If there’s any fish I’ve gone from being humbled by beyond belief to learning how to catch them with regularity it’s been the grass carp (white Amur). The first time I ever saw one of these sleek vegetarians was right here in Arizona. They were cruising the urban lakes but I couldn’t catch them. I tried everything and after days I finally lucked into a monster nearly 20lbs. The grassies challenged my fly fishing skills so much that when I held that first one it was a similar experience to when I landed my first permit.
I became more patient and observant over the years. I started to catch grass carp more often. I learned that green or lime hoppers worked better than grass-looking fly concoctions. I discovered that landing my fly a few inches in front of them when they were tilted slightly upwards was best even though sometimes it spooked them. It became evident that making my fly hit hard was better then a gentle presentation. And the tricky part, when a grass carp eats he often nibbles the fly before putting the hook in his funny shaped mouth. I learned to watch carefully before striking.
These days I’ve mastered the technique to catch grass carp on the fly and today I landed twelve. Most were quality fish ranging up to 8lbs, however one was larger. Steve, Cinda and I were walking the canal where Steve and I landed a dozen grassies on Friday. The day was similar. It was hot and there were numerous grassies up to about 25” doing their gentle rises to moss drifting slowly downstream. I was fishing my olive grand hopper and catching a few. I was enjoying myself but I must admit, landing fish and releasing them from the canal is not only difficult but dangerous because you need to wade down these precarious steps. You don’t want to fall in here. To avoid doing this over and over I found myself becoming choosy about which grass carp I cast too. If they weren’t 25” I didn’t cast at them.
I walked a little ways and found several small grassies feeding. They were suspended about three inches below the surface. They weren’t worth casting too but below them was a ghostly figure. The shape was almost too deep to make out in the dark somewhat muddy water. But eventually I could see clearly. It was a giant grass carp hiding below his body guards.
I watched the larger fish closely hoping he would rise. He wouldn't. I made a cast and one of the body guards ate my fly. With the utmost in patience, rather than set the hook I let him chew on it. Luckily he spit it and went back to eating moss. I made several more casts and avoided setting on yet another. All the time the now clearly monster grass carp coasted in the current.
You don’t see fish like this often. I don’t just mean this big grass carp, but abnormally large fish of any species. I observed for a few minutes. I enjoyed the moment – he was absolutely awesome. That’s when I noticed he got in feeding position. He elevated up with the smaller grassies, tilted and gazed ahead for a chunk of drifting moss. I wasted no time. In one false cast I landed my fly four inches upstream of his nose. My heart dropped as he slowly rose then leisurely opened his mouth. Then like a slow shutting garage door, he closed his mouth. It’s easy to screw up setting on a grass carp but when that door closed I hit him hard. The beast was on!
Grass carp generally fight strong, however the ones of this canal don’t get too rowdy. Not this big boy however. The second my hook penetrated his rubbery lip the bizarre looking silvery fish went ballistic. He made a short deep run up the canal. Although short it was furious. Then the headshakes began. I could just picture him underwater shaking side to side. When that didn’t free him he made his next run. This time it was a long run straight downstream.
May I remind you I fish carp with a Ross RX 5-weight and 3X tippet. This was neither a 5-weight fish nor a 3X fish. My original assessment before I hooked him put this grassie at about 36” and perhaps 15lbs, but now that he was pulling me around I could tell from his strength he was bigger. At this point he continued to fight me down deep so I couldn’t get a good look.
Ten minutes into the battle I reached for my phone. I couldn’t see Steve or Cinda so as my mighty grassie steadied down deep I rang Steve, “Dude I have a monster and I need help”.
Another 5 minutes went by then Steve showed up with a net. I started laughing. It would be a chore to put a 10lb trout in this net. Steve suggested when we see the fish I stuff his head in there and grab the tail. I’ve not had a lot of success with this method.
About when my arms were starting to shake, the hefty grass carp came to the surface. He was tired. With a huge net we could have scooped him up. But this is the canal. Little grass carp are hard to land in the canal; this was going to test my skill, courage and sanity to the max. I eased my way down the dry steps, and then got thigh deep on a submerged step. One slip and it wouldn’t be pretty but I was getting this old carp.
Another ten minutes went by. My 5-weight was bent to the brink of explosion. My long leader hummed like a guitar string. At least 20 times I got that fish within inches of my reach but he surged. I couldn’t believe nothing broke or that my barbless hopper didn’t pull out. By now we had and audience and I had to succeed. Finally, like the famous huchen I caught years ago, I got an opportunity to put my whole arm around his middle, hug him against me and topple with him to the cement. It worked. The giant grass carp was landed. And after a few photos I released him back to his beautiful, dirty and perhaps polluted canal. Awesome!
It’s back to Idaho in the morning. I’d like to join the boys and head trout fishing but I’m way behind in my work. I have art projects and its time to update my PowerPoint's and prepare for a grueling show season. The good news however, in two weeks Granny and I head for Belize to visit some old friends of Belize River Lodge!