Most of my life I considered the common carp as a trash fish. I figured the namer of this undesirable fish mixed up the “a” and the “r” rendering it “carp” instead of “crap.” I remembered a time when my brother Scotty and I were fishing on the Bear River below our home near Preston, Idaho when I was in the 5th or 6th grade. My brother caught a massive carp, drug it up on the bank, and then shot it with a high power deer rifle. I will spare you the rest of the graphic gory details. That anecdote sums up what we thought of the lowly carp.
When I took up fly fishing twenty-three years ago, I had no idea you could catch a carp on a fly. But after reading so many magazine articles and seeing voluminous pictures on social media, I learned that catching a carp on a fly is very possible. Despite my aversion to the bottom feeder, I thought that catching one might be fun.
This past weekend, my family went to a family reunion not far from Ogden, Utah. My family owns two ponds, one of which is loaded with big carp. I figured this place was as good as any to catch my first carp on the fly.
Early Friday morning, I awoke and strung up the 6 Weight Sage rod with a full sink line and tied on a fluorescent yellow jighead mohair green leech. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but as soon as I got to the edge of the canal leading into the bigger reservoir, I spied a gargantuan carp working the shallows on the opposite bank with his nasty back protruding at least three inches out of the water. His size and the way he moved reminded me of a mythical Chinese dragon.
I’m going to catch that fish, I thought to myself.
I then wet the fly with my saliva, stripped out some line and cast to the fish working the shallows. He did not take on the first cast and quickly went back into the deeper water. I thought I must have spooked him. However, seconds later, his beefy back appeared again above the water in the weeds. I cast a second time and stripped across the canal with no takes. In between casts, the fish began swimming through the shallows toward me through a perfect opening in the weeds for a cast. I quickly placed the fly right in front of his trajectory and started to strip it back toward me. After the fly had moved about five feet, the carp slammed it hard and my rod bowed over with the heavy weight. I hooked a full-on monster on only my third cast. Unbelievable! I whooped and hollered so loud that my wife and kids could hear me from our tent trailer 150 yards away.
The fish, not fully realizing what was going on, swam to the steep embankment below me and began to try to take me below some overhanging branches. It felt like I had a cinder block on the end of my line. A few times, I thought the fish had hung me up on a snag, but when I laid the rod to the side and took a few steps back, I felt his head shaking. He was clearly still on.
Realizing I might need some help, I pulled out the cell phone and called my wife: “I just hooked a monster! Will you come help me get him in?” It was 7 a.m. but after some begging, Kristin agreed to come help me.
Meanwhile, I succeeded in getting the fish out from under the bank and then he went on a scorching run down the middle of the canal toward the main reservoir. I followed along the steep embankment around a big tree–all the while trying to regain some line.
I worked the fish back around the tree and tried to find a place where I could get into the water to try and land it as there was no hauling it up the steep embankment before me. By this time, Kristin had made her way to me. When she got there, I handed her the rod, slid on my butt down the embankment and asked her to pull the fish’s fat head up to the surface. I held the line, grabbed the chubby fish, and asked Kristin to take some pictures.
Admittedly, I had mixed feelings about this fish. Part of me was so stoked that I had just caught my biggest fish ever on the fly. Part of me thought, Eww, this thing is so ugly and gross! My dog, Rainey, who had been with me the whole time, yipped in excitement at the monster in my hands. The grossest part was trying to remove the hook from the flexibly squishy mouth. Since eating it was not an option, I released him back into the muddy water.
Even with my aversion to these course fish, I went back two other times with the fly rod to that pond, but could not get another taker. Beginner’s luck, I guess.
Later on that day, someone told me that carp are a “poor man’s bonefish,” which suited me just fine. My final verdict is that carp are a worthy target for the fly. I will definitely try this again in the future.