People might ask, “Why would anyone want to climb Mount Everest? Why would anyone want to white-water raft a class 10 rapid? Why would anyone want to jump out of a perfectly good airplane?” Most of these questions could be answered, “Because it’s not an easy thing to do.” So why would I drive five hours to Arkansas to sight-fish for a fish that’s arguably much more intelligent than bass or redfish? Because it’s not an easy thing to do. I would learn that lesson though, the hard way when I joined a fellow kayak fisherman and friend, Drew Ross, near his home waters in Arkansas this past Tuesday. Drew is fortunate enough to live near water that holds a “target-rich” environment of very large grass carp and acres and acres of shallow flats in which to sight fish for them with dry flies!
So here are some of the reasons why I am so intrigued by these fish.
- They are big. Some of these bruisers can sometimes weigh between 15 – 20 pounds and will straighten or break hooks and tippet at the snap of a finger.
- They are smart. Smarter than bass or redfish.
- They aren’t aggressive eaters and will not track down prey or flies. While they must eat to grow to the enormous sizes you see, they do not readily attack flies and lures like most other gamefish.
- They are easily spooked, which means in order to be a successful fisherman, one must be very stealthy.
- They aren’t considered to be good table fare, which means very few fishermen target them.
- They will eat a dry fly
- They will eat a dry fly
- Oh, did I mention, they will eat a dry fly? 🙂
So, spoiler alert..you aren’t going to see any photos of me holding a massive carp in this blog post. I can tell you I never worked so hard to get “skunked” in my life but I had a blast and I look forward to getting a chance to go again.
First of all, Drew is a super nice guy and was probably more disappointed than me that I didn’t land a carp. Because we were going to be sight-fishing, we had to first pick a day that was forecast to be mostly sunny, with very little wind. The good news was, I didn’t have to leave my house at 2 in the morning to get out there at the crack of dawn. I left at 6 AM and made it to his house a little before 11. The bad news was, it was going to be very hot! No problem there, because my mom didn’t raise a wimp!
For the first hour or so, Drew pointed out fish to me. I quickly began spotting fish on my own and was tossing a small dry fly to cruising fish. I soon learned the importance of being very accurate with my casts. That’s when you realize just how intelligent this fish is. As a fly fisherman who frequently sight-fishes redfish in shallow water, I thought I would be able to cast a foot or two in front of a fish and “intercept” it. I would make a “perfect” cast and watch the fish swim right under the fly without even budging. Sometimes they would swim around it like they wanted to avoid it all together. When I practice my casting, I try to land my fly in a 14 inch circle (actually and old drum head from school). It became apparent to me that I was going to have to present my fly to a moving fish, with a slight breeze to contend with, in a circle about the size of a pancake. What a humbling experience!! I struggled! All this time, Drew had not even made a cast. I told him, one of us had catch a fish so I eventually talked him into casting to a few fish for himself. I just wanted to see if it could be done.
Well after about 15 minutes, I heard a loud commotion and saw that Drew was indeed hooked up. It, however, only lasted a couple seconds because the fish straightened his hook out. Meanwhile, my presentations were getting better but twice I missed opportunities because an aggressive bream ate my fly just when I thought I was getting a carp to rise.
Drew and I kept push-poling our way through the flats and I probably cast to over 50 carp in about 5 hours before I got my first fish to eat. I saw a loner heading toward me very slowly and I put a legitimate “perfect” cast out about 6 inches in front of its nose. I watched it rise and its “kissers” opened up and sucked my fly in. I set the hook and….I missed!!! (Insert explicative of your choice here). I was distraught, but I was encouraged that I got and eat. Then I watched Drew get another eat (another straightened hook) and another… this time landing the pretty fish:
We were running out of time when I got my second eat. I let the fish actually take the fly down before I set the hook and again, I came up empty. I actually got a third fish to eat my fly and this time I actually felt some weight when I set the hook. Drew heard the commotion and thought I had actually hooked one, but I missed again. Oh well, these are times when I just have to chalk things up to Cormier’s Rule #1 of Fly Fishing: Fish make the rules; not the fisherman.
So, as I sit here waiting out this tropical storm, I am tying a few dry flies of my own to target these beautiful fish the next chance I get and although it was a very humbling experience, I know I learned a lot and will use what I’ve learned to be better prepared the next time I give it a shot.