The carp were mostly four-pounders with a few a tad heavier. The bigger ones could drag the canoe in a sleigh ride that gave my paddler a rest. With plentiful bait, a willing paddler, and no shortage of fish, it soon became too much of a good thing.
We tried locusts along the bank hoping for something we could eat for dinner. At one submerged beech tree, I lofted a locust directly over it. Slowly, a largemouth rose and opened its mouth in a way that got it its name. I could see the red gills and braced for the bite so I wouldn’t jerk the bug out of its mouth. Just as it reached the surface, it seemed to spot our canoe and turned brashly, slapping the bug with its tail.
A few bluegills tried to munch on the locusts, usually chipping away at the underbelly and not taking the entire bug. Still, they attacked every one I put in their vicinity and would peck away as long as it was left in their reach.
Late that evening, we went back out with spinning gear to plug topwater for bass. I caught five carp on a black Hula Popper. I kept changing lures to find one that carp wouldn’t eat and bass would, but never found the key to success. Though we had planned to fry fish, we preferred Spam and Vienna sausages to carp.
So for the rest of the week, we amused ourselves with carp on locusts. By the time we broke camp, my fly casting with a moving bait had improved, but I’d had my fill of carp.
Now when I read the stories of fly fishing for carp, I have to wonder if someone is not masterminding a colossal joke on the fly fishing world. You can see the clues if you look for them.
For instance, someone seems to be orchestrating an ingenious marketing campaign. Take the nickname they have come up with: freshwater bonefish. Here they’ve stolen a fish’s reputation—namely, one that people spend thousands of dollars to pursue in remote places—and attached that halo to a carp.
A carp is to a bonefish as a VW Beetle is to a Maserati. Bonefish are sleek speed machines, and the dealership is located on an ocean island. Carp are stubby workhorses with good mileage, a rusty color, and they can be found in seedy neighborhoods.
Fishermen often remark that trout don’t live in ugly places. Well, carp do. They inhabit waters that the EPA has on its watch list.
Instead of majestic mountains in the background, you are more likely to fish for carp in the shadows of an apartment building.
And most grip-and-grin shots are more likely to make others grin at your carp rather than be jealous. Replace that carp with an equal-sized salmonid, and Facebook will light up with requests for directions to your beat. Carp photos sometimes bring jeers and jokes.
In part, this is because many people believe carp to be plain ugly. These fish must be unattractive to each other as well, since they have to spawn in muddy water. If you want to scare a roommate, just tape a headshot of a carp to his bathroom mirror first thing in the morning. His scream can serve as your alarm.
Even hooking these fish is interesting. For instance, you can’t hook a carp in the corner of the mouth. Circles don’t have corners. So your fly design needs to compensate for being sucked through an opening the size of a grape.
Once you hook a carp, the fight is sort of methodical, to be polite. Sure, the first run can take some line, and the fish has certainly mastered zigzagging. But I’ve never had a carp go airborne.
I should add that I have never taken an Asian carp on a fly. Seeing the videos of all these fish jumping simultaneously does make me wonder if I’d just get confused on which one I was fighting.
Having said all this, I will confess to fly fishing for carp on occasion. Primarily, I waited 17 years to catch that one special hatch. To be on a slick lake, sight-casting to cruising carp, is indeed a special way to fish. Large black flies fished with minor vibrations are deadly.
In between these hatches, I struggled to go after carp. In the back of my mind, I imagined some old white-haired advertising executive standing in pristine waters, catching trout after trout, all the while chuckling softly to himself.
The reason he’s chuckling is that he’s the one who came up with the campaign to promote carp fishing. And he did it to lighten the pressure on his favorite trout stream.
If I can ever meet him, I’d like to go fishing with this guy, at least for a day. Even if it’s just for carp during a locust hatch.
Check out Jim Mize’s two award-winning books of humor at acreektricklesthroughit.com.