Two nights ago I returned to Key West from a week in Montana. The purpose of the trip was to hang out with Fitz (who lives in Montana when not in Key West) as well as to catch carp.
Some backstory: I had, up until this trip, fished for common carp a total of three times in my life. I’m not counting the time when 9-year-old-ncl grabbed a 6 weight and snuck in to a neighbor’s property and caught a closely related koi from their pond before the police were summoned and I ran from them (successfully, I might add).
David Nelson and I fished for some giant carp on a smallmouth trip gone bad around 7 years ago–we couldn’t feed one. I tried again to catch a fish with David in a pond (puddle) near his house in New York. While the fishing was amazing, I was again skunked. Most recently, I fished the ditches outside of Metarie with Scott Bennet and Captain Dave Best during last year’s fly tackle dealers show. Once again, I failed to connect, though I got to watch Scott catch one. Suffice to say, I was primed for this–all the better that my trip west was with perhaps my favorite person Fitz Coker.
The night I landed in Bozeman, it had been 95 (f) during the days and the carp fishing was, according to Fitz, incredible. This ended on the first day I was there, when the high was 65 and the wind was blowing 25 mph. Despite our (my) reservations in the cold weather and incessant cloud cover, we launched Fitz’s boat at 9:30 and went carp fishing. Here’s the thing about carp–they hate the cold. We fished water that had held fish the days and weeks prior, only to find nothing. In fact, our first three stops netted us a total of zero carp sighted, much less cast to and reeled in. Finally, we found a few fish holding in water below a 6 foot river bank. Every one that I threw the fly to, which was probably less than three, ran from it in short order.
We left these fish, and Fitz brought us up current to another bank. As we pulled up to the bank to get out and wade, we were surrounded by carp (ok…maybe there were a half dozen, but it felt like we were surrounded…) and we split up to wade the bank–Fitz went up current and I went down. For the first 30 yards I was excited. After the 60 I was back to normal, and after 150 I was beginning to think that the whole “carp on fly” thing was an elaborate hoax on me, perpetrated by enemies to get me into the thin air of Montana, wet wading in a river with a 9 weight. After 200 yards I was completely ready to give up. And then it happened. A fish was coming up current to my left, shallower than I had been looking, kicking along the pebbles with most of its back out of the water. I threw a cast all of 15 feet to him, stripped a few times, and came tight. Alone, I fought and landed this beautiful 8 pound carp on a Mako reel (thanks as always to Judy Charlton) and a 9 weight Proaxis. Fitz came down and watched me release the fish, and we called it a day. I was, to say the least, pretty fired up.
Our second day was on a reservoir, and it began much like the first. While we saw the occasional fish, none of them wanted to play until the sun got higher. I cast at a half dozen carp, though each one spooked before I could do much of anything. At around 2 PM, Fitz poled me along a deep island-hugging trench that was loaded–we had about 12 good shots, and I hooked a high sliding fish that was the lead and largest of a group–this fish was estimated at around 14 pounds and landed, photographed, and promptly released back into its bottom-sucking-servitude. We found more fish later, and had a few more shots, though none wanted to play. It seemed that the colder weather, while warmer and improving hourly, had taken its toll on the carp–we had another dozen or so shots and again they refused to play ball. As we were leaving a point, I walked across to the small bay on the other side. There, I found a giant school of mudding fish. I threw into the mix, and in no time caught another little carp, similar in size to the tailer I caught the day before.
After an incomplete camping attempt, during which I caught a smallmouth bass (my first) and a channel catfish (my fourth, after the catfish in Texas with Ted Margo–shout out to Ted!), we took a day off to replace my wet iphone and re-calibrate.
Our final day of fishing was interesting. Fitz’s friend Craig caught two in a duck pond, Fitz and I almost ran into a moose, and I struggled to hook a fish. The day ended with what I would classify as a tremendous number of fish and many more shots than I could count–none ate, and I became dejected. I waded over to a point, where I saw Fitz calling me towards him. I arrived to multiple schools of carp feeding on the surface, and threw different flies at them until I couldn’t handle the rejection any longer. I returned to the boat and the nearby schools of fish I’d been fishing to, hoping to force a grab. After 30 minutes (and at least that many rejections) Fitz arrived with an idea–he would pole the boat to the surface schools, tie on a small dry fly, and let me attempt to capture a surface feeding carp. And that’s exactly what we did: With Fitz on the stick, I put the small dry fly in front of three schools of “lipping” carp before one ate it. Not a large fish, this 9 pounder was a perfect end to a perfect trip.
Of course, there’s more to this story than just the carp–there were the meals, visiting with my friends Howard and Sharon Davis, a giant herd of elk that woke me up in the morning, and more than a few pieces of advice (not necessarily all carp-related) from Fitz. There was seeing Dotty Ballantyne, and discussions about her upcoming party to celebrate her 100 IGFA fly rod world records. But mostly, the thing I am going to remember id the four fish I caught–each different, difficult, and perfect.
Pictures to follow when I get them from Fitz.