For those of you who haven't read or don't live in Bozeman and hence don't get a chance to read our local fare, the Bozeman Magazine, here's a little article I penned for a recent issue, enjoy!
So for those of you who pay attention to my ramblings from time to time, you’ve surely heard me tout the wonderful golden exotic treasure that is only so fittingly named the Common Carp. Every year when it starts to get a little warmer outside and the sun gets a little brighter and the rivers start to rise and the fishing options get a little limited I turn to finding Carp in all sorts of fun places. Usually these places aren’t exactly “picturesque” although there’s some nice scenery on the horizon at times. Carp are typically found wallowing in muck and muddy areas that when stepped in give off a stench that is similar to decaying fecal matter… yeah it smells that good.
Sometimes when I’m wallowing around in this muck in sandals or even wading boots I feel a tad bit violated. When you look down at your feet and they are covered in what could only be described as some primordial ooze and you smell all the rotting carcasses of Carp all strewn along the shoreline, then you know you are in for a special fishing treat. These aren’t the kind of areas where you would expect to go and find a pristine trout stream fisherman hanging out in, but, hey things that put a big bend in the end of your rod tend to take us addicts to some strange places. The first time you see a big shadow lurking 60 feet out and you plant a cast near it and your fly disappears and your line starts sizzling off your reel, you’ll understand the draw.
Thankfully in addition to providing some afternoon fun when a lot of our favorite rivers are all blown out, Carp can provide some solitude and some challenging stalking around popular fishing areas. One of the main draws for fishing for the Common Carp, at least for myself, is the ability to single out individual or small groups of fish and attempt to fool them with something that resembles a food source. Unlike trout that typically exhibit very reclusive social behaviors, Carp tend to live, eat and swim in groups and so it can make finding and targeting individual fish that much more challenging. Unlike trout that typically don’t spend a lot of time in large groups, Carp will pile into back bays and shoreline feeding areas by the hundreds, providing multiple shots at tailing fish.
Whoever said that Carp are stupid and will eat anything has never fished for them in trout country with a fly rod… They can be as selective as any game species on a fly that you’ve ever encountered, and can provide some of the most exciting opportunities to stalk feeding and tailing fish. Having been a trout fisherman my whole life and never having spent any time on the flats fishing for bonefish or permit, Carp are really the closest thing to a flats fishing experience that I have personally encountered. I can only imagine how nice it must be to find white sandy beaches and crystal clear oceanic waters to stalk in. I spin my trade in the dirt and grime with miles of grassy and rocky shoreline with the added wonderful stench of decaying fish… So it takes a special person to really enjoy Carp fishing.
The typical food sources of Carp range from seeds and floating and submerged vegetation to more familiar trout foods like leeches, crayfish, damsels, mayflies, caddis, stoneflies and baitfish depending on what is available. A grocery list like this alone should make any trout fisherman excited, not to mention a fish that isn’t discriminating about its diet and grows often into the double digit pound range – providing big fish opportunities nearly every time out. But fortunately for Carp addicts like myself, lots of trout fishermen turn their nose up at the scaly, slimy, stinky, rubber lipped golden beast.
Where to go to find Carp isn’t something that you’re going to readily find guys who Carp fish willing to share. There are certainly places that have been well written about by fishermen around Montana including the Missouri river outside of Townsend and nobody thinks that’s a secret anymore. But some of the most exhilarating fishing for Carp is found on lakes, reservoirs and backyard ponds and sloughs with less recognizable names because it allows you the opportunity to stalk the beast on foot. Fishing from a boat for Carp is fun, don’t get me wrong, and sight fishing from skiffs with casting platforms is a blast and probably will remind any saltwater nut of bonefish flats. But seeking out your favorite haunt will probably require you visiting some bait shops, perusing the local dirtball fly fishing hangouts, and maybe even making a few phone calls to the local FWP offices to find if there are any reservoirs or ponds in your area that have some Carp in them. But the best Carp haunts oftentimes will be simply found by accident and when you do find one of those you won’t be giving it up to anyone but your closest fishing buddies.
Another aspect of what makes Carp great game is that they don’t require fancy waders, expensive boats, exclusive fly rods and reels or the latest in fishing fashion… Carp fishing can be enjoyed in flip flops, beer t-shirts and a cheap 7 weight rod with some flies that wouldn’t fool the least discerning trout. That being said, you’d better bring your A game because these aren’t stupid fish by any stretch. Presentation is paramount in Carpin’ and if you don’t put the fly where it needs to be when it needs to be there then you can forget about catching Carp… Leading the target is perhaps the most important aspect of fishing for the golden beast and if you can’t time out your fly drop and depth in relation to where the Carp are heading you will struggle. But if you can put it all together and stand the stench then you just might become a Carp addict after all.