Written by Joey Paxman
[Editor’s Note: Blog reader Joey Paxman sent in this killer photo and the story behind it this weekend. I love how all the elements come together to complete the saga and result in a great image that any angler would cherish.]
The first carp that I ever witnessed being caught with hook and a line was on a small bass pond near my mother’s house in Redding, California. I was spending the last hour of light throwing poppers to eager 12- to-15 inch largemouths, when a young boy showed up on his bike. He was probably about 10 years old, barefoot, dirty faced, and holding a small spinning rod.
Without hesitation he put his bike down and solicited my help. He asked if I could please tie his on his hook. Apparently the “10 pounders” kept breaking his knots. There were no ten-pound bass in the small pond. No matter. I smiled and helped him rig up. After thanking me, he walked a respectful distance around the pond to give me room. It’s a small pond, so I could still clearly see him.
He reached into a small canvas pack and pulled out a bag of bagels. Dinner, I thought. Instead of shoving the bread into his mouth, he tore off a sizable chunk and slid it onto his hook. Without any weight, he skillfully lobbed his bagel about 15 feet from shore and let it float. From the opposite side of the pond, a pair of mallards made a beeline for his offering. But long before the ducks could ever hope to make it across, the water began to boil around the glob of gluten. I reeled in and watched.
Moments later, a huge head appeared out of the water and with an audible slurp took the bait. The boy slowly lifted his rod; then all hell broke loose. For 15 minutes, the enormous fish bulldogged around the pond, taking line and generally doing whatever it wanted to do.
I’ve learned over the years not to intervene when young people are fishing unless my help is clearly asked for. This poor kid practically begged for assistance. I told him to keep steady pressure on the fish and slowly reel in whenever the fish momentarily stopped tugging. 10 minutes later, I was cradling a 15-pound common carp, while the dirty-faced boy danced in circles on the shore. We snapped a few hero shots and released the fish unharmed.
The size and strength of that fish burned itself in to my brain. Many nights, I found myself lying awake thinking about that enormous carp. It never occurred to me to pursue these fish on a fly. I found myself contemplating using bait just so I could feel a fish that large on the end of my line.
Fast forward a couple years, when I moved to the Twin Cities last May. Exploring Minneapolis lakes on my bike, I began to notice the incredibly large numbers of huge carp on their spawning beds. Imagine, I thought to myself, if I could take these monsters on a fly.
I’m only 28, yet somehow the Internet has mostly existed in a world that is not mine. Without the internet, I was fully unaware that fly fishing for carp was exploding in the fly world. It’s safe to say that 2013 has been the year of the carp.
My first outing was a damned mess, to say the least. I thought that all I needed to do was throw the buggiest fly I owned in front of a fish and everything else would fall into place. How difficult could it be to catch the “trashiest of trash fish?” Very difficult, it turned out. I’ll spare the gruesome details.
That night I went home and jumped online to see if I could dredge up some information on carp fishing with a fly. On the Orvis site I found the first podcast that Tom Rosenbauer did on carp. Tom, you may have ruined the life of a diehard trout purist.
Armed with a 7-weight Helios and a new perspective, I returned to my local lake the very next day and proceeded to land half a dozen 5- to 7-pound carp in just a few hours. That was about three months ago. In that time, I have hooked close to a hundred carp—all within five miles of my urban dwelling. As my sight and skills sharpened, I began to selectively cast only to fish that weighed 10 or more pounds. I badly wanted a shot at real beast before the summer ended.
On August 27th, I found my fish. I have many “go to” spots that I like to check up on daily. While driving along the Mississippi through downtown MPLS, I decided to check up on a favorite spot that I had been neglecting. I pulled over and fed the parking meter an hour’s worth of quarters.
As soon as I was within sight of the river, I could see an enormous mud cloud. Sticking straight out of the water was a tail that looked like it belonged to a small whale. Visibly shaking, I quickly stripped line and began false casting. The cast was rather poor. My fly landed at least 15 inches to the left of his head. To my surprise, he pulled his head out of the mud and made a sharp lunge at my fly. Somehow, I kept it together and gently lifted my rod.
Within seconds, I ran out of fly line. Half a minute later, I was dangerously deep into my 200 yards of backing. I kept reminding myself not get upset when the fish finally broke off. I was fishing 8-pound tippet with a size 16 San Juan worm. There was just no way that everything could possibly go right. An hour into the fight, I realized that I was gonna get a parking ticket. Is a trophy fish worth $75?
Catching carp in the middle of the city always attracts large crowds, which can be very annoying. I soon had a dozen people asking why I didn’t just “lift him out of the water?” Finally a jogger (a fly guy in the know) stopped and asked if he could assist. I pulled a handful of quarters out of my pocket and asked him to go feed my meter—a small but significant act of human kindness!
I’m not sure how much longer the fight lasted. I beached my fish about a quarter of a mile upstream from where I had hooked him. A group of young children gathered around to marvel at such a large fish. I handed my camera to oldest-looking child in the group (probably about 10), and she skillfully snapped a few shots for me.
After resting on the bank for 10 minutes, I saw another fish cruise by, and I lazily rolled out another cast. He took without hesitation. I beached him and laughed out loud. Time to call it a day.