It’s been years since I touched a carp, not because it doesn’t intrigue or interest me but more that during my fishing lull caused primarily by a desire to race my road bike and the birth of my daughter I just didn’t have the time to find carp. I used the little time I had to concentrate on the trout I know well, the sure thing for me I guess. Now that I’m a bit out of shape and not riding my bike as much and I’m fishing more I connected with Wendy Berrell to reacquaint myself with the challenge that is fly fishing for carp. If you read Wendy’s site Fishing and Thinking in Minnesota you know he has attained maximum proficiency with regards to carping in the driftless area and beyond. I am an absolute novice when it comes this game but I’d like to think I’m a quick study and I do have a string of days on the Columbia River in 2011 with Wendy and John Montana under my belt, I learned a lot that trip. Crazy how time passes. Anyway, fast forward…
It’s Friday the 18th of May the sun is shining and the wind is up a bit. I meet up with Wendy and he takes me to a spot he knows well. Totally accommodating this guy, he just brings his carping set up and hands it to me with no intention of touching the rod. Over the course of three hours from approx. 3pm-6pm I was reacquainted with the slow approach needed to stalk feeding carp, the importance of knowing the approximate depth and location of the fish mouth you are targeting and with that the importance of knowing the sink rate of your fly. These things have to come together when presenting a fly to spooky carp lips feeding in the muck or sand. My first attempt was a give-me opportunity and I botched it hearing “epic-fail” in the back of my head. Wendy was patient and we moved on searching for willing fish. Slowly searching the banks looking for bubble trails, black shadows and the flash of a golden tail…this is awesome but far from my forte and it showed. I missed multiple opportunities that likely should have resulted in hooked and netted carp but we persisted and as I approached a few more carp I started getting the hang of the presentation a bit more, almost stuck one but I was early on the hookset again.
Finally it seemed that perhaps I was going to strike out but as luck would have it Wendy spotted the tip of a tail in the turbid water and she was focused, bubble trail clearly visible, this fish was feeding heavy and down in deeper water. I dropped my fly on her a couple times, once I think I bumped her with it but she didn’t spook. Finally I got the fly where I needed it, wait..wait…wait…. and set. The next ten minutes were awesome, she didn’t run far but she fought hard and as she came up we started to get an idea at how big this fish really was. Smiles were had as I fought this fish, good thing I had a net man on this one as she scaled at 22lbs which I would come to appreciate is truly a beast for this area, a carp that many do not get to touch and the largest fish I’ve ever caught. As it went we landed that fish, smiled and took photos. The skunk was off, a remarkable fish was touched and now anything else was a bonus. We fished for another ~45minutes or so and I believe I missed one or two other decent opportunities before calling it a day. Really need to thank Wendy for this experience, something that will not be forgotten. Photo’s do not do this carp justice, Wendy gets the good photo credit as well.
Day 2. I’m solo for this one and I’m basically using the day before as a guide. Wash, rinse, repeat, however conditions were a bit different. The clouds were out and I can see a bit of blue sky but not much at first, this was going to complicate things. In the already turbid water stalking those shadows is made manageable with the sun but without it things become much more difficult. I’m out with a couple flies that Wendy gave me the day before, 1x Fluorocarbon tippet on and I’m stalking the same location. This is not trout fishing, no guarantees, I could show up and find nothing but as luck would have it the second spot I hiked to I found between 15-20 carp out sunning further from the shore. I didn’t really consider casting at these fish, had I done so they would have likely spooked and created chaos in the place I needed to keep calm in the hopes of one of those fish coming closer to me. Several smaller carp cruised by at higher speeds but none took my fly. I kept moving closer to the pod of fish but they were farther out than I wanted to wade, I moved on hoping that if I came back perhaps they would have move in closer. The clouds were cooperating and holding off giving me almost two hours of pretty good sun. I was fishing a larger fly which something felt off about, remembering advice from the day before I switched to a smaller Trouser worm. Minutes later enter tailing carp, present fly, sink and I watched the face move a couple inches towards my fly. A hook set, then explosion of muscle and water followed by a bent rod all culminated in happiness. It was a smaller fish somewhere in the 12lbs range is my guess but I was happy enough just to get one on the books. Landing it solo was a good learning experience, I remembered what I was told the day before and it worked out well.
I spent the next two hours searching the banks as before, went back to a few locations and managed to get a second fish of similar size to take my fly. As 3pm approached the sun disappeared and the skies turned dark, this was the nail coming for my coffin. I pushed on but something felt off, the fish had moved deeper and fewer were found near the banks. The lack of light was not helping, the wind had picked up and the universe was signaling that the day was done. I left smiling and filthy, day two was a total success.