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David Vincent offers some thoughts on inverted fly patterns developed for carp

Welcome to our club: the golden scale club. It’s made up of an increasingly dedicated group of anglers from all around the world, who are deliberately targeting carp using a variety of purpose-designed flies. There’s a lot more to this game than just Woolly Buggers and Mrs Simpsons. Carp can be fascinating, and once you overcome the initial prejudices and start to fish for them seriously, the more complex and surprising behaviour you will witness. I’ve seen carp sitting in a bubble line eating nymphs and emergers, turning over rocks with their heads to scare out yabbies and freshwater shrimp, gulping grasshoppers and bogong moths during the summer, and occasionally attacking schools of redfin and mosquito fish fry. They do it all. These active behaviours show that the popular belief in carp as placid bottom feeders is wrong. Instead, they are mobile, versatile and opportunistic prowlers, well suited to an active fishing style of hunting for feeding fish and carefully presenting them with a fly that suggests living prey. BUILDING BETTER FLIES Deliberate fly fishing for carp originated in the USA. When US anglers first began targeting carp, they simply took standard fly shop offerings — things like Woolly Buggers and Woolly Worms — and cast them at carp. These ‘crossover’ flies caught carp, but they do have some shortcomings. The most significant occurs when a fly sinks in a horizontal hook-down posture, which is prone to snagging even when a thick hackle is used. So — again driven by US anglers — a new genre of flies has emerged, which are purpose designed to outwit selective carp. These modern carp patterns are very different in that they’ve been designed to work best with the presentations used for carp, and the situations in which they are found, rather than matching any kind of recognisable prey item. These flies are constantly evolving, too, and are regularly superseded by newer designs. Many carp flies now feature an inverted design, as well as weight at the head of the fly to flip the hook and produce a ‘diving’ action that carp really respond to. Because so much carp fishing occurs over weedy, debris-strewn or rocky bottoms, inverted patterns minimise the chance of the hook fouling on the bottom, particularly if the angler chooses to impart movement to the fly. The design provides flexibility in terms of being able to carry differently weighted flies for different conditions. It provides great hook holds too. For these reasons, many carp anglers (including me) much prefer this design.   STANDING OUT A further refinement is of inverted flies which ‘head stand’— head down, tail up — while stationary on the bottom. This design creates very useful flies that are remarkably snagless and weedless, and are easy for a carp to scoop into its mouth. Creating head-standing patterns requires a careful selection of hook + weight. Carp tiers tend to avoid the use of traditional weighting material such as lead wire, preferring instead to use particular hook and bead chain or hourglass eye combinations as the ‘frame’ for any new pattern. Jay Zimmerman, author of The Best Carp Flies: How to Tie and Fish Them, calls the hook + eye combination a ‘chassis’, the foundation on which a fly is built. Zimmerman details three different chassis combinations in his book, to enable shallow, medium and deep presentations. Of these, the Headstand is probably the most versatile and allows for the quietest presentations. This chassis is named after Lance Egan’s Headstand fly, which uses a #8 TMC2457 hook with a set of medium size beadchain eyes. The other two chassis described by Zimmerman — which are more traditional hook + lead eye combinations — don’t head stand. The Headstand is a very good fly but it isn’t perfect. It’s designed for shallow water and static presentations, or at best a slow shuffle across the bottom. It’s not designed to be stripped quickly. I prefer a fly that can be fished at rest or moving, as this is more versatile and means I don’t have to constantly change flies. The size #8 hook/weight pairing is also very specific and it’s difficult to upsize or downsize the Headstand. Oftentimes a bit (or a lot) of fly movement is good, particularly when carp are feeding on active prey like yabbies. Then, a fly that can be stripped will be aggressively chased by carp that are used to pursuing live prey. If that doesn’t get a bite, allowing the fly to fall often will. Carp really like that diving action and will intercept the fly as its sinks, well before it’s reached the bottom. McTAGE CHASSIS A great alternative chassis has been developed by Trevor ‘McTage’ Tanner for two unique flies: the Trouser Worm and the McLuvin. McTage’s chassis allows flies to headstand well, but also swim with a nice stable action. McTage’s chassis pairs a suitable hook with both a metal bead and a set of beadchain eyes, creating a tripod-like design that provides the weight to headstand, and also a keel to stabilise the fly when stripped. With some experimenting, the hook sizes and weights used can be freely varied, with both brass and tungsten beads being used for different presentations: brass for shallow flats or backwaters, tungsten for deep water and rivers. McTage’s chassis is now my favourite, and I prefer it for all carp flies except the lightest flies for very shallow water, in which scenario the Headstand remains the best. Why does this matter to us here in Australia? Well, flies tied with the different chassis designs help us to better deal with the range of presentation and situation variables described above. They are also fun to tie and experiment with. Importantly, in some urban locations we are now encountering carp that appear to have some ability to change their behaviour as a result of encounters with anglers. I catch more, and bigger carp using flies that have been carefully designed for them, and I no longer use any Woolly Buggers or other such streamers. TROUT & NATIVES As interesting as all of this is for a carper, these flies aren’t just limited to carp. I regularly use the Headstand and McTage chassis designs to solve presentation problems when fishing for both trout and native fish, and some saltwater fish. Picture a newly-flooded margin in an established trout lake. Chances are it’s going to be a bit of a mess of grass, drowned trees and shrubs, sticks and twigs, and lots of floating and sunken debris. What fly would you use? Most would choose either a large wet fly like a Bugger, or maybe a nymph suspended under an indicator. In both cases, the hook point will be facing down ready to snag-up. The Bugger will also usually need to be stripped. Specialist flies for this situation do exist. One, the Thong, described by Paul Marriner in The World’s Best Trout Flies (1995) [see also Ken Orr’s contribution in the Australian version (1997)]. Marriner wrote: ‘The margins of some Tasmanian tarns are cluttered with vegetation. An ordinary nymph will sink to the bottom and lie flat. If you decide to try an attractive twitch, it catches on a stick or weed.’ To a carp fisher, this is a very familiar story. The Thong was designed to address this situation. It’s basically a nymph tied with a thick foam wingcase. When tied correctly, it sinks slowly but, as Marriner says, ‘the moment the tail touches anything it stops…[sitting] upright, in full view of the fish. A cunning little twitch is also possible without snagging.’ Sounds great, but the Thong re-quires very accurate weighting to perform correctly. Much trial and error is needed and many Thongs just won’t work properly. An inverted carp chassis now provides us with another option for this situation. Flies tied on these will land and sit hook-up every time when fished with a ‘do nothing’ presentation, waiting for a trout to pick the fly up. They can also be tied small and light, but will still headstand. Bloodworm or earthworm imitations work well here tied on a McTage chassis with a 1/8" brass bead with extra-small beadchain eyes on a #12 or #10 grub hook. If a larger fly with extra movement is desired, the rubber-leg Woolly-inspired Spork, tied on #8 or #10 TMC2457 with medium bead chain eyes is a good choice. Soft materials (marabou or rabbit fur) that move even during the ‘do nothing’ presentation are essential for these flies. Another good choice is a #12 Red Tag variant, tied with a palmered hackle. This fly lands softly, sinks slowly, and stops sinking as soon as it touches anything — great for fishing over drowned grass. Trout love this fly, and can easily pick it up from its resting place because of the weedless design. Inverted flies work just as well for trout over sand or gravel bottoms. Two of my favourite polaroiding flies are the Red Tag variant and the Peeking Caddis tied with a foam head, both on a #12 McTage chassis. These have proven to be very effective in Jindabyne and Eucumbene, where they can be left in position on the bottom to ambush trout on those strange days when they are extremely wary and shy away from flies with even the slightest amount of movement, as well as when they’re gathering prey that don’t move much (water snails or cased caddis). Different tying materials can also complement the chassis and ensure that the finished fly will fall smoothly through the water — without plummeting to the bottom like a lead sinker — and headstand well. Foam is especially useful, either tied as a head (as seen in the Peeking Caddis) or tied in a small ‘nub’ on either side of the fly like stumpy claws. PERCH, BREAM & WHITING Flies tied on a larger McTage chassis have proven to be excellent when used for polaroiding golden perch, because they swim well when stripped, and can be swum over a stationary perch and then allowed to free-fall right into position. If it’s not eaten as it’s falling, the fly will headstand enticingly on the bottom like a defensive yabby. This presentation generates great reaction bites from perch when they’re laid up on the bottom and not in a chasing mood. A chassis consisting of a size 1 Mustad 34007 with a bent shank, a 5/32" tungsten bead and XL beadchain eyes is my favourite for this. Finally, #10 and #12 tan or pink marabou worm patterns on a McTage chassis are dynamite on bream, whiting, flathead and mullet on the flats. I’m also keen to try them on a bonefish the next time I visit Christmas Island. Other applications are possible. How about a fighting crab or mantis shrimp pattern for permit built on a McTage chassis? Somebody try it – please! AHEAD OF THE GAME Fly fishing for carp is great fun and presents a legitimate challenge when the fish are large, or where they are subject to ongoing pressure from anglers. No other fish has forced me to continuously change my approach and the flies used in order to stay ahead of the game. The development of carp-specific flies may seem a bit ridiculous to those who haven’t tried it, but that’s OK — there are plenty of us who are out there enjoying the challenge posed by those big golden scaled fish.

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