During the summer months I'm stuck on the land. I don't have a boat and quite honestly, I wouldn't want one because of let's face it boats are a money pit, that's what most of the guys I know constantly say about them. To pass the time while I wait for the eventual return of steelhead. But the wait can be a long one. So instead of sitting at home wishing for the change of seasons, I've started dabbling in the art of carp on the fly.
For the past several years, I've been learning how to fly fish for them. During the summer months they're really the only big game fish to be found. Many of the larger cats are gone after the spawn and the smaller ones often stay in the rivers. Plus I've grown tired battling the numerous soft shelled turtles that love to take my liver or shrimp bait.
When you look at a carp, they're fat and slow. They resemble a morbidly obese goldfish. Many of the guys I fish with view them as the same as a sheepshead or a goby and that's they're a trash fish. They often give me that "are you fucking serious" look whenever I mention that I'm fly fishing for them.
"Why use a fly? Just toss some corn!"
Fair enough because using bait for carp is like offering a kid a bunch of candy. They'll take it every time and beg for more. But, using a fly is a different story. Now you have to outwit a fish that is naturally wary and a lot more finicky when it comes to a fly. Carp are far from stupid and I've grown to respect this fish. It's become a mouse and cat game and more than often, I've been the cat that has gone home empty handed.
When it comes to fly fishing for carp I use my old 9'6" 7W rod that I've used for steelhead. The majority of carp in the rivers along Steelhead Alley are often smaller than the ones found in the lake. Anything over 10 pounds is considered huge. I have an arbor reel with a drag that is beefy enough to stop them from running into cover. The leader needs to be stiff to handle flipping the larger weighted flies that I use. I pretty well use a leader that consists of 30 and 20 pound fluorocarbon and the tippet is 10 pounds.
When I first started to fly fish for them, I used some of mine old yellow egg flies, as it resembled a piece of corn. At first I cheated as I would chum the waters with corn. This was more as an experiment to see the foraging behavior of the fish. I would watch to see how they would feed. The fish would slowly move along and suck up the individual pieces of corn. I would make my presentation and wait for a fish to take it. It was easy to catch them, but like I said it was cheating and I would get that skeptical glare from a real fly fishermen.
Once I understood the foraging behavior, I ditched the cans of corn. I started to use woolly buggers, hex nymphs and ones that resemble a crayfish. I remember one time, I watched carp slurping up cottonwood seeds. I went home and tied a bunch of flies using white yarn and I teased the fibers out. I had to wait for a day where the wind was strong enough blow the seeds on the water. Several carp would start feeding and I wait for one them to come up to the surface. It took some practice and patience to finally get one of them to take it.
When I said practice patience, I mean it literally. Carp are easily spooked if you cast carelessly. Early on I would curse when my presentation would slap on the water and school of them would bolt. Another observation I've made over the years is I've never seen a carp chase a fly. I've seen stop and slowly swim over to investigate one. What I do is I select a feeding fish and watch how is feeding. Some carp follow a straight line and others do a crossing pattern. Once I select my target I cast away from it and strip in quickly trying to drop into the window. That window is can be really small as I try to drop it as close as possible. Once the fly drops the carp will either take it or ignore it. I've seen times where a carp will come up to my fly and the last second swim away. Other times they have their face in the bottom and I'll feel the line tug slightly and that's when I set the hook.
Since many of Steelhead Alley's streams are shallow, it's easy to see them without the aid of sunglasses. If I see a school of carp suspended off the bottom, I'll keep walking. What I'm looking for are the mud plumes of feeding fish. Because the streams often run low and clearer, I have to be slow in my movements and try not to make any noise. The other problem I often run into are trees. There's been plenty of times where I can't make a cast and I'll have to resort to roll casts or just flipping the fly out to the fish. Carp don't have the best vision so you don't to have to worry about a fish bolting useless you make some sudden movement.
There's a reason why some people call them golden bonefish, because it's very similar to fishing for bonefish. Fly fishing for carp can be fun if you're willing to put in the time and effort. Early on I had a lot of failure and there were plenty of times I went home skunked. These fish can humble the best of anglers.
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