Our Man In Canada
April 9th, 2001

Stalking Spring Carp

Chris Marshall

By Chris Marshall

May Morning

The water of the shallow cove was clear and unruffled, shimmering in the morning sunshine. It was unusually hot for early May. I was standing in the shallows of a wide bay, camouflaged among the dry stalks of last year's cattails, absolutely motionless. Across the bay something large sloshed on the surface. Not yet - too far away.

Then - a subtle bulging of the water and a trembling of the cattails to my right. And I saw them - three huge, blue-grey shadows, fat as footballs, yet sleek, exuding power. Slowing they came closer, foraging casually along the outside edge of the cattails. I could make out the tubercles of their nostrils, the occasional flash of orange-pink lips as one paused to pick up something from the bottom, and the hint of bronze scales beneath the dusky patina of their broad backs.

A gentle push on the rod, and the line curled out towards the fish - now less than 15 feet away. The weighted nymph dropped a foot in front in of the leader, barely rippling the water. By the time the fish reached it, the nymph had almost touched the bottom. There was no hesitation: the mouth opened, inhaled and the nymph was gone.

Since I was a teenager, I've had this love affair with carp. In the moorland streams of northern England where I grew up, there was nothing to fish for but brown trout - wild, kaleidoscopic creatures, perpetually hungry in the barely fertile, peaty water. They were a delight to fish for, but rarely did they exceed 10". It was inevitable that I should be drawn to the ponds in the gentler lowlands to the east which had been stocked with carp. As carp go, they were far from big, but the five pounders we caught were ten times the size of our local trout and they fought hard and long. I didn't fly fish for them back then - that didn't happen until long after I'd emigrated to Canada in 1960.

Like me, carp are immigrants. They've been on the move from their homeland in Asia for centuries, arriving in Europe in the Middle Ages in the backpacks of monastic aquaculturalists, destined for ecclesiastical stewponds. They arrived in North America about a century before I did, and today, the waters are swarming with them.

In Canada, carp are found from Quebec to the Prairies. Many anglers curse them; few fish for them; even fewer fly fish for them. But those who do, have come to delight in the challenge of seducing them into taking a fly and in the terrifying power of their runs.

Spring 2001 issue

You can catch carp on flies wherever they swim - I even hooked one on a Woolly Bugger when I was fishing for smallmouth in the plunge pool of one of the dams on Ontario's Trent River. They love warm water and are most active in the summer, but they can be taken from May to September. Where I live in Eastern Ontario, the Bay of Quinte offers superb carp fly fishing. This long, shallow stretch of water is perfect habitat for them. Fish over 20 pounds are common and there are specimens over 40. Our biggest on the fly weighted in at 38.5 pounds.

My favourite time to fly fish for them is in the spring, when they move into shallow water prior to spawning. The water warms up more quickly in the shallows, and the fish bask there, soaking up the warmth, feeding on invertebrates in the newly sprouting aquatic vegetation. In these conditions they're particularly partial to an artificial nymph placed strategically in front of them. ~ Chris Marshall

Continued next time.

We thank the Canadian Fly Fisher for re-print permission!

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