SteveKunnath writes "Fly Fishing For Carp On Lake St Clair
By Captain Steve Kunnath
Lake St Clair is mostly famous for fly fishing for smallmouth bass, pike, and musky. However, fly fishing for carp on the sand flats is drawing lots of attention as well. Lake St Clair, which is located near Detroit Michigan, between Lake Huron and Lake Erie, is an excellent place to experience this up and coming fishery. In the last few years fly fishing for carp has become the fastest growing craze amongst fly fisherman in America. Many anglers now look at this stereotyped "garbage" fish in a new, and positive, sporting way. In Europe the carp has been prized as a game fish for hundreds of years.
I was influenced by the typical negative image that most North Americans originally had with carp. A few years ago, a friend asked me to join him for a day of fly fishing for carp on the St Clair flats. The first part of the day I made many frustrated casts to carp only to have them ignore my fly. Soon I started to realize that these fish might not be as dumb as I thought. My friend showed me a few simple tricks and techniques to try. After following his advice, it wasn?t long before I had hooked into a nice sized carp that was peeling line from my reel. As I watched my 150yds of backing quickly diminish, I felt my heart rate accelerate the way it does when I hook into a big steelhead. Soon, I completely forgot about the stereotype of the ugly, slimy, dirty garbage fish and the only thought passing through my mind was ? wow what a fight?. After a long skirmish, the carp was landed, and I was looking at this new game fish in an entirely different way. The carp had gained my respect with its power and stamina. In the bright sunlight, its gold reflection reminded me of the silver sides on a chrome steelhead. I landed a few more carp that day and found myself involved in yet another obsession in fly fishing. Now carp were one of the most sought after fish on my former Lake St Clair fly fishing guide service.
Carp can be found throughout the Lake St Clair water system. However, I fish for them primarily in the flats of the St Clair River delta. The delta of the St. Clair River, where it empties into Lake St. Clair, is the largest freshwater delta in the world. This area has many shallow bays and seemingly endless sand bottom flats that remind many people of the Florida Keys. Much of this area is undeveloped and you can feel secluded and lost in its vast marshy wilderness. I use a Scout 177 Florida style flats boat with a poling platform to fully access these remote, shallow areas. Areas where other boats have difficulty, due to not having a shallow draft like a flats boat. With an 18? graphite push pole, I silently maneuver the boat through the flats with an angler sight casting to carp from the front of the boat. On the flats of Lake St Clair, we fly fish for carp using the same techniques and tactics used by bonefish guides in the flats of the tropics by casting from the boat or by walking and wading, casting to feeding, tailing fish.
One of the things I like the most about carp fishing is that it is very much like hunting. Fly fishing for carp is entirely done by stalking up on the very wary fish and sight casting to them. You spot your prey in the shallows, choose your plan of attack, and silently sneak up on the fish. Then, when the carp is only a few rod lengths away, place a cast right in front of its head, and let the fly sink to the bottom. Then watch the gleam of sunlight on your fly disappear into the carps mouth, and HOLD ON TIGHT! The best part about this type of hunting is, that after a quick picture you can release your quarry back into the water, to be caught many more times in its life.
The shallow water flats are the first place to warm up in spring and carp move into the shallows by the thousands to feed and spawn. They start actively feeding once the water temperatures are past 50 degrees, which is usually around the end of April. Their feeding activity increases as the water temperature rises. On the average, the first week of May is a good time to start fly fishing for carp, with the last 2 weeks of May and first 2 weeks of June being the prime fishing times. Although, it is very productive to fly fish for carp all through the summer and into September.
When stalking carp, you want to look for fish that are tailing and kicking up mud in the shallows while feeding. That is when you start your stalk to get within casting range. When you are within 70 feet or so of the fish, if you think you are walking to slow - go slower! At this point, the slightest ripple in the water can, and will spook them. Just because a carp has not spooked and swam off does not mean that it has not detected your presence. Many times a carp may reject your fly just like a wary trout.
I like to put myself in the path of the direction the carp are feeding in and patiently wait. When they are within 4-5 rods lengths, I place a very delicate cast before them. Then I let it sink and give it a few small strips and wait for a take. At times the carp feed very slowly and they may not give you any indication that they have taken your fly. Just keep a close eye on your leader and watch for any indication of movement. If your line straightens out, hold on tight and have fun!
I prefer using a 6 weight fly rod for carp instead of an 8 weight since it will make a more delicate presentation with less chance of spooking the fish. When fishing on the flats, there is more than ample room to let a fish run, with no snags or weeds to break off in. I move up to an 8 weight when pursuing carp over 15 lbs or when in areas that I need to keep the fish in close and out of the logs or weeds.
One of my favorite rods for fly fishing for carp is the 9? 6 weight Stream Dance Metolius by GLoomis. The Metolius loads well for close casts, yet it performs great for long fast casts and makes an excellent smallmouth bass rod as well. Another great rod that I like to use is a 6 or 8 weight 9ft Sage VPS.
I highly recommend that you use a reel with a very good disc drag system. It should be loaded with at least 100 yds of backing. I prefer to use large arbor reels, because they retain the large diameter for cranking in line after you are well into your backing. Two reel companies that are at the top of my list are Bauer and Waterworks Lamson. Both of these companies offer large arbor reels with excellent drag systems and great quality.
Just about any nymph can be productive for fly fishing for carp when presented properly to actively feeding fish. However, there are 2 carp flies that I have found to work the best; that I use almost exclusively when fly fishing for carp on Lake St Clair. My first choice is the Jamie?s Crazy Carper, developed by local carp fanatic and fly tier Jamie Kaminski. It is a modified bone fish pattern that carp can?t resist. It appears to be a combination of minnow and nymph, and possibly mimics a crayfish or wounded minnow. The Crazy Carper can be fished as a nymph or as streamer. It is also excellent for smallmouth bass in the shallows. I have caught everything from blue gill to pike on this fly, tied in hook sizes 6-8.
My second choice is the Clouser Swimming Nymph, in hook sizes 4-8. It resembles the Hex nymph(fish fly), for which Lake St Clair is famous. There are huge hatches in late June that seem to cover the lake. The Clouser Swimming Nymph is a very popular pattern with carp fly fishers throughout the United States.
One great characteristic of the carp is that they are found in almost any body of water in the lower 48 states. Just about everyone that fly fishes has an area close to home where they can enjoy fly fishing for carp. When the warmer dog days of summer hit, and many cold water game fish like trout or smallmouth bass become less active, warm water species such as carp, can offer a lot of action. When fly fishing on Lake St Clair, the best hours to small mouth fish are usually from very early in the morning till around 10am. And 10am till 4pm is the best time of day to try fly fishing for carp. So you can fish for bass in the morning, carp in the middle of the day, and be able to enjoy a full day of fly fishing.
Fly fishing for carp on Lake St Clair is growing in popularity each year. In the Nov/Dec 2004 edition of American Angler, Lake St Clair was listed as one of the top 100 amazing fly fishing destinations in the world. It is truly a very unique, diverse and quality fishery. I would highly recommend getting out to experience fly fishing for carp on Lake St Clair or any lake near you that has carp.
Captain Steve Kunnath