Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Ten Keys to Carp On The Fly in the Winter

Until sometime in the past five years or so even the most hard core of us fly carpers would put aside dreams of big lips and gold scales in the winter.  No longer. Nowadays, many of us from all across the country treat fly fishing for common carp as a year round endeavor.  It turns out that because of their amazing temperature range, carp are one of the most viable winter fly fishing species not named Trout!    



So, how can you catch common carp in the winter?  Here are the top 10 keys:

1:  Faith (AKA hardheadedness):

The first key is to just believe that it is possible.   I can't stress enough how important faith is.  If you don't believe, you won't commit.  Chasing carp in the winter may be viable, but it is not necessarily always easy.  Commitment gets you past the steep part of the learning curve, when it will often seem like it just isn't going to work.  

I know, I know, the requisite level of faith can be hard to come by.  After all, fly fishers as a society have thought of carp as a warm-water species for a long time.  Well, they are not.  Because they have the widest temperature tolerance range of any North American freshwater sport-fish they defy shallow labels such as "warm-water" or "cool water".  Common carp are whatever they need to be, which is why they have managed to populate nearly every puddle of water below 7,000 feet in the nation. 

Perhaps I can help you believe a little.  Consider these facts:
  1. I myself have caught a carp every month for three years running.  Actually I have only missed one month in the past 5 years!  Although we have some unusually warm days here in Denver, due to our elevation we are typically considered to be in the same "cold" climate zone as the upper 1/3 of the United States.
  2. I have personally caught a carp while it was snowing.  I know of several people who have done the same.
  3. I have seen carp tailing under shelf ice.
  4. Carp live and thrive in 11 Mile Reservoir in Colorado - which sits at 8602 feet in elevation.  
Does this sound like a warm-water species?  Stop thinking of them as such and it will go a long way in bringing you faith.
  
2.  Running Water Helps.  Allot:

Most of my winter carp on the fly happens on the Denver South Platte River for two reasons.  First of all, most of the still-waters freeze in the Winter around here.  Second of all, even when they don't, it is much more rare to find an active winter carp in still-water than running water. 

It seems as though carp in still-waters can huddle up on the bottom and essentially hibernate.  In rivers though, they have to swim, and if they gotta swim they gotta eat!!  As a matter of fact, in the most productive areas of the Denver South Platte they actually put on weight during the winter.  Lots of weight.  Several pounds at least.

As far as I can tell, no matter what your climate, if you have carp living in running water that does not freeze over you can catch them in the winter.

Update:  A friend pointed out that the river can't be too large.  In large slow moving rivers like the Columbia, carp can just find a deep dead hole to hunker down in just like in stillwater.

3.  Warming Trends:

You may be surprised to know that the trend in the weather is often more important than today's high temp.  Winter Carp are much more likely to be happy and feeding if you are in a warming trend.  The first nice day in an big upswing works, but the day after that is usually better!

4.  Not So Low Overnight Lows:

You will be shocked to know that the over-night low is often ALSO more important than today's high temp.  The reason is that no matter how nice of a day it is, the water is a massive heat sink and it takes time to warm it up.  If the over-night low was 42 it takes a whole heck of allot less time to warm it up to active levels than if it was below freezing.

It seems like once or twice a winter we will get an over-night low in the high 40s or even low 50s here in Denver followed by a nice day.  On three occasions I have caught it, it has been one of my best fishing days of the entire year every time.

5.  Above Average High:

Carp are very adaptable, and they seem to adjust to their circumstances.  What constitutes a nice day seems to rely heavily on what is average for your location and time of year.  If you live in Texas and it is 50 degrees in the winter the carp are probably fairly unimpressed.  In Denver, I can tell you first hand that they are pretty happy with the situation.  In South Dakota you are in for a banner day if you can escape the biblical amounts of snow melt.  

In the depths of Winter here in Denver I usually draw the line at about a 42F high.  I have caught them colder but that seems to be the point where it gets ridiculously difficult.  I also personally start to turn into a total whiny-baby wuss if it is much colder than that.


6.  Big Ol Nasty Crayfish:

Well, NO.  Absolutely NOT.  I mean, I know crayfish flies are fun to fish, and the "carp only eat crayfish" mass delusion is at least as strong as the "carp are a warm-water fish" mass delusion but CMON!!!! crayfish are dormant in the winter, give it up.  I catch most of my Winter carp on Soft-Hackles, Leaches and Worms.  Egg patterns are also reputed to be ridiculously extremely effective.

7.  Down-Size?

Down-sizing your flies may or may not help in the winter.  Most people agree that it does, but I find that I don't actually bother most of the time and my most productive fly over the past two Winters has been a rather meaty size 6 Chubby Chaser Leech.  

8.  Stop Moving Your Damn Fly Already!!!!!

I don't move my fly very often anymore regardless of what time of year, but learning to present the fly and leave it rest for a moment or ten has made a big difference in my Winter catch rates.  Carp are rarely interested in chasing down dinner this time of year, stripping your fly is even less productive than usual.

It has gotten to the point where I find that I will actually leave my fly still for a full second or two. As I described in this post, I often find that a carp will take my fly after a long, almost uncomfortable pause.

If you do finally decide that your target has not noticed your fly or is otherwise uninterested you may want to give the fly a small twitch.  A very very small twitch.

9.  Find the Warm Water

Any river (and some lakes) has local areas of slightly warmer water.  Carp are very very good at finding these local hot spots.  Or not so-cold spots as it may be, because just a degree or two can make a very big difference in carp activity.  Examples include:
  • Water treatment plant inflows
  • Power Plant Discharges 
  • Freshwater Springs
  • Sewer Discharges
  • Dark bottoms subjected to sun-light
10.  Faith

Did I say faith twice?  Huh.  It might be important.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

i Escape Outdoors - Newest Addition to Guide Directory

Please welcome i Escape Outdoors to the Minnesota page of our fly fishing for carp guide directory. That brings us up to two known carp on the fly guides in Minnesota, which is amazing!  Is Minnesota a secret carp on the fly hot-spot?  I think it just might be.

 


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

All is not lost - Midwest Drift Splinter Carp Fly Swap

For those who were bummed out (or even a little pissed) that I canceled the carp fly swap, the boys over at the blog Midwest Drift are throwing down!

They only have about 10 spots left as I publish this so better hurry and sign up....details HERE!!!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Evolution of the Revolution: The Orvis Beginner's Guide To Carp Flies

In the beginning there was the book Carp On The Fly.  A book so timeless, so prophetic and so profound that it still frames the fly fishing for carp discussion over 15 years later, particularly when it comes to feeding moods and behaviors.  For the purposes of this post we will think of it as our Old Testament.

Next came the age of blogs.  Carp On The Fly, Roughfisher, Mr P's Blog, and Colorado Fishing Reports to name just a few.  These institutions turned fly fishing for carp from an oddity into a full blown counter-culture.

Through it all we have learned and evolved, and we have done so to the point where I would argue that fly fishing for carp has, to a certain degree, come of age.  We have our own unique techniques and styles that set us apart from all other species.  We have an extremely wide variety of the most innovative flies in flydom.  We have our own language.  We have our own traditions.

And now, courtesy of Dan Frasier, we have what may very well be our New Testament.  This, the first of two major new carp fly books this spring, brings new concepts and ideas but also builds upon all that has come before.  Its a book that not only gathers all the best carp flies into one massive tome, but also does a great job capturing all that knowledge we have gained since Carp On The Fly.  
  

The Orvis Beginner's Guide to Carp Flies: 101 Patterns & How and When to Use Them


 


NOTE:  This book also features some of the best carp fly photography of all time.  I may have helped with that last part, and modesty may not be my strong suit.    

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

No Fly-Carpin Fly Swap for 2015

I have been getting allot of requests on when the swap will be. Unfortunately I just ain't feeling it this year. I have another project that I want to do really bad this winter and just wont have the time and energy.

 Sorry fellas, I know that some will be extremely disappointed, and believe me I am bummed in a certain way too. It is pretty rare that out of a bazzilion people you can legitimately sit back and say "I had the best freakin xxx on the entire world freakin web" about anything, but nothing lasts for ever. 

Thanks, McTage

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Dry Fly Dreams - By Dan Frasier (Guest Post)

In this, Fly-Carpin's first ever guest post, we are going to hear from Dan Frasier on his favorite dry fly for carp.  Dan, the fly fishing editor at CarpPro.net, is a heck of a writer, better fly-carper and even better friend.  His first book "The Orvis Beginner's Guide to Carp Flies" is currently available for pre-order at amazon.com and will start shipping late January.  

You may also recognize one of the fly photographers.  Some dude named McTage.

 


You came to the stream expecting to dredge a couple of nymphs in the deepest holes and pound up a few trout. That's what works most of the time: getting deep and feeding the fish what they are eating. But as you pushed your way through the brush downstream of the slow moving pool you see that today is different. Today the fish are up and eating. Gently picking tiny sailboats off of the surface. Great pods of torpedoes are casually assaulting the armada of mayflies as they make a break for the tail-out of the pool and safety. This isn't what you expected. You thought you'd be blind-casting to deep water. So you get out of the stream and head upstream, looking for trout that are holding deep like you thought they would. Right? That's how you would approach this situation?  

Of course you wouldn't. Finding trout, carp, or any fish for that matter, actively feeding on the surface is something to be cherished. You'd snap into fly fisherman detective mode, the one we're all constantly trying improve, and look for what bugs were on the surface. You'd tie on the nearest imitation you have and get stealthy. You'd have to contain your excitement at the prospect of catching fish on floating flies for the rest of the evening. Why is it, then, that we react so totally differently when we encounter surface feeding carp? Anglers walk away, looking for tailers. Or they tie on a crayfish and cast it at the pod of rising carp. At best they stumble over themselves looking for a big hopper pattern without knowing if hoppers are even on the menu.

In a sense I’m lucky that I didn't know anything when I first attempted to catch carp on the fly. I carried no preconceived notions, and was immune to the idea that there was a right way to do this and everyone else knew it. Instead I had to figure it out on my own. Don’t get me wrong, I went to the resources available and read and studied them, but they were all trout focused. So there was very little specific information available about carp, but there was a lot written about how to approach and evaluate a fishing situation. That’s the information that proved invaluable.

In my book, The Orvis Beginners Guide to Carp Flies; 101 Patterns & How and When to Use Them, it took thirteen patterns to scratch the surface (pun absolutely intended) of the dry flies a carp fly fishermen should be carrying. Carp rise to a variety of different floating food organisms, and like any fly fishing, a good angler will spend a little time looking and listening and figuring out what the carp are eating. After they have an idea of the forage, they will try to imitate it, and only then will they feel confident in their fly.

Ok, got it. Match the hatch. But what happens when you can’t tell what the fish are eating? Simple, do what you would for trout. Tie on a generic confidence pattern and start there. Get smaller if it’s getting refused and worry most about your presentation. For me, that confidence fly for carp is a size 14 Parachute Adams. The low profile allows the fly to float low in the film, making it easier for the carp to eat with their oddly shaped mouths. Additionally, the Adams is a good generalist pattern, imitating many possible bugs that the carp might be picking off of the surface.

Adams Parachute Dry Fly (Example of Photography From Dan's Book)
Using an Adams allowed me to catch nearly a third of all my carp last year on dryflies. If you’re keeping track at home, that means a third of my carp were on dries, a third on nymphs and a third tailing to crayfish or other larger organisms. Not a bad split and a good way to keep things interesting when you approach your carp water.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

2014 MVF (Most Valuable Fly)

It was about this time last winter when I started working on the Chubby Chaser Leech.  Pat Cohen had sent me some of his Carp Dub and it gave me an idea and about 30 prototypes and several landed carp later I had finalized it and named it.

Well, I was going through my log last week and figured out that it only took one year for the Chubby Chaser to become my second most productive carp fly ever!  I caught more carp on it this year than I ever have on a single fly pattern in a single year before - by a wide margin.  I therefore declare the Chubby Chaser Leech my MVF (Most Valuable Fly) of 2014.  It is probably the name.  Must be the name.

I would have never guessed that this fly would work as well as it has.  It worked in ponds, the Denver South Platte, big lakes and little lakes.  It worked in the Spring, Summer and Fall and has been ridiculously effective in the Winter.  I caught tailers, shoppers, cruisers and even sunners (on a lightly weighted version).  I caught carp varying from aggressive to ultra passive.  I caught big carp, little carp, medium carp and mutant carp on it.  It fooled carp in clear water and absolutely destroyed them in dirty water.  Essentially, what I am saying is that it seems to be a shockingly flexible carp fly that works across a wide range of scenarios.

The crazy thing is that this is a pretty big fly.  Actually this is a ridiculously big fly to be as universally effective as it was.  Somehow it defies expectations.

Chubby Chaser Carp Fly

I love you Chubby Chaser Leach.  Is that so wrong?