Featured Photo: Northern Lights in Tennessee

Featured Photo: Northern Lights in Tennessee
Showing posts with label Carp. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Carp. Show all posts

Sunday, June 02, 2024

Cicada Carp Fishing

Why Fly Fish for Carp

Carp are not the first thing that most fly anglers think of when planning a fishing trip. For the few dedicated carp out anglers out there, that is just fine. Carp are a mostly untapped fishery that provides a ton of sight fishing fun with little pressure overall, except during periodic cicada hatches that is. 

While I have begun offering a few guided fly fishing carp trips here and there each summer, it hasn't been something I've pushed hard. Carp fishing generally requires both precise presentations along with nerves of steel. Once a fish is hooked, you then also have to ace the test that comes with the fight. Carp are big, strong, and smart, and will try every possible method to break you off. 

Fly Fishing the Periodic Cicada Hatch for Carp

The periodic cicada hatch offers an opportunity for everyone to get in on the fun, however. The volume of big fish up feeding on naturals on the surface is mind blowing. Anglers of all skill levels will get enough shots at fish to eventually make some count. While this may sound crazy to most people, carp fishing with a fly rod is the thing I look forward to the most with these periodic cicada hatches. Don't get me wrong. Catching big trout on dry flies is a blast and something I'll do as much as possible as well, but carp provide a whole different challenge and set of problems for the fly angler to overcome.

Tips and Tricks for Catching Carp During the Cicada Hatch

Throughout this current brood XIX cicada hatch, I have been noticing a few little details here and there that make landing these fish a lot easier. Some of these tips will apply to your trout fishing as well and more broadly, to sight fishing in general. While there are very few absolutes in fly fishing, most of these are good general guidelines to help you find more success chasing carp on dry flies or any fish you are sight fishing for. 

  1. Use heavy enough tippet - This one may seem obvious, but even on 1X I am often outgunned. My philosophy of tippet (feel free to ask me about that sometime if you don't already know) keeps me from going much heavier than 1X, maybe occasionally down to 0X, but 1X is where I usually land for most "big" fish applications. During my first experience with brood XIX 13 years ago, I found myself using 4X on the Caney Fork. It worked fine on the trout, but for the carp, it was a little more dicey. Now, I have learned a lot and fish much heavier tippet anytime I can get away with it. 
  2. It is always better to miss short - This one isn't quite as obvious, but with carp in particular it is important to not cast too far. Carp have a weird tendency to find the end of your fly line and follow it back to the boat. If you overshoot that cast, they'll immediately quite looking for bugs and come looking for the boat. It is better to be a little short than a little long. If you miss short, you can simply recast and try again. If you are little long, you've likely blown your shot. This applies to most sight fishing situations I'll add.
  3. Lead the fish by a couple of feet - Carp move very erratically while looking for cicadas. It is best to get fairly close with your cast unless you are in very clear water. In that case, you might want to lead them by 5-6 feet. In moving water, you have the added problem of drag if you lead a fish too far. By the time the fly gets to the fish, drag has started to act and the fish won't eat. 
  4. It is best to have carp eat coming towards the boat or at right angles to the boat - This one makes sense once I explain myself. Carp have very sensitive lips. If they feel the tippet before eating the bug, they'll freak out. When they are going away from you, their lips will bump the tippet as they rise before eating the fly. If they eat while moving at right angles to the boat or coming straight at the boat, this problem is generally eliminated.
  5. Wait for the hook set - This is obvious once you've missed a fish or two, but trout anglers will generally set way too early on carp. They will be very deliberate when eating your dry fly. Wait until the mouth closes and the fish turns definitively down in the water column before setting the hook. Then, when you do set, really set the hook. No soft trout sets. Give it the ol' bass hook set. 
  6. Low side pressure is your friend - During the fight, carp will generally try to run for structure. They are very good at finding all the obstacles and sawing your tippet off on logs or other structure. At some point, you'll probably have to turn that big fish. Do so using low side pressure, the lower the better. This is good general advice for fighting trout as well. Low side pressure will generally get fish landed MUCH faster than pulling up. Up freaks them out and makes them fight harder and longer while low side pressure can get them whipped quickly. This has the added bonus of keeping fish healthy instead of playing them to exhaustion. 
  7. BONUS TIP: Don't be afraid to twitch your fly but don't overdo it - This one is particularly tricky. I mostly rely on a dead drift only. Carp often refuse naturals on the water because they are fluttering. The time to twitch a fly is when a fish is in the vicinity but seems to be passing by without seeing your offering. Give it a little twitch to help the fish find it, then stop and let it sit still again. Trout are more likely to like some twitching, but carp mostly don't. However, if fish start refusing your dead drifted flies, try adding a twitch. I had a day last week guiding on the lake where the fish quit eating dead drifted flies around 3 pm. We started twitching and immediately were back catching fish. This was the exception rather than the rule in my experience, however. 

David Knapp with a carp caught on a periodic cicada
David Knapp with a nice carp. Photo courtesy Trout Zone Anglers guide Elam Kuhn ©2024


Sunday, June 20, 2021

Hatch of Hatches

Most fly anglers who spend any time fishing cold water fisheries have stories of the best hatch ever. If you fish somewhere like the Smokies, then you might not have as many of those stories as someone who, say, fishes Yellowstone National Park. There are destinations across the country famous for various hatches. Most of these revolve around aquatic insects like mayflies, caddisflies, stoneflies, and midges along with many others. Then again, some land based insects create phenomenal hatches of their own.

Here in the Great Smoky Mountains, we always look forward to the excellent summer terrestrial opportunities. Inch worms can descend out of the trees of a trout stream in mass just about anytime during the warm months. Of course, ants and beetles are often around as well although not in concentrated numbers most of the time. We do have some excellent hatches of aquatic insects as well, but you don't encounter those in big numbers very often. Head out west, and terrestrials also produce some of the most exciting fishing of the year. Hopper fishing in particular is a sight to behold when it is really on fire. 

On the other hand, our tailwaters are renowned for their great hatches. The Clinch River and South Holston Rivers both feature an impressive emergence of sulphur mayflies. The Hiwassee, Holston, and Watauga are all known for their excellent caddis hatches. Warm water fisheries such as Fort Loudon, Watts Bar and Chickamauga lakes are known for the summer hexagenia mayfly hatch. These hexes are huge, looking like hummingbirds flying around. 

Still, I don't think any of these compares with the cicada hatch, if you hit it right that is. One time I did, and it was incredible. Several other times I've hit it well if not perfectly, including a couple of times in the last couple of weeks or so. The downside of these cicada hatches is that the best ones are periodic, meaning they only happen every once in a while. To be precise, there are both 13 and 17 year cicada broods. The good thing is that they are easy to predict. The bad thing? Well, if you happen to live right where they emerge, the constant roar while they're around can get annoying if you aren't a fly angler. However, to fly anglers, they are one of the best sounds in the world, at least for anyone who has fished this hatch.

This hatch, like many others, has days that are better than others. Cicadas are just the opposite of mayflies in that the cicadas love hot dry days. Rainy or otherwise cooler days will slow things down just a little below the usual dull roar. Still, even on those days, there will be enough happening to catch a few fish. 

Two weeks ago, I had an opportunity to fish this hatch once more. I knew this would probably be the last chance I had for this year's hatch, so I had to get things right. Some intel from one of the Trout Zone Anglers guides, Travis Williams, helped locate the bugs and a plan was hatched. We agreed to meet around 9:30 am, late enough in the morning that things would hopefully warm up and get the bugs going. 

When I pulled up to the boat ramp, a distant hum suggested that the bugs were indeed around. Now it was just a matter of finding the fish. We rigged rods and the boat, then put the boat in the water. Before long, we were flinging those big foam bugs that vaguely resemble a periodic cicada, or in the case of what Travis was fishing, look pretty much just like them. The realism with flies nowadays is quite impressive. The day started off slow at first, but once we started covering water, the fish came. 

Bass were the first to appear. Well, other than that bluegill of course. Some of the bluegill weren't much larger than the bugs they were trying to eat, but that's a bluegill for you. The first bass was a nice one and slammed the cicada Travis was casting almost as soon as it hit the water. 

I was mildly interested in bass, but much more interested in carp myself. For anyone who has ever had the pleasure of sight fishing for carp with big foam bugs, you know how addicting that can be. 

The first sighting was in a narrow spot between two small islands. The fish was cruising directly towards us only 15 feet out. I screwed the cast up and the fish sunk out of sight. As we progressed back into a sheltered bay, the bugs got a little louder and things were looking up. Structure can be important with carp, but doesn't always seem to be. This was one of those times that the structure seemed to help. 

I was working a shoreline as we drifted up towards a private wooden boat dock. My first cast was about 6 feet to the right of the boat dock. Suddenly, I saw a dark shadow slide out from the dock and make a beeline towards my cicada imitation. The carp slowed down, but only in that deliberate way that they like to eat. It was fully committed from the moment I first saw it move towards the fly. That is the beauty of this hatch. Fish tend to lose most of their natural caution, with wary fish becoming gullible in the face of an extraordinary bounty. 

Carp on a cicada fly fishing

That carp wouldn't be the first one of the day. However, we had a storm looming on the horizon that was making a rapid approach. Before we would find more fish, we first had to deal with some wind and hard rain. Another bay nearby seemed like as good a place as any to ride out the inclement weather and we made our way there. The storm caught us as we drifted into that area. Within seconds, we were both so wet that there wasn't really any reason to worry about finding shelter. Thankfully there was no lightning, just wind and rain. Travis waited for the worst of the wind to ease, then started casting again. 

Soon, the storm blew through leaving behind gray skies and choppy water. Then, we noticed it. The change in weather had brought a lot of fish up to feed. They had moved up on the banks and were sucking down debris knocked out of the trees by the wind and rain. Regardless of whether they were eating cicadas or some other bugs, they were there and they were hungry. Soon, we saw more and more carp along with some really nice bass. I hooked, played, and eventually lost a big carp. Travis also got in on the action with some more bass and finally his first carp of the day. There would be a lot more of those before we finished. 

fly fishing for carp

About the time that the skies were getting brighter, the wind mostly laid down and we were left with a perfect day for cicada fishing: hot, humid, with just enough breeze to blow some bugs around. The afternoon was pretty much what you dream about when you think of the cicada hatch. I could go on and on describing each catch in detail, but let's just say that we found more fish than any of us deserved. 

One fish in particular does stand out. By this time, another Trout Zone Anglers guide, Pat Tully, had joined us. We were working around a particularly large bay with Travis on the oars. I was in the back of the boat when I saw a carp sucking bugs off the surface and moving directly away from me. Immediately this fish had me shaking. It was easily the largest fish I had seen all day. The length was impressive enough, but the real size of this fish was obvious by the distance between its eyes. In other words, this was a really heavy carp that might or might not be a good idea on the 6 weight I was fishing.

I made a solid cast out ahead of the carp, perfectly in line with the direction it was traveling. This was a mistake. Because the fish was traveling directly away from me, I should have set the fly a couple of feet to the side and let the fish come to get it. As the carp rose to take my fly, moving directly away from me, its snout bumped the heavy tippet before inhaling the fly. Immediately the carp freaked out. These are notoriously intelligent fish, and this one was the perfect example. It disappeared faster than any other fish we saw all day. 

So, in the end, we caught some more bass and another carp or three. Yet, it was the fish that got away that provided the most poignant memory. Next time, I'll be more careful where I cast. There were much better memories of the day as well, such as two carp simultaneously racing each other to get to Travis' cicada pattern. In the end, it is the sum of those memories that has me looking ahead to our next semi local cicada hatch in 2024. If you haven't fished a cicada hatch yet, make plans to do so now in mid May through mid June. You'll be glad you did...

Friday, May 23, 2014

Carp Afterthought

Have you ever gone fishing and had a fantastic day of catching your intended species only to come across a fish that is quite different and decide to try for it as well?  That is one of the amazing things about tailwaters, the variety that is.  You can fish hard for trout all day and then find that one 4 pound bass or 15 pound carp and fish for that as well.  Maybe you even get a shot at a striper later on as well.  When I'm striper fishing, I sometimes have lucked into trout and even some walleye.  In other words, on a tailwater you just never know what you will find.

Yesterday I headed down yet again to the Caney Fork yet again to get some trout fishing in and check several different spots on the river.  Scouting the water is about as important as actually fishing and this trip was intended to include both.  After all, when heading out on a guide trip, it is essential to be in touch with what is happening on the river.  My basic research was just locating fish and the best places to land both numbers of fish and quality fish.

The morning's highlight occurred when I saw a big brown charge into a pool full of small stockers and eat one or two while I was fishing for them.  Yes, my heart rate is still a bit elevated, but that is the beautiful thing about fishing trips; you just never know what is going to happen.  After calming down enough to actually fish, I worked a favorite section pretty hard and found a lot of chunky rainbows.  These fish are super healthy right now and providing great nonstop action if you have the right flies, the right depth, and a knowledge of where to use them at.

A little after noon, my buddy Tyler and I headed back to the car for some lunch as well as some air conditioning on the ride down to our next spot.  When we got to the next spot, things continued about the same as before.  In other words, we were both catching a lot of fish.  The insects were varied on this day and the occasional caddis and cranefly kept the fish looking up.  Our dry flies were getting enough action that we never switched over to an indicator nymph rig, preferring the dry/dropper method instead to cover our bases.

Eventually the heat and sun took its toll, and I was ready to call it a day.  Heading back to the car, I stopped at a spot where there are usually some carp and buffalo hanging out.  While this was definitely a trout trip, I had no problem at least looking at other fish.  Of course, you can guess where this eventually took me.  Upon seeing all those carp, I naturally had to at least cast a couple of times.

I've fished this spot and a couple of others nearby many times over the years.  In fact, given the opportunity, I would rather catch at least one or two carp on each trout trip.  Not that I'm ready to turn my back completely on trout.  Its just that carp are some of the toughest fish you will ever fish for.  Being a carp fisherman automatically makes you better at catching other species as well, trust me.  The crazy thing about this particular spot is that while I've put in my time to attempting to catch these fish, I've never really had any success.  Oh, I've caught carp other places on at least a couple of different rivers, but these particular fish had always outsmarted me.

So here I was casting to fish that I could see just fine but really didn't expect to catch when lo and behold one of the fish ate!  Seriously, it was all so easy that I pondered momentarily why I hadn't caught one before.  Then the fish realized it was hooked.  If you've ever hooked a carp, even a small one, on 5x, you know how I felt as this fish started running directly away from me for a underwater log.  I really had no chance, or at least that's how it felt.  By some miracle, the fish always came out on the right side of those logs.  All the pressure I thought the tippet could handle was brought to bear. Once the fish ran under another log and only came back out when I kept muscled it back.  I know, it's hard to believe all of this happened on 5x, but in the end, the best moment of the day came when my buddy slipped the net under the finally tired fish.  A couple of pictures later and the fish tore off back to its pool to rest up for our next meeting.

If I lived close by, I would chase these fish all the time.  Seriously.  They are that much fun.  Every one I've caught has been memorable.  Oh, sure, the trout fishing was awesome too, and I wouldn't trade it for anything, but as an afterthought, those carp sure provide a lot of fun!

If I can help you with a guide trip to the Smokies or the Caney Fork tailwater, please contact me.  I'm not booking trips through July.  

Friday, April 18, 2014

Friday Quick Report: Guide's Day Off

So I'm running low on time today so I'll keep this as brief as possible.  The last two days, the Caney Fork had a couple of windows with no generation for all of us wade fisherman.  That didn't last long as today they are running water all day again, but it was nice to get out while I could.

With no trips scheduled on Wednesday and of course wanting to see how the river is fishing, I took off and timed it so I would arrive just as the water was falling out enough to get in the river and fish.  It didn't take long for me to see some MASSIVE fish busting on the surface or at least so it appeared. My first thought was, "Oh no, the stripers are already here. Too bad for the trout!"  After getting a glimpse of fins and tails breaking the surface, I soon concluded that it wasn't stripers and started to wonder what in the world was going on.

Eventually I discovered the commotion was made by spawning Bigmouth Buffalo.  I'm not entirely convinced that there weren't some carp in the mix as well but let's just say I was in awe.  I've always heard about these fish but never run into them in large numbers on the upper river and by the time I see them on the lower river later in the year, they are very tightlipped.

Running my nymph/midge rig through the deeper water eventually resulted in a hookup.  Wow! These things can pull!!!  My arm is still sore.  After catching a couple on the midge, yeah, that's right, I said a MIDGE on 6x no less, I was worn out and decided to go looking for trout.

That's a size 22 gray midge

The net opening is 16" x 22" for reference and this was not the largest I caught...

In some deeper water downstream I started catching some rainbows with regularity and had a large trout, probably a brown, break me off with just a couple of good headshakes.  The trout were showing a preference for the nymphs which was interesting.  I never did get around to fishing a dry/dropper rig  but they probably would have eaten the Zebra Midge fished that way.  Late in the day I even found a skipjack for a rather unusual slam of rainbow and brown trout, buffalo, and skipjack.  Fun trip for sure!

Fresh hatchery 'bow

Deeper water was the ticket...

The good news is that the midge hatches are getting stronger and the fish are responding.  The Buffalo are in the river as well and can definitely provide some entertainment if you've never hooked one.

This brown fought twice his size and had me convinced a big fish was on for a while.

Yep, spring is definitely here when the dogwoods start blooming!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Friday Fun

So for a bit of fun today, I am hoping to stir up a debate.  Lately, I have been thinking about the similarities and differences between fishing for redfish and carp.  Let's be honest: beyond actual coloration, they look pretty similar as far as body shape and build goes.  Carp pull as hard as any fish I've ever hooked other than striped bass.  Yet, the lowly carp gets only minimal credit and then only among a somewhat cult-type following.  The true carp fishermen are somewhat few and far between.  Out here in Colorado I have noticed a few more than back in Tennessee but they are still not anything close to a majority.

So, my question today is why fish for carp?  For that matter, why chase redfish?  I'm a pretty dedicated trout fisherman but enjoy chasing large- and smallmouth bass, panfish, striped bass, white bass, hybrids, musky, pike, yeah, I guess if it swims I'm willing to give it a shot.  I have even caught a few carp and had fun, but am still not sure whether it is worth my time becoming a proficient carp fisherman.