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Bringing you up-to-date information for fishing around Bozeman Montana. Feel free to Email me anytime at Norbaracer13@gmail.com!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Carpin' the Big Sky

Carping is a rewarding experience
         One day in the middle of summer, 2015, I sat in my home watching Youtube videos of giant brown trout in New Zealand. The conditions at the time left me without many options for good trout fishing and I was getting my kicks through the lens of some lucky guy thousands of miles from me. From bull trout to bonefish, I found myself being sucked into the dark corners of the internet video world; my rear end settling lower and lower into the couch. Inside my body, the energy was high. My mind was seeing things that would make any fisherman overjoyed. I soon felt the urge to head out and find my own world class angling experience, without topping off the gas tank. Then, somewhere along the way in my mindless video surfing, I stumbled upon a video of a man fly fishing for carp. Now I've had my fair share of experience with carp, but mostly by snagging them with a spinning set-up or randomly hooking one in the lip on a jig. Cursing at them for breaking my line, yet secretly wishing I could have another go. However, since moving to Big Sky country, carp have been the furthest thing from my mind. I did a little research on the subject. With a little luck, a full weekend, and a relentless urge to land one of these beasts on a fly rod, I scored big time.

              Carp have often been ignored by sportsman in the United States as they are considered by most a trash fish, for reasons that remain fair enough. It's not uncommon to see them tossed on the bank or hit over the head and left to die. Most of the time this causes more unwanted waste than it saves but gives a feeling of satisfaction to most that do it. Respect for them is growing ever so slightly in the sates. In the Western states, where trout and carp live together, many guiding companies now offer carp trips. The Missouri River is known for its plentiful carp numbers, and word is spreading about how enjoyable it is. In Europe, carping is one of the, if not the most, popular fish to pursue. There's some good reason to that too. It's the same reason I used to wish for one to gulp down my Mr. Twister back in Iowa, they are the Mac Trucks of freshwater fish! These golden beasts often grow well over thirty inches or more and can reach upwards of 40 lbs. Not only are they incredibly fun to catch, they are also surprisingly difficult. One has to fully commit, completely understand the fundamentals, expect failure, and be able to land a fly in a tea-cup at thirty feet, before anticipating a successful attempt. If you ever thought trout were finicky and are ready for the next challenge, carp are for you.

Prehistoric looking
            It's well known that carp generally live about everywhere. It's not hard to find them during the summer if you take the time. Look for large splashes and movement around the shallow western side of the lake, the hotter outside the better. The carp will be in the shallows feeding and sunbathing.  It's important to know whether or not the carp you are looking at are feeding. Feeding or "tailing" carp are very similar to bonefish. Both carp and bonefish feed by shuffling around in the mud with the snouts down and tail up. Its not uncommon to see half a carp sticking out of the water as they root around for anything organic. As omnivores, fly selection is pretty easy. Anything that feels like a crunchy, squishy bug will be held in the mouth long enough to make a hook set. I've noticed that carp will suck in a mouthful of mud or sand, and then blow out, holding on to whatever food it finds. Forget streamers or anything big, colorful, or fast moving. One of the more difficult aspects of carping is how easy they spook. After spending some time with these amazing fish you can see how evolution has taken trout and carp down two completely different paths. Carp have been around for millions and millions of years, they have changed little and still retain many primitive traits. All of these traits in turn allowed the carp to grow to such sizes. Trout may be much newer and more advance by design but the tortoise is winning the race at this point. The large scales on carp protect them from predators whereas trout have very small, delicate scales, we all know how fragile trout can be. Eyesight; we all know trout have excellent vision, including great night-vision. They can see a fly the size of a pinhead flying to them at speeds of fifteen mph or more. Carp also have excellent vision, and its one of the frustrating things you will realize while trying to stalk them. Unless they've got their head in the mud like you would a breakfast burrito , move still, very still. The other couple of extraordinary senses are hearing and sense of smell. It is IMPOSSIBLE to fish for carp in a noisy boat. One bump with an oar and every carp in the area will make a mad dash, sending off a domino effect of chaos throughout the area. This will require another length of time before the next attempt is made. Forget the sunscreen, don't leak oil, and you better wash your hands off after smoking that cigarette. Carp have exceptional sense of smell and can often tell them you're there long before your line is rigged up.

             A good rod and reel set-up is not necessary but will help. I recommend a sturdy 5/6 weight up to an 8 weight, with floating line and a 9 foot leader of 3 or 4x tippet. A good fly pattern to try is Joe Montana's Hybrid Carp Fly. This pattern can be changed up a little to suite your needs, but keep in mind black is always a good color. Avoid bright colors which may scare them off. Foam beetles, drowned hoppers, hare ears, etc all work very well. Weight IS important and highly depends on the conditions at the time. Have on hand non-weight, slightly weighted, and something heavier but not so heavy it causes a big splash. Weight comes down to the depth you're fishing, and how fast you want your fly to land on the bottom. The key is to land your fly right where the carp is headed. Forget blind casting, this is a head-hunting game. If you spot carp actively feeding in the mud, try and land your fly where you think the carp will be in a few seconds. If the monster fish is swimming but not feeding, try a slightly weighted or non-weighted fly and let it gently float at the fish's sight level. A turn of the head in your fly's direction will indicate a take, lift that rod tip up, set the hook and let the ride begin. Carp have soft lips, hook sets are easy even with smaller hooks. Just hope your rod has enough backbone to turn the fish away from cover and obstacles. It's quite a challenge even after you've landed several fish. In my book the common carp has become an icon of epic fishing. I wouldn't take any whiny kids along, forget bringing anyone without a considerable amount of patience, this is for the die-hard fly fishing enthusiast. Thanks for reading! Check below to read about my first day carping in Montana.


         My first hook up with the poor man's Bonefish was a day I will never forget. It was the day I got my butt off the couch and did a little field research on the subject of carp. I didn't know anything besides the little bit of reading I had done earlier. I packed up the raft, two fly rods, a box of flies, and my wiener dog. I knew right where I was going had carp. It was about noon, sunny and eighty-five degrees. I launched and set out across the lake. After paddling around for a little while without a clue what to do next I saw someone with a bow. She was in a bikini and had a cowboy hat on. I figured she wouldn't mind some dork in a boat with a dog coming up to her so I got out and went to ask a few questions. She said she was looking for the carp too but hadn't seen any, then pointed across to the other side of a different lake. "If I had a raft I would go over there" she said. Well, that's good enough for me. So I wished her luck and made my portage across the hundred yards of dry land.

        Soon after reaching the other side of the this lake, I paddled into a shallow cove. Immediately I noticed plumes of mud by the dozens coming up from under and around the raft. I knew exactly at that moment that I'd found them. They were darting outt left and right. I was utterly dumbfounded on what to do. It wasn't until an hour and half later that I realized casting a leech to them from the raft wasn't going to work. Frustrated and over-heated, I ditched the boat and slowly made my way to some splashing on a shallow shelf. Twenty minutes of stalking, there before me were two massive carp circling each other. One was almost black, the other smaller one was a shiny golden color. I watched and watched until I started letting the fly line fly. I hadn't learned that my little leech was too much to spook them off until they both let loose in a wild bid to escape my deadly flailing clump of black marabou. The whole situation was nothing more than muddy waves retreating across my shins and I headed back to rebuttal.
Carp flats, not always pretty

          I tied on a Blue Midge Spinner pattern I like to use for trout on the Gallatin River. It was small and would sink slowly. It was another hour that I noticed more activity near the shallow shelf. I took my shoes off in order to make less disturbances. What felt like an eternity later, wading through stinky muck up to my knees, I had several large silhouettes cruising around twenty-five feet in front of me. The sun was starting to cut my glare making them more difficult to spot. I found the biggest one was the closest to me, and after watching its behavior I started letting line out. Cutting line through the air until I had enough, I made one last motion and set the fly in front of the feeding fish. One pass after the other, my offer was denied. Finally, the big fish managed its way into a little cul de sac of heavy vegetation. This fish was so big that the top third of it's body was just sitting there out of water. I made a few false casts and landed my midge right on top of its nose, between the wall of weeds and its vacuum mouth. I could tell the fish had found something, eagerly digging where my fly slowly fell. I took a shot and set the hook. All hell broke loose. The five inches of water soon became so displaced, I'll call this carp Moses. The powerful creature pushed with its tail so hard it was nearly walking on sand. My tension kept him charging and on and on he went. I saw my backing for the first time as the rocket powered fish sailed passed one hundred feet, halfway into the main lake. My drag screaming while he went airborne, pushing until exhaustion overcame his effort. Every other carp in the area was long gone and a few minutes later I manhandled the big guy into my arms. I walked all the way back to the raft to admire him some more and give a good revive. Still strong he swam away back to the hundreds of others out there.

         It wasn't only the victory I accomplished over landing the magnificent animal but the revelation I experienced while doing so. My thoughts and preconceptions I once had were now replaced with great respect for the golden bone. Since I have managed a few more on each trip. The sheer effort involved has left me contemplating recently and I know they become more aggressive towards small streamers come fall. I may have to make a trip back before the year is over. Tight lines!

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