Out of Bounds

Carp: A Love Story

In a lifetime of fly fishing, I’ve never devoted as much time to an animal without success, as I have to chasing carp

By Rob Breeding

Part 2: unrequited.

I was casting a small yellow fly. A foam pattern, probably a No. 14 golden stone, tied by my pal Denny Mac, the now-retired headmaster of the Bitterroot River guide school and beer drinking society.

The fly bobbed nicely on the rippled water, though in comparison, the attached 0X tippet looked like a mooring line for the Queen Mary. A dark shape cruised beneath the fly. This was a “big” dark shape. More than 10 pounds. Maybe 20. As the fish neared the fly it turned and rose languidly in the direction of the bobbing golden stone. 

The fish slowed as it came close, giving the fly a thorough inspection. Then with a whirl of its broad pectoral fins — they looked as big as golden fly swatters — the fish stuck out its pouty Mick Jagger lips and sucked in the fly.

Or at least tried to.

I was close enough to see the fly slide past that gaping maw, which looked more like a 3-inch woven fire hose or the business end of an elephant’s trunk. The prehensile kisser seemed big enough to swallow a tangerine. I resisted the urge to strike, hoping the fish might circle back. Instead, it slunk off to the depths. 

And so went my first confirmed carp strike on a fly. The fish missed, but there’s no doubt it wanted to eat Denny Mac’s golden stone.

I’ve always thought him a fine fly tier. Now I have my proof.

It wasn’t the first time a carp approached my fly, though I can’t be sure how often one was simply in the general vicinity, though otherwise oblivious to my assorted offerings. 

In this case, just before I tied on that golden stone I had a succession of near misses. Refusals actually. 

I was sight fishing in a channel to cruising carp. I tried to get below the fish with weighted flies, but they sank too fast. I scrounged an unweighted woolly bugger out of my fly box and hoped the slower sink rate would keep it nearer the cruising depth of the fish.

The carp had other plans. Just then a pod moved to the surface, slurping at something in the film. Carp sometimes gulp for oxygen when water quality is low, but in early June the lake was still cool and clear and I don’t think they were desperate for breath. There was a bit of cottonwood fluff on the water, but they didn’t seem to be eating that, either. Unable to match the hatch, I went with a black Fat Albert I had in my carp box because I’d heard the fish were fools for them at Bighorn Reservoir.

The Fat Albert drew the attention of those slurping carp, and three or four gave it a long look, but none tilted their body in the near vertical position required to inhale a dry fly. The frustration of those long but unconvinced carp stares led me to that golden stone, because, well, it was still on the fly patch of my vest, left over from last summer.

That’s pretty much how it went as I tried to catch a carp on a fly. I found plenty of fish, though I began my quest just as the spawn started so those fish were mostly thrashing in the shallows. Eating wasn’t on their minds. Carp not lost in the throes lounged on the bottom. Resting up I suppose. 

They weren’t interested in my flies either. 

Mostly what I saw were the tail fins of carp. Offended by my sloppy casting, they’d glide away. These fish don’t do anything in a hurry.

In a lifetime of fly fishing, I’ve never devoted as much time to an animal without success, as I have to chasing carp. Something has to break.

Next week: Catching carp on the fly.

Rob Breeding’s website is www.mthookandbullet.com.

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