Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Top 10 Tips for Fly Fishing for Winter Carp

Written by Brian P. Shepherd

Roger Daltry of The Who famously sang "there ain't no cure for the summer time blues."  Well, I would argue that there is: fly fishing for carp.  But what about the blues that come about during the doldrums of winter?  Fly fishing for carp in the winter time can be as rewarding as fly fishing for carp in the warmer seasons (cold fingers not withstanding).  Carp, just like any species of fish, need to eat each day to live.  While they may be slightly more lethargic that at other times of the year, carp are opportunistic feeders so a dead-on presentation of the right fly pattern will pay dividends.

Assuming you do not need further convincing about why you should target carp in the winter, here are my top 10 tips for making those cold outings successful and to ensure you do not regret foregoing a more aesthetically pleasing quarry.

1. Seek out rivers and streams that have a fairly consistent flow rate.  Consistent flows help keep the water from icing up and of course keep the food sources moving down the conveyor belt. The Denver South Platte is a first choice here but the Denver Metro area has any number of canals, small creeks flowing into lakes, and agricultural drainage ditches which, believe it or not, hold carp.

Deep sections of creeks under plunge pools are great winter
hang-outs for carp.
2. Look for deeper plunge pools or deep pools and tail outs.  Not so different from what you might do for trout, huh?

3. Low and slow is the name of the game.  Carp never seem to be in much of a hurry when feeding on a mud flat or at the bottom of a plunge pool so your patience must be at an all time high and often you need to resist the urge to move your fly to get their attention.  In winter, carp are agonizingly slow, even when on the feed.  Get your fly down deep and leave it there.  As a fish moves on your fly, you likely need to wait a bit longer before setting the hook.  General rule, if it looks like a carp has moved on your fly don't be too quick to set the hook as he may just be hovering over it deciding whether it is worth his time.  Unless you are certain he has eaten it, I recommend slowly raising the rod tip and once you encounter resistance set the hook.

4. Undercover ops is standard operating procedure.  Given the angle of the earth relative to the sun in winter, you will cast long shadows (of course the only thing you want to cast is your carp fly).  Any carp angler knows all too well that an errant shadow can torpedo an otherwise perfect opportunity to target to a feeding carp. Utilize any cover you can to avoid being seen or throwing a shadow on the water.  Also, flows will likely be low and therefore the water may be quite clear.  All the more reason to operate under cover.

Dress for the occasion - though the red stripe on the shorts is optional.
5. Match the hatch.  Wait a second, I thought we were chasing carp, not targeting picky trout who cannot make up their mind between a size 26 or size 28 top secret midge (my favorite trout pattern by the way).  Keep in mind that in winter, crawdads go into hibernation and carp may not be used to seeing them tumbling through the water column so your backstabbers may not be the ideal fly for winter carp (though crawdad patterns can certainly lead to success - see next tip).  Given that carp are opportunistic, they will target midge larva, pupa, and emergers just like trout. You may even get a hatch or two of tiny blue wing olives if the conditions are right.  In many streams, caddis pupa and stonefly nymphs are also on the menu for carp.  Whatever the case, try some soft hackle hares ears, red chironomid pupa patterns, or little brown stonefly nymph patterns.  Add some weight and throw on an indicator if it helps.  You will be pleased.

If you don't catch any carp, you can always collect red chironomids and bring them home for observation...because that is something only a fly angler would do.

Carp will flush crawdads out of their winter hideouts and
getting some much-needed protein.
6. Find undercut banks and ledges just beyond the plunge pools.  The constant churn from plunge pools may help erode some of the substrate underneath rocks or along the banks.  Carp will target these areas as potential places to dig up some creatures that otherwise thought they could live in peace for a few months.  This is where smaller crawdad style patterns such as the backstabber may come in handy as carp may flush these little guys out of their winter hibernation areas.  You will likely see a lot of tails sticking out from under the ledge, but wait for them to poke their heads out occasionally and be prepared to immediately execute your best suspended dap presentation.

You never know what will be the hot pattern in the cold winter waters.  Come prepared with a variety of tried-and-true carp patterns such as backstabbers, hares ears, and soft-hackle style nymphs.

7. Present yourself (and your fly) well.  Presentation is key in winter as much as it is in the warmer months.  With the slower flows and less turbid water, you need to take care not to startle the carp when presenting the fly.  So dropping the bug on a carp's head is not in your best interest.  When up close, you will want to do a suspended dap presentation.  With lighter flies such as soft hackles, the fly will sink slowly and likely be less alarming.  If the water is clear, he will see it.  Even so, give yourself a foot of space between the carp and where the fly lands.  If using heavier nymphs or depth-charges, use your rod to gently guide the fly on a slow descent to the zone.  For situations when a suspended dap will not be effective (e.g. if your targeted carp is more than 10 feet away) definitely do a drag and drop presentation (which can be executed using the pendulum cast).  Cast the fly a few feet beyond the fish and SLOWLY move it into position.  Be careful not to line the fish as you are moving the fly to the feeding zone.  In some cases you may need to cast directly to the fish so that the fly lands in the zone.  I suggest using that method only if it is truly the only option.  In slow clear water, even the subtle splash or sound of a small nymph hitting the water can spook the carp.
8. Getting refusals and "wave-offs"? Try downsizing your tippet.  Yes, I agree it is scary to pursue large, cagey, and incredibly strong fish on light tippet.  But here is the deal - even when using 3X fluorocarbon, carp can and will see it in very clear water no matter what Rio says.  I cannot count the number of wave-offs I have gotten this winter.  I am convinced that when my tippet catches a bean of sunlight as the carp is moving on the fly the game is over.  If the carp are pulling up at the last second, try 4X fluorocarbon and hope that the carp does not run for heavy cover when you hook him.  Also, instead of downsizing you may want to simply lengthen your tippet section.  If using shorter leaders and if the thicker section of the leader is below the surface film, carp will most certainly see that.

9. Time your outings to coincide with upswings in air temperature.  Here in Colorado we are lucky to have the occasional warm week here and there in the winter.  During warming trends, the nighttime lows are usually a bit higher than usual.  After two days of warmer temps and nighttime lows in the 40s, you can count on the carp getting a burst of energy and will likely be on the feed.  The warmer temps may trigger activity with various aquatic insects so keep an eye on that as well.

10. Be persistent and never give up.  Fly fishing for carp is challenging as we all know.  But it is not impossible, even in the dead of winter.  In the face of failure (which is not unusual when chasing carp) stay focused and practical.  You can catch carp on the fly in the winter.  As with anything else, it is trial and error.  Figure out the pattern, write your own rules, and make it happen.  And no matter how large or small the carp that you catch in winter, you will have fun.

Baby carp on Montana Hybrid

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Catching carp on the fly in the winter? It just can't be true

Written by Brian P. Shepherd

As an economics graduate student years back, I spent a lot of time studying the theoretical underpinnings and mathematical reasons for various economic assumptions and why they hold true, ceteris paribus.  Conversely, I spent an equal amount of time studying the reasons why these various economic assumptions do not hold true (yes, that is a contradiction, we are talking about economics after all).  Before listing off any number of economist jokes, my point here is to introduce the idea of conventional wisdom.  As in economics, life in general, and fly fishing for carp (you knew that was coming), we all have a number of assumptions about what we expect to happen based on previous observation or experience.

As it relates to fly fishing for carp, the conventional wisdom holds that it is doggone near impossible to catch carp (on the fly or other methods) when the temperatures drop and stay low for months on end. This assumption, admittedly, is fairly reasonable to a certain degree, however it is somewhat misleading.  I would be so bold as to say that catching carp on the fly in the winter time is, simply put, only slightly more challenging than during the warmer months.  It is far from impossible.  You want proof?  Look at the graph from my carp log below.  The pictures might help too.

In my next post, I will give you my top ten tips for catching carp on the fly in the cold winter months, though given the weather here in Colorado lately, the tips may not be useful to you until next winter.

No, this is not the Denver South Platte.
Yes, 12 months in a row of carp on the fly!

Recycled from earlier post but how often do you see carp and snow in the same picture?

Forrest Gump pose.

Loving that baby craw nymph.

Is winter over?  Only time will tell...