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Fly Fishing For Carp In Portugal – Headstand Flies And The ‘Drag And Drop’ Method

Jamie Sandford shares the success of using headstand flies and the drag and drop method for catching carp on a fly on a summer trip to Portugal.

After my first successful ‘Carp on Fly’ trip to Portugal in 2017 I decided to book a return visit with my guide for June 2018. The trip was a huge success resulting in over 100 carp in just four days fishing.

With the skills I had learnt the previous year, I was already mentally prepared for the method and techniques I would need over the course of the trip, to do battle with these ‘freshwater bonefish’. As I’ve mentioned previously, the method to incorporate into sight fishing for carp in Portugal, is the ‘Drag And Drop’ technique via the use of ‘Headstand Flies. I’d like to tell you more about the flies and their global variations as well as the technique itself.

Headstand Fly for Carp
Headstand Fly for Carp

The trip was a huge success resulting in over 100 carp in just four days fishing.

Drag And Drop

Picture the scene, you walk along the shoreline and the unmistakable sight of carp can be seen feeding in the margins. Some of these fish are so close, and in such shallow water, that the back of the carp is clearly visible along with those all-seeing eyes. Believe me when I say these fish could sense you metres away. Your pace slows as you carefully place one foot in front of the other, doing your best to make as little noise and vibration as possible. Carp can be seen rooting amongst the sandy bottom and other fish can be seen tailing in slightly deeper water. As these fish root for food items big plumes of silt rise to the surface leaving only the sight of a rigid tail ‘waving’ as the fish feeds.

Carp feeding in the shallow margins ideal for the drag and drop method.
Carp feeding in the shallow margins ideal for the drag and drop method.
Targeting the water close in for feeding fish.
Targeting the water close in for feeding fish.

You pull line from the reel and ready your fly, taking time to check that the legs are not tangled in anyway as this would impede the fall rate and presentation of the fly. With some short false casts to your side, away from the carp you are about to target, you feel happy with the amount of line out and you make a ‘proper’ cast. This is where the practising has paid off and although there are lots of carp present… get this cast wrong and you can guarantee that with one spooked fish heading for the horizon its friends will follow, causing you to seek out fresh undisturbed fish!

You cast ahead of the carp perhaps a foot or so and in one quick movement draw the fly across the surface and drop it directly in front of the fish you have in your sights. Before the cast has taken place there are already many factors you must overcome, like actively targeting a fish that is facing you, This allows you to visually see where you want your fly to land in front of the carp and to try and promote a take as the fish sees the fly and rushes to grab it.

I found that a ‘trout strike’ would often lead to missed takes and sometimes it meant physically pulling the fly away from a carp that was set to take. Instead a ‘strip-set’ technique was much more successful. As you watch the carp suck the fly in and the floating line begins to tighten in your hand a solid pull back on the line meant the fish was hooked. Only then did I lift the rod and fight the fish.

Headstand Flies

The main make up of these flies is to allow the fly sit up right with the use of weighted dumbbell eyes and sometimes a body incorporating a lead wire wrap. The eyes and body makeup will vary from pattern to pattern, some are large to imitate crayfish and others smaller to look like a nymph.

Many of the patterns I have used in Portugal are designed to be more ‘suggestive’ than anything ‘in particular’. This works in the anglers favour as the carp can often be found predating on a variety of food items and so a fly that is tied to be black and more suggestive could be any manner of food item. The addition of silicone Silly Legs allows the fly to fall at a steady rate, and similar to the wings of an aeroplane, they give the fly stability meaning the fly will sit flat on the bottom. Often, two to four legs are tied in. It’s amazing to see how much difference it makes if a leg is missing through use.

The world of headstand carp flies is massive particularly within Europe and the U.S. where the origins of these patterns and its variants were initially created with flies such as the ‘Hybrid’, ‘Bellycrawls’ and ‘Carrot Carrot’ being some of the most commonly used.

There are books available with step-by-step tying instruction and more details on how to fish such flies. Yes this has been written with the U.S.A in mind but all these flies and techniques can be used anywhere, Having the right water conditions and stock of fish is the only thing that can make it harder for the British fly angler.

A superb Portuguese common carp for Jamie Sandford.
A superb Portuguese common carp for Jamie Sandford.


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

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.

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