Year Of The Carp: First Carp on the Fly

By Spencer Mortensen

Following in the theme of “Year of the Carp” provided by the great staff at Fishwest, it seems wise to add my insights on one of the more controversial fish species. People either absolutely hate or love carp. In my interactions people either think I’m crazy for chasing carp on the fly or we quickly become fishing buddies and swap stories and our dreams of future carp chasing trips. I personally believe carp are so polarizing in the fly fishing world because either a person thinks of them as a ultimate trash fish or that they are among the more challenging fresh water fish to catch while fly fishing. Once someone hooks into their first decent sized carp their fly fishing perspective could change dramatically. So dramatically that I can remember my first fly carping trip more vividly than I can remember what I ate for dinner last night.

I had the privilege of meeting a local fly carper who was willing to take me out on the water to teach me the ropes. It was an experience that started me down a marvelous and challenging path that has taught me more about fly fishing and stalking fish than any single trip I had gone on over the last 5 years. On this first trip I met up this local fly fisherman on a pond that he was very familiar with. On arriving at the pond, before we even got to the water he taught me a few very simple carp on the fly rules: pay attention to the fish, pay attention to your surroundings, pay attention to how and where you are moving, oh and pay attention.

After walking quietly to the edge of a moderately clear pond that was several feet deep I spent the first ten or fifteen minutes foolishly staring into the pond and being unable to see the several pound carp swimming a few feet below the surface. That was a frustrating moment for me. I had spent years sight fishing for trout on streams and rivers with what I had thought was great success. It had me wondering why I couldn’t see these larger fish very easily.  Thankfully this wonderful fly fisherman had patience with me and was able to help me see what I needed to be looking for. As soon as he had shown me what I was looking for I was able to start recognizing fish.  To this day I am still thankful that he was to teach me those few things so early in our day and get me on the right path in life
He repeated again those same rules: pay attention to the fish, pay attention to your surroundings, pay attention to how and where you are moving, oh and pay attention.

After watching and observing this pond, having felt humiliated by my first up close experience watching carp, we travelled a short distance to a medium sized stream that had carp. This was more my style. This helped restore my confidence a little bit. I told myself, I’ll know how to spot fish in a 2-4 foot deep stream. I was right! I spotted a few carp, tried presenting my fly to them which quickly resulted in spooking them all away. These fish were different! They were picky and spooky in a way that I hadn’t previously encountered while chasing trout.

After foolishly spooking these carp we moved to a different small pond. In this new pond I was able to start noticing the giant shadows swimming around and creating mud clouds. Even thought I started to recognize what I was looking for, I still managed to spook sever fish and feel humiliated all over again by these larger than five pound elusive ghost like fish. Being on this pond taught me that first set of lessons all over again: pay attention to the fish, pay attention to your surroundings, pay attention to how and where you are moving, oh and pay attention!

While at that second pond I learned a couple other quick lessons…Watch for bubble trails that are moving, that very likely is a carp that is feeding along the bottom… If the water is a little stained, murky, or off color that I need to look for shadows moving beneath the surface of the water in the water, that likely is a carp.. If you see a swirl of mud and water in the shallows it means you likely spooked a carp… Carp like being happy – happiness comes from being with friends, eating, or relaxing.

After spending time walking around the 2nd pond I decided to head back to the moving water to see if the carp had returned and were willing to play.  This decision changed my trip and my future dramatically.  I paid very close attention to what I had learned in the last few hours. I walked slowly, making sure to take advantage of walking behind some trees that were close to the water. I stood still and watched for a while making sure that the new carp I had found was indeed feeding, that the trees and bushes nearby would not interfere with my casts, and that I was in a position to potentially play my first carp on the fly. I checked my recently tied up fly was well tied on, clean of muck and gunk, and was still sharp.

I carefully cast right to where I thought the current would drop my fly right next to the feeding carp. The fly slowly drifted down through the water and settled to the stream bottom about half a foot in front of the carp. The chartreuse green rabbit hair tail on the fly fluttered for about a couple of seconds on bottom of the stream before the carp flicked its tail and hovered a few inches away from my fly, seeming to hesitate and eating my fly. Heart pounding I held my breath and waited as patiently as I could. Then, after what felt like minutes of waiting (it was really maybe a second or two) the carp sucked in my fly and with a quick strip set and the fight was on! My adrenaline was pumping almost as fast as this fish was taking off downstream! After several minutes of playing a fish up and down stream it was finally brought to hand. Literally. I made a mistake and left my net in the car. Fortunately, this carp was around 21 inches and somewhere around 4-5 pounds. I was able to muscle the fish to hand and land the fish. A few quick pictures, and this, my first golden beauty was sent on its way. I hadn’t had a fish get my adrenaline pumping like this fish in many years.

After that fish I quickly realized that carp were going to have a special place in my heart for years and years to come and become a serious addiction. They are a fish that tested my patience, skills, and resolve more than trout ever had. After many more trips I can tell you this… they continue to test my patience, skills and resolve. Landing that first carp, and every one after that, makes me feel confident in saying “Go! Go and get your first, second, or hundredth carp on the fly. It will make you smile AND it just might make you a better fly fisherman.”