Friday, July 29, 2011

Denver Trout Unlimited Carp Panel

As a lead in to the Carp Slam DTU had a panel of experts give a session on fly fishing for carp at their monthly meeting this Tuesday.  Many fly-carpin experts have come by their knowledge slowly and painfully.  It is not always easy to share and honestly it isn’t always fair to even expect them to.  Given this natural reluctance the panelists did a great job and it was fun and I feel extremely lucky to live in an area with such a vibrant carpin community.  The panel was: 
  • Michael Gracie (Blogger at, part time at Trouts fly shop)
  • David Luna (2010 Carp Slam champ x 2, part time at Discount Fishing Tackle)
  • Barry Reynolds (Author of “Carp On The Fly”, ROSS rep, )
  • Tim Emery (From, radio and podcast personality)
  • Will Rice (Contributing editor at Drake Magazine.)
I was too busy listening to take notes and too shy to whip out my camera and record so I can’t quote directly.  I can paraphrase some of the key themes from memory though.  Some of my own thoughts on these subjects are also included in red:

Not wasting time on non-feeding carp: 
  • Barry Reynolds indicated that as you learn to read the body language you should develop the skill to be able to tell if a fish is going to eat before you even cast to it. 
  • Michael Gracie is pretty hard core about fishing to fish in a tailing mode.  If he doesn’t find those kinds of fish he doesn’t always expect to catch fish and seems OK with that.
  • For David Luna one of the most important things he had to learn from Barry and others is to not be stubborn and move on when he is not having luck with a group of fish or a certain fly.
  • I didn’t start catching many carp in CO until I learned to quite wasting so much time drawing to an inside straight.  It is hard though. 
  • This is the toughest thing about the Carp Slam.  Because you are stuck in a beat you have to draw to the hand you are dealt.  They have made big improvements to the beats though, and that should help this year.
Stillwater versus moving water:
  • Michael Gracie prefers moving water because of the added complexity of dealing with the current and how that affects getting your fly into the zone.  He also hinted at needing more weight in current. 
  • I wish I hadn’t been too shy to ask him and others to elaborate because I suspect that many underestimate how much heavier the fly needs to be to fly fish for carp in current.
Grass carp versus commons:
  • David Luna stated that in some lakes / ponds in CO the grass carp act much like commons and that your tactics can be similar.  In other lakes they act totally different.
  • Barry Reynolds indicated that although vegetation is their first preference they will switch from vegetation to protein when the vegetation is exhausted or there is an abundance of a specific and easy food source.
  • He also talked about them coming out of the water to strip grass from the bank and leaves from over-hanging tree limbs.  His very profound take away from this last story is that one way to find grass carp is to look for ponds or lakes where all the overhanging limbs are stripped clean a couple of feet above the water line.
  • I just got my first real grass carp take last week and somehow botched it, not sure why.  For what it is worth that take was extremely predatory and on a swimming orange soft-hackle that couldn’t possibly be mistaken for vegetation.  Even by something with a brain the size of a pea.
Finding Fish on The South Platte:
  • The panelists were emphatic that in order to find fish on the South Platte all you need to do is get out there and start looking.  The fish are everywhere!
  • Will Rice asserted that it is impossible to go a mile without finding carp and that a bike was very helpful for him when learning the river.
  • All the panelists got put on the spot about where they would go on the South Platte right now. Under heavy pressure Michael Gracie gave up spot XXXX. I am very fond of spot XXXX, good luck getting me to actually type it out. Everybody else awkwardly side-stepped the question.I would have sidestepped thid question as well. Probably even less gracefully.
  • My advice for anybody out there starting out is if/when you get the chance to talk with one of the experts (or journeymen like me for that matter) don’t even ask them where to find carp.  Even generally.  The answer is always pretty much the same and the willingness to talk fades.  My favorite quote is from John Montana: “Put your boots on the ground.”  Once people get to know you and believe you are putting your own effort into finding spots they will become more willing to talk location.
Approaching carp:
  • Michael Gracie talked about taking long, creative and sneaky paths from odd angles to get to the carp without spooking them. 
  • David Luna told a story about watching a pod of heavily feeding carp spook when his friend kicked a rock over 100 feet away.
  • Barry Reynolds likes to stay on the bank as much as possible to avoid sending vibrations through the water.
Presenting the fly:
  • Barry Reynolds discussed not casting directly to fish but casting past them and stripping the fly on the top into the zone before letting it drop.  He also indicated that this is easier said than done at range, particularly in dirty water where you have to get the fly very close.  I got my first whiff of this concept from him at a past Carp Slam and it has helped me tremendously.
  • Somebody in the panel asked about dead drifting flies, probably as it relates to moving water.  Nobody in the panel seemed particularly fond of the technique and David Luna indicated that he always wants to do something to make the fish think it has stumbled on food that could get away.  He mentioned a drop, a strip followed by a pause while you gauge the response and slowly swinging the fly into the field of view as possibilities.  In all fairness there is a sub-culture of carpers not represented on the panel that dead drift flies with good results.  I can’t stand dead drifting personally but probably just because I don’t know how. 

Feeding just subsurface:
  • There was considerable discussion about pods of stillwater carp feeding together erratically in a slight nose up attitude on something just subsurface.  The panel agreed that they are probably sucking down midges. 
  • Michael Gracie recommended chromonids in this situation.
  • Barry Reynolds indicated he fishes size 14 and 16 hare’s ears on a mono leader greased to within a foot or so of the fly.  Evidently the fly cannot be stripped into position but must be cast or wind-drifted directly into their path or they will either spook or ignore it. 
  • This behavior seems to be somewhat common in the deep summer in CO reservoirs and this was a really fun topic.
Flows on the South Platte:
  • The panel emphasized the importance of tracking the flows.
  • Michael Gracie talked at length about how much the flow can vary along the Platte because of tributaries and that you need to learn the different gauges and inflows.
  • Will Rice has the various gauges programmed into his cell phone and checks them while he is fishing in order to calibrate what flows are good where he is at.  When asked he indicated he generally wont bother fishing over 500cfs.  The rest of the panel seemed to concur.
  • David Luna uses a 6 weight (without a fighting butt even!) exclusively.  For the most part he finds this adequate although he occasionally has trouble turning hot fish.  He finds this slight difficulty worth the improvement in presentation with a lighter rod.
  • David also indicated that he has had to shift completely to 3X and 4X in the South Platte because of the increased pressure and that 2X no longer produces.  Others in the panel were nodding and murmuring in agreement.  He also uses a standard 9’ leader out of the box.


  1. You are the man for posting this! Thanks for sharing all of this great info. Good luck in the tournament.

  2. Man do I wish I could have been there. Thanks for the recap.

  3. Well summarized Trevor. It sure would have been fun to be there.

  4. For an out-of-towner who will be jumping into this tourney blindly, I appreciate the info, McT.

  5. Yeah,it was a pretty good time. Smithhammer - Glad I could help. This is going to be the best one yet.

  6. Sound like a ton of great info from some really knowledgeable Carpers!


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