Coarse Fish on Day Ticket Stillwaters
Fly fishing is not all about trout these days. In our new mini series, Flyfishing for Coarse Fish author Dominic Garnett looks at a range of exciting, affordable fishing right on your doorstep. Here, he suggests fly patterns and tactics for catching carp, roach, rudd and other species on small stillwaters.
In terms of the fisheries out there to target with a fly rod, there has probably never been a better choice. Coarse fishing lakes often don’t get a mention in the bargain, but can be excellent. They also tend to be a good deal cheaper than game fishing, at under a tenner a day typically.
Don’t let anyone kid you this is odd or eccentric fishing. Roach, rudd, carp and other species will gladly accept a fly. Smaller lakes will fish well in the summer heat too, when the going is tough for stillwater trout.
Fly Fishing For Coarse Fish On Small Lakes
One of the best places to start with catching carp, roach and other coarse fish on the fly is often your local day ticket lake. Small, well-stocked waters are easiest, and in this equation I’d include both commercials and club lakes. The latter are often the cheapest option of all for a season or day ticket.
Don’t assume you need “bait” type flies to catch. This common carp took a slow sinking spider.
Fly fishing with “bait” style flies has grown massively on these venues over the past decade, but more realistic flies are my focus here. I don’t rubbish anyone who enjoys putting some dog biscuits out and getting a bend in a fly rod, but for me, real insect imitations are infinitely more challenging and rewarding to focus on.
You might require slightly different kit to your usual stillwater or river fishing, but the chances are you already have a rod that will work fine. Somewhere in the region of a four to six weight would be ideal, with floating line. I find a 10ft 4-wt ideal with light lines and species such as rudd and small carp. Indeed, you could go as light as a 2-3wt in this scenario, but have also used heavier rods up to a 7wt if there were better carp.
Leaders will depend on our tactics and there are three main approaches I use, which we’ll look at shortly. I would take some tapered 4-6lb leaders to start with, along with low diameter leader and tippet materials in strengths from 3-6lbs.
Last but not least, you will also need some other basics. A generous landing net is a must, with soft mesh. A long handle is also a big advantage, so treat yourself and don’t rely on a stringy old trout net. Many fisheries will also insist on you using an unhooking mat (find a cheap model that folds away easily). You should also debarb your flies and check fly fishing is allowed. I’m used to the odd funny look or comment by now, but most fisheries will allow the method if you stick to the rules.
You should also debarb your flies and check fly fishing is allowed. I’m used to the odd funny look or comment by now, but most fisheries will allow the method if you stick to the rules.
Key areas to try
Even on a well-stocked coarse lake, the fish won’t be evenly dispersed. Keep mobile, therefore and look out for any signs of fish or interesting features. Spots like the corners and areas of cover are prime, where fish will naturally find real prey. Even where they are regularly fed, they will also be eating bloodworms, snails and insects that fall in.
Other good areas to try are “point” swims; in other words any bit of bank that sticks out further or creates a natural passing place for fish. Don’t feel that you need to cast far, either. Very often the near bank is ideal, and the closer in you fish, the better control and bite indication you get.
Tactic 1: Slow sinking wet fly
This can be the easiest and most instant way to catch of all. Walk almost any small coarse fishery with polarising glasses on a warm day and you will see fish in the upper layers. Rudd and carp are especially active on sunny days and you may well see them swirling or rising for insects.
My typical patterns would be simple, slow sinking flies. A small Spider, Bibio or Diawl Bach could all be worth a try. If there are mainly carp I would start around a size 14, but for smaller silver fish a 16 or 18 will result in more hook ups. If it’s murky, brighter patterns or flies with a hot spot can work well; but don’t go too mad on the size or amount of flash.
The key is usually to land the fly gently, so it sinks ever so slowly right where a fish can see it. Usually I don’t retrieve at all, but just let the fish react. Sometimes you will see the fish take or the water swirl- trust your instinct and strike! Other times you will be watching for the line to pull away. A greased, floating mono leader, with just a short final section of sinking tippet, is ideal for this.
Don’t get disheartened if the first fish or two won’t take. Just present to the next and keep making chances, and eventually one will inhale. You’ll get most takes almost instantly, so I tend to let the fly sink for only four or five seconds, before gently lifting or having a recast.
Tactic 2: Dry fly
Natural dry flies can be the best fun of all for coarse fish, but can be harder to get right. Some situations just beg for this method though. Even the most manmade commercial will have flies hatching and falling in on a daily basis, so keep your eyes peeled and don’t be afraid to give it a go.
Spots with overhanging cover are especially worth investigating, where you might present a beetle or terrestrial for rudd or carp. But in open water you will also catch smaller fish on little emergers. In fact, CDC emergers right down to sizes 18-20 can be ideal for roach. One word of warning here: surface feeders are much fussier about line, so use a quality low diameter tippet and be prepared to step down a little.
Tactic 3: Small nymphs on a short leader
If the fish are not near the surface, but willing to intercept a fly only lower in the water, smaller nymphs are the answer. The real maestro at this method is Dee Egginton, AKA Skateboard Dave (above), whose eye-opening ways with small nymphs are incredibly effective on small stillwaters.
When the water is like soup, the angler will often have to fish “blind” in effect. But by targeting areas such as margin features, point and corner swims where you see signs of fish, a little educated guesswork can pay off.
Perhaps the main barrier to catching is bite indication, because coarse fish can take and eject a tiny fly quickly. With a long leader, bites can be very hard to detect. My answer used to be to fish a tiny indicator a few feet from the hook, which works to a degree. Dave’s method, though, is much more direct and involves a tiny leader of as little as three to four feet; bites are quickly registered on the end of the fly line, which should be treated to float really crisply.
You’ll be casting often with this method and it’s best for fishing close to the bank (which is so often the best area on small stillwaters anyway!). Don’t retrieve vigorously, but just keep in touch, occasionally giving a little lift and pause. Any little draw on the line should be struck. These fish are not like wild trout- and in fact recasting and creating minor disturbance often helps to give the illusion that something tasty has just dropped into the water!
Small, highly visible flies are best: such as a Micro Bloodworm (sizes 16-20) or Diawl Bach, but I also like tiny beaded spiders. You can fish one or even two barbless nymphs together. They might look like very little in such murky water, but you would be amazed at how easily a five-pound carp can often find a size 20 bloodworm!
Hook: Nymph 18-20
Tail: Tiny pinch of marabou
Body: Red flexifloss, well varnished
Thorax: Peacock Herl
Don’t be fooled by the tiny size of this fly, carp and silver fish will still find it in coloured water! Works well fished as a pair on a very short leader.
Micro Red Diawl Bach
Hook: Nymph 14-20
Thread: fine black
Tail: Ginger cock
Rib: Red UV tinsel
Body: Fine Peacock Herl
Bib: Ginger cock
It’s no coincidence that several of my favourite flies for coarse ponds are red. The colour stands out even in less-than-clear water. This little fly works with a slow sinking presentation to sighted fish, but will also pick fish out when sunk.
Red Tag black & Peacock
Hook: Wide gape nymph 12-18
Tag: Red UV tinsel
Body: Peacock herl
Hackle: Black Hen
This is such an excellent all rounder. As a slow sinking wet, it’s hard to beat for cruising fish of many species. Tied larger, it’s also superb for carp feeding on snails in more natural lakes.
High Vis Ant
Hook: Dry fly 16-18
Wing post: Red yarn
Body: Fine black dubbing
Hackle: Genetic grizzle cock
On hot days you’ll sometimes see coarse ponds dotted with tiny black insects, so small terrestrials are well worth carrying. For a few days a year, fish go nuts for flying ants, but they’ll also accept this pattern as any small fly that has accidentally taken a swim.
CDC Black Gnat
Hook: Dry fly 16-22
Thread: Fine black
Body: Black dry fly dubbing
Wing: White CDC
Hackle: Black cock
A simple but very effective dry fly for surface browsing coarse fish. Will pass for a variety of small, dark insects, including the midges and buzzers found on just about any given stillwater.
Death Wish Ant
Hook: Dry fly 12-14
Body: Black foam
Thorax: Seals fur sub, black
Wings: Cock hackle tips
Hackle: Black cock
For carp or larger silver fish, a bigger terrestrial will often get the attention of a better fish or two. You’ll find good numbers of flying ants and other terrestrials in late summer. Try this one for carp sucking at the surface film.
Find flies for coarse fish & Dom’s bestselling books
Many of Dom’s successful flies for coarse fish are produced by Turrall and can be found at his site: dgfishing.co.uk along with his various books. These include the Amazon Bestseller Flyfishing for Coarse Fish, which has a wealth of tactics, flies and advice on all the major coarse species, along with his recent collection of angling tales Crooked Lines.