Student of the carp

Carp. A fish I have known about and avoided for years. I saw them as a nuisance and “trash fish”–sure it was fun catching them as a young kid, but I was well past that.

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As I became more engaged in the local fly fishing community, I quickly learned that fly fishing was much more than throwing small bugs for trout. The idea of chasing big bass, or muskie did intrigue me, but I will admit, carp was not on my radar until recently when a few of my fly buddies kept talking about carp fishing and how much fun it was. After a few weeks of hearing them talk about it, and seeing their pictures on Instagram, I decided I needed to give it a try.

When trying out a completely new technique of fishing, it’s nice to know people that can point you in the right direction. Thankfully, I knew a guy (knowing people is nice–be nice to people and value the connections you make). His name is Josh (@mattressonthefly on Instagram) and he is one of the local carp guys in Minneapolis. He also just caught a 27″ brown in Wisconsin, which is unheard of (pics on his Instagram)–a fishy dude for sure.

We met at some ponds in Minneapolis that Josh knows well and are known for having an abundance of rubber mouths. Josh gave me one of his proven flies and the quick run down:

  1. Carp are very spooky, you need to approach and walk the banks very quietly.
  2. Carp fishing is 95% done by sight–polarized sunglasses are a must.
  3. The best way to approach a fish is to carefully cast in front of the fish, and let your fly drop down right in its face.
  4. If you see the carp turn and take your fly, or you see your line twitch when you know it’s in the strike zone, set the hook.

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I took these tips and started slowly creeping around the pond, in search of a scaly bottom-feeder, and quickly realized that this was going to take some practice. Spotting fish in the murky pond was extremely difficult, especially with an untrained eye. It amazed me how well Josh was able to spot fish.

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Before I knew it, Josh hooked up on a nice fish! It was the biggest he had caught in this specific pond, and gave him quite the battle. Watching Josh made me even more eager to catch my first carp, but I was still struggling not only to catch fish, but to even see them. As time went on, I was finally able to start spotting fish. Sometimes all you can see is a dim shadow in the water, or a dust cloud where a carp is mudding–when the carp stick their face down into the muddy bottom to eat, kicking up clouds of dust. These dust clouds are great ways to locate feeding carp. When a carp is mudding, you will often see their tails stickup up in the water.

As the evening was winding down, and I was starting to think I would have wait until another day for my first, Josh and I spotted a feeding carp. I cast my fly towards the shadow, and managed a decent presentation. I saw the fish turn toward my fly, waited a second… and set the hook; bang! I was hooked up! It wasn’t a huge carp, but it definitely wasn’t a 12″ trout and put my Walton 4/5 wt rod to the test. After a few minutes of battling, the fish was in my hands. As fellow Driftless angler, Eddie Rivard, says, “I was so happy!”

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A few days following, I had the itch to give carp another shot and see if I could catch another. The weekend forecast was perfect; high 60’s and sunny. When I arrived at the ponds, the water was murky, so it was still very hard to locate fish. I did, however, manage another carp! I saw a shadow about 8 feet from shore, cast my fly to it and watched my line carefully. It twitched, and I was hooked into my second carp. It felt good to have another one on my resume, and was proof that I was learning. My buddies Drew and aforementioned Eddie, each got their first carp as well!

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After going out a few times, I will admit that carp fishing on the fly is a blast. It is a totally different challenge from trout or other river fish. The fact that you have to sight fish for them tends to make it feel more like saltwater fly fishing. In fact, I’d recommend it to anyone planning a salt water excursion. I definitely will be chasing down more carp in the future and am looking forward sharpening my skills (and eyesight). I still have plenty to learn, as evidenced by how many more carp Josh spots and catches than I do, but here are a few things I learned in addition the the small list I provided earlier:

  1. Be stealthy. You may look funny creeping around a pond to other people, but you’ll be so engrossed in carp hunting you won’t care.
  2. Look carefully. You’ll be amazing how many carp you walk right past and spook. Sometimes all you see is a shadow, so give everything a close look.
  3. Present your fly as carefully as possible. Try to avoid making splashes while casting. A longer leader can be useful for stealthy casts.
  4. Present your fly as close to the fish’s face as possible.
  5. You can rarely feel the fish take your fly. Carefully watch how the fish reacts to the fly, and watch your line carefully.
  6. If you think a fish took your fly, set it! Not your dry fly trout set either, give that rubber mouth a good hook set.
  7. Use a decent reel, because you will end up needing to put the fish on it.
  8. If you spook a carp, wait a few minutes–they often return.
  9. If you’re fishing in an urban spot, you’re going to get interesting looks, but people will be fascinated if they see you pull a big fish out of an urban pond.
  10. Once you catch one, you will realize why people like it and will likely get hooked on targeting this species.

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