Steve, Cinda and I couldn’t travel far from the big city today because I had to do my presentation for Desert Fly Casters tonight. That didn’t hinder our fishing at all because the lakes in and around the city limits of Phoenix Arizona have plenty of fish. Most of them have bass, sunfish, crappie and various carp species. It’s the grass carp (white Amur) that I like to fish for. Grass carp are Asian fish frequently stocked throughout the southern United States to trim aquatic vegetation that often grows in lakes. It seems the hotter the climate the quicker vegetation grows so almost every lake in the Phoenix area has a population of grass carp.
Grass carp (I call them grassies) are very hard to catch on the fly unless you have experience with them. I remember speaking at the ISE Show in Phoenix over ten years ago and noticed the peculiar looking fish in a pond behind my hotel. I had a 5-weight with me (I always do) and thought I’d waltz right out there and catch one. Fat chance! I fished them for five straight mornings and only landed one. He was worth it though as he would have topped 15lbs and was the grassie that got me hooked on the species for life.
With few exceptions, grass carp fishing is all sight fishing. You must creep along the edge of these lakes and hunt them. Grassies are extremely spooky and will sink to the deep if they see you. If you are lucky enough to see them first, observe them. Happy grass carp ease their way along inches below the surface and rise to almost every piece of plant life they see. With that in mind, greenish dry flies work best. Being that plant life comes in every shape and size imaginable, I don’t get too concerned about the pattern itself. I have done excellent with olive grasshoppers. Once I know the direction my grassie is traveling in I try to land my cast about 6 inches in front of his nose. I want him to see it land and think a leaf just blew out of a tree. There are definitely times when the grassie spooks but often they move to it ever so slowly. Now for the part you won’t believe. While some do sip the hopper like a trout, be ready to watch the grassie nibble on a leg and gradually work the rest of the fly into his mouth. Don’t set until you’re sure the hook is in there. As soon as you see that, strike hard.
We got up around 6 am today and made our way to a group of lakes that have plenty of grass carp. I could hardly wait. These particular lakes are also stacked with koi and have few common carp. I rigged up my 5-weight Ross with a floating line and a 12-foot 3X Rio leader. I tied on one of my green grasshoppers and walked out to the first lake. These lakes are true urban lakes. They all have sidewalks and houses completely around them.
At first I stood and looked around. The one thing I didn’t want to do was spook a grassie by hastily walking down the sidewalk. Right away I noticed some koi mulling around. The koi rarely rise to a dry fly so I gazed beyond the koi still hoping to see a grassie. Steve and Cinda made their way to me and saw that I was rigged for grass carp not koi. Steve dropped a cast with his nymph to the nearest koi. The koi looked but then slid into some deeper water where we could no longer see him. We walked this pond together and continued to see many koi and a few common carp but the grassies were hiding. Perhaps it wasn’t hot enough yet. Steve and Cinda got numerous shots at koi but most were not participating. Finally, Steve hooked and landed the first fish of the day, a very lightly colored common carp. By the time I snapped a few pictures of Steve and his fish Cinda hooked up to a koi. That was it. The bite was on. Due to the lack of a grass carp sightings I took off my hopper and tied on a nymph. The three of us proceeded to catch numerous koi in every color imaginable during the next three hours. I even caught a strange looking fish that may have been a koi/common carp hybrid.
Gradually, we began to see some grass carp. Grassies don’t eat the nymphs anything like the koi do so to catch one I had to change back to my green hopper. This was a tough thing to do because koi fishing was red hot and a lot of fun. I made the change though and then like you’d expect, I couldn’t find another grassie to save my life. I walked five ponds in the next two hours and never made a single cast to a grass carp. Meanwhile, Steve and Cinda kept reeling in the koi.
I was about to give up and switch back to a koi rig when Cinda suggested we walk to some spots where she recently saw some nice grassies. By now it was easily 95° and very windy. Weeds and other debris often accumulate on the windy sides of these lakes and attract the grass carp. Sure enough the first spot we went had a pod of grassies nestled under such debris. The problem was there was so much debris I couldn’t land my fly where the grassies could see it. It was useless. We kept walking and at last we spotted several grassies floating high and happy. Cinda generously stepped aside and let me have at them. I landed my hopper just in front of a cruiser and he moved to my fly. Then just as I thought his mouth was going to open and take I my fly he spooked by exploding at the surface. I think he freaked out because he knew at the last second it was a fake and realized how close he came to being caught. I was extremely disappointed assuming he likely spooked every grass carp around. But luckily that wasn’t the case. Two more grassies were slowly meandering my way looking for their next meal. I picked the larger of the two and once again dropped my fly six inches in front of his nose. Again the fish moved to my fly only this grassie opened his mouth and chomped it. I waited for the huge mouth to shut the door on my fly and struck with authority. Mr. Grassie was on!
Grass carp are not only hard to fool. Once hooked up they put up a battle. It would be nice to have a 7 or 8- weight rod for this part, but heavy rods just can’t provide the finesse needed for the initial presentation. So you just take your time, steer them from any structure that they could snag you on and hope they give up. That’s exactly what I did and eventually I was lifting a quality grassie from the pond. Success!
Tomorrow we are bass fishing so I’m thrilled that I landed my grass carp today. These guys really are a favorite of mine and being that they like the heat, we don’t have them near home. Shortly after the fun catch, we packed it up so we’d have time to clean up and set up for my presentation for Desert Fly Casters.
My presentation was called “Fly Fishing Through Midlife Heaven” and was a collage of my top fishing trips that have occurred since I left my day job at the fly shop last October. This was a new show for me and I’m pleased to say the show went great before a large crowd. If any of you ever need a presenter for your club or Trout Unlimited banquet keep me in mind. I offer numerous presentations that you can choose from my website and there are instructions on how to book me. Keep an eye on the presentation list as I’m always keeping it up to date. Soon I’ll have a great one on how you too can succeed with the various carp species on a fly.