Carp On The Fly: An Adventure In Portugal
Carp on the fly enthusiast Jamie Sandford recalls a long weekend break in Portugal in search of the powerful ‘golden bones’ as he targets carp and barbel on the Portuguese ‘flats’…
Fishing abroad can be a daunting prospect…Where to go? What tackle to take? Not to mention the biggest question of all…Will I even catch anything?
These are all questions that have run through my head in the past and like most anglers, I too juggle family life and full time work. So when I book a fishing trip I want it to be simple to plan, affordable and fun. In June 2017 the pre-arranged guided trip I took with ‘Carp On Fly Adventures’ in Portugal ticked every box.
I flew out from Manchester to Lisbon on a Thursday evening giving me three full days fishing before travelling home the following Monday. My guide met me at the airport and it wasn’t long before we took the short drive to the villa I would call home for the duration of my trip, which was situated east of Lisbon. After unloading the car and a quick freshen up I turned in for the night ready for my first days fishing.
The clear water meant the fish could be easily seen, however they could easily see you!
Upon arriving at the lake I was blown away by the beauty of the surroundings.
Golden Backs In The Clear Flats
I woke at 7:30am and was met with a lovely continental style breakfast before loading the car with tackle, food and drink supplies for the day ahead. We hit the road around 8:30 am and made our way to the lake. Upon arriving at the lake I was blown away by the beauty of the surroundings. Crystal clear flats were visible with miles of cork trees and olive groves littering the horizon. Black kites and Bee-eaters flew overhead whilst cattle and wild horses could be seen grazing along the small patches of vegetation nestled amongst the rocky dusty ground. This really added to the atmosphere of the landscape, not to mention the 30+-degree heat!
As we unloaded the car and tackled up I looked down to the water in front and could see big numbers of carp feeding on the shoreline. The unmistakable sight of golden backs protruding from the shallow margins as herds of carp made their way along the waters edge. It was a sight that left me speechless and I became ever more excited to wet a line.
My guide had told me that the lake also held barbel and black bass so there was the possibility of a bonus species.
Your standard 7-wt stillwater trout gear should be all you need to tame the Portuguese carp.
Tackle For The Trip
I had brought my own rod and reel on this trip; however my guide had a great range of rods and reels on offer should you choose to not take your own.
Tackle for the trip was my standard carp/trout set up that I use in the U.K. – Guideline ‘Exceed’ 9ft 6in, 7-wt with a Hardy Ultralite ASR reel. I combined this with a Guideline floating line and LOTS of backing. Strong Rio tapered leaders and Varivas tippet material in 12lb completed the setup. Flies used were a selection my guide had tied for me and more could be bought for a small fee if necessary. The flies were tied with small black bead chain eyes for weight and tied in a manner to allow the fly to sit up right when on the bottom. These were tied with Gamakatsu SL45 bonefish hooks, which I found light in the wire but ultra strong. The flies were tied to suggest small crayfish or nymph’s as this is what amongst other items the carp predated on in these warm shallow waters.
This was far and away the best flats fishing I have ever had. Not only the numbers of fish but also the variety.
Carp get the nickname ‘Golden Bones’. It’s not hard to see why!
Crayfish and nymph patterns were the main flies for the drag and drop tactic.
Drag and Drop
We made our way down to the first area we would be fishing, taking our time to tread stealthily and not spook any fish already present. This was something I would come to learn very quickly as these wild and nomadic fish were very spooky and could sense you from well over 100yds away. How? I’ll never know, but these fish are masters of their domain!
This wild fishing was new to me so I was having to learn as I went, and the technique to incorporate, whilst making casts to fish was the ‘drag and drop’ method. The ‘drag and drop’ method used allowed me total control of the fly, in which you cast ahead of the fish and drag the fly back across the surface quickly before dropping the fly on a tight line in front of feeding fish. Short, fast strips can be used to move the fly when it is on the bottom kicking up small plumes of silt and sand.
This often created an instant reaction from the carp and they would rush towards the fly, inhale, and disappear towards the horizon followed by the backing! We walked along the shoreline where I made many casts at feeding fish, and by using the techniques I had learnt, had great fun sight fishing and casting to fish. When you got everything right from the cast to the ‘drop’ you just knew; you saw those lips extend and inhale the fly whilst the tail of the carp became stiff and rigid before turning away and bolting.
Jamie’s first barbel on the fly. One of four he caught over the weekend.
We found a barbel making its way along the shoreline and as I found out these fast aggressive fish were truly incredible sport. Casting ahead of the fish gave me chance to get the line under control and time my strips with the barbel getting closer. With a couple of fast strips the barbel charged towards the fly before leaving me holding onto the rod for dear life!
We headed back to the Land Rover for lunch under the shade of the trees and discussed the plan of action for the afternoon. Over the course of that first day I caught over 20 carp and four barbel. I also felt very lucky to catch a rather rare mirror carp, which I was told was rather uncommon in these waters.
My first day was beginning to come to an end and after a great afternoon we made our way back to the Land Rover. For me it was mission accomplished and I could not have been happier!
It was a short drive back to the villa and after a quick shower I headed to the on-site pool and relaxed in the sun with a beer. The villa’s facilities were nothing short of superb! Situated on a farm the surroundings and staff gave the place a relaxing and friendly atmosphere. The package you pay for means you have sole exclusivity of the villa, which sleeps up to six people with en-suite bathrooms and a kitchen/living area. Ideal if a group of anglers want to book a trip together.
As I had travelled on my own my guide took me out each evening for a meal which was all part of the package cost. Naturally we talked fishing and discussed what the next two days may bring as well as what and where I wanted to fish. My guide was ever so accommodating and very easy going. Fishing times could be tailored to suit the individual and the fishing itself was totally dependant on what the client wanted out of the trip. The first day we targeted carp in the 3-6lb bracket and so, the following two days I was given the option of trying for a bigger stamp of fish, anything from 6lb’s to 20lbs plus. I was happy to go with the flow so this sounded great to me.
Mirror carp were rare in the lakes Jamie fished.
My first day was beginning to come to an end and after a great afternoon we made our way back to the Land Rover.
Day Two – Trophy Fish
Day two was upon us and after another great breakfast we loaded up the car and made our way to a new area of the lake. Upon arriving at this section of lake it was instantly apparent that the area was different. Less fish were visible and the edges of the shoreline were rocky and weedy, with big sections of dried reed-like plants covering the ground. The wind was due to pick up come dinnertime and with heavy cloud cover forecast it would make fish spotting more difficult. I knew this session was going to be a challenge! But I like that.
We made our way down to a small shallow bay that gave us some shelter from the wind and began to search out signs of carp. My guide told me that this area of the lake didn’t hold barbel in numbers like the previous day so I was to concentrate my efforts solely on carp. We found a good fish grubbing on rocks that were covered in weed and by creeping up on the carp I made some short false casts before dropping the fly in the fish’s vicinity.
Accuracy is key to this style of fishing and with less fish to target I had only one chance to make it count and get it right first time. Luckily for me I got it right and the carp saw the fly as it dropped through the water and down to the bottom. A couple of quick strips saw the fly dart past the carp and without hesitation the fish rushed the fly before taking it. Fish on! I knew this carp was bigger and in the shallow water I could see the fish twisting and turning, trying to get the upper hand. After a long battle the fish was mine and I guided it towards me before netting it. I was over the moon. After a few trophy shots the fish was held in the margin to recover before being released.
Testing the 7-wt to its limits. The Trophy Fish on day two certainly put a bend in the rod!
Day Three – Monster Carp
My final day was soon upon us and another chance of a MONSTER carp! The thought of potentially catching a wild, uncaught 20lb plus fish was very exciting. Now fishing is fishing and sometimes it doesn’t always go to plan and I lost a really good fish on the last morning.
We found a really big carp tailing in some slightly deeper margins and with yet again more cloud cover and windy conditions, it was difficult to have total visibility and control of the fly. I dropped the fly almost vertical with just the tippet hanging from the rod tip, The idea was to drop the fly near the carp’s head and watch it’s body language, waiting for the line to pull up tight. After what seemed like a lifetime, with my heart in my mouth, I saw the fish move sharply, and everything tightened up. I struck hard and fast and saw the shoulders and head of a carp that was easily 20lbs. I saw the fly hanging from its massive gummy lips, and as the fish turned, the fly flew out, and everything went slack! I was gutted, but looking back now on the memories of the ‘one that got away’ makes for the trials and tribulations of a fishing trip!
Jamie caught well over 30 carp and four barbel in his weekend in Portugal. Will you be giving it a try this summer?
For me the whole experience was the trip of a lifetime and I was very lucky to catch over 30 carp and barbel that weekend. My guide was superb and I couldn’t fail to learn from him. His knowledge of the area and the fishing was second to none and his friendly fun attitude meant he made every minute of the trip superb. Anyone that wants to try sight fishing for carp should look no further than ‘Carp On Fly Adventures’.
Will I return to Portugal in the future? You bet I will!
Imagine a country with a Mediterranean climate and over 250 days of sun per year, where you can sight fish for wild carp in shallow waters
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Jamie Sandford has been an avid fisherman all his life taking an interest in a variety of fishing styles both in the U.K. and abroad. Based in Cumbria he combines his love of fishing with being outdoors enjoying all aspects of the countryside. Jamie favourite style of fishing is lure fishing for trout, carp, pike and variety of sea species. He promotes fly fishing for carp through the Facebook page, Carp Champions.