There's no debating that fish like tarpon, steelhead, and muskie are cool. Damn cool. But, I didn't fish for any of them during 2017!
With working to grow this site, the health of my dad, and being boatless, my fishing this year was a little on the slim side. The occasional trips I did make were mostly spent chasing species like largemouth bass, peacock bass, snook, and to a lesser extent, grass carp. Though grass carp lack glamour and don’t offer the most spectacular fight, anytime you can catch a bigass fish on a fly is pretty sweet in its own right!
I had fished for grass carp a few times before in the suburban canals around the Phoenix/Scottsdale metro areas. Grass carp are often known to be somewhat tough to catch on fly, but with a little internet research I was able to experience some pretty good success on fish to over 10 pounds while dead-drifting a hopper dry fly. Catching those fish out of concrete-lined canals while baking in 110-degree summer heat probably doesn't excite many anglers, but I enjoyed every minute of it—so long as I had cold water in my bottle.
Although I found those canal grassies pretty easy to locate and hook, I knew that wasn't the norm everywhere. The ones I've come across and actually tried to catch here in Florida were much harder to figure out. They seem to either be in extremely shallow water (often with their dorsals or backs breaking the surface) feeding on vegetation, or aimlessly cruising around not really doing much of anything.
Luckily, in some areas of South Florida that all changes during a short window in March and April. This is when large ficus trees that overhang the water begin dropping their berries and the grass carp go absolutely nuts!
Though I had read about it here and there, up until earlier this year I hadn't really taken the time to drive to likely areas and look for these berry munchers. And, when I did start looking for these specific fish this year, I was still not having much luck finding them. Where were they?!?!?
One day this spring, I was casting for peacock bass along a gravel trail and an old F150 pulled up. There were several fly rods sticking out of the bed and a real fishy-looking dude behind the wheel. He asked about the fishing which led to about a 15 minute conversation. Not only was he a true local (and even had a nickname which I regretfully forget), but he had been fishing those urban areas for decades and was full of info. I love talking to guys like that. Lucky for me, he was also pretty free with his info and gave me "the spot" to hit for grass carp....a massive ficus tree several miles away that he said was currently swarming with carp. I had a couple of berry flies in my box, so about an hour later I was pulling up at that exact spot.
When I arrived, it was ON. As soon as I got out of my truck, I looked out onto the canal and saw probably 15 or more carp (all huge) finning, sloshing, and busting on the surface.
It was a windy day, and each gust made a bunch of berries plop into the water where they drifted right into the mouths of those hungry carp. With quivering hands and a beating heart, I grabbed my 5-weight, tied on a floating berry fly (a little foam ball painted with red nail polish), and walked slowly to the shore. Even with the carp going nuts, I know how spooky these fish are and didn't want to risk it by rushing.
Stopping about 10 feet back from the bank, I knelt down, stripped off line, and made a long cast from my knees. My fly didn't quite reach the meat of the fish, so I lifted up and hauled out some additional line. The little foam berry bobbed along for maybe 10 seconds then WHOOSHH, it was engulfed by a canal whale! I set the hook and was instantly met with the solid feeling of a heavyweight fish.
Like other grass carp I’ve caught in Arizona, that berry first carp (har har) offered just an “ok” fight. After an undramatic five minutes or so, I had my fish up to the bank—a solid 15-or-so pounder. I was alone, it was a steep bank, and I had no net, so I had to settle for some in-the-water pics before removing the hook and sending that whopper swimming back into the canal. I knew I had to come back the following week better prepared and with HELP!
The next week, I made the nearly two hour drive back over to "the spot" with my sister, a giant long-handled catch and release net, and additional berry flies. We parked, got out, and immediately saw the fish surface feeding once again. She fly fishes too, so we both stealthily got in position and made our casts. It took me no more than two minutes to hook up. Sorry sis!
After another relatively short and laid-back battle, I had the fish whipped and just off the bank. Sis then scrambled down the steep incline and I guided the carp headfirst into the net. I quickly put the rod down and had her hand the netted fish up to me before helping her back up to flat land. With the three of us safely on top of the berm, I handed her the camera. She snapped a couple shots of me and what became my favorite catch (and fish pic) of 2017 before I rushed to get it back into the water for a clean, strong release.
Although fighting that carp seemed to put down most of the other fish, sis still had to catch one. We left for an hour to let them get happy again, then came back so she could have her turn.....the result?
After she caught hers, we left those fish alone and never returned. With the sketchy nature of the shoreline, we were fully satisfied just catching one big specimen each and getting a high-quality "hero shot" to keep forever. With that said, the contentment is starting to wear off a bit. It’s impossible to resist huge fish on a dry fly. Only a few more months till it goes off again......Happy New Year!
Rod: 9-foot 5-weight EDGE Gamma Beta
Reel: Abel SD 5/6
Line: RIO WF5F Bonefish
Leader: 9-foot / 12-pound tippet