One year ago, Field & Stream fishing editor John Merwin declared in the magazine’s fishing blog, The Honest Angler, that “Carp Fishing is Not the Next Big Thing.”
In the post, he referred to an article he had written in 2006, comparing fly-fishing for carp to dragging a piece of fried chicken through a senior citizen center. “If it looks good and moves slowly enough, something will eventually try to gum it to death,” he wrote.
Merwin’s been around long enough to see plenty of next big things, and his authority is seldom questioned. Still, carp fishing sure looks like a big deal these days. In magazines and blogs, on Facebook and YouTube — all summer long, you see anglers proudly holding up large fish with big scales and vacuum snouts.
This year, Merwin’s partner at The Honest Angler, Kirk Deeter (who is also editor of Trout Unlimited’s membership magazine, Trout) will have a new book out on fly-fishing for carp, and I’m betting it will sell a lot of copies.
Carp fans generally cite two general reasons for their enthusiasm. The first is that carp are fussy eaters and it’s hard to get them to bite (Merwin’s unflattering analogy notwithstanding), and no veteran fly-fisher can resist a challenge to his or her skill.
The other reason is that carp are so widely available. Carp live in everything from Texas farm ponds to Colorado reservoirs to the flats of the Lake Michigan shore.
They’re versatile fish that can tolerate water that’s much warmer, dirtier and oxygen-poorer than trout — so while the trout angler often drives anywhere from an hour to a day to find a suitable stream, just about everyone lives within a few miles of carp water.
One of the best places to fish for carp in the Capital Region, and in fact one of the coolest places to fish for any species, is the mouth of the Mohawk River near Peebles Island State Park in Cohoes, where Cobleskill fly-tyer Pat Cohen took me carp fishing one day last summer.
In case you don’t know — and every fly-fisher in a 50-mile radius of Albany should — this part of the Mohawk is a vast, warm-water fly-fishing playground, with acres of water that’s shallow enough to wade and holds smallmouth bass, carp, the occasional striper and heaven knows what else. There are two waterfalls and many riffles, runs and pools. There’s an angler parking lot behind the U-Haul depot on Ontario Street in Cohoes.
You don’t fish the water when you’re after carp; you target individual fish. And don’t bother casting to carp rolling and cavorting on the surface; they’re not feeding, and your fly will be ignored. Cast only to fish that are actually feeding.
In fact, even when you do cast to a fish that’s feeding, there’s a good chance your fly will be ignored. Mine was, all day long, despite Cohen’s expert help. He stood on a 20-foot bluff, looking down at the water, and called out directions for me to cast.
“Morgan, there’s a fish 40 feet away at 11 o’clock,” he’d say.
Most of the time, I couldn’t see the fish or even the plumes of mud they kicked up when rooting around for food on the river bottom, but I cast where I was told, or as close as I could.
“Perfect,” Cohen would say when I dropped the fly right where he wanted. “Strip, strip, strip. He sees it, he’s turning, keep stripping.” But every time, the fish seemed to sense that something was wrong, or maybe just lost interest, and went about its business, and Pat had to look around and find me another fish to cast to.
Everything I’d heard about carp being fussy and finicky proved true for me that day. Fortunately for my ego, Cohen didn’t do any better during the few minutes he fished instead of spotting fish for me.
Finally, just before it was time to leave in the afternoon, I hooked up. It was my only hook-up all day, and I struck too hard and snapped the 12-pound tippet.
It was fun. I agree with those who say the common carp offers a real test of skill, not to mention the possibility of a tussle with a big fish. And I do appreciate that I don’t have to burn up a lot of gas and time to find them.
Of course, carp are butt-ugly, a fact that even their biggest fans don’t dispute much. I guess you take the good with the bad.
Why does Merwin think carp are not the next big thing?
“If my local fishing options consisted solely of carp, I would indeed be an ardent carp angler. But I can fish for three trout species, largemouths, smallies, walleyes, pickerel, pike, and even a few muskies within a 50-mile radius, so I don’t ever bother with carp,” he wrote.
“We have far too many other opportunities on and in the water. And because of that, the carp-fishing renaissance here that some are predicting just ain’t gonna happen.”
Far be it from me to argue with John Merwin. But I’m going to buy Kirk Deeter’s book.
Morgan Lyle’s commentary appears regularly in The Daily Gazette. Reach him at email@example.com.