Who Gives a Carp | Dave Blair

The American Carp Society is the USA’s foremost resource for Carp Anglers and was founded in 2002 by lifelong anglers, Sean Manning & Wayne Boon, as a formal organization for like-minded individuals who have a passion for Carp and it’s future well-being as a sportfish in the USA. It provides a community for both education and benefit to its members by teaching responsible stewardship and management of the species and of our public waters, as well as dispelling the misinformation commonly associated with Carp.

The American Carp Society offers membership options for both ‘Fly’ and Traditional ‘Euro Style’ Anglers. By becoming a member, you are supporting The American Carp Society’s goal of raising both the awareness and the attributes of this hard-fighting freshwater fish to other Anglers and members of the public. You are also joining the largest community of Carp Anglers in the USA that all share the same passion. Both ‘Fly’ and ‘Traditional’ membership has many benefits including a generous welcome package of merchandise that is sent to you each year.

The article, Who Gives a Carp? was featured in the most recent issue of Fly Fishers International, Fly fisher Magazine! Read the full article below or check out the full issue HERE

Who Gives a Carp | Dave Blair

There are very few times in our lives that we get to experience “firsts.”

Our first car, our first kiss, the first time we watched a fish come up and take a fly. That first romantic relationship may have broken our hearts, and the knuckle-busting bucket of bolts we drove in high school may be long gone, but I would argue that most of us remember our first fish on a fly rod.

The summer that I finally started catching fish on flies will forever be etched on my mind. The palatable excitement of my 16 year-old-self learning to cast to a waiting fish is something I can still bring to memory. These are the moments that instilled in us the desire to make fly fishing a part of our lives.

But while it seems as though those watershed moments are few and far between, what if I told you that, as an angler, there’s a good chance that you can have a fresh go at another “first?”

I live in the epicentre of trout country. I am mere hours away from many of the consecrated trout waters of the world. Yellowstone Park, the Snake River water drainage and the Green River in Utah and Wyoming are all within a day’s reach of me. There are also large lakes filled with salmonoids. Couple this with simple access to an international airport and suddenly saltwater destinations, tropical flats and the most remote angling experiences are only a plane ticket away. I’ve spent the last few decades checking these places out, yet the fishing experience I’d like to share with you is probably less than an hour’s drive from wherever you reading this from. Because you’ll never forget your first carp.

Before you recoil at the thought of you, a dedicated fly angler, pursuing such a philistine fish, allow me to defend the common carp, a species which attracts so much enmity and faces such looks of repugnance from those who wield angling equipment. The story of my pursuit, and eventual rabid enthusiasm for carp on the fly begins a little over a decade and a half ago.

On a hot July afternoon, I found myself on the edge of a lake near my home. This natural lake is the catch basin for a blue-ribbon trout fishery and much like the Lahontan strain of cutthroat trout whose ancestors descended from the ice-age lakes of 12,700 years ago, this ancient lake was the hereditary home of the Bonneville Cutthroat. For years, this lake’s numberless 15 pound (and larger) Bonneville cutts—a cousin of those re-introduced in Nevada’s famous Pyramid Lake—smashed state records. They were large and they were legendary.

Sadly, increased human population sprinkled with poor fishery management and the introduction of what would become an invasive species, ruined this lake as a trout fishery. Early pioneers in the area introduced common carp into the lake in 1882. The carp were touted as an easy fish to farm and a good fish for the table and soon took over the biomass in the lake, outcompeting the trout. They destroyed the vegetation and habitat of the lake and eventually, the trout disappeared. Everyone in the area knew of the unpopular fish’s existence, and as I peered into the water that sunny July afternoon, acknowledging the silhouettes of these omnipresent squatters, I had an epiphany: I bet they’d take a fly.

A quick fumble through my fly boxes produced a rabbit hair streamer. I made a few casts, and, as if it were a gift from the fly fishing Gods, I hooked my first carp on a fly rod. Although I felt under-gunned with my six weight, the 15-minute battle that ensued was incredible. When I had finally wrangled it to my feet, I think I was more tired than the fish. I released it (trout angler’s instinct), and although that was the only carp that I caught that day, something in me had changed forever. A few days later, I replayed the experience to a fishing buddy. He looked at me as if I was speaking another language. We were trout anglers, salmon fisherman, hunters of the saltwater flats—this sudden keenness for carp was met with disbelief. But I pressed my point and convinced him he needed to join me. Not long after, we both had a common carp obsession.


We became carp junkies. We were learning plenty and eventually began to land a few fish. We discovered that carp were, at times, almost impossible to deceive with flies. They made trout seem gluttonous and careless by comparison. We had to offer different presentations, adapt our fly patterns and figure out their different feeding habits and where they held. We had to learn how to read water in a completely new way. It was as if we were learning a whole new game, and it was as challenging as it was exciting. Perhaps the most appealing of the process was that we had the fishery all to ourselves; this was in the middle of the summer, but for us the normal doldrums that come at the hottest time of the year was replaced with renewed excitement. We were experiencing that “first thrill” feeling all over again.

While some turned up their nose at the thought of fishing for carp, I was amazed to discover that there were a few anglers in the fly fishing community who had a great deal of respect for this fish. Lance Egan and Dave Whitlock, to my surprise, were among the first few fly fishers who embraced this fish as a worthy opponent. Both of them had been carp fishing for quite a while and I soon learned that my “epiphany” was hardly unique. The “Egan Headstand” fly was already known in the carp world, and as had already been discovered by many saltwater anglers, because carp often behaved like a spooky bonefish on some exotic flat, our own backyard suddenly became the training grounds for the next trip to the saltwater.

We began stalking them in the flats of the lakes in the West. We cast to them feeding in large river systems where they had escaped from upstream reservoirs. We searched every back-water slough in our adjacent states. These powerful, under-appreciated fish were everywhere. We caught them on chironomids under indicators. We cast to feeding schools with San Juan worms. We discovered that carp often lined up to “cloop” on spent lake midges in the foam lines created by the wind in the evenings. We cast Semi-seal leach patterns to them, and to our delight they ate them. A fellow angler and fly tyer began to dabble in different patterns that would potentially entice a strike from these fish that lived in our local duck ponds. We chucked bread flies, algae flies and flies that resembled popcorn and Cheetos. It seemed as though I was 16 again. I was discovering fly fishing for a second “first time.”
But it wasn’t everyone’s first time. Compared to some, I was late to the carp game. But as someone who saw the light, I want to let you in on a few tips and tricks that I’ve learned. Just be careful who you share them with. They may look at you a little side-eyed. These are difficult conversations for fly anglers who have an inherent trout bias.

When it comes to water temperatures, carp like it hot. This is a good thing. We could discuss how climate change is affecting our watersheds, but without getting too political, I will say that giving our trout a break in the hot summer months to pursue another species is beneficial. Catching trout in water that is too warm and thereby less-oxygenated is not healthy for the fishery. This, alone, is a good reason to angle for carp. They love the warm water, becoming most active in water that is above 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Fishing for carp is also a great reason to use that 8 wt rod that you don’t get to pull out of the storage closet between trips to the ocean. If you don’t have an 8 wt, well here’s your excuse to add to your arsenal. While you’re at it, get a good saltwater reel with a legitimate drag. These fish will put you into your backing. They will make runs that will actually test the drag on your reels. They may not be fast, but their power is like that of a red fish or black drum on the flats. Occasionally, they even jump. And while carp certainly love the warm water, we have discovered that they will take a fly every month of the year. If there’s open water, and carp inhabit the fishery, you can (theoretically) land them.

So you’ve got your rod and reel, what’s next? A weight-forward floating line is paramount. While not essential, because of the temperature of the water, a tropical bonefish-style floating line works best. Trout lines seem to wilt in the heat, although one can certainly make due. Connect to your line a high quality, seven-and-a-half-foot tapered leader of simple monofilament. Usually 2X will be light enough, but I sometimes go with 3X. Keep in mind that carp have a tendency to stay down in the areas where they feed, and will break you off on rocks, submerged tree branches and whatever else they can find. Whether you prefer to mitigate that risk with a 1X leader or offer a more subtle presentation with 3X is up to you, but keep their spookiness and their fussiness in mind. Carp are clever!

As mentioned, the original carp transplants were to be the answer to an easy and tasty food source. That idea never really caught on in most parts of North America, and one of the arguments against these fish as table fare is their bony nature. It’s true. Carp have a lot of bones. But for anglers, this makes them even more sporting—they have an incredible ability to feel movement. There is a section of “Y” bones above what would be a primary lateral line on most fish, and it’s my opinion that this explains why they are so sensitive to being snuck up on. If you’re loudly clomping around the flats looking for fish, they will leave town in a hurry. If you boot a rock or snap a branch along a trail on a carp fishery, they’re gone. Unlike trout, if you spook a carp, oftentimes they don’t come back to feed in the same area for hours—sometimes days. These fish are adaptable. Many of them live in murky or stained water. Don’t let that fact fool you into believing that they can’t detect you. While they may not see you, they can feel vibrations better than most fish. Stealth is critical. But this only adds to the challenge and fun in angling for these fish.

Bright sun (along with glare-reducing polarized glasses) is another important factor when fishing for carp. Similar to saltwater angling for gamefish, blind casting to water that you’re not sure holds fish is usually a waste of time. Sight fishing to carp is not only more exciting, it’s much more efficient. Another consideration is whether or not they’re spawning. While they are easy to locate when the spawn is on, actively spawning carp usually will not eat. It’s also a good time to leave them alone.

At other times of the year, carp may be difficult to locate. Most often you will see an underwater “dust cloud” as a fish zooms away after you’ve spooked it. Don’t let this experience deter your efforts. Instead, use it as an opportunity to learn from the fish. Why was it there? Was it in a specific depth of water? What was it eating? This might be tough to narrow down as carp will eat almost anything, but some days carp will eat almost nothing—or at least nothing you are offering them. This goes back to my point of the fun and difficulty of figuring out the habits of a new species of fish. Carp are opportunists. They will eat cottonwood seeds that alight atop the water, they will eat mulberries that fall into the stream. Crayfish, freshwater clams, worms, beetles, grasshoppers and small minnows are common forage for Carp. A productive carp angler will think outside the box. I’ve even cast glow bugs and other “attractor” flies.

Despite their dietary diversification, carp mostly feed on the bottom. They are like vacuum cleaners when they feed. I’ve often seen huge “muds” on large reservoirs where schools of carp are moving like a herd of plains animals over the area. This is another somewhat similar trait to bonefish or redfish. They don’t often chase down food, but as I have discovered, carp will track and grab a slowly-stripped leech pattern. They will also follow a bounced, slow-stripped bonefish fly. A well-stocked fly box should include a combination of various bead chain and lead dumbbell-eyed flies. The typical strategy of fishing darker fly patterns in more-stained water is likewise effective for carp. My favourite colours are black, olive and purple—with a healthy mix of chartreuse and yellow.

A large carp inhales its food. I’ve observed what appears to be about a quart of water sucked into the mouth of a carp as it eats. While this may sound like an aggressive eat, the resulting impact on the fly is in fact very subtle. A quick hook set before the fish expels the water is important—and challenging. This visual element is one of the most exciting aspects of carp fishing. If the water is stained, the fish will tip up its tail, a la bonefish or redfish, and because the take is so subtle, the angler has to anticipate the fish’s feeding behaviour as they prepare to strike. Proper anticipation will result in a proper hook up (a quick note about hooks: large gape hooks and heavier hooks are a must. Trout fly hooks easily bend out.).

When all the stars align and conditions are just right, carp can be found feeding on top of the water. Carp take surface bugs (or seeds or berries) in a style described as “clooping.” When I first saw this behaviour, I thought the school of fish were taking in air like a tarpon or an arapaima. After closer observation, I realized that they were feeding on spent midges or mayflies that had reached the spinner fall stage. Imagine when I discovered that I could catch 15-to-20-pound fish on dry flies? This opened up a whole new chapter in my carp fishing saga and soon, adapted Wulff patterns, hoppers, foam beetles and other concoctions started coming off the vises of my friends and I.

It has been my experience that a carp swimming just under the surface, moving quickly, is not likely to take my fly. Most carp feed slowly, and those fish that are moving otherwise are probably heading to new grounds on which to forage. Fish behaviour, especially with carp tell us a lot about their habits. Much like the highly-described feeding habits and seasonal diets of trout, anglers have whole world of things to learn from the common carp.

The debate over whether we should eliminate carp from North America is one that I choose not to engage in. The fact of the matter is the carp’s ability to adapt is linked to its ability to stay. While I consider myself primarily a trout fisherman, I’m an angler first, and I can find a lot to love about the common carp. Carp are fighters. Carp are adaptive residents. Carp also seem to be finally getting the respect they deserve by North American gear anglers. Organizations like The American Carp Society (ACS) have done well to introduce us non-Queen’s-English-speaking Americans the value of this once-spurned fish. The ACS promotes catch and release for these fish, encouraging respectful handling and treatment of the common carp. The ACS also includes a section in each of their publications dedicated to anglers pursuing carp on the fly.

My new perspective on an invasive species came from discovering how sporting they can be to sight, stalk and sleuth. If you haven’t already and you, too, want to discover a fly fishing “first,” consider chasing carp. Once you’ve hooked up to one of these heavy, powerful and capable combatants, you might never look at trout the same way again.

Wanna go fish for carp? I do. Maybe they’ll be clooping tonight.


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