Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Four Seasons

Written by Brian Shepherd

I recently logged my lone carp for December 2015 (last picture below).  With about 2 weeks left in the month I hope to add a few more to the tally.  At the very least, it is now 9 consecutive months of catching carp on the fly.  Though it is technically not winter yet, I think it is fair to say that I have gotten carp in all 4 seasons as well.

Spring carp getting his tan on.

Summer porker.

Fallin' for it in the fall.

Man, it's getting cold.

Throwing picks!

Written by Brian Shepherd

Here in Denver we have seen the Broncos defense dominate opponents this year by creating an incredible amount of turnovers.  I guess it is fair to say that the Broncos offense has also created a lot of turnovers...  Defenses gravitate towards the football and do everything in their power to take it away from the offense through interceptions, strip-sacks, or fumble recoveries.  The quarterback's job is to move the ball effectively through a combination of running and passing plays.  A quarterback cannot control another player's ability to protect the football, but a quarterback is ultimately responsible for ensuring that his passes land in his receiver's hands - not in the hands of defensive backs.

Sometimes you get picked off by the prey when chasing the predator.
In the water column of your local lake or stream, multiple species of fish are constantly competing for the same food sources.  Bigger and stronger does not necessarily drive the outcomes regarding who gets the food (though I am sure it helps).  More often than not it is likely more about quickness and situational awareness.  Anyone who has ever fly fished for carp has inevitably been "picked off" a few times by another species.  In some cases you are not even aware of it until you set the hook.  You might think that your target carp just moved on your fly - you set the hook only to see an 8-inch largemouth fly over your head and into the cottonwood behind you.  The commotion that happens in the water often puts the carp off and you are no longer on offense: you just threw a pick-6!

Getting picked off by another species of fish (or anything else such as crayfish and snapping turtles) can be frustrating, but, like any NFL quarterback, you will throw the occasional interception.  It should not be a game-changer though; just take a time-out and plan your next series once you get the ball back (i.e. when you find other carp who are willing to play).

Sometimes throwing picks can be interesting - especially when a monster bull head eats your fly.

Not the carp I was after but not a bad deal either.

Was really going after a grassie but this fella undercut the route and picked me off.

OK, I really should not complain.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Up Close and Personal

Written by Brian Shepherd 
A sniper typically targets the enemy from a safe distance to ensure that detection is impossible even after the shot finds its target.  A Navy SEAL or Army Ranger may need to target the enemy from an uncomfortably close distance while still ensuring he is not detected until the target is neutralized.  While stealth and zero detection by the enemy is key, the margin for error is slightly lower for the SEALs and Rangers who may end up in close hand-to-hand combat situations. With fly fishing for carp, you need to be both a sniper and a SEAL as you will have opportunities at carp that are 30 - 40 feet away as well as those right under your nose.

In my carp experiences, I am a better SEAL/Ranger than I am a sniper.  More than 80% of my carp have been caught at close range (within a rod's length or up to 10 feet).  This is where the suspended dap presentation comes in handy.  More to come on fly presentation and the situations that dictate your presentation method.

The result of stealth and making sure not to step on dry sticks or cacti when lining up for the shot.

Take advantage of the natural environment when looking for cover.  Camo face paint might be over the top but would be pretty fun.

Distances shown in the graph are my best estimates.  It is obviously easier to estimate shorter distances.  For longer distances, I estimate them in terms of rod lengths give or take another foot to account for the distance from rod to body.  Not an exact science but you get the idea. 

Like golf, sometimes it all comes down to the short game.

Monday, December 14, 2015

My best carp fly of 2015 is in your trout nymph box

Written by Brian Shepherd

After chasing carp on the fly in earnest for only 2 years (4 years total catching carp) I now fully accept the fact that fly fishing for carp will always yield surprises, head-scratchers, and situations that call into question previously held assumptions.  In the past, I typically threw bigger and meatier flies when targeting carp and always wondered whether only a handful of carp each spring summer was all that was to be expected.  Something just didn't seem right about that.

Since April 2015, I have caught 87 carp on the fly.  Not huge numbers when compared to the pros who spend a lot more time on the water than me.  However, for a man like me who has a busy consulting career and a young growing family, I am quite happy and proud of netting that many carp over the past 9 months (also have caught carp each month consecutively since April).  More important than the numbers, I developed great confidence in a pattern that every angler has had in his trout nymph box for probably the past 100 years.

Stepping out of the big carp fly comfort zone early on this season, I began taking carp consistently on hare's ear nymphs.  Last winter I read a few posts from other Colorado carp anglers about the importance of keeping a few nymphs on hand when targeting carp.  This advice was well-taken.  The hare's ear has convincingly outperformed all other flies for me this season.  In fact, I have caught more carp on a hare's ear than on all other patterns combined.  Without getting into the multiple factors that can dictate fly selection (current, depth, water clarity, carp body language, etc.) I encourage other carp anglers to give this tried-and-true pattern a fresh look when chasing these incredible fish.

Go-to carp flies for 2015

I do have a theory on why the hare's ear is so successful.  First, it is a fairly realistic and unassuming pattern, and requires little effort for a carp to inhale it off the bottom or mid-column.  Additionally, since it is a small pattern, it causes far less alarm when one falls in front of a carp at close range.  Think of it this way: if you were walking down the street and the wind carried a dollar bill to your feet you would say "hey it is my lucky day" and pick it up without blinking.  Now if a suitcase full of $100,000 in cash fell out of the sky and landed at your feet most of us would be a little suspicious about running off with it.  The same is true for carp.  Carp see thousands of aquatic insects per square foot of a lake or pond on a regular basis, so if one falls within inches of a carp's mouth he won't think twice about slurping it up.  Now if you throw a size 4 zonker strip pattern with bright yellow lead eyes right on top of a carp, he might be a little suspicious of the offering or get startled and bug out towards the safety of the deep.

I tie this pattern on short-shank wide gap curved hooks (e.g Gamakatsu SL15 and Tiemco U501) typically in size 6 or 8.  The wide gap is key as it helps keep the carp buttoned-on.  As with any other nymph you should carry weighted, unweighted, bead/no bead, and soft hackle versions. 

Saturday, December 12, 2015

How It All Began

Written by Brian Shepherd

My obsession with carp on the fly began 4 years ago when a fly-fishing friend of mine took my brother and me to a local lake here on the Front Range.  My friend said to just show up and bring crawdad patterns.  I had no idea what to expect and admittedly had no idea how to catch carp on the fly.  I assumed in some way it would resemble bass fishing where they give it up pretty easily after dangling a pretty fly in front of them.  With that false assumption in mind, I was prepared for a day of non-stop excitement and gratuitous grips-and-grins.  After casting enormous streamers and everything else that pounded the water like cannon balls with not even so much as a glance from a carp or any other fish for that matter, I began to understand in a small way that fly fishing for carp might be hard. 

Anyone see a carp around here.  Photo taken by Kelly Shepherd.
Later that morning my friend said something about how you have to cast to feeding fish in order to catch them.  Okay great, I thought, that should be easy – just find a fish and unload a cast right at him.  For me, it turned out that I simply could not see carp, even when they were right in front of me (I am blaming the super murky water and not the best polarized lenses at the time).  I was certainly not a great fly fisherman back then, and as the day went on I thought even less of my abilities as it became apparent that I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.  There was some initial success but not from carp.  A hefty largemouth bass nailed a steamer pattern stripped along the edge of some cat tails.  It was the first fish of the day for any of us.  But not what we came for.

My first carp - caught on a black Bouface streamer
Photo taken by Kelly Shepherd.
A bit later in the day, my friend suggested we move to a more sheltered area of the lake (the wind was very strong that day) where there was a shallow flat area.  By this time I had picked up on a few other tips from my friend about how to spot carp: look for bubbles and their silhouette in the shallow muddy water.  That was the last bit of advice I needed.  I was soon proudly holding my first carp on the fly – gripping and grinning like an idiot – and marveling at how tired and sore my casting arm was.  It was the only carp I caught that season, but the experience slowly permeated the depths of my fly fishing soul.  My first carp on the fly experience stirred a desire within me that no other fly fishing experience had ever done.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that Jay Zimmerman first introduced me to fly fishing for carp.  Jay was kind enough to post my journey to the Dark Side on his blog back in 2012.  Thanks, Jay!     


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Are you kiddin' me? November carpin!

Written by Brian Shepherd

We had some beautiful warm days this November in Colorado.  The month ended with much colder days and a few snow storms to boot.  I took advantage of the warm days and continued my trend of catching carp every month since April.

The November numbers are certainly, and not surprisingly, the lowest of the year.  However, all of these fish were memorable and worthy of a photo or two.

Eight consecutive months of carp on the fly.
I have been experimenting with a pattern that I call the "baby craw nymph".  It is not revolutionary or ground-breaking by any means (most carp flies build upon others' ideas) but it incorporates tried and true elements of successful carp flies: head-down / head-stand look, drab colors, and general buggy profile.  To the average carp, it just screams "food".

Baby craw nymph

It has been fun.  Hoping to continue the trend in December.

Is it just me or does this carp look happy?

It does not get more fun that this!

November carp.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

On being wrong

Written by Brian Shepherd

The 2015 season started for me on a warm breezy day in mid-April.  I was concerned that perhaps I was a bit too eager and that my attempts would be in vain because it was just too early for carp.  As with many other times of my life, I was just wrong.  There were not many carp to be found that day but I found one – and that is the one that mattered.  I did not spend too much time considering my fly of choice; rather opting for my go-to pattern based on previous success: the McLuvin.  I gently dapped the fly right in front of the head-down feeding fish and he pounced on it like a fumbled football.  The carp were ready and I did not mind being wrong.

First carp of 2015 - looking a bit surprised.
This is the first year that I began the season feeling 100% prepared: I had read everything there is to read on presentation, casting, approach, fighting, landing, and fly selection.  I also started the season with preconceived and soon-to-be-realized erroneous notions: you can only catch carp when they are head-down, you can only catch carp with heavily-weighted larger flies, carp will run into your backing every time, you can never assert your authority with a carp, battles will always be 6+ minutes, and on and on.  Again, I am very happy to proclaim that I was dead wrong on every single one.  I have learned a lot this season and even after 80+ carp, I am still learning.