Published Apr 6. 2015 - 9 years ago
Updated or edited Jan 30. 2023

Book review: The Best Carp Flies

How to Tie and Fish Them
Jay Zimmerman
Headwater Books
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I have been tying flies for quite some time now and it is quite a rare event when I pick up a magazine or book and get the urge to run to my vise and tie up some new flies. Jay Zimmerman's book "The Best Carp Flies" did just that - and then some. While I am not (yet) a carp angler, it was clear to me how many of these flies could be wonderfully effective on smallmouth bass, one of my favorite fish. I'm sure Mr. Zimmerman would prefer that I come over to the dark side and tie up a box of carp flies to fish for - you know - carp, but don't take my reluctance as a knock on the book. Perhaps if my fishing mentor Gary took me carp fishing instead of bass fishing those first few years, I'd have a different mindset. Since he didn't, I always look at fly fishing books through the eyes of a trout and bass angler.

The book starts off with a short chapter on how to fish for carp. The impression is left with the reader that it is exceeding difficult to fool a carp into taking an artificial fly, and should you be so lucky, your problems are just starting. They are big, strong, smart, spooky, and dogged - far more so than your average trout. From the diagrams and descriptions, it appears that an angler who has some experience casting to sighted fish - and knowing how to place a fly in a fish's feeding path - will at least have a chance at hooking up. That excludes most of us.

Since carp don't appear to be particular fussy about what they eat, and their habitat is usually mud bottomed flats in lakes or rivers, the sort of spot that will suck your wading shoes off your feet (and normally bypassed by trout anglers), there isn't all the poetry associated with carp fishing that you'd suffer through in a book devoted to trout. Carp are roamers and opportunistic feeders - so the author wisely skipped all the "cast in the slick behind the boulder" stuff and got to the point. Find a warm muddy flat - look for fish - and position yourself for the best possible cast. Don't waste time blind fishing. The chapter is short, but very well done.

After the fishing chapter, Mr. Zimmerman jumps into the tying instructions with a general "how to tie carp flies" introduction. It becomes clear right on that the important factor in carp flies is not their anatomical correctness with regards to mimicking some creature that a carp feeds on, but rather their ability to fish properly while maintaining a sense of life. Flies meant to be fished on the bottom need to sink immediately and ride hook point up - two attributes that greatly impact the design and choice of materials. Once those two issues have been addressed - then and only then can the fly designer worry about making the fly look like something a carp would want to eat. Behavior first - imitation a distant second. Both will be required to hook one of these fish.

The rest of the book is a series of chapters devoted to fly patterns - one pattern per chapter. Each chapter opens with a large photo of a finished fly along with a page or two of introductory text, followed by several pages of step-by-step instructions. Let me pause here to say the photography is top notch, as are the tying instructions. World class stuff here. Mr. Zimmerman assumes basic tying skills - thus does not teach how to tie flies - but rather how to tie carp flies - a subtle distinction. The chapters conclude with variations on the pattern theme - a terrific addition. These are not just color variations, either, as you'd find in trout pattern books. Many are design variations - such as tying a Clouser Swimming Minnow w/ the hook up design using bead chain eyes. Just seeing these patterns interpreted in different ways opens the mind to possibilities. Well done.

I really enjoyed this book from the first time I opened it up. The flies are fresh and - to me - unique. The text and photos are engaging and informational. I learned something - a lot of things actually - and got quite energized to tie up these flies and give them a try. Who knows - maybe my fishing buddy Gary will take me carp fishing this summer. He's hooked a couple in his day. If he does - I'll be ready.


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