The Fin Chasers Carp Classic, a tournament designed to raise money for a fishing guide in need, kicked off Friday at Blackfoot Reservoir in Idaho. This fun event is a fly fishing only carp tournament consisting of three angler teams. For me, its more than a tournament, it’s the first real fishing get together with many great friends. Though the actual tournament doesn’t start until Friday, I went up on Wednesday afternoon and met up with one of my teammates, Ben Smith.
Blackfoot Reservoir is in the boonies of Idaho about fifteen miles shy of Soda Springs. Although once known as a famous rainbow trout fishery, the large beautiful reservoir is rapidly becoming recognized as one of the finest carp fly fishing venues in the west. The place is literally full of mammoth size mirror carp.
Ben and I met up mid afternoon at Pebble Beach Boat Ramp. This is where everyone gathers and camps for the tourney. We were the first two there and quickly set up our camp chairs overlooking the lake and swilled a couple beers. Ben worked for me in the fly shop and has become an excellent guide. He now has a wife and family and its rare anymore that we have time to fish together. Luckily this carp tourney has become a tradition and this will be our third year of meeting on Wednesday before the tourney.
There were a zillion midges flying around. The carp had to be eating. So after catching up over the beers we wadered up and set up our carp rigs. I use a 6-weight for Blackfoot carp and rigged my new Ross 6-weight RX with their F1 reel. I always carp fish with a floating line and attached a 9ft 1X leader. Although I prefer sight casting to carp, it was overcast and windy and nearly impossible to see in the water. I tied on a brown woolly bugger, a very reliable fly for carp about anywhere when you’re expecting mostly blind fishing.
Despite all the leaping carp around us, two hours into our fishing we hadn’t a bite. The slower the fishing the more I walk and I wandered into a protected bay I’d never fished before. There were some especially big carp jumping around and they got me excited. I switched to a straggly brown Clouser Minnow and landed it right where a big carp jumped. I let the reliable fly sink and then on my first strip I hooked up.
This was a heck of a carp to start the season. Unexpectedly this carp leapt like a salmon before he took off. The jump was impressive and I saw right away I had about an 18lb fish. There were rocks and weeds all over this small bay so rather than let him get me into my backing I raced out deep in my waders. When he started to slow I cranked my drag a couple notches and was able to turn him. A few more runs and five minutes later I beached a nearly scale-less hefty mirror.
When we got back to camp, our cars, chairs and anything we left outside was completely covered in midges. I’ve seen some incredible midge hatches but this one may have topped all. The worst of the hatch was all over my sleeping bag and pillow in the Explorer because I cracked the windows before we left. Its good thing midges are soft!
Ben and I grilled up some mouth-watering chicken breasts. We followed that with corn on the cob and a few beers. The sunset was unreal and as temps dropped we stayed warm by the fire. About a dozen other friends rolled in throughout the evening and it turned in to the party I was hoping for.
Our weather started to deteriorate by afternoon. We decided to get the boat off the lake and hop in my car and do some carping from shore. We tried several of our spots and at one I nailed this 8lber on a chironomid. I caught this guy blind slowly moving the fly below a dry fly because once again our light vanished and the wind was huge. We ended the day where I got my nice fish last night but tonight we couldn’t buy one there if we wanted.
Friday morning the weather improved but there were some fierce clouds headed our way. We had quite a crew now and we sat around very early drinking coffee. At 7 we walked over to the pancake breakfast put on by Gary and Leslie Green of Star, Idaho. These friends generously donate their time and prepare contestants the delicious all you can eat meal for only $5. This year we had around 20 three person teams and almost everyone buys the breakfast. It’s a ton of work for the Greens but it generates good money and they donate all of it towards the fundraising for the tourney.
When we got to the spot we felt urgency to nail a quick fish. When the weather turns on Blackfoot Reservoir the carp fishing always stinks. Today’s weather was turning fast. The clouds were over us, the wind was strong from the north and a few chunks of sleet fell from the sky. And it was obvious the carp were responding to the change in weather. For here we were in a place where I and Ben saw hundreds of leaping carp Wednesday night and now there wasn’t a one to be seen. We were in trouble.
Next we went to one of our old reliable spots. If there’s any place on Blackfoot that can produce a carp in terrible conditions this is it. We spent five hours here and nothing.
Nothing describes our day more perfectly than – today sucked. And out of all teams, only six carp were registered. Day one was brutal and we could only hope tomorrow would bring better weather and hungrier carp. But we did have a feast around the campfire!
The weather changed. I awoke to the sound of midge eating seagulls instead of white-capped waves crashing the beach at camp. It was calm, sunny and hardly a cloud in the horizon. The final day of carping was looking good.
Trey, Scott and I headed left down a sagebrush covered high bank and Ben, Boots and Andy headed right. The fact that our teams mixed up was more a matter of who was ready first. And it really didn’t make any difference. Despite competing we were all here to have a great fishing day together. Our coolers were packed with our remaining beer and food because our dream was to all catch a fish before lunch then have one last feast before weigh in.
Scott was right; there were a bunch of carp here. And shortly into our walk the three of us were stationed on a high bank sight casting to passing mirrors. Just because we saw carp does not mean we spanked them – they were brutally tough. Carp after carp passed and paid little attention to our offerings. Then finally, Scott hooked up and landed this gorgeous 10lber on some funky streamer.
Things got better. If you can imagine having a shot at a carp every couple minutes we had it. It was unreal. Gradually our carping skills kicked in and Trey caught two back to back. Then Scotty got another. It was time for me to get my act together. I put on a green caddis pupa. What made me choose this fly was that lake trout experience from last week down at Boulder Lake. Why not try one? Fish after fish, I kept dropping the nymph in front of them. Then finally I got a reaction. Then I too landed back to back 8 pounders.
We hiked back to where we parked and I lit the grill. We loaded it with all the remaining food which consisted of more chicken breasts, dogs and brats. We even had some more corn on the cob. It was hot and sunny and we grabbed beers and settled in our camp chairs. Life was “as good as it gets”!
Shortly after, the rest of us headed to see how Ben was doing. Conditions had changed. It was windy and the edges of Blackfoot were mudding up from the waves slapping the soft mud banks. In search of Ben we walked to a new spot that was less affected and saw carp immediately. At this time I had on some chartreuse wiggly bonefish looking fly. I’ve done well with similar flies before. There was a sneaky carp nearly buried in weeds below me. He looked impossible because of all the snags around him. I stared for a minute then said screw it. I launched my luckiest cast of the trip and my fly landed in front of him. The carp tilted as he saw my fly sink to bottom. Then he lunged and picked it up. That’s all she wrote. I set and crossed that baby’s eyes and a few minutes later I upped my prior carp of 8lbs to 11lbs. Things were looking good.
I found yet another spot that was crawling with fish. They were hard as heck to see because it was in an unprotected wind-howling spot. I couldn’t really see the carp themselves, but rather the mud they create while feeding. There were muds everywhere. I dropped my slick chartreuse fly in the muds several times then hooked up and landed another 10lber. For the next hour, the last hour before weigh in, I had the carp fly fishing you dream about. I got several more nice fish. The only thing I missed was a big fish. And to win this derby you need at least a fish over 25lbs.
This year’s tournament raised nearly $5000, a new record. And for “Could be Worse”, this was a fabulous camping trip with many friends. Almost everyone left camp Saturday night, but not all. I opted to stay and hang with a few friends I didn’t see enough during the tournament. It was a great night around the fire and I ended up doing something I never did before. I drew a big mirror carp on the side of Brooks Montgomery’s white van with a sharpie. It came out sweet! I’ll try to get that photo up soon. It’s not in my hands at the moment.