Along with the sheer strength of carp and the thrill of a reel-screaming battle to boat one, Blake identifies some other characteristics that account for their ever-growing appeal to fly anglers. He points to the attraction of hunting and sight-casting to robust quarry and the casting skills required to put a fly under the snoot of a carp without spooking it. Jackson notes that many of his clients have other species tickling their fancy when they come to fish for the inglorious carp. In many respects, attempting to hook a feeding carp in the shallows of an inland reservoir is the freshwater equivalent of targeting snook, bonefish, or tarpon. Saltwater guides frequently cuss the inaccuracy and limited range of trout anglers’ casting abilities. They prefer fish-hunters who can pierce the flinty jaw of a bonefish with a strip-set (using a decisive pull on the line to set the hook) versus those who must raise the rod. Hooking one of Pathfinder’s common or mirror carp requires the same skill set as flats fishing and an opportunity to rectify one’s deficiencies.
Where It All Began
A ribbon of asphalt allowing intrepid motorists to travel 80 miles per hour (Interstate 25) connects Casper, Wyoming, with Colorado’s densely populated Front Range. There’s a carp cult of sorts in the communities spread from Boulder to Colorado Springs, a loose-knit cadre of zealous fellows with a long history of fly fishing for carp. Jay Zimmerman, a longtime guide, works at Charlie’s Fly Box in Arvada. He’s a warmwater fishing addict in a state nonresidents hungrily visit for trout. Ten minutes into a conversation with Jay regarding this article, he chided me for the title.
“The fly fishing craze for carp didn’t come West,” he argued. “It started right here on the Front Range.” To back his assertion, he rattled off a list of fly guys in North Central Colorado who started gunning for carp with a fly rod decades ago. His zeal for the pursuit is evidenced not only in the countless hours he’s spent fishing for carp but also in the book he’s written on the subject, The Best Carp Flies: How to Tie and Fish Them (Stackpole, 2015) and the three flies he’s invented specifically for his rough-scaled quarry.
Regarding the carp’s place in Colorado’s fly fishing economy, Zimmerman notes, “Every guide service on the Front Range has guides who take people out for carp.” Formally in outfitting management himself, Zimmeran required all his guides to be willing to fish for carp. Although he notes guided carp trips are still vastly in the minority, he sees them as an integral part of the business, the slender slice of the outfitting pie consumed by locals versus nonresident anglers.
“Most carp trips are locals who have caught lots of trout and are getting into carp. They go out, strike out, and are looking to learn. They’re intrigued by the long-distance casting and the stalking.”
Zimmerman feels carp fishing makes a fly caster an intrinsically better angler. “If you’ve just fished for trout watching a Thingamabobber, you’ll have trouble with carp.” Learning to really see fish, analyze their movement and behaviors and present a fly with a precision cast at a particular depth are part and parcel of the carp game. Anglers who hone those skills are better prepared for fishing of several types. Zimmerman, like Blake Jackson, points to saltwater fishing as the ultimate example of carp skills transferring to a more esteemed but no more technical challenge in the world of fly fishing.
A Saltwater Substitute
“I started into it for the challenge and fight, and lack of crowds,” says Lance Egan of his self-initiation into carp fishing. “I did it for many years before it became vogue. Early on, nobody really confessed to being a carp fisherman. Then Dave Whitlock wrote an article about it, and it sort of became okay.”
HOOK: Tiemco 2457, size 8.
THREAD: Tan 6/0.
TAIL: Rabbit fur, color of choice.
BODY: Rabbit dubbing, color of choice.
HACKLE: Brown rooster.
EYES: Silver bead chain.
LEGS: Pumpkin Sili-Legs.
COLLAR: Peacock sword (natural).
HEAD: Antron Dubbing, color of choice.
With a history of casting fly line to carp that extends more than two decades, Egan has witnessed a social and economic evolution in relation to Cyprinus carpio. He’s employed at a sprawling Cabela’s in Lehi, Utah, advising customers in the (you guessed it) expansive fishing department. “We get asked several times a week during the summer about carp. People want to know where to go, what to use. Who would have thought we’d come to the point where carp-specific lines and leaders would be on market. But they’re here now.”
Egan has lent his own expertise to the carp crowd with the invention of a popular carp fly known as Egan’s Headstand. Tied by Umpqua, the short-coupled fly takes to the water with its head down and hook up. Those possessed of a large imagination or inspired with a few lakeside martinis might detect a resemblance in Egan’s creation to an aquatic organism attempting to balance on its noggin.
“They [carp] are incredibly adaptable and will take almost anything under the right conditions.” In his storied role as a carp angler, Egan has hooked the big boogers on flies as dissimilar as a size 16 chironomid and a six-inch minnow that a carp chased and devoured while he was casting for tiger muskies. The Bear River system is one of the local carp holes in Idaho’s Lehi area. On it, Egan has even had carp come to a hopper.
Like Blake Jackson and Jay Zimmerman, Lance sees a strong resemblance between saltwater sight fishing and casting for carp. He especially notes the similarities between his beloved carp and redfish.
“They feed with their heads down and tails up. You’ll see carp ‘tailing’ just like redfish. Although a redfish will take a fly farther away, they’re still very similar. If carp have a saltwater cousin, it’s the red drum [redfish].” My mother often described a deficiency in raw material for one of her intricate sewing projects with the adage “You can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear.” To many Western anglers, carp have similar esteem to the auditory appendage of a deceased pig. A growing number of them, though, have developed the same attitude as Percy, my English setter, and perhaps the carp craze can be best understood through the perception of a pointing dog. To hell with the silk purse; I rather enjoy chewing on the sow’s ear.
Jack Ballard frequently writes about big game hunting and fishing. His passion for hunting perhaps explains his growing fascination with carp. See more of his work on both subjects at www. jackballard.com.