when fish are moving with a purpose or moving at a slow pace. In this way, it may be somewhat of a reaction take. I want to emphasize again that I am discussing “the drop” as a trigger since you almost always drop the fly to tailing fish, but it’s hard to tell how much this drop is the trigger (with tailing fish) since they usually take the fly on the bottom rather than when its falling in this scenario since they’re already nose-to-the-bottom. Also, this technique has worked in both murky and relatively clear water, so experiment to fine tune on your local waters.
Fish location and the fishery itself have helped me to know when to use the drop with greater success. When fish are close to shore and near vegetation or trees, this has been the situation where the drop shines for me. Bodies of water where people feed ducks, where things are falling into the water, where insects might be diving under the water, or where forage activity is going on at all levels is where the drop has worked for me as well.
I sat down recently and compared notes with Steve Martinez from Indigo Guide service, and he says that the carp at Beaver Island in Michigan hate the drop. This is open water fishing from boats in very clear water with few trees to speak of where the fishing takes place normally. My experience has been similar in open water situations over two feet deep as well for the drop as a trigger, although I have indeed caught fish on the drop from time to time in open water situations. However, the drop may be effective anywhere depending on the forage species and where the carp sees the fly dropping. Experiment on your own waters though. In open water situations, I have had much more success when the fly drops or jumps a little to catch a cruiser’s attention. In open water like the Great Lakes, I usually employ the drop much further in front of the fish, but use it more like the standard drag and drop. Experiment, since a unique environment or time of year may get the fish looking for the drop in your waters. For me though, bodies of water with a combination of both heavy fishing pressure and relatively clear water have been more or less duds when fishing the drop. The carp see people casting worms at bluegill or soft plastics at bass and are conditioned not to touch stuff that drops to a much higher level than places that get hit by few anglers.
FLIES FOR CARP FLY FISHING THE DROP
Carp flies that have been most successful for me with the drop are moderate to small patterns. Size 14 and bigger nymphs, backstabber style flies, and other nymphs and egg patterns have all produced fish on the drop for me. The key with this carp fly fishing technique is to have flies that will dive or slowly fall to the bottom of the pond in front of an approaching fish. Thus, weight in the form of weighted eyes (lead, brass, bead chain etc.) or some split shot are critical for the pattern to be successful with this approach unless the water is extremely shallow. I also have more success when the fly is moderately weighted, since an extremely fast falling fly will often gets to the bottom too fast to allow the fish to follow. Remember this is only for the drop. Experiment with flies and pay attention to what’s happening in the pond, lake, or stream that you fish in. If dragonflies are all over the place, pollywogs are lazily swimming around, or stuff is falling into the water, use patterns that come close to these items. Carp are such an adaptable species that you need to have a variety of techniques for these fish through the season, give the drop a try, and I’m sure you will stack the odds a bit more in your favor, but don’t expect carp and their pubescent ways to make it easy on you.