It was my lunch break, and instead of eating I found myself wearing waders and a fishing vest with a fly rod in my hand. I was standing in 6″ of muddy brown water, about twenty feet from the shore in a large reservoir near my house.
I was there to try and catch some carp.
This was my sixth trip to this spot, my somewhat obsessive and somewhat disheartening records tell me. This year I’ve caught many new species; my first walleye, my first pike, my first bowfin.. But the carp sits there on the list, unchecked.
Many think the carp is a trash fish; an ugly, bottom-feeding species not worthy of any attention. But from what I hear, they are a lot of fun to catch, and in my limited experience, it’s not easy to do so! I’ve tried fishing with bread, corn, my own carp dough recipe, nightcrawlers, flies… and nothing. Well, I did catch a lot of tiny bullheads with corn. And that counts for something, I suppose.
There is a lot going for the carp, I think. They get really big, they will (supposedly) take a variety of baits and lures, and I can find them pretty much everywhere. They are prolific breeders, and make their way into pretty much every body of water around. (These are not asian carp I’m talking about, these are the common carp that have been in this country for quite some time now. Although they may not be native to Illinois, they don’t seem to have such a negative affect on local ecosystems as asian carp do. On the other hand, I know very little about this fish, so I could be completely wrong.)
The carp is also a highly valued food fish, seems like everywhere but here. I think it is a traditional ingredient in gefilte fish, as well as a number of other traditional dishes all over the world.
I stood motionless in the water, 15-20 carp swimming all around me. I couldn’t see them through the water due to the zero visibility, but every 4 or 5 seconds a big red and yellow carp tail would pop up out of the water – not 30 feet away from me. I interpreted this as the carp feeding, eating stuff off the muddy bottom.
Every time I saw the tell-tale signs of a carp – either the tail or the mud cloud from their rummaging around on the bottom – I cast my fly to the area. Sometimes I tried to cast right on top of the fish; other times I cast slightly ahead of it, hoping it would take the little bit of hair and feathers I was offerring. None of them seemed to spook at my splashing or amateur casting; they simply swam around as if I weren’t there. I tried my impression of a “Backstabber” fly I tied last night; turns out it was about a million times too heavy for me to cast. At one point I missed my own head by about an inch. That’s when I put on something a little lighter.
Were these fish spawning? Why were they ignoring me? As the minutes passed, it seemed they were getting closer and closer to me. At one point I saw four carp tails poking out of the water within 10 feet of me, standing there in the water like a tree, my boots slowly sinking into the mud.
Some guys appeared on the bank, maybe 100 yards away from me. They started setting up rods when they noticed me. They stopped and stared, pointing; perhaps wondering what the hell I was doing. I kind of wondered the same thing.
Carp practically splashed me with water, their tails slapping the water just a few feet from me. At one point there was a gurgle below me; I looked down to see what appeared to be a carp mud cloud. It seemed like there had been a carp literally eating at my feet.
Soon, too soon, it was time to go back to work. It took a surprisingly long time to pull my legs out of the mud where I’d been standing still for the past 45 minutes. I made my way back to the shore as the carp continued to do whatever it was they were doing, completely unfazed by my efforts in catching them.