Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Harder than Steelhead

Even after a major butt kicking yesterday, Cinda, Steve and I were up early and rearing to get back after the ever so difficult grass carp. At least Cinda and I were. With the carping as tough as it was yesterday, Steve opted to relax and catch up on emails. He went with us though and he drove us right back to the canal to exactly where we saw the majority of the grassies rising yesterday. Sure enough their noses were breaking the surface and glistening everywhere in the morning light.

Honestly, I felt like today would be easier. We were several hours earlier than yesterday. I made mistakes yesterday that I didn’t expect to make today. And I was confident in my olive grand hopper. After all, I got three grassies to eat yesterday all while learning the nature of the canal fishing. Today I should fool at least ten right? Wrong. All those good feelings disappeared quickly.

For starters, I pulled out the camera to photograph Cinda fishing to this first group of munching grassies. The sunrise light was stunning. I could get some great photos. Cinda too was feeling confident. We both felt for sure that she’d just drift that dry of hers into them and wham. Maybe I’d even photograph her hook up with a 20lb grassie leaping in the air trying to shake the fly. Well it didn’t exactly turn out that way. These grassies remembered us. They probably were never molested by fly fishers before in their lives and yesterday was traumatic for them. Cinda’s first drift through the happy grassies and it was game over. Once again these carp of the canals won’t spook from a speeding bike, a pair of runners in glow orange or a construction vehicle, but try to fake them out with their food and its like someone sewed their mouths shut!

I didn’t lose hope. I just needed to find the right fish. Just keep the fly in the water over fish and eventually my luck would come through. And it did. But just like yesterday, I had trouble connecting. I set on another three fish and all I got was air. It was painful on the self-confidence to say the least. Was I doing something wrong? Was I waiting too long? Was I striking too fast? What the heck was the problem?

By 10 am temps were in the upper 90°s. Even with sunscreen on, I’m sure my legs and feet and face were broiling. I didn’t notice. Grass carp turn me into a truly possessed angler. Over and over I prowled up and down this particular stretch of canal. There continued to be the occasional riser. Sometimes I’d feed my fly down. Sometimes I’d cast up to them. Both methods gave me the sporadic look but eventually the grass carp knew I was after them and simply sunk to the deep and laughed at my efforts.

Not too far from this stretch of canal was a small dam much like what you’d find for irrigation on a Wyoming river. Below the dam the water gushed out. At a glance you’d assume it was too fast for carp. But upon closer look you could see a few monsters sliding up and down through the current. Their silhouettes resembled huge New Zealand trout more than carp. I strolled down about a ½ mile or so below this water surge and began nymphing my way up it.

My rig was and old favorite. I went with two of Vladi’s Polish nymphs about 8 inches apart. I attached them to 4X Fluorocarbon and fished them without an indicator. Then like a blue heron I made my way up current slowly walking up the concrete edge of the canal. I saw tons of carp. While most were grass carp, there were also common carp and koi as well as some specie of sucker. I made casts to every fish I saw. I didn’t care what they were. Most of them spooked on the first cast because of the bright Arizona sun. Some would allow me a few extra casts then tear out of their lairs like a lightning bolt. And the ones that didn’t spook at all wouldn’t look at my nymphs.

Things were going bad. These carp would have nothing to do with me. Worst of all, when dredging a city canal you snag into a lot of disgusting things. On a river, I hardly ever get snagged when Euro style nymphing. But here there are crates, rags, clothes, garbage, shoes and all kinds of other crazy things you can hook. And with 4X you break off flies way too often. It was so bad that eventually I was out of the measly nymph assortment that I brought with me to AZ.

By now it was 2:15. Steve, Cinda and I agreed that we should be out of there by 3 because I needed to get ready for tonight. (Remember, I’m here in AZ to speak to Desert Fly Casters about fly fishing in Baja). It was looking like this would be my first trip ever to AZ where I did not get covered in grass carp slime – not cool at all. I was only a little ways below the small dam on the canal so I decided to walk up to it and look. About then I saw a common carp munching algae off the wall of the canal. I thought I’d try and get a picture of the armored scaled fish. Then a sturdy grass carp of about 10lbs swam off the bank and rose to a floating willow leaf. The leaf was about 3 inches long and he devoured the piece of greenery and slid back to the bank of the canal. This caught me totally by surprise. My heart accelerated as if I just saw a 100lb Nile Perch. I dipped into a crouch. Then the grassie rose again. He was acting like a monster brown trout sipping mayflies on a remote river. After his third rise I tied on the largest, stupidest looking foam hopper I had in my box. Then I made a very low sidearm cast and flipped the quirky looking fly up into the carps feeding lane. Sure enough he slipped off the bank and nipped it like a Henry’s Fork rainbow eating a spinner. And I hooked him! Miracle!

I was hooked up to a grass carp in shock and he frightened for his life. All grassies are strong. They always put up a great fight. But this current dwelling Amur took his first run to a whole new level. He smoked off line so fast down-canal that he had me in a full sprint. I figured I didn’t have a chance. But this was a canal. There aren’t trees sticking out from the bank. No rocks. There’s junk down deep but if I kept him high I did have a chance. A little luck wouldn’t hurt either and after two days with horrible luck, I knew I’d land this guy. Ten minutes later I was scaling down steep slippery cement steps in order to get close enough to wrestle my prize.

The carp dragged me so far down-canal that Cinda and Steve were able to come to the rescue and snap a few pictures. I say rescue because falling into a canal often leads to a horrible death. Under currents, bridges and the inability to get out of them drowns its share of people. I was now balancing knee deep in gross water on a submerged step in the canal doing my best to get my hands on a thrashing grassie of about 10lbs. He was so thick around the neck that a one handed grab was hopeless. And he was too heavy for a tail grab so I had no choice but to let go of the bank, use two hands and just pray I didn’t fall in. It was risky but on my second attempt I got him.

When I lifted the hefty grass carp for this photo heaps of canal water rolled down my shirt arm and all over me. I didn’t care how dirty the water was. I didn’t care about anything. After a two day mission I’d nailed my grassie from the challenging canals of the Phoenix area – success at last!

My “Fly Fishing in Baja” presentation went great tonight. There was a huge turnout at the Desert Fly Casters meeting and I even got myself all pumped up to get back to Baja soon. Unfortunately I’ll have to wait till May 2012. I have many more presentations coming up in the next six months. Take a look at my schedule and see if I’m in your area this winter. I’ll be speaking at many of the Fly Fishing Shows as well as clubs so be sure and come by for a visit. If not, talk with the fly fishing clubs in your area. I’m still taking bookings for the few available dates I have left.

Expect some interesting reports from here on out. Its home tomorrow and to the Henry’s Fork Saturday. Then next week I head for Wisconsin for three days of musky fishing. Time to enjoy October!


  1. That is awesome! Go to see a grass carp in your hands!

  2. You need to stop by Chaska for some good MN Grass carp! I am 0/100 and maybe you can teach me some tricks! I'll keep reading. Safe travels my friend!

  3. I'm stoked I got it done! They can be evil little . . . . . . 'S