Carp Madness!

The time is right to fly fish for carp. It’s August. It’s hotter than heck. There’s plenty of sun for spotting carp and best of all, August is one of our calmer months and on good days you see tailing carp. Yesterday morning Granny and I drove south to Blackfoot Reservoir. Actually, first we drove to one of my more secret little carp lakes. It made sense to start here because this lake is right on a highway where we were meeting my sister Becky, her husband Don and my niece Sierra from New Hampshire, all who you met in my last blog.

Granny and I arrived at our obvious yet under fished lake at around noon. The lake surface was like glass and the water was clearer than normal. We parked and looked out and acres of carp could be seen along the surface. The carp on this lake are small by Idaho carp standards as they rarely top 8lbs. Most of them are mirror carp however we catch the random common carp. One of my main objectives this trip was to improve my carp photo stock. I have plenty carp pics but my hero shots are out of date and I’m a little short in some other areas as well. I was recently contracted for another year of speaking at the Fly Fishing Show and I may possibly be doing some “Fly Fishing for Carp” presentations. I want my show to be tops so a little work the next couple months is mandatory.

After pulling out my cameras I rigged up my 5-weight Ross Essence rod with a floating Scientific Anglers GPX WF5F fly line. I tied on a 9 foot 3X leader and a size 14 red grand hopper because from my observation, today looked to be one of those rare dry fly days for carp. Granny and I walked out on the dike between the lake and the highway and started casting to pods of carp. They weren’t hard to find, in fact they were literally everywhere.

The carp were feeding on all kinds of micro stuff (probably chironomids) just underneath and on occasion would actually eat off the surface. On the top were plenty of cottonwood seeds and Callibaetis as well as the occasional ant and other terrestrials. Granny quickly focused on some cruisers in close range and dropped her grasshopper fly a foot in front of them.

When you see groups of feeding carp, you always think its going to be easy to catch them. Don’t be fooled. Carp are never easy. Granny’s first attempts with the small hopper went unnoticed. Then just as we thought about changing the fly, one hungry mirror charged ahead of his friends and clumsily inhaled the fly and Granny set so hard she crossed his eyes.

Carp of August will test your gear to the brink. Within five seconds the words out of Granny’s mouth were, “Why don’t you bring me a 7-weight instead of this tiny 5-weight?” My answer is that on these calm days, the finesse of the 5-weight is essential in order not to spook the carp. The crashing of the 7-weight line or bigger is often too much and sends the carp running for the deep. Within ten seconds Granny was watching the Bimini Twist that connects my backing to my fly line bounce through the guides of my rod.

Things got a little iffy for a few minutes there. My Ross Evolution 2 LT reel holds about 75 yards of backing and this carp wanted all of it. I’m sure Granny was only about 25 yards in but I told her to start putting some heat on the fish to be safe. Finally after a good 8 minute battle and a sore forearm, Granny slid a respectable and unusual fully scaled mirror carp to shore for a few snapshots.

During the next four hours Granny and I landed nine carp on dry flies. Although we caught most on the hopper, towards the end the carp in our area got wise to that pattern and we switched on a parachute Adams size 14. At about 5PM Becky and the family arrived and it was time to head for Blackfoot to set up a nice camp.

Once we got to Blackfoot and all set up, I couldn’t believe we didn’t have mosquitoes to deal with. This summer the mosies have been terrible, but knock on wood, perhaps they are tapering off. All evening we ate around the campfire and enjoyed an exceptional sunset (oh, and we burnt a carp skeleton Sierra found nearby).

Today we awoke to a clear sky and a calm Blackfoot Reservoir. The only actions on the lake were the birds including this very beautiful and entertaining American Avocet. By the time Granny fed us a breakfast feast, the first signs of carp free-jumping, tailing, waking and mudding could be seen around camp.

Becky and Don have done plenty of fly fishing. Becky almost took the route of her bro and became a fishing bum. She lived with Granny and me during her college summers and fished with us every minute she could. But, she’s also smarter and went on to be physicians assistant. However like Granny, Becky was a fishing bum long enough and can flat out get it done with a fly rod. Don learned how to fly fish since they met. He’s getting pretty good and plenty capable of landing his first carp. At 4, Sierra is a little young to toss the fly, but she’s had plenty of fun bobber fishing in NH this summer. She understands what the game is and walked along the shore all day anxiously awaiting for hookups.

The hookups came sooner than they normally do on Blackfoot Reservoir. Honestly, this is a tough lake. It’s located at a high altitude and clouds, wind and bad weather usually factor in. Also, the carp are huge here and very smart. Today however, like yesterday was a gift from the carp gods. Everything was perfect and the carp were easy to see. My first fish was a biggy. I was blue-heron-still on a point watching a bubble line approach me. Bubbles are a sure sign of a feeding carp on bottom out of sight. Then when the bubbles got close I got a glimpse of the carp tailing along the bottom. I tossed out one of my favorites, a rubber leg hares ear nymph size 14, let it settle near his nose and slowly stripped. In a second he was on.

I thought some of yesterdays fish fought, but this beast scared even me. After a slow start to the battle, this creature took off like no other. He absolutely manhandled my 5-weight. And this time it wasn’t just 25 yards of backing that disappeared, this guy took it down to the nubs. I really thought I was going to lose it all. Then by a stroke of luck, the burly carp turned and charged back towards me. So fast that I could barely keep up without backing up and stripping. Despite using all my big fish fighting skills, it took me about ten minutes before finally corralling him. I don’t walk around with a 20lb scale and I don’t recommend using your Boga for carp or you will rip them apart, but I estimate this fish is somewhere in that 18lb to 22lb range – almost as big as Sierra!

That fish did it for me. From that point on I got back to my photography. I sort of watched Sierra and guided Don and Becky in hopes they could get their first carp on the fly. Becky hooked up first. I had her to slowly strip a brown woolley bugger off a point where I saw several carp free-jump. Sure enough on about her 5th cast she had one. I already mentioned Becky can fly fish well and catch fish with the best of them, but she has little experience with big fish. When this carp took off I could see the fear in her eyes. But she handled it like a pro and in less than ten minutes she was hugging her first carp, about a 7lber with a more normal mirror carp scale pattern.

Now it was Dons turn, but Don’s carp didn’t come easy. He tried spotting them and sight casting the nymph like I did. Then he cast endlessly with the bugger to areas of leaping carp but to no avail. After several hours of nothing and sweating in waders (we wear them here because of the terrible muck and weeds) we took a lunch break. While we ate the carp were moving into a mere foot of water. I snuck up to the edge and nailed a 10lber. That was the spot. I had Don wader back up and sneak out there. In minutes he hooked up but the first run caught him by surprise. In less than two seconds he clenched on too tight and broke the jet propelled carp off. As always, now that Don was prepared from his brief experience, the next bite took a long time to come, but when it finally happened, he handled his first carp beautifully. Well, he handled the battle with the rod beautifully. But when he went to handle his carp for the hero shots, the frightened carp went nuts and absolutely covered Don with mud. This hero shot is classic. Not only is every inch of his vest, waders, shirt and hair covered in specs of mud, but he even had to floss the mud out from between his teeth!

This weekend far surpassed my expectations. I knew we’d catch a few and have a great time camping but carp madness like this only occurs once in a great while. I expected to get back once more but I think these two days has inspired several more carp trips this year. Stay tuned for those because I feel a 40lber in Granny’s future!

Last, if you aren’t chasing carp on the fly yet, YOU ARE MISSING OUT!

4 Responses to “Carp Madness!”

  1. Erik Moncada August 4, 2011 at 4:20 am #

    Looking forward!!!

  2. David McKenzie August 4, 2011 at 10:59 pm #

    Some great Carp shots and I gotta say those are some extraordinarily cool Mirrors.

  3. Erik Moncada August 9, 2011 at 2:57 pm #

    Looks like fun, and great pictures.

  4. Urocyon August 10, 2011 at 2:12 am #

    Great blog Jeff. Can’t decide which photo I prefer but the one of Don is a MasterCard moment: priceless! Thanks for the pointers too. While fishing the Bighorn last year with Conor, I used my 7 wt to go after carp for the first time, a ‘pond’ off the river below Yellowtail Dam. I think I spooked every fish there but it whetted my appetite to try again in the future. Pat

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