If you're not fly fishing for carp yet then you are absolutely out of your mind. Almost every angler has carp within 100 miles from home (unless you’re from Alaska or Hawaii), and chances are there are carp down the street from you in a canal or local pond. Carping is almost all sight fishing, it’s challenging to get a carp to eat a fly and once hooked their fight is amazing. Carp provide all the components for the perfect fly rod fish.
Folks are surprised when I tell them I use a 5-weight for fly fishing for carp. They’re surprised because an average size carp is about 6lbs. That’s a big scrappy fish on the 5-weight. If you chase carp enough you’ll hook a 10 or 15lb carp and then you’ll really have your hands full and you’ll consider a stouter rod for your next outing. But don’t. Carp are incredibly spooky, easily as spooky as a huge rising brown trout. A 5-weight fly line lands on the water much softer than a 7 or an 8-weight. Just gently enough to go unnoticed by wary carp.
I’m just back from two days on Blackfoot Reservoir in the boonies of eastern Idaho. This lake, once famous for huge trout is fast becoming the best fly fishing for mirror carp on the planet. I took my doctor, Dennis Butcher, and our long time friend Jay Buchner, both from Jackson, Wyoming and other long time friends Norm Thomas and his son Kiefer from Tennessee. I met Norm 20 something years ago working in the fly shop and I’ve known Kiefer his whole life. Kiefer works in a fly shop in Jackson now and has become an absolute fishing animal.
After seeing my first badger of the year on the drive in, the five of us staked out a camp 20 feet from waters edge at about 10 AM yesterday. I scanned the flat in front of us and sure enough there were numerous puffs of mud. These puffs mean on thing, feeding carp. Within minutes we were all wading the flat.
Sometimes what appears easy isn’t. Just because we were surrounded by feeding carp didn’t mean we were going to slay them. For two hours the five of us dropped numerous different fly patterns into the muddy spots. We twitched them stripped them and even left them motionless, but other than a couple accidental snaggings we couldn’t get a carp to actually eat any of our various imitations.
As a rule, you shouldn’t leave fish to find fish but Dennis and I moved anyway. I wanted some fresh carp. About a three minute walk away there was a small bay. The mud puffs were strong. Dennis had on a nymph of some sort on an indicator and I had a chartreuse bonefish fly. Mine was the same exact fly that killed it for me on the second day of the Blackfoot Tournament back in May. Normally I watch to see which way the puffs are moving but we started slamming our flies right in them. Such a presentation is another great way to frighten carp but there’s a theory behind it. The fly ends up in their face so quick that their automatic reaction is to eat it then run. It works for permit on ocean flats so why not here? Within minutes Dennis was hooked into his first carp on the fly.
The fight shocked Dennis like it does everyone. Sure, non carpers hear about the great battles of carp, but to have your own trout rod bent over is an experience to behold. About eight minutes after hook up, Dennis posed with his first carp and a grin from ear to ear.
All of us fished till an hour after sunset. There were numerous foul hookups. These are fun because its action, but foul hook catches don’t count. Our true catches included Dennis with two, Kiefer got one (the largest) and I got two. Only five fish despite good conditions for carping. Today’s fish were flat out tough!
The sunset deserves mention because it was more unique than the average. Not too far west of Blackfoot there’s a big fire. We watched smoke bellow all day like a huge thunderhead. I’m not sure if it’s a real bad fire, prescribed fire or what. What I know is that the smoke filled sky created some incredible lighting when it mixed with the last few rays of the sun.
As always, we ate, drank and told stories around the campfire until early this morning. Norm provided some unbelievable steaks and above average red wine. It was a really good night. Then we slept a few hours and got up and made coffee and breakfast. There’s never a shortage of food and drink on any good camping trip.
We were on the water searching for carp by 8 AM. Things started slow but by the end of the day we doubled our catches of yesterday. Everyone caught at least a few.
I caught a mirror for the archives. I was walking along with Dennis, both of us catching some nice carp. Fishing was really good. Dennis has a bad ankle so he staked himself out on a point while I weaved my way along a twisting flat that took me far out in the lake. I never would have imagined I could wade this far without it getting too deep. Finally I met a drop off. Although I couldn’t wade there, about 60 feet away it got shallow again. I could see the top of another flat. It was then I noticed a massive mirror carp. The scales across the top ridge of his back were so big they were glistening from the sun. Then he tailed like a redfish. My heart jumped and I started to cast a big crayfish pattern I’d just tied on. Then, I stopped myself. There was time to concentrate and plan my attack.
The carp wasn’t facing me. Usually if you cast over the top of any fish to show him your fly they spook. So I waited. He slowly turned. When the carp was almost facing me my heart jumped again. His head was eight inches across! I took a deep breath then launched the cast I needed. I wasn’t going to screw this up. My fly landed about two feet to the left side of his nose. As the imitation sank his fins erected with excitement and he pounced on the fly before it reached bottom. I strip set and felt pressure. I had him.
Fat boy flared his gills and tried to shake and blow my fly loose. There was no chance. This huge crayfish was tied on a size 2 and although I usually crimp my barbs, not for carp. This dude was mine unless he spooled me, which if he knew what he was doing; he probably could because all I had was my Ross Evolution LT 1.5 reel!
I knew this was a true beast because he didn’t immediately run. Nothing ever messes with fish this large. He wasn’t scared. He perhaps thought he simply had a crayfish latched onto his lips. It’s probably happened to him before and he shook the mini lobster loose and ate it again. So for the first five minutes the stubborn fish wouldn’t leave his island. I tugged on him as hard as I dared with my 2X tippet and he wouldn’t budge. Then I wrenched him with some side pressure and plucked my tight line like a guitar string. Finally he took off.
My 5-weight Ross Essence FC rod and my Evo reel endured a long battle. There were a couple scary parts. At one point the big guy had me deep in my backing. If I had to guess I’d say there was about 20 feet of backing left. Luckily, there was so much stretch that with tons of pressure and a bent rod I stopped him and turned him back in. Then he led me on a wild goose chase down the shoreline. Fortunately he stayed close to shore. Fifteen minutes after he fell for my trickery and more than 250 yards from where I hooked him, I beached the jumbo mirror carp. I wish I had a picture of Dennis’s face!
Another great fishing jaunt has passed. This season will certainly go down as one memorable for large fish. I’ve really had some awesome luck this year. My bachelorhood comes to an end on Tuesday so tomorrow I better tidy up the house. I’m afraid my dishes are stacked and there’s tackle in every room. It’s been fantastic but it will be great to guide Granny somewhere fun on Wednesday.