By Sam Larson
I can’t get carp out of my head.
I’ve caught exactly one carp on a fly rod. It was by accident, I’ll admit that. I was at a local lake going for panfish and largemouth bass when I saw the carp bobbing along the surface. “Clooping” is, I believe, the elegant term for what the fish was doing. Kinda laying on its side slurping at whatever floated on the surface. Jeff, angling partner in crime, told me to take a shot at it. I landed a black wooly bugger about three feet ahead of the carp and a couple feet to the side, stripped the fly to get it into the carp’s path, and boom, fish on. I wasn’t planning on actually hooking the thing, and I certainly wasn’t planning on the immediate and hard pull on the line. I have caught large trout and they do not pull like this carp. This was before I had read much about carp. I had heard that they were strong, I had heard that they could be caught on a fly, but that’s about it. I had yet to read about carp’s ability to pull you into the backing over and over, or the fact that most people who fish for them with fly rods use 8-weight rods and line. So anyway, jump back to me on the side of a local nothing lake with a cheap 5-weight in my hand, looking at the deep bow in the rod, and realizing that I might not be the one in control in this situation.
I worked the fish or a while, let it run, dragged it back in, etc. The usual dance with a big, strong fish. When I got it within feet of the shore I got a good look at it. The carp was about eighteen inches, larger than most trout I’ll see in a given day but not a tanker in any sense. It rolled and thrashed around in the shallow water five feet off shore. But even at eighteen inches my casting arm was dead tired, my grip on the cork was weakening, and I had serious concerns that I'd be able to unhook my net and get it around the fish. With net in hand, squatting on the riprap of the lake shore, I reached for the carp and with a final shake of his head he tossed the hook, rolled twice, and then took off into deeper water. The bend in the rod, and all of the tension in the line, shot the beadhead Wooly Bugger straight into my knuckles with enough force that I swear I heard the brass bead bounce off the bones in my hand. Safely back on the shore I examined the hook and saw that the carp had bent a 2x heavy size 14 streamer hook nearly straight.
Since then I’ve toyed with fishing for carp. It’s an easy thing to be a dilettante at. They’re everywhere, likely right near your house, and you can use carp as a way to get out of the house when you can’t make the drive for trout. But I’ve never really sunk deep into the obsession with carp until this year. I’ve decided that this is the year I finally crack the whole carp thing. I’ve done the reading, I’ve looked at the maps, and I am ready to go all in. At least until runoff is over and all of the trout water opens up. But until then, it’s carp for me.
I spent last weekend on my first exploratory trip to the South Platte in Denver. I’ve spent my life driving past it on the way to other places, but I’ve never gone down into it. It runs between high cement embankments for much of its length through town, and the upper stretches, near Commerce City, have a dire industrial look that has never inspired me to take the plunge. But, all that aside, it’s apparently one of the best carp rivers in the country. So I went, owning that I would spend the day stepping around trash and circling around homeless camps, and it was not all that bad. Yes, it’s dirty. Yes, it’s an urban river and there is a fair bit of trash in it. But there’s also fish, waterfowl, thriving wildlife, and more than enough greenspace. There’s also about 30 miles of bike path alongside it so access is not an issue at all. It’s an easy task to spend the day hopping from park to park in your car and covering the intervening mile or so on foot looking for carp.
Sadly, I have no epic tales of fishery to share. I saw exactly one carp that nosed up out of a seam and checked out my indicator, not the carefully tied carp-specific flies that I had hanging beneath it. I caught three trout, two rainbows and a brown, which were near total surprises. The stockers in Chatfield Reservoir get washed into the South Platte with some regularity so there is a small population of trout living in the river. But I will go again. It’s close, it’s challenging, and I have yet to figure it all out. This is the year. Carp Quest 2018 began last weekend and I will finish out this season with carp in the net.