May 16-19, 2012
The Fin Chasers Carp Classic, a tournament designed to raise money for a fishing guide in need, kicked off Friday at Blackfoot Reservoir in Idaho. This fun event is a fly fishing only carp tournament consisting of three angler teams. For me, its more than a tournament, it’s the first real fishing get together with many great friends. Though the actual tournament doesn’t start until Friday, I went up on Wednesday afternoon and met up with one of my teammates, Ben Smith.
Blackfoot Reservoir is in the boonies of Idaho about fifteen miles shy of Soda Springs. Although once known as a famous rainbow trout fishery, the large beautiful reservoir is rapidly becoming recognized as one of the finest carp fly fishing venues in the west. The place is literally full of mammoth size mirror carp.
Wednesday – May 16, 2012
Ben and I met up mid afternoon at Pebble Beach Boat Ramp. This is where everyone gathers and camps for the tourney. We were the first two there and quickly set up our camp chairs overlooking the lake and swilled a couple beers. Ben worked for me in the fly shop and has become an excellent guide. He now has a wife and family and its rare anymore that we have time to fish together. Luckily this carp tourney has become a tradition and this will be our third year of meeting on Wednesday before the tourney.
There were a zillion midges flying around. The carp had to be eating. So after catching up over the beers we wadered up and set up our carp rigs. I use a 6-weight for Blackfoot carp and rigged my new Ross 6-weight RX with their F1 reel. I always carp fish with a floating line and attached a 9ft 1X leader. Although I prefer sight casting to carp, it was overcast and windy and nearly impossible to see in the water. I tied on a brown woolly bugger, a very reliable fly for carp about anywhere when you’re expecting mostly blind fishing.
A great way to find mirror carp when you can’t see in the water is to spot them free jumping. New to carp anglers get excited when they see the burly fish jumping and think they are feeding on top. Unfortunately this jumping is usually spawning behavior and a dry fly will not catch them. Nonetheless, when you see jumping carp at least you know they are there.
Despite all the leaping carp around us, two hours into our fishing we hadn’t a bite. The slower the fishing the more I walk and I wandered into a protected bay I’d never fished before. There were some especially big carp jumping around and they got me excited. I switched to a straggly brown Clouser Minnow and landed it right where a big carp jumped. I let the reliable fly sink and then on my first strip I hooked up.
This was a heck of a carp to start the season. Unexpectedly this carp leapt like a salmon before he took off. The jump was impressive and I saw right away I had about an 18lb fish. There were rocks and weeds all over this small bay so rather than let him get me into my backing I raced out deep in my waders. When he started to slow I cranked my drag a couple notches and was able to turn him. A few more runs and five minutes later I beached a nearly scale-less hefty mirror.
When we got back to camp, our cars, chairs and anything we left outside was completely covered in midges. I’ve seen some incredible midge hatches but this one may have topped all. The worst of the hatch was all over my sleeping bag and pillow in the Explorer because I cracked the windows before we left. Its good thing midges are soft!
Ben and I grilled up some mouth-watering chicken breasts. We followed that with corn on the cob and a few beers. The sunset was unreal and as temps dropped we stayed warm by the fire. About a dozen other friends rolled in throughout the evening and it turned in to the party I was hoping for.
Thursday – May 17, 2012
Thursday was practice day. Ben and I got an early start and spent the morning putting around in his boat. We checked out some unfamiliar spots as we’re always trying to find places better then the ones we know. We had sun so we were able to spot and cast to some fish cruising from shore. It was a lot of fun but either the carp weren’t eating or our carp skills need some work. Ben hooked one fish but lost him on a big run.
Our weather started to deteriorate by afternoon. We decided to get the boat off the lake and hop in my car and do some carping from shore. We tried several of our spots and at one I nailed this 8lber on a chironomid. I caught this guy blind slowly moving the fly below a dry fly because once again our light vanished and the wind was huge. We ended the day where I got my nice fish last night but tonight we couldn’t buy one there if we wanted.
This is our third year competing in the carp tourney. One thing for certain is that the weather usually sucks. That’s actually how our team got the name, “Could be Worse” (we always tell ourselves it could be worse when we are fishing in the snow or rain shivering away). And by the time our teammate, Trey Scharp, rolled into camp at 10 PM it was about 40º, windy and starting to rain.
Friday – May 18, 2012
Friday morning the weather improved but there were some fierce clouds headed our way. We had quite a crew now and we sat around very early drinking coffee. At 7 we walked over to the pancake breakfast put on by Gary and Leslie Green of Star, Idaho. These friends generously donate their time and prepare contestants the delicious all you can eat meal for only $5. This year we had around 20 three person teams and almost everyone buys the breakfast. It’s a ton of work for the Greens but it generates good money and they donate all of it towards the fundraising for the tourney.
After breakfast Trey, Ben and I paid the $150 entree fee (all goes toward the guide in need) and I registered our team. Then after a short spiel from the coordinators we were on our way. We opted to go directly to where I nailed the big fish on Wednesday night.
This is a two day tournament. Each angler of each team is allowed to register only one fish at the end of each day. For instance if Ben catches one carp, technically he’s set for the day because he’s only allowed one anyway. If he catches five more, he can choose his biggest but he can’t give his others to me or Trey. We must catch our own. These carp don’t come easy so whenever all three on a team register a fish for the day, you can guarantee that team is doing well. Do it both days of this two day contest and your team has a good chance of winning.
When we got to the spot we felt urgency to nail a quick fish. When the weather turns on Blackfoot Reservoir the carp fishing always stinks. Today’s weather was turning fast. The clouds were over us, the wind was strong from the north and a few chunks of sleet fell from the sky. And it was obvious the carp were responding to the change in weather. For here we were in a place where I and Ben saw hundreds of leaping carp Wednesday night and now there wasn’t a one to be seen. We were in trouble.
In trouble says only half of it. We were in trouble as far as catching and registering even one measly carp for the day. We were also in for a long cold day. I was underdressed and the temps went from 50º to about 40º in a hurry. That does not include the wind chill. After two hours in spot number one neither of us hooked a carp nor even saw a single one jump. Worst of all, the three of us were freezing!
Next we went to one of our old reliable spots. If there’s any place on Blackfoot that can produce a carp in terrible conditions this is it. We spent five hours here and nothing.
Nothing describes our day more perfectly than – today sucked. And out of all teams, only six carp were registered. Day one was brutal and we could only hope tomorrow would bring better weather and hungrier carp. But we did have a feast around the campfire!
Saturday – May 19, 2012
The weather changed. I awoke to the sound of midge eating seagulls instead of white-capped waves crashing the beach at camp. It was calm, sunny and hardly a cloud in the horizon. The final day of carping was looking good.
It’s cool how competing teams come together when tournament fishing is tough. Suddenly everyone simply wants to hear of fish being caught. If a team starts catching fish then you know it can be done. There were a lot of heads hung low last night. Information was shared throughout camp and today friend Scott Smith invited us to a place where he’d seen a lot of carp yesterday even in the horrible conditions.
Scott is another of many of my friends who worked for me in the fly shop and went on to be a top fishing guide. Teamed up with Scott were Boots Allen (the Boots with the book coming out that I illustrated recently) and long time friend and yet another former employee, Andy Asadorian. These guys were one of the few teams that caught a fish yesterday. Therefore Ben, Trey and I were all about taking up their generous offer to join them.
After the pancake breakfast we filed into two trucks and the six of us headed to the honey hole Scott found yesterday. It was a long drive but two seconds after getting there it was obviously worth it. There were jumping carp everywhere.
Trey, Scott and I headed left down a sagebrush covered high bank and Ben, Boots and Andy headed right. The fact that our teams mixed up was more a matter of who was ready first. And it really didn’t make any difference. Despite competing we were all here to have a great fishing day together. Our coolers were packed with our remaining beer and food because our dream was to all catch a fish before lunch then have one last feast before weigh in.
Scott was right; there were a bunch of carp here. And shortly into our walk the three of us were stationed on a high bank sight casting to passing mirrors. Just because we saw carp does not mean we spanked them – they were brutally tough. Carp after carp passed and paid little attention to our offerings. Then finally, Scott hooked up and landed this gorgeous 10lber on some funky streamer.
Things got better. If you can imagine having a shot at a carp every couple minutes we had it. It was unreal. Gradually our carping skills kicked in and Trey caught two back to back. Then Scotty got another. It was time for me to get my act together. I put on a green caddis pupa. What made me choose this fly was that lake trout experience from last week down at Boulder Lake. Why not try one? Fish after fish, I kept dropping the nymph in front of them. Then finally I got a reaction. Then I too landed back to back 8 pounders.
Just when you think you have the carp dialed, you find out you don’t. It happened to Trey when he nailed two in a row on a brown nymph. Scott thought he had “the fly” based on his good fishing yesterday. But the inconsistency of carp in Blackfoot in spring is frustrating. Now my hot caddis pupa couldn’t get anything. We were back to not getting even a look. That’s when I suggested some beer and lunch.
We hiked back to where we parked and I lit the grill. We loaded it with all the remaining food which consisted of more chicken breasts, dogs and brats. We even had some more corn on the cob. It was hot and sunny and we grabbed beers and settled in our camp chairs. Life was “as good as it gets”!
Everyone had a fish for the day except for Ben. Funny how carping works. Benny landed more carp than anyone last year but now he was stuck with the jinx. At the end of our feast he took for the water where Scott, Trey and I landed six this morning.
Shortly after, the rest of us headed to see how Ben was doing. Conditions had changed. It was windy and the edges of Blackfoot were mudding up from the waves slapping the soft mud banks. In search of Ben we walked to a new spot that was less affected and saw carp immediately. At this time I had on some chartreuse wiggly bonefish looking fly. I’ve done well with similar flies before. There was a sneaky carp nearly buried in weeds below me. He looked impossible because of all the snags around him. I stared for a minute then said screw it. I launched my luckiest cast of the trip and my fly landed in front of him. The carp tilted as he saw my fly sink to bottom. Then he lunged and picked it up. That’s all she wrote. I set and crossed that baby’s eyes and a few minutes later I upped my prior carp of 8lbs to 11lbs. Things were looking good.
After that I headed off to find Ben. Just before I got to him I heard him yell some ****! He’d been fighting a big one for awhile and then got broke off. Rightfully so Ben was ticked off. I said some words of encouragement and gave him his space. He had fish around him and I was sure he’d nail one.
I found yet another spot that was crawling with fish. They were hard as heck to see because it was in an unprotected wind-howling spot. I couldn’t really see the carp themselves, but rather the mud they create while feeding. There were muds everywhere. I dropped my slick chartreuse fly in the muds several times then hooked up and landed another 10lber. For the next hour, the last hour before weigh in, I had the carp fly fishing you dream about. I got several more nice fish. The only thing I missed was a big fish. And to win this derby you need at least a fish over 25lbs.
We rapped it up at 4 PM. Weigh in was at 5 and we had to load up and drive a half hour. Ben never got his fish. And none of Trey’s or my fish were big enough to compete with leading teams. Our score was in the middle of the pack at tenth place. However, although it’s cool to win these deals, it’s no World Championships of Fly Fishing. Not one of us was disappointed. We came to the Fin Chasers Classic to raise money for a fishing family that needs it and have a great time. We did that. In fact we crushed it.
This year’s tournament raised nearly $5000, a new record. And for “Could Be Worse”, this was a fabulous camping trip with many friends. Almost everyone left camp Saturday night, but not all. I opted to stay and hang with a few friends I didn’t see enough during the tournament. It was a great night around the fire and I ended up doing something I never did before. I drew a big mirror carp on the side of Brooks Montgomery’s white van with a sharpie. It came out sweet! I’ll try to get that photo up soon. It’s not in my hands at the moment.
I’ll be fishing lots these days. The days of winter where I work all the time are behind for awhile. I certainly have stuff to catch up on but as long as fishing is good I’m fishing a lot. Stay tuned to the blog. I have a surprise ahead!