** This post is from contributing author, Chris Kehres. **
Trout fishing the long summer months means deeply shortened hours and far fewer opportunities. Finding cold enough water can be tough, and a stream thermometer becomes the most valuable tool in your pack.
Even on my night trips, lately, I’ve had to wait until well after dark (toward midnight, on some of my favorite rivers) before I felt that I could fish for trout with a clear conscience.
69°f is the water temperature I look for. When the mercury climbs above that , I don’t fish for trout. Every angler needs to make her own decision, but it should be an educated one. (Read: PSA – It’s Hot Out There) A quick search through legitimate scientific studies will show that temps in the seventies are known to be a stress point for trout. In my younger, dumber days, I fished for trout in higher temps, and the response from the fish provided me a clear signal to stop it. Fish landed in the seventies are lethargic — they just seem tired.
When you do fish the summer waters, please play a trout fast and release them quickly.
Summer trout fishing is difficult and often disappointing, in large part, because of the warm water. Even the cool, spring fed, limestone waters of PA have some trouble holding water cold enough in drought conditions, and the best, coldest spring creek trout still don’t feed much after mid morning. Another species, though, usually found in the same waters we trout fish, provides an excellent, exciting fly fishing opportunity all summer long. The carp.
My friend, Chris Rocketship, has recently shed new light on what I previously considered to be a trash fish. Carp are a wary, difficult fish to catch, and more fishermen are starting to realize that targeting carp with flies will make you a better angler for every type of fly fishing.
Think carpin’ is easy? Think carp are dumb? Think carp are no fun? I dare you to give it a try.
Here’s Chris Rocketship Kehres to tell you how …
The Rocket School of Carpin’
Sooo, carp. Some of this is just logical stuff, but some of the techniques should be helpful to those with no prior carpin’ experience. I’m just gonna go over the whole deal.
Nothing special. You’re rarely going to be making normal casts. I wouldn’t go lighter than a 5 weight if you’re being serious about it
and up to an 8 weight for big fish in big water. Fiberglass is quickly catching on in the carp scene as well. And there’s no underestimating the importance of having a quality reel with a smooth drag. Carp are strong. A decent fish will take you into your backing every time, and the battles can last long. You need to be able to have the leverage to try to steer fish away from obstacles and snags.
It can be helpful to have a short enough leader so the end of the fly line is always past the rod tip — makes for easier bow and arrow casts and Bill Dance-style flippin’. Honestly though, I usually torture myself with a longer leader just to be on the safe side.These fish are spooky.
If you don’t trust your knots, keep it simple and go with an 8 foot, 2X or 3X tapered leader. I build my own with surgeon’s knots and don’t have any issues, so it’s up to the individual. Use heavy wire hooks — those designed for trout won’t cut it. I use the Gamakatsu drop shot hooks. Connect the fly with a non-slip loop knot.
John Montana’s Hybrid is all you need to know. It’s a general pattern that imitates a wide range of food sources and I catch 90% of my fish on some variation of this fly. The dumbbell or bead chain eyes make it ride nose-down and hook point up (which is usually a must) and a yarn tail mimics the foot or siphon of freshwater mollusks on which carp often feed.
McTage’s Trouser Worm and Adam Hope’s Carp Dragon are both excellent patterns as well. Other damsel and dragon fly nymph imitations are also effective, as are crayfish, and even egg imitations. In some places, carp will chase and eat streamers. The goby is a huge part of the forage base in Lake MI, and dudes that go there strip black bunny leeches for carp.
Other things to consider are the splash of the fly when it hits the water, and how fast it’s going to sink. A slight plop may get positive attention, but anything more will spook most fish within perception range. Obviously, the faster the water is moving, the heavier the fly one can get away with. I’ll even go to a tungsten cone if I need to stick one to the bottom in current.
We’ve all seen them when fishing for other species. Carp often feed shallow but always want quick access to deeper water and/or cover. I prefer to fish for them in rivers and streams, but that’s just me. They’re most active in the morning but many fish will continue to feed all day. Fish may cycle through an area in a pattern — say, up along this bank looking for whatever, then back to the deep, then along that flat, then back across, etc…
Carp will hang out very tight to banks and cover, and can be surprisingly difficult to spot for such a sizable fish. I wouldn’t recommend carpin’ without some sort of polarized sunglasses.
Very rarely, in some areas, and more frequently in others, carp will feed on the surface. This usually happens during heavy mayfly hatches where the water is blanketed with insects, or along foam lines in eddies and in foam when it piles up as water is rushing under a logjam or something of that nature. This foamy soup will contain all manner of carpy morsels. I’m not sure the fly really matters, but they are clumsy surface feeders and it may take a carp several attempts to suck in your fly. Try not to pull the trigger too soon.
If you’ve never targeted carp before, you’ll find they are incredibly wary and alert. If a fish has its face in the mud, you can often get pretty close. But otherwise, they can see and sense danger at a surprising distance. This may result in the fish coming frustratingly close to investigate before actually swimming away. When I’m really getting down to business, the leafy camo comes out. Be stealthy and patient.
It’s 100% visual. The whole thing is about spotting the fish, stalking it, waiting for that perfect moment and seeing the fish eat… I’ll never fish for a carp that I can’t see first. I’m sure some folks do, but that would ruin it for me. Don’t waste time casting to fish that aren’t active, unless loafers are all you have to work with. Mud clouds are a dead giveaway of tailing fish and can make for some fun hunting. Carp feed in many ways and often cruise around, eating this and that — digging a mussel here, slurping a worm there, dead baby crayfish, etc. A carp cruising slowly is probably on the hunt. A carp swimming a little faster might just be on its way from A to B and will still eat. Spooked or fleeing carp will probably never eat.
Watch closely to determine which direction your target is heading and try to lead it. If the fish is partially obscured and you can’t tell which end is the head, be patient. An errant cast that lands on a fish’s back is almost guaranteed to startle it.
My ideal presentation would be somewhere on the edge of the fish’s perception so that is has to move to the fly to eat it. It’s much easier to detect a take this way. Carp that are very active probably won’t mind seeing the fly hit the water and drop through the column. They’ll come over and inhale it right away. However, some fish will spook or startle if a fly drops swiftly by them.
A technique known as the drag-and-drop has been popularized by the carp gurus out west, but I’m not sure exactly who to credit for developing it. To execute, you want to cast past and away from the fish so that you’re able to then drag the fly across the surface or through the water, letting it drop into the carp’s path. This is highly effective. If the fly hits the bottom and the carp hasn’t noticed, the slightest twitch might get its attention. If not, and the fish has not been alerted, slowly drag away and try again.
Occasionally a fish will chase a moving fly, but usually not. If a fish has seen your fly and spooked, then returned and resumed feeding, it will often spook if it sees the same fly again. They remember if something just isn’t right about the situation and may not leave the area, but will continue to refuse your fly.
If you can’t actually see the carp eat your fly, look for body language signaling the take. Puckering lips, the pec fins flaring out as the fish stops forward momentum … then trout set, with maybe a little extra flick to stick that hook — but not much.
Oh wait, you didn’t have a plan? Go back to somewhere in the middle of that last part. Before attempting to cast to a fish, you must figure out how you’re going to land it — this is something we have to consider much less often with trout.
Make a plan. On the banks of an open lake, little forethought may be needed. A river with boulders and snags and root wads and undercuts is a different story. Figure out how you’re going to deal with each potential obstacle if it comes into play.
You might be crouching behind some multiflora rose, dapping a fish in the shallows at the bank directly beneath low-hanging branches. That fish is going to take off in the opposite direction and you’re going to have to jump over the bush and follow it out into the water to avoid getting caught up. If you hook up and just stand there as line rips off the reel, you’re asking for trouble.
As I said, carp are very strong, and a solid fish will test your line to backing connection. Keep the pressure on and do what you can. Hang on, and execute the aforementioned plan.
I try to keep the fish off the bottom as much as possible … if at all possible. Their mouths are the closest thing to the bottom and I don’t want my line and knots rubbing on rocks and whatnot. When a carp turns, you might feel slight popping as the fly and line flips over the head or mouth or fin in some manner. This doesn’t seem to cause any trouble, but I try to keep it from happening.
Once you’ve won the battle, please don’t beach the carp. It probably won’t kill them but their bodies just aren’t designed to support their weight on land. More importantly, just have some respect for the fish. They deserve it.
At some sizes you can get a decent grip on the tail, but the big fish don’t have much of a wrist. You’ll need to support the fish under the pec fins with one hand while gripping above the tail with the other for your glamour shots.
Carp can be a fun distraction from pursuing other types of fish, or an absolute and complete obsession. These fish are curious, and at the same time, extremely wary and intelligent. The visual aspect is very addicting, as is feeling the power of these fish. No other freshwater species pulls like a big carp.
For further study and to revisit some of the stuff mentioned here, check out this article from flycarpin.com. McTage is an accomplished carp guru, and he goes into great detail, far above and beyond what I’ve described here.
John Montana at Carp On the Fly created the hybrid fly and is well-known for fooling the mighty carp of the Pacific Northwest.
Jim Pankiewicz’s “Lessons from the Carp Lodge” videos on YouTube are incredibly informative and a great way to see different techniques in action.
Okay. I’m going to eat cereal now.
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A big, mighty THANK YOU to Chris Rocketship Kehres for putting all of that together. Cheers, my friend.
I’m going to eat a bowl of cereal too. Then I’ll dig out the 6 weight and hit the river to do some carpin’.
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N