CARP CRASH COURSE
On the walk back from the water I often overhear anglers whispering amongst their group, “That guy was fly fishing,” as though I was a celebrity or perhaps an alien from an alternate dimension. I try to eavesdrop on the conversation that ensues.
“What is that?”
Someone else explains, “Fly fishing is when you float an insect or fly on top of the water” and gestures with flailing arms how to fly cast.
Out of nowhere one of the anglers stops me “Hey, do you fish in British Columbia?”
A little baffled, I respond, “Not often, I mostly fly fish in Manitoba” and go on to debunk the myth that fly fishing is only useful for surface feeding fish. “I typically use flies and lines that can sink anywhere from top-to-mid water column and even down to the bottom. This way I can target anything from pike, bass, catfish and carp.”
“You fish for carp? Why? Aren’t they a trash fish?”
“Yeah… some people would rather see them dead on the shore, or shoot them with bow and arrow. But, I enjoy the challenge of tricking them and they fight well also. I’d take a 20 pound pike or lake trout over a carp, but carp are so close to home they keep me entertained between weekend outings.” I generally continue on my way at this point, hoping it was enough to light an interest in fly fishing. However, there is more know-how needed to find success after that first fly rod is purchased or dusted off from that dark corner in the garage. The sections below should cut the learning curve, and get you excited to try carp on the fly.
LOCATE WITH SIGHT
Fortunately, carp are unlike most freshwater gamefish; they don’t seem overly concerned that their 20-30 lb figure is visible to the world above the water. Carp spend much of their time in shallow water. This makes it easy for us to locate and observe them. The ideal time to go carp sighting is on sunny days with no wind, that way you can see into the water with polarized glasses. But how can you see into the muddy rivers of Southern Manitoba? You don’t. If possible, find water removed from the main rivers. I usually start with tributary creeks to the Red or Assiniboine Rivers as they are less turbid. (Many walking paths are conveniently located to these tributaries in Winnipeg; perfect for covering ground fast). My favourite time to go searching is a few days after a June or July rainstorm. The water levels will rise and swell up onto the banks attracting carp back into the tributaries looking to feed or spawn. Once the creeks begin to lower and clear up, spotting the fish will be easier.
MOODS AND ATTITUDES
Once you have located a carp or pod, first take time to assess their mood. If you find a carp swimming at the pace of a speed walker, forget it – that fish is on the move.
A carp that is slowly meandering through the creek is more likely shopping for groceries.
If you can lead the fish with a cast, you may get lucky. (Casting in creeks seldom requires more than 20 feet of line, perfect for novice fly casters). The carp may appear to be headed straight towards your fly, but at the last second it may maneuver to the left or right to avoid it. This fish is aware something is wrong, it may have seen you, or heard the fly line crash onto the water. It is best to move on. A motionless carp suspended just beneath the surface is likely sunning and indifferent to what you offer them. Prime targets are the fish that are head pointed down. This is called mudding, often you will see a tail breaking the surface of the water. If not, a mud plume will trail the fish (learn to spot these plumes and rising bubbles). Another great target is a carp that literally has its nose to the bank, filtering through vegetation, gulping down algae, or nymphs. Often these carp go unnoticed as they are unexpectedly right beneath your feet. Before you take those last few steps towards the bank look for stems of grass or weeds oddly moving by itself. There will be a carp within rod’s length.
OUR DIRTY LITTLE SECRET
If you are stealthy you can creep up to a feeding carp. Crouch or slowly walk. It’s a game of risk. How many more steps do you take before you spook that fish? A misstep on a loose rock or branch extending into the water can send vibrations alerting that fickle carp. If you have an accurate cast you can get within 20 – 30 feet. Cast the fly beyond the fish, and slowly lift your rod to drag the fly in front of the fish’s nose. Drop it within 6 inches or a foot of its mouth and you are likely to get an eat. The most ridiculous and ridiculed method is the dap. Sometimes you can walk right up to the carp without it spooking, hang your fly 24”-36” outside the tip of you rod and simply lower your rod; dropping the fly in front of its face. Keep your eye trained on the carp’s mouth, waiting for those yellow lips to open. Or, if the carp’s head is pointed down, watch the tail, a sudden wag of its tail is usually a good indication that it has found your morsel. Set the hook, and hope your fly is not stuck in the trees 10 feet above you.
FLY FISHING FOR CARP IS A BLAST
Fly fishing is an enjoyable way to target carp since it is akin to a stalking/hunting style approach. If bait fishing is too slow and you have a hard time sitting still, fly fishing is a fun choice. Gearing up for carp is easy, a 6 wt – 8 wt rod will do, a floating line, sunglasses and a box of flies.
Once you graduate from the urban creeks, your travels for carp may extend further from home. Marshy sections of lakes are great feeding grounds for carp, and hold higher numbers and bigger fish.