Calculated Risk

Fishing is full of choices.  Some are easy to make, others not so much.  Eastern Idaho has so many different options this time of year and that often makes it difficult to choose where to fish.  After a pretty serious warm front rolled in last Thursday, I had one fish on my mind.  The mighty carp!  As I sat inside sick all weekend, I day dreamed of warmer days on the carp flats.  Monday’s forecast called for a whopping high of 48 degrees.  This might not sound that warm to most people, but in Eastern Idaho where temps well below zero are the norm this time of year, I was ecstatic.  Sunny and 48 sounded like perfect carping weather to me.  I arrived at the flat I had in mind around 12:30 with the air temp somewhere in the low 40’s.  To my dismay, there wasn’t a fish to be seen in the flat.  I decided to hike a good ways downstream where the flat connects with the river and is also home to a large deep spring.  I began blind casting, hoping that there might be some carp holding deep near the bottom of the warmer spring water.  After casting for several minutes with no luck, I finally saw the first carp breach the waters surface.  Although breaching carp aren’t fish that I attempt to catch, they are a sign that there are other fish near by.  I worked my way down the shoreline where I had seen the carp jump and began casting again.  A few casts later I felt a strong take, strip set the hook hard, and felt the line start peeling from my reel.  Carp are slightly lethargic in chilly water, so after a short but fun fight I brought my first fish of the day to hand.

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First Fish of the Day

After landing my first fish of the day, I was content with achieving my goal.  Last year, my first carp of the season also came to hand in February, but I know now that they can be caught year round here in Eastern Idaho (contrary to popular belief).  Tactics and locations just change a bit.  Last February, Brent and I decided to check a local flat during a snow storm and happened upon a handful of fish that were heavily concentrated around a spring.  We each picked up a couple fish before they all decided to leave the flat.  I was expecting a similar experience this day but was presently surprised when I picked up my second fish of the day just a few casts later.  I could tell immediately that this fish was heavier than the first one.  I did all I could to work the fish to the service so I could catch a glimpse of it.  The fish continued to run for quite a while but eventually tired out enough to be landed.  Because I was fishing in such deep water, I saw no need to put my waders on was just fishing in my jeans.  Although a little hard to tell from the picture, this fish was one of the largest carp I’ve ever landed in my life.  Some times self timer shots turn out like that.  It’s not often that a fish is physically difficult for me to lift from the water, and this one was very heavy.  I don’t carry a scale on me, so it’s hard to say how heavy it really was.  Carp weight varies so much that it can be very difficult to tell the weight without a scale.  Needless to say, it was my heaviest fish of the day.  After a couple of quick pics I sent the fish on its way and continued working my way down the shoreline.  I had one more hook up that quickly came unbuttoned and then things really slowed down for a couple of hours.

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Biggest Fish of the Day

Since fishing had significantly slowed down, I decided it was time to look for fish elsewhere.  I continued to work my way down the shore line, back towards the flat until I once again come across some breaching fish.  My suspicions were confirmed and the fish had moved much shallower than they were previously holding.  The only problem was that the fish were holding on the far bank, which was at least a 15-20 minute walk.  I waded out as far as I could but my casts fell short of where they needed to be.  I decided to make the walk, only to find that the wind had once again changed directions and the fish had moved back to the bank I was originally on.  A bit disappointed, I began the walk back to where I had just come from.  While walking near the shallowest part of the flat, I noticed fish beginning to breach all around me.  Not only were fish breaching, but the occasional tail could be seen, sticking straight up out of the skinny water.  I found the closest pod of tailers I could and began working the water.  Within a couple casts I was hooked up on another healthy fish.

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Crawdads in Yo’ Face

As I mentioned earlier, cold water carp don’t fight nearly as hard as they do when the water is warmer.  I quickly landed the fish and began working another pod of fish.  Over the next 15 minutes I landed two more fish almost as fast as I could get my fly back in the water.  I would cast, make a few strips, feel the fish attack my fly, and quickly follow with a strip set.  The fish were on the feed and they were holding nothing back.  I continued working the flat, picking up the occasional tailer here and there.  Eventually the water became so discolored that it was hard for the fish to locate my fly without it being directly in front of them.  I decided to head back over to the springs located close to the shoreline and target fish in the clearer water.

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Lonesome Mirror

Making the move to clearer water quickly paid off.  I was even able to dap one fish, which happens quite rarely at this particular spot.  After landing a few more fish, the sun sank low enough in the sky that most of the flat was no longer receiving adequate sunlight to keep the fish interested in sticking around.  My amazing day of early season carping was slowly winding down and coming to an end.

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Last Fish of the Day

After all the incredible trout fishing I have experienced as of late, it felt great to get out and chase some tailing carp again.  Although taking “Selfies” with big awkward carp isn’t the easiest task, it still felt very nice to get out and fish by myself.  As much as I love getting out on the water with my fishing buddies, there is something about fishing solo that helps clear the mind.  This week is calling for even warmer temps and I am looking forward to getting out to the carp flats again very soon.

Carp Overload – Lessons Learned in Carping

At the beginning of the year, I made a goal to improve my overall level of skill at fly fishing for carp.  With fall beginning to set in and cooler nights becoming the norm, the carping season is slowly slipping away.  I already know that I am going to be going through some major carp withdrawals when the dead of winter sets in.  By focusing more of my time on carp, there are many important things that I have learned about carp and their behavior.  I’m no expert by any means, but there are many things I’ve learned this year that have helped me catch significantly more carp than ever before.  Here are a few of the things that have helped me increase my catch rates when it comes to carp on the fly.

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First and foremost, be stealthy.  If you don’t know how to wade quietly through a flat or a gravel bar, learn how or you’ll spook every single carp before you ever get a cast off.  Carp are extremely sensitive to motion in the water, and it doesn’t take much for them to know you are there.

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Chris with a Blackfoot Reservoir Mirror

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Second, short casts are better than long casts.  Trevor from the blog Fly-Carpin made mention of this in a recent post and I couldn’t agree more.  Early in the season, I was having a blast bombing 60-70 foot casts out to tailing carp.  While I was catching plenty of carp, the fact of the matter is you’ll catch far more carp by shortening your presentation.  Takes are easier to detect and you are less likely to spook the fish with a splashy cast.  I learned this lesson the hard way while fishing the Carp Classic at Blackfoot Reservoir this Spring.  Conditions were miserable to say the least.  Fish were very few and far between.  When I finally located a feeding carp, I tried to bust out a long cast rather than sneak up on the fish.  I ended up getting snagged on a rock and spooked him before he ever saw my fly.  The entire situation could have been avoided if I had chosen to shorten up my presentation.  Of course, there will always be situations that require longer casts, but generally speaking shorter is better.

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More Mirrors

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Third, as John from Carp on the Fly says, “know your forage”.  This is key.  What might be the money fly at one location will do nothing but spook fish at another location.  My “Go To” fly is a black Simi-seal leach.  As much as I love fishing this pattern and the aggressive takes that usually come with it, there are situations where it simply does not work.  One such situation is when fishing for carp around springs.  They do not like the leech at all.  It is too heavy and is not something that they are used to seeing.  It is also too flashy to use in the crystal clear water and the flash scares them away.  In those situations, something very light, like a san juan worm, usually works great.  Be willing to change flies and adapt to different situations, rather than get stuck thinking only one fly will work.

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Doubled Up at Blackfoot

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Fourth, Presentation is key.  If there is one area that I’ve learned more about than anything else, this would be it.  Successfully catching carp on the fly is all about the presentation.  I have made an effort to get away from blind casting and have started seeking out fish that I can see.  Sight fishing is so much more enjoyable than blind casting.  There are two techniques that I have found to be very helpful.  First, dapping.  Dapping is simply placing the fly right in the carps feeding zone without casting much at all and letting it drop.  You softly lob the fly where you want it to be.  When done correctly, the fish will usually eat your fly quite readily.  Dapping requires a lot of stealthiness but it is very rewarding and your stealthiness will usually pay off.  The second technique is the “drag and drop”.  This technique is particularly useful when fishing for carp that are cruising near the surface.  It is exactly what it sounds like.  You cast slightly past the carp (be careful not to line them), drag the fly over their head, and lastly let it drop down into their feeding zone.  I can’t even count how many times I’ve have a carp that was slowly cruising along, not really feeding, immediately charge and engulf the fly.  This technique is deadly when done correctly.

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Inhaled The Leech

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Fifth, don’t hesitate on the hook set.  Many carp are missed because the take is never seen or felt.  Carp are able to inhale and spit out your fly very quickly.  If you hesitate, you will miss them.  More than anything, this takes time and practice.  There are a couple things to look for when trying to detect the take.  First, try to keep an eye on their head.  Sometimes water clarity does not make this possible.  On of my favorite places to fish for carp is the Bear River.  It also happens to be notoriously dirty.  Often times you can see nothing more than a shadowy figure.  Look for small movements, or a change in the way they are swimming.  Second, watch the tail.  Because a carp’s mouth is located facing down (unlike a trout) they will often “dive” on your fly.  By watching the way they move their tail, you can often tell if they have taken the fly.  Third, if you think the fish took your fly then set the hook.  This will significantly increase the number of fish you catch.  Confidence is key.

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Bear River Mirror Carp

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Sixth, don’t pass up a fish just because they don’t look like they’re feeding.  In Eastern Idaho we are lucky to have some very aggressive carp.  Even a sunning fish will fall victim to the “Drag and Drop” from time to time.  I have also found that carp are very opportunistic feeders.  Just because they aren’t actively feeding doesn’t mean they won’t eat a well-presented fly.

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More Carp from The Bear

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Seventh, don’t be too hard on yourself.  It is nearly impossible to get a perfect presentation and detect the hookset every time.  Successfully catching carp requires you to be on your A-Game, and that’s not always possible.  In the end, fishing is about having a good time, and fishing for carp is always a good time, even when conditions are tough.

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Fully Scaled Blackfoot Mirror

As I mentioned before, I am no expert on fly fishing for carp, but I enjoy it a lot.  These are just a few things that I’ve learned this year and that have helped me up my game.  If you haven’t fished for carp on the fly yet, I highly recommend you give it a try.  It will put your fly fishing knowledge to the test and ultimately make you a better angler.

Finding Time For The River

Monday of last week marked the beginning of another semester of school.  The past four months off have provided some incredible fishing opportunities for me, but it feels nice to be back in class again.  The first week of the semester is always one of the most stressful times.  I’m always rearranging my schedule.  Doing homework takes a little bit of time to get used to when you haven’t had any for four months.  With that said, I think I’ve got it all figured out and look forward to another fun semester.  I’ve opted to take more online classes this semester than I usually do for a couple of reasons.  Reason number one: I have A.D.D. and I have a hard time sitting in a class room for more than an hour or two.  I get antsy and my mind starts wandering elsewhere.  Online classes let me do the work from the comfort of my apartment.  Reason number two:  Less time in a classroom = more time on the river.  Who wouldn’t want more time on the river?

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Rewarded For Being a Good Student All Week

I’ll be the first to admit that Saturday is my least favorite day of the week to fish.  There are usually a lot of people out, and I prefer a little bit of solitude.  Brent and I had planned on fishing Friday, but we each had things come up that prevented us from doing so.  I also ended up having way more homework than I was expecting to, so it worked out for the better.  Fortunately I love to hike, and hiking is one of the best ways to get away from the crowds.  Brent and I met up Saturday morning around 10:00 AM and headed out in search of some hungry trout.  It didn’t take long to connect with my first fish of the day, a solid cutt that would have went over 20″ but somehow managed to shake the hook.  Brent and I worked our way downriver, picking up the occasional hybrid, but overall the fishing was pretty slow.  In hopes of quicker fishing, we decided to pack up and head elsewhere.

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Snakey Hybrid

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Underwater Shot: Photo Credit- Brent Wilson

As we pulled into our next stop, I felt good about our choice to move elsewhere.  There was much more water to cover, and water clarity was much better than where we began our day.  Brent worked a nice ledge on the far bank of the river, while I stuck to the bank closest to where we parked.  After a few casts, I watched a dark shadow come out of the depths and chase down my fly.  In its attempt to hit the sculpin pattern, it missed and made its way back to the deep pocket.  I continued working the run for a few more minutes and eventually pulled out a decent hybrid in the 18″ range.  Rainbow-Cutthroat Hybrids fight strong and they are one of my favorite trout to catch.  We snapped a few photos and sent the fish on her way.

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Chrome Hybrid

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Terrible Photo But a Decent Cutthroat

Over the next few hours, Brent and I continued to work every run that looked like it would hold a fish, and in turn continued to catch or hook into fish on a regular basis.  Most fish were in the 12″ to 16″ range, but we’d occasionally hook one in the 18″ to 20″ range, and even were lucky enough to catch a couple in the 22″-23″ range.  I’m terrible at keeping track of how many fish I catch, but my best guess would be that between Brent and I, over two dozen were brought to hand by days end, not to mention all the fish that shook the fly loose.  Not a bad day at all in my book, especially for a Saturday.

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Vibrant Colors

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Shoulders

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Big Headed Cutty

Today, another week of school, homework, studying, and everything else that goes along with being a full-time college student begins.  A great weekend of fishing always makes it easier to get through the long days of school.  In the mean time, I can day dream about the tailing carp and streamer pounding smallies that I’m going to chase this coming weekend.