It’s a long drive from Victor, Idaho to Fort Smith, Montana and the famous Bighorn River. About eight hours even if you don’t make a wrong turn. Personally, unless I have a week on the Bighorn I stay home to enjoy my own fantastic trout waters. But ask me if I’d drive eight hours to see common carp rise from the depths to crush a huge dry fly on the Bighorn Reservoir side of the Yellowtail Dam – I’d say yes.
The Bighorn River Alliance Carp Tournament 2012 took place on Friday and I was invited to partner up with my longtime friend Brooks Montgomery. Brooks and I both started in the fly fishing industry in the mid 80’s. As most of you know I ran the Jack Dennis Fly Shop in Jackson, Wyoming. Brooks was one of my main representatives. He sold about everything at least once but he became one of my most important reps when he picked up Scientific Anglers and Ross.
I met up with Brooks and other friends in Fort Smith at about 7 PM on Thursday night. My drive took me nearly ten hours because I tried to take the famous Route 37 from Lovell, Wyoming across the Crow Indian Reservation. The route appears on many maps yet it doesn’t exist. The funny thing, I made the same mistake 20 years ago. Actually it wasn’t funny because I had to backtrack then make a three hour detour all the way up to Billings, Montana then over to Hardin and finally south to Fort Smith. I was in my old Explorer that already has 260 thousand miles and runs hot as the sun because of a leak in the radiator. At least I made it and after a beer and good meal it was like the driving ordeal never happened.
Neither Brooks nor I had ever laid eyes on the Bighorn Reservoir before Friday. One could call that a huge disadvantage going into a tournament. Nonetheless we were fearless and counted heavily on our “carp is a carp” skills. At 10 AM the starting horn went off and Brooks and I and 34 other teams (this is a huge event) took off rowing for carp. Two minutes in I spotted a rising carp. Brooks steered towards him, literally racing a couple other competitor boats to the quarry, and I launched a long cast hurling a yellow grasshopper pattern. My fly landed three feet in front of the feeding carp and he accelerated, swirled and ate my fly. I set the hook but there was nothing but loose line. Too much line and I was too quick on the draw. I missed the first chance of the tourney.
It needs to be noted that the results of the 2011 Bighorn Carp Tourney were mind boggling. Carp are normally challenging on fly but there were hundreds caught. The winning team actually landed an incredible eighteen! This stat alone is the reason I drove so far for this event. I had to see such a carp venue with my own eyes. So when I missed this fish it was like, let’s go find another. Well, every year is different. Brooks and I went on to see only five rising carp all day. Thanks to Brooks and his amazing patience to wait until the carp fully inhales his dry fly, we caught two carp before the 4 PM finish time. But with only two we rowed into the docks with our heads hung low.
Based on last years results, our two carp did seem terrible, but it turned out the winning team this year only caught four, second place caught three and Brooks and I tied with several other teams for third place with our two fish. Most teams did not catch a single carp this year. We were stunned and pleasantly surprised all at once. If only I hadn’t missed the one in the morning along with two others I don’t want to talk about. The real good news was that the first carp we caught won us the big fish award. We kicked butt in this deal!
The Bighorn Carp Tourney 2012 will go down as one of the toughest. The famous rising carp simply weren’t rising this year. Perhaps the extra warm weather (It’s in the mid 90ºs) – who knows. It should be noted that everyone saw a bunch of carp cruising down deep in the crystal clear water and we all tried subsurface flies of every kind imaginable, but plain and simple, the carp weren’t eating.
Yes indeed I’d drive 400 miles to catch rising common carp on big dry flies, but yesterday’s tournament didn’t provide enough satisfaction. At least not nearly ten hours one way of drivings worth. So very early this morning Brooks and I got up and tested our carp skills at the Yellowtail Dam Afterbay on a flat recommended to us by Steve and J.J. Hilbers, owners of the Bighorn Trout Shop.
After a half hour of looking at carp cruising down deep below the boat I stood up high on Brooks’ custom built fishing platform that he made just for flats fishing for carp and in the distance I could see some tailing carp in the shallows. It was exactly what we were dreaming of. Brooks stealthily rowed me over and on my third cast I hooked up with a damsel nymph. The common carp ate the fly in very shallow water, literally about 8 inches. The frightened fish panicked and smoked me out into the middle of the bay on my 5-weight Ross. After a few minutes of muscling him hard I scooped up the pesky carp.
During the next three hours we hooked about eight carp both on dries and nymphs and landed a respectable four. It was a spectacular session of fly fishing for carp. What was easily as exciting as our fishing, was when a black bear and cub wandered out to the edge of the bay a mere 75 feet from our boat. Funny thing is, judging by the direction they came from, they must have walked right through our campsite moments after we left this morning – good thing we got up early!