Seasons of the Carp Fisher, and the Quest for a 20-Pounder

Written by: Dan Frasier

This 18-pound carp was tailing in skinny water, and it’s dan’s biggest fly-caught fish to date.
Photo by Dan Frasier

This morning, my windshield was covered in thick dew—a sure sign of cooler nights gnawing at the hot days of summer. Fall will be here soon, cool and glorious and way too short. Winter will follow, locking down any real chance of fishing until late March. In South Dakota, where I live, the winters are fast, efficient, and impenetrable. The doom and gloom of what the new football season portends for my fishing got me reflecting on the season.

No 20 pounder this year . . .yet. Oh, I had chances, though. A great shot at a golden fish the size of a car fender haunts me. When I close my eyes, I see her feeding, oblivious to my presence. That one still stings.

But I did find some fishing success on my home waters this year. Early in the spring, the carp in my area rise. When things are right, they form up along current seams and foam lines and sip midges. Watching great shoals of giant fish rising to tiny flies is breathtaking. I took a 15-pounder this spring that way. I also straightened many hooks.

As the water warms and the rivers and lakes in my area begin to wake up, things change. Warmer water and stronger currents make subsurface food sources more abundant. High water from snowmelt and spring rains push the carp off the surface and into holding spots. Boulders, deadfalls, and eddies all provide cover from the newfound current. The carp hold there and eat passing nymphs. Dead drifting nymphs to visible fish becomes the most effective method for hooking up. I managed a 16-pound fish on a Hare’s Ear Nymph fished exactly like you would in a brown-trout run.

Early-season carp rising to dry flies is a sight to behold.
Photo by Dan Frasier

Slowly the water drops and clears and the fishing changes. More and more fish can be found frequenting the flats, and eventually I convert from trout-fishing for carp to permit-fishing for carp. Outings become hot and sticky and filled with wagging tails and heartbreaking refusals. By now, I’m wading wet, fishing hard, and flirting with dehydration. Clouds, wind, and water clarity determine my fishing schedule. This is when the 20-pounder will come. . .if it does. So far, 18 pounds is my heaviest tailing fish of the year.

And that’s when it occurred to me. Staring through the streaking dew on the windshield and sensing fall around the corner, I was feeling a twinge of disappointment in my lacking a 20. In the last six months I’d caught a 15-pound fish on a dry fly, nymphed a 16-pound fish out from behind boulder, and caught an 18-pound fish tailing in skinny water. All of this had been done within 50 miles of my house, and I hadn’t used any vacation days. Even allowing for multiple species, how many people could say they’d done that on anything other than carp over an entire lifetime? I guess I realized just how spoiled carp had made me… and I don’t really mind being spoiled one bit.

Dan Frasier is fly-fishing editor of Carp Pro magazine.

6 thoughts on “Seasons of the Carp Fisher, and the Quest for a 20-Pounder”

  1. I love to carp fish the Big Sioux River, last year the weeds got so bad it limited my fishing from shore. We have taken many carp in the 12 to 18 pound range and still am waiting for a 20 pounder maybe this spring. I’m sure glad to see there are other fisherman who love to fish for carp. Do you ever do any guiding we would be interested let us know.

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