So, in early July 2015, when my good friend Alan Taylor, an experienced coarse fisherman, suggested that we go off to the White Post Lake near Todber in Dorset to do some ‘proper’ fishing (his words), I readily agreed. Proper fishing indeed.
In the car park I took my tackle from the back of my ancient Peugeot estate – a small rucksack cum seat that held not only a small Tupperware container with my floats, hooks and things, but also the maggots, my lunch and a bottle of water. I carried the whip and landing net in my hand.
Alan arrived and drew up next to me. I thought he was going on holiday. Out of the boot of his car came a large holdall, bags of this and bags of that, rods, nets, an umbrella, and what appeared to be a bed. I wished he had brought along one of those cart things because he expected me to help him carry this lot to the water’s edge.
I caught the first fish, a roach, which he said didn’t count because it was less that six inches. He was using floating bread and soon had a carp of about 5lb in the net; he said 8lb. He threw in some more bread and sure enough more carp came along and sipped the floating pieces from the surface. In went his bit of bread and another fish was in the bag.
I took off my float and split shot and tied on a bigger hook, having first raided Alan’s supply of bread. I chucked in a few pieces about two yards out and waited.
Sure enough, a couple of carp came along and down went the bread with a loud slurp. I popped my hooked offering among the remaining crusts and a short time later I too had a half decent carp on the bank.
That evening I was at my fly-tying bench trying to cobble together a bread crust lookalike. There followed a quick search on the internet and soon a box of deer hair dog biscuit Zig flies was on its way.
In the morning I was on the phone to Alan and our next expedition was planned, a trip to the lakes at Coking Farm just off the A30 out of Shaftesbury.
By the time I arrived, Alan was already comfortable in his chair, his float nestling next to the reeds. Tench, he told me, were his target. However, I had come to fly fish for carp, so I set up my trusty 10ft Airflo Delta Classic with a 7-wt floating line and 12 feet of 7lb Double Strength nylon. I tied on a size 12 GRHE and on the third or fourth cast had a fish on that headed strongly down the lake for about 30 yards before I was able to turn it. I lost it about three yards from the bank.
Much encouraged, I fished on for half an hour with the same fly but, apart from the odd pluck from smaller fish, had nothing. I threw in some bread and as the carp came cruising along and began taking it I tied on my ‘bread’ fly and cast it out. Several fish sniffed it and then turned away to suck down the real thing. I cast again and the same thing happened – very frustrating.
After a few more casts the fly became waterlogged and sank, so I decided on a change of tactics. In went some dog biscuits and sure enough the carp began feeding on those. By the time I had tied on the Zig fly there were a number of fish circling around. I cast and threw three biscuits around the fly. A fish swam slowly up and sucked the fly down. ‘God save the King’ and lift. Nothing, just the fly bouncing back towards me.
Another cast, along came a fish and same again. Nothing, not even the slightest sign that I had touched it.
On the third attempt I saw my fly being ejected on a jet of water, rather like a ping-pong ball bouncing atop a small fountain at a fairground rifle range. I then drew on my trout fishing experience, watching the line as it bowed from the rod tip to the water for an indication of a take. Out went the fly and along came the carp.
With half an eye on the fly and half on the line I waited. A fish opened its mouth, the line did not move, not even a twitch, and the fly was pushed out of the way by the powerful wash of the fish’s tail as it swam off. Several fish were still loitering in the same spot so I cast again. As soon as the fly landed two fish headed towards it. The bow in the line straightened, I lifted and a fish was on. What a fight. Not the aerobatics and thrashing about of a trout, just a powerful run into the middle of the lake. I turned him and recovered some line and then off he went again taking me down to the backing, the reel screaming in protest. Back and forth we fought until I eventually coaxed him to within a yard or two but the battle was far from over as he stayed deep and kept trying to reach the sanctuary of the reeds that line the bank. At last I got his head up and he came to the net, a beautiful fish of, I estimated, about 5lb or 6lb. A minnow compared with the specimen hunter’s quarry but, to me, magnificent and a joy to catch. I caught four that day.
On one occasion I twitched the fly as a fish approached just to attract its attention. It worked then, but not on every occasion. I had, thanks to Alan, enormous fun and a wonderful day.
I have been a number of times since with varying degrees of success. On one day I had eight when other anglers using traditional coarse methods were less fortunate. On another day I blanked while my neighbour had a bagful using a pole and bread bait. There have been aggressive takes on a floating orange and white Booby and then for the rest of the day the fly has been ignored. It has been an interesting and enjoyable way of spending those hot, bright summer days when trout are difficult, if not impossible, to catch.
So is it fly fishing? Yes it is, but there is a fundamental difference. In reservoir trout fishing a lot of the time is spent casting blind, unless of course the fish are rising. We rely on either hunger or aggression to stimulate the fish. Here the carp are attracted by groundbaiting, albeit with stuff that floats, and then being cast to. I am sure that the owners of trout fisheries would take a dim view of anglers throwing in handfuls of trout pellets to attract the fish, but the use of a groundbait is an integral part of coarse fishing, so when fly fishing for carp, I readily embrace it.
I always ask the fishery if I am allowed to use a fly and I have never been refused. From my fellow anglers I receive a curious, helpful and warm welcome. At a trout fishery that allowed any method I hope that the coarse anglers would be just as warmly received. It is, after all, just fishing.