One of fly-fishing’s leaders in the burgeoning carp sector of the sport offers his best advice for anyone pursuing this elusive fish.
[by Zach Matthews]
Jay Zimmerman is not who you would usually picture when you think of a carp fisherman. Making his home in Colorado, Zimmerman, the author of the recently released Best Carp Flies: How to Tie and Fish Them (Headwaters, 2015, $29.95), is ex-military, with a penchant for precision-tied flies and equally precise writing. His grizzled, plaid, mountain-man mien calls to mind other bamboo-toting Front Range fly-fishing writers (most especially John Gierach) more than it does the popular notion of a beer-swilling, sun-blistered carp fisherman. In many respects, Zimmerman is the new face of fly angling for carp: introspective, careful, studious of the quarry, and above all, respectful of carp as a fish and of carp fishing as a sport. For anglers like Zimmerman, carp are no mere sideshow; they are the main event.
1. Carp are making huge steps forward in terms of both angler interest and fishing pressure. Do you worry that this already smart fish is becoming more and more difficult to catch?
This is a valid concern, for sure. Carp have an ability to learn and remember things (like fly patterns and bad experiences) far better than the other freshwater fish fly anglers usually pursue. Most anglers assume trout are one of the smartest fish out there, but they are wrong. Trout are on the “slow” end of this bar graph. Just a decade ago I could send a hopeful angler out to almost any nearby spot and, assuming they could cast past the toes of their boots and had adequate flies, I could be confident they were going to have some luck. Not so much anymore. There are fewer and fewer naïve carp out there, especially here in Colorado. This makes the challenge more interesting for the veteran carpers among us, but often more daunting for the beginning angler.
2. In your book, I noticed a real focus on meticulous and precise fly tying. Do you always tie flies this way, or was that just for print? Do you believe having “perfect” flies helps catch fish?
The fast answer is yes—flies tied properly will catch more fish than those that are not. However, this does not mean a sloppy looking fly is a bad fly. Often these rough-looking, suggestive creations act more lively in the water than the perfect anatomically correct imitation of something in nature. The best carp flies are seldom exact replicas of something found under a rock or in a hatch book. That being said, I do get very particular about a properly tied carp fly. I demand my flies be as durable as possible and always ride correctly in the water. There is a fine balance with most carp flies, as they are usually intended to have enough weight to flip the hook and ride hook point up, but not be too heavy and spook fish when they land in the water nearby.
3. Carp experts I’ve spoken with were universally appreciative of your understanding that carp fishing is different in, say, the Great Lakes, versus on a reservoir in Colorado. If you had your pick, which area of the country would you most like to fish for carp, and why?
Carp can act differently in two ponds separated by no more than an earthen dike. It’s weird, but also one of the many characteristics of an intelligent species that is forever fun to try to figure out. I could enjoy learning about the carp in any body of water or part of the world, but I would prefer stillwater fish that are spooky but aggressive and require long, accurate casts. The more like a saltwater flat the better.
Backstabber (Gray Minnow)
by Jay Zimmerman
Hook: Gamakatsu SL45, size 6.
Thread: Black Uni-Thread, size 6/0.
Weight: Nickel Dazl-Eyes.
Body: Minnow belly and minnow gills Whitlock’s SLF Dubbing.
Wing: Medium brown and medium dun marabou.
Hackle: Hungarian partridge feather.
4. Carp often engage in spawning behavior in mid-spring, then come out hungry in late spring and early summer. What are the top three tips you would give anglers itching to get out now and fish for these hungry feeders?
The post spawn is one of the best times to target carp. They lose a lot of weight during their spawn and need to pack the pounds back on fast, so they have to eat as much as possible, as fast as possible. They are rarely foolhardy, however, and are usually challenging in some way. Here are my best three pieces of advice.
Number one: Don’t fish for carp, hunt them. You can pick a carp and stalk it, or set up in an area and wait for them to come to you – both tactics work. There is rarely any blind luck in carp fishing.
Number two: Stop thinking about carp as though they were a trout. Stop obsessing about what the carp is eating and focus on finding carp that are actually eating! An individual carp will eat a shad, a leech, a clam, and a crawfish all in the same mouthful if all four were lined up like barroom shots. I have gutted thousands of carp in my miss-spent youth so I know this to be true. I will say this again—find carp that are feeding, and then take note of their mood (ie: how spooky are they?) and how they are feeding. Are fish in deep water? Shallow water? Cruising? Mudding? Your approach, your cast and the weight of the fly you cast will mean everything.
Number three: Improve all aspects of line control. Improve your casting accuracy at all ranges and be better prepared to get line off your reel, make the required cast and then get the fly in front of the carp. Whether it be stripping in line, dragging the fly with rod motion and dropping it into a feeding zone, or mending the line in current, you need to be in control.
5. What’s the most amazing thing you’ve ever had happen while fishing for carp?
I caught a carp.
Zach Matthews is the host of The Itinerant Angler Podcast and a frequent contributor to American Angler as well as other outdoor publications.
Learn to tie the Backstabber carp fly.