Everyone should be well aware that carp on fly is now entering that ‘booming’ phase – that exponential growth phase in popularity when most trout anglers discover just how nice and challenging it is to catch something else on fly, like tarpon…While reading up on the carp fishing history in our country I realised that the ‘big bang’ for carp on fly may in part have happened in South Africa.
Common carp were introduced to South Africa in the 1700’s by British colonists (De Moor and Bruton, 1988), but more official stockings (and many unofficial as well of course) continued to take place throughout the 1800’s and 1900’s, whereby fish were legally imported from England and Scotland (1896) and bred in hatcheries (Jonkershoek hatchery in the Cape and Pirie hatchery in King Williams Town, respectively). Other ‘illegal’ or informal stockings were from individuals importing carp to stock botanical garden ponds and their own garden ponds (McCafferty et al., 2012).
Shipment of carp to South Africa amazingly preceded the introduction of rainbow and brown trout that only took place in the 1890’s (McCafferty et al., 2012). Ironically, while people have fished for trout with lures and flies for centuries, freshwater lure and fly fishing for carp and indigenous freshwater fish in South Africa only started in the 1960s. It was pioneered by Prof. Ben Engelbrecht from approx. 1960 onward. According to Bill Hansford-Steele’s writing in Fishing Flies for Africa (2013), Prof. Ben Engelbrecht developed black lead head flies for carp and sharptooth catfish in the 1970s, which must have been the start of the ‘dipping’ technique in our country (also called ‘dapping for carp’ by fly anglers in the USA).
Dipping is still a popular technique today whereby long pole-like conventional rods are used to dip small lead head flies in front of feeding carp. Carp are either stalked on foot in shallows or by boat in slightly deeper water using this method. However, Prof. Ben Engelbrecht was also a keen fly fisherman and I am convinced that he also targeted feeding carp with his black fly creations using fly tackle. He was described as an ‘innovative’ fisherman and he developed his own handmade lures and flies which became very popular across southern Africa, such as the “Tickey Spinner” for kurper/tilapia/bream and his “Engelbrecht black jig” for carp and catfish.
That is according to my knowledge the fundamental start of fly fishing for carp with small black and black & red (Zulu) flies in South Africa (and likely the world with those specific flies?). There are several other people in the world that pioneered fly fishing for carp, including Dave Whitlock in the States.
Interestingly, Dave described carp as the perfect ‘futuristic’ fly fishing fish in the movie series Carpin’; he said that if you took a bonefish and a redfish and crossed them, you’d have an amazing flats fish that you could catch by sight on a diversity of saltwater flats; if you then took it further and crossed it with a beautiful, wild, golden cutthroat or brown trout, you’d get the right colours (shades of yellow, red and gold); and lastly, you need to incorporate some stainless steel into it to make it resistant to pollution and heat to last for the next 100 years (isn’t that so sad at the same time?). That, as he says in a nutshell, is essentially the definition of a carp. I couldn’t agree more – as an added bonus, carp do actually feed on freshwater and saltwater/estuarine flats in our country.
Dave also mentions in the Carpin’ series that he caught carp on bait and fly while fishing for bluegills as a kid. That doesn’t ‘sommer’ happen in our country and especially not in the Western Cape for that matter. Our carp are so fullashit that being a ‘by-catch’ while targeting other fish would be described as a lucky strike of a lifetime. OK, maybe not that special, but you get the point. I believe some folks would understand what I’m talking about as I’ve even heard Yanks talk about ‘tight-lipped’ carp in Central Texas.
Fair enough, we have the Vaal and Orange Rivers where fat carp eat streamers, so you get slightly more aggressive fish in the northern parts of our country, but nothing like the crawdad-hunting Lake Michigan carp. Not even close (just go check out johnmontanacarp on IG and see for yourself)! It makes sense why the Americans would have developed flies like Dave Whitlock’s famous NearNuff Crayfish. Throw that thing here and you’ll see carp ‘tailing’ for deep water (and not on your fly).
That’s why I’ve focused on small stuff and especially on fine-tuning Prof. Ben Engelbrecht’s flies and methods because they are killer in our country – whoever’s reading this in another country should certainly give it a shot. Even though we targeted and caught many carp in the Western Province art lure leagues and nationals using clumsy, telescopic poles with small black and red lead head flies, it was only when I fished with Garth Nieuwenhuis more recently that I noticed how much more effective his 10 ft fly rod was at ‘dapping’ carp tailing in dam shallows, compared to my standard 9 footer.
This made me review my entire fly fishing approach for carp and gave birth to the idea of using a spey rod instead. My thinking was that a 14 ft ‘fly rod’ would give me an even greater advantage for reaching carp than a 10 footer.
Next came the line and tippet, another conundrum to solve as a floating fly line down the length of a long ‘fly rod’ would make one lose touch and it would pull the leader back into the guides making it impractical; and carp are damn strong as well as tippet shy, so a relatively thin, but tough tippet brand was required too. Enter Trout Hunter 3X fluorocarbon tippet. Yes the stuff’s expensive but it is perfect for the job and super strong for its diameter.
The idea was to then tie a piece of Trout Hunter 3X fluorocarbon to the leader so that the tippet would run down the entire length of the rod, attached to a tungsten weighted jig-head fly dangling about a meter below rod tip. This obviously created a ‘hook’ problem…Strong rod + strong tippet and you have hook failure, guaranteed. It took me a while to find the right hook, but finally tied a winning fly on the Hanak competition Jig Trophy hook (the name says it all).
My Big Carp Theory entailed lowering the fly effortlessly with fool proof tackle in front of a feeding fish, the sensitivity of the NRX blank detecting the subtle suck-take. The results were simply mind blowing; orgasmic good, next level, the bomb! It was everything I imagined it would be, actually even better. The cherry on the cake for me was that I could finally ‘dip’ flies to big, spooky carp feeding in thick weed beds and among sticks, places where a normal fly rod cannot even be used. The combination of tackle described above executed the job perfectly, from presentation and hook-up, through the dirty fight, to keeping the fish on the surface and safely netting it.
I now carry two rods with me when I go carpin’; the 14 ft NRX Spey – for reaching tricky fish – and a Horizon Tactical Competition 10 ft 6 weight – for casting and reaching less skittish fish. The combination of these two rods have made a huge difference to my carp fishing trips to local rivers and reservoirs, the increase in fish size and numbers landed making the outings so much more fun and memorable.
De Moor, I.J., and M.N. Bruton. 1988. Atlas of Alien and Translocated Indigenous Aquatic Animals in Southern Africa. South African National Scientific Programmes Report No.144. CSIR, Pretoria. 310 pp.
McCaffertyI, J.R., B.R. EllenderI, O.L.F. Weyl, and P.J. Britz. 2012. The use of water resources for inland fisheries in South Africa. Water SA vol.38 n.2 Pretoria.
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