Catching carp on the fly is a numbers game. No amount of skill, tips, tricks, or techniques can change that basic fact. These fish are tough, so if you want to be successful in terms of numbers, you better have a lot of opportunity. A good day for me during on the Columbia is somewhere between 10-20 fish in a day...call it 15. By myself, with decent conditions and nothing weird going on I can reasonably expect to put about that many fish in the net, give or take a few for being zoned in, or zoned out. To some, that number will seem really low, to others it might seem really high...but the truth is it really comes down to some relatively simple math.
On a day when I land 15 carp I have likely seen 100+ fish. I have likely put the fly on several dozen fish, and if I am lucky or on my game, I hook and land about 15 or so. Math. Opportunity. Numbers. Wendy Berrell once said that on the Columbia, the best carp anglers are lucky to catch 50% of the fish they cast to. I don't consider myself one of the best by a long shot and am thrilled if I stick 1/3 of the fish that see my fly on a given day. I do fish with some of the best...guys like Travis, David, and Mr. P. but even those guys don't stick over 50% on the big C. Like Wendy has said...it just doesn't happen.
Granted...I am at times my own worst enemy. I have two basic rules that I follow about 99% of the time, and those rules both cost me fish, and result in fish. First, as I have mentioned before...I never cast until I can see the carp's head. Out here the name of the game is detecting the take, and you simply can't do that unless you know where the mouth is, and can see the head, at least as an outline. What do I do if I can't see the head? If the fish is buried in a cloud from tailing, or too deep, too far, etc. I either wait, or I try to get closer. This absolutely results in blown opportunities...but I believe it also results in better opportunities...and the latter more often than the former.
Second...I firmly subscribe to the "bonk them on the head" philosophy. You have to keep in mind that in my experience an aggressive big C fish will move about 4-8 inches to eat a fly...no more. You of course run into the occasional kamikaze fish out here that thinks it is a smallmouth bass, but most fish in this river are simply lazy. They don't have to move far, so they simply don't move far. If the morsel a foot away and clearly in their vision gets away...well, so be it. There is plenty of forage laying around on the floor of the big C. When you take all of that into consideration...a fly that lands two feet away from your target might as well land 20 feet away for all the good that cast will do you. So I smack em right on the head. As you can guess...I spook more than my share of fish, but I stick a few as well. I don't know...I am sure it would be smarter at times to give the fish a little more cushion, but I have pretty much always been the type of guy who goes for the win, even if it risks a loss.
Which brings me to today. I saw 6 fish, 5 in a tiny little creek, 1 in a pond. One fish was positive, five were negative. I put the fly on 5 fish...the negative ones. I couldn't see the head of the positive tailing fish, so I tried to get a different angle and spooked the fish without making a cast. I went 0/5 on the negative fish.
I was an English major in college...but even I can do that math.