It's a Graceful Thing...

It’s a Graceful Thing…

It’s all fishing. Spinning rod, cane pole, deep sea charters, fly fishing; You’re putting something on a hook whether it's feathers and fur, soft plastic worms, or bait, and hoping a fish wants to eat it. It’s all fishing, that’s what I’ve always said. But one time when I said that, the person in front of me asked “Then why have you chosen fly fishing?” Valid question since I approach it with the carefree attitude that it’s only fishing. The truth is, it’s the casting first before everything else. The casting is what silences the cliché demons, or maybe it’s just something to do when the fish aren’t biting, before the fly hits the water only to come up empty. The cast gives me time for hope, and to do something that feels good before the next step, the hoping. I don’t know. I also like to say that I don’t analyze any of it that hard because it’s only fishing and it’s not important, but I do.

If one thing has become apparent since taking up writing, it’s that in a writer’s mind nothing is trivial. In front of you I’m keeping it simple and straight forward. “Dude, it’s just fishing. Don’t think about it so much. Just cast where there might be a fish and take it from there.” But inside I’m analyzing everything. And why I fly fish? It’s the casting. Why is it the casting? I could get all poetic about it, maybe that would help some people understand.

A fly line unrolling out in front of you is like a spiderweb gracefully carried on a breeze with the sunlight playing on it. It’s like the lines on sheet music with the notes of a classical masterpiece hung from them. A fly line unrolling and finally laying out straight to gently drop is like an ocean wave as it peaks, breaks, and then flattens to fade on the sand in that split second before it recedes back into the sea. Standing in a river or on the front of a boat and casting a fly rod is like conducting an orchestra and all that you see before you, the water, the trees, and the sun and clouds in the sky, they’re your symphony.


But I’m not a poetic guy. I avoid it at almost all costs. In person in front of people I’d probably say “Nah, a fly line is just a string covered in PVC or Polyurethane so that it’s smooth enough to glide through the guides of the fly rod, to shoot that fly line out there and maybe get a fish’s attention. And as simpler things like strings go, it’s pretty bad ass. It’s a life changer man. For sure. But that’s all it is.

I’ve never considered myself a great caster, just good enough. JP would be the best I know personally, and one of the best I’ve ever seen. And then I’ve seen every level in between. But in general, casting a fly rod is a graceful thing.

Trout require a graceful presentation usually when dry fly fishing. And if the cast is right and the fly is right and the fish is feeding, it’ll usually work out for you. But I’ve caught them on horrible casts too. It happens. Because it’s just fishing.  And this is where I’ll probably lose a lot of people. The most graceful casts I’ve ever needed to make weren’t to trout at all. They were to carp. Chasing carp with a fly rod gives you two things, two polar opposites. First there’s the grace of the cast. Short grace. False casts can have them spooked and moving away in haste, or in the least annoyed and onto your game. So a graceful, but efficient cast is needed. The line needs to lay down quietly, the fly needs to land with minimal commotion. A bad cast will almost always ruin a shot at feeding carp. Gracefulness is the key to success on most days. And if your casting is up to it, as graceful as you’re capable and it’s enough, the next thing is the opposite of grace. It’s an explosion of bronze scales slashing the surface and all hell breaking loose, followed by trying to stop a bulldozer with a fly rod.

Carp on the fly is like the beginning to a heavy metal song that starts with a quiet, absolutely perfect lone guitar solo that would almost make you cry, and then the entire band breaks out into chaos, thrashing as hard and fast as they can. That’s fly fishing for carp. It begins with gracefulness. Until you’ve gotten the gracefulness down well enough to make it to the next step.

If you’re interested in chasing carp with a fly rod you’re probably the type of person who throws a bird to what society expects and tolerates. You probably don’t get dressed up in a tuxedo and attend ten-thousand dollar plate political fundraisers. You probably enjoy the sideways glances people might throw at you in public because there’s something a little different about you.


If you’ve never tried it but I have your attention, here’s my quick tips to get you started.

-A 7 to 8wt rod and a reel with a good drag. I’ll be honest in saying that the carp I’ve caught have all been on my 7wt I use for bass fishing. That means it has a heavy bass taper line meant for casting big, wind resistant poppers and streamers. What I’m saying here is that I’m doing it with what most carp fly anglers would say is the wrong line… It comes down to that ability to make light graceful casts.  I don’t have a dedicated carp rod yet (Are you listening JP?) but if I did it would be an 8wt. Not for the casting of the flies, for the size and strength of the carp. If you’ve ever picked up toddlers and mid-sized dogs, well, that’s about what the average carp feels like that I hook into. Minimum 7wt in my opinion. There are plenty of stories out there of broken 6wt rods, even though people do use them and even lighter.

-Your reel better have a good serious, dependable drag. This is no time for click and pawl. Imagine accidentally snagging a dump truck as it drives past. That’s a carp. Yes, the dump truck driver is going to flip you the bird and just keep on truck’n. Carp don’t stop until they want to, so don’t forget the fly line backing, you’ll probably need it at least for the first run.

-Flies are very simple for me. A tungsten bead head, a black or olive rabbit strip, and a couple rubber legs. Anything weighted that will get to the bottom gently without a big splash at touchdown. I’ve used dumbbell eyes, but I’ve also spoked a lot of fish with them as they “splunk” down.

-The methods…This could be half a book, so I’ll only tell you my go-to strategy. The rest will be up to you. Spot a feeding carp. If they’re cruising around, 99 out of 100 times they aren’t going to eat. But if you see a carp in the shallows with its tail up and face down, now’s your chance. Make that graceful cast with that gentle fly touch down. I cast a good three or four feet away at minimum normally. If the fish is acting warry, I’ll cast much farther away. Maybe seven to ten feet. Then I let the fly drop to the bottom. Sometimes the carp will see it and go to it. Sometimes I’ll start to slowly drag it towards the carp. The trick is to do this in front of it. As if this buggy leach thing is just passing through, extremely slowly, And sometimes the carp will pick it up. Warning, a bad cast that puts the leader over the carp is a sure way to send them packing to eat at the next diner down the road.

Now, all of this could work, but a lot of times it’s not going to. Why? Well, carp are jerks and will put you in your place. They'll mess with you. Maybe it's in their nature, but maybe we deserve it. I’ve been told fly fishing for carp is the closest you’ll come in fresh water to salt flats bone fishing. So be prepared for the ultimate challenge and a lot of refusals. A lot.

Now remember how this whole thing started? Graceful casts, right? It’s why I love fly fishing, why it’s the therapy my mind needs, and what you need for carp. Well, I’m going to be completely honest with you, because that’s just how I am. After all this talk about graceful casting and how tuff and challenging carp are I’m going to tell you this; Two years ago I caught my first carp on the fly. After years of attempts. And that first carp…It was one of the worst casts, the most ungraceful casts I’d ever made. And that’s the other reason I love fly fishing so much. There I am thinking I have it figured out, all it’s intricacies, all it’s subtleties, and then it reminds me that it’s just fishing. Just cast, and see if you catch a fish. It’s just fishing.

Mark Usyk is a longtime friend of JP Ross. The person, and the company. He's an author of three books currently, with a fourth on the way, full of stories about life, where fishing happens. They can be found right here on the JP Ross website.