Sunday, April 29, 2012

Breaking In Matt Pike's Carper's Crab

The weather took a left-turn for the worse on Friday but there comes a point every spring where minor cold-fronts no longer turn the flats into lifeless deserts.  This time may have arrived.  I had a very brief window (20 minutes) on Saturday morning to check out a local lake and as I approached I could see carp in singles and small groups cycling from the depths onto a super-shallow sand flat.   There was no mistaking the posture of these fish.  Have you ever seen videos of small reef-sharks on the prowl?  Their pace is fast but determined and deliberate.  Their course is random and their posture has a certain menace that is unmistakable.  Believe it or not Carp sometimes act the same way!  I call this feeding mode "seek and destroy" (que the Metallica).  I live for these moments, and although seek and destroy is rare in Colorado I too am on the prowl and occasionally find what I hunger for.

I immediately dropped to my knees and reached for the fly-swap box.  Instead of forcing the issue I have been letting the fly-swap flies come to me.  I figure that each and every one will have it's moment and that moment will come to me.  For some reason this moment spoke to me loud and clear and what it said was "Carper's Crab".

Matt Pike's Carper's Crab carp fly
Matt Pike's Carper's Crab
Despite the relatively light weight of Matt Pike's Carper's Crab the first couple of fish to enter the flat spooked on the fly entry.  I set early on the third who startled me with the ferocious nature of it's attack.  Then from the corner of my eye I saw it.  Ten fish in a loose V formation cruising the edge of the flat and they were all in obvious seek and destroy mode.  Like an armada of world war II planes these guys were invading in force.  No mercy, take no prisoners.  I know this happens but perhaps I don't know when and where to look because I rarely see it. 

I dropped the fly 1 foot inside and 4 feet ahead of the formation and started a slow strip immediately.  Just about when the lead fish should have seen the fly she veered away and left the flat with the formation in tow.  Something about the situation had me suspicious though and I continued to slowly strip.  Its a good thing because she led her squadron on a big loop that ended right on the tail of my fly!  I guess you don't lead the pack if it is your first rodeo because the maneuver had thrown the other smaller fish off and while it was close she was the first to the fly.  It is not often you get to see 3 or 4 wide open carp mouths from straight on competing for you fly.  Actually I am pretty sure I have never seen that. 

Seek and Destroy Carp on Matt Pike's Carper's Crab fly
Que The Metallica
That would do it.  The flat was dead for the additional 5 minutes I had in this window of opportunity.  Given more time perhaps it would have recovered but I came away with my favorite take of the year to date and broke in one of the swap flies.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Angelina Jolie - Stillwater or River Carp?

OK, now that we have established the truth about my carp-lip-callus theory (peer reviewed and everything) I think I have stumbled upon a corollary.  After further review (horribly trying Internet research) I now believe that Angelina Jolie's lips are real!  Therefore, given the callus theory, Angelina Jolie is most definitely a still-water carp and not a river carp.  Ain't the scientific method great?  Now, before I get letters from her publicist or a knock at the door by the scarier half of fight-club just keep in mind this is fly-carpin and at fly-carpin carp lips are revered.  Around here being compared to a still-water carp is just a heart-felt compliment! 

Angelina Jolie

But them there are some sweet sweet stillwater lips baby!

Friday, April 27, 2012

My Callus Theory

I like big juicy carp lips and I cannot lie. 

Not all carp lips are created equally though.  Or are they?  I have this crack-pot theory.  I think that carp lips are like calluses.  The more often and harder a carp grubs on the bottom the bigger the lips get.  If that is true then you can gauge some of the feeding habits of a body of water by the lips.  In our local river you will catch many carp with small lips.  Stillwater fish almost always have big juicy Angelina Joline (post silicone) lips.  I think this relates to how they feed. 

Both of the carp I caught today were lip challenged.  The first one had lips so small it's mouth looked more like a bonefish than a carp (based on pictures not personal experience).  It was actually harder than usual to get the fly out because it was embedded in cartilage deep in the corner rather than rubbery lip. 

Lipless carp on a Primordial Carp-Stew fly

This fish lives in a spot where he/she probably spends significant time feeding in light to moderate current.  In case you haven't fished light to moderate current for carp the tailing just is not the same.  You will rarely find a fish sitting in one spot with it's butt in the air grinding his or her face into the bottom.  The hydrodynamics just doesn't work out.  You are more likely to see carp hanging just off the bottom hanging in the current and waiting for food to come to them or moving ever so slowly up-river and briefly dipping their heads for a juicy morsel drifting along.  That is what the next carp I caught today was doing.  Once again minimal lippage.  It's my theory, I am sticking with it.
17lb Carp on a Leather Trouser Worm Fly

And that brings us to another difference between stillwater and river fish.  A stillwater fish of this length would probably go 14 to 15 pounds if it was lucky but these river fish are shaped like footballs.  This fish scaled in at 17lb and was massively strong.  All that current builds girth!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

My Old Friend Kahn

I ran into an old friend today.  I will be spending enough time chasing this particular fish that a name will make things easier.  Lets call this fish Kahn.  Genghis Kahn that is.  I know that seems like a pretty vicious name for a "vegetarian" but I know first hand that this particular grass carp craves protein.  Why not? When you are at least 4 or 5 times bigger than the other fish in the pond and you are hungry you eat what you want when you want it.

Today Kahn was busy defoliating this poor innocent fallen tree.  Vicious beast.  I had no credible shot but it was nice to run into an old friend.

Grass carp eating leaves from a downed tree 1

Grass carp eating leaves from a downed tree 2

Grass carp eating leaves from a downed tree 3

Grass carp eating leaves from a downed tree 4

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Fishing from Reservoir Dams

Reservoirs.  Can't live with em, nowhere to fish around here without em.  Here on the front range nearly every piece of standing water bigger than a puddle is man-made.  In many ways that sucks because these man-made structures fish to their nature.  Un-naturally that is. 

The problem with many of our smaller front-range reservoirs is that they are just shallow clay/mud bowls with very erratic water levels and little or no vegetation.  While they work fine for the spawn and produce plenty of baby carp, the ecosystem isn't capable of turning those baby carp into big bad mammer jammers.  In the end you get lots of little carp. 

That is where dams come in.  Most of these reservoirs are impounded with rip-rap dams and frequently the key to finding the biggest of these smallish carp is to head straight for the Dam.

Smith Reservoir Dam
Smith Reservoir Dam;  Surgeon Generals warning, Back-casting is hazardous to your health

Case in point is Smith Reservoir.  That would be the first (and perhaps last) time I have ever mentioned a lake by name.  I am not too worried about it for two reasons.  First of all I have never seen anybody else fly fishing for carp there so no worries about ruining somebodies prized spot.  Second of all Smith is nothing to write home about, the carp are tiny.  I would say that in general the the carp I have found in Smith Reservoir probably only average 3 to 4 pounds!

Here is a birds-eye view of Smith.  I have highlighted the long rip-rap dam in blue and added the approximate average size of carp that I have found in different sections.  The carp off the dam are several pounds heavier on average, but not all sections of this long dam are created equal.  While I occasionally spot one or two fish getting close to double digits on the long section of the dam on the West side, as far as I can tell these fish are difficult if not impossible to catch.

Smith Reservoir carp locations and weights
Smith Reservoir birds-eye view
So what specifically are you looking for on these rip-rap dams?  To understand that you need to understand some of the difficulties. 

\On most if not all reservoirs the deepest part of the lake is somewhere behind the dam.  If the water drops off too quickly (lets draw the line somewhere around 3 feet with typical clarity) it is nearly worthless for a fly-fisherman targeting carp.  Carp rarely feed in the actual rip-rap.  They prefer to feed just outside of or in between boulders and rocks in the mud and sand where it meets the bottom of the dam.  The deeper flats behind these dams often hold the biggest carp by a large margin, but the only time you will see them is when they are on top sunning and relaxing.  Those are not the carp you are looking for. 

Another problem is the height of the dam.  Your elevation from the top of the dam is both a blessing and a curse.  While you can see the fish much better than usual presenting the fly and getting a hook-set is a pain because of the downward bow in your line created by the elevation.  At about 10 feet above the surface the effect starts to get painful.   

The final problem is profile.  When you are standing on top of the dam you stand out like a sore thumb and the carp tend to be extremely aware of your presence.  This is mitigated somewhat because most of these reservoirs have a jogging path across the top.  You stick out like a sore thumb but there are about 100 sore thumbs an hour which helps.  Oddly enough you may start to notice that carp are more apt to spook when you stop walking!  For this reason I will sometimes keep walking by an acquired target and then come back crouched low.

So what are you looking for in a productive rip-rap dam section?  Look for sections where;
  • The lake bottom meets the dam at a depth of 1 to 3 feet deep with a shallow drop-off.
  • The height of the dam is less than 10 feet (roughly) above the surface.
  •  Foot traffic might actually help.  Just don't hook the foot traffic.
So if you are exploring a new small reservoir don't forget the dam.  This is not to say catching carp off a dam is easy because it actually a royal pain in the ass but this is where you will frequently find the bigguns.  Or at least the less small ones. 

Fighting a small Smith Reservoir carp on The fly rod
Fighting a 5.5lb Smith Reservoir Carp.  Beast!

There Can't Possibly be Two Ways To Thingamabobber?

I plan a longer post later about fishing rip-rap dams but first I have a quick question to anybody listening who does any indicator fishing to big fish.  Is there more than one way to rig a thingamabober?

The reason I ask is because I exerimented a little more with indicator fishing again today.  I hooked a nice hot fish but had to apply maximum pressure because of heavy current and the line broke at the thingamabobber!  What the heck??!!!  I work too hard for these fish, I can't afford an inferior rig.  Is there a right way and a wrong way to rig a thingamabobber so that it doesn't stress the line?

EDIT - Steelheaders from facebook are telling me never to use thingamabobbers for big fish.  Evidently that little grommet in there is metal and screws up your line on big fish.  Who knew?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Carp Slam 6 Early Registration

Carp Slam LogoEarly registration for Carp Slam 6 is open!  They are giving an early bird discount and I am predicting it will sell out in a blink of an eye this year.  My check went in the mail today.

The Carp Slam is an amazing event.  It has turned into a significant cultural event for the fly fishing for carp sub-culture in Denver and is starting to draw carpers from all across the country.  This year the word on the streets is that the carperati could be nearly 100% represented in the pro category.  Of course the Slam is about more than an excuse for a bunch of stanky carpers to gather and much more than a competition.  The Slam also raises substantial funds being used to improve the DSP.

So off your jocks and onto your socks, there are only 15 amateur spots and they will go fast.  I hear the reigning amateur champ is hot stuff, it could take all 14 of you chumps to take him down.

Carp Slam V Champions

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Carp Pond C meets Gregg's Eggs

Ponds are a good finger to scratch that still-water itch this time of year.  Larger still-waters can produce occasionally but are extremely hit-or-miss.  While pond carp are usually (but not always) small the fishing can be really interesting. 

My favorite ponds are a series of three that impound a small stream nose-to tail with a 30 foot walk from one pond to the next.  Those 30 feet may as well be miles because each pond fishes completely differently.  This weekend I had a couple of hours here and there to give it a go.  Only one of the three (call it Pond C) had anything going on.  Pond C nearly always has something going on, for all the good it has done me.  Nearly half of this pond is a shallow mud flat.  The fish are numerous, very small and have no fear of man.  For 8 months out of the year you find fish tailing there in 3" to 6" of water and you often get close enough to touch them with your rod tip.

Sounds easy right?  Well, while fish in Pond A and B are butter, these fish are TOUGH.  It is by far and away the most difficult of the three because these fish are doing something I think of as sleep-feeding.  They just go about their business grazing through the muck with virtually no interest in whatever flies you might put in their way.  It doesn't matter what fly and what presentation.  Your fly may as well not exist.  I have been fishing this pond for four years and everything in the arsenal has accounted for something on the order of 10 fish! 

Well, the arsenal didn't have eggs in it.  It isn't very glorious but they went nutso for the egg I recieved from Gregg in the fly-swap on a lob-drag and dead drop.  I had more takes in 4 hours of fishing this weekend than I had all last year there.  The takes were very very slow followed by an instant ejection and I couldn't figure out the timing until I got to see one suck it and eject it head on but after that it was absolute mayhem by Pond C standards. 

I think I need a smaller egg for these fish but I have at least one solution for Pond C. 

This unusually stout and healthy fellow took line.  That is a first in this pond and earned him another first.  An itty bitty hero-shot.  Trout-palm style.

NOTE:  Just realized today was Easter and I broke out the Eggs.  Just a freaky coincidence, no truth to the rumor that the Easter Bunny took the photo.