Fly Fishing Gets Ugly

Casting a fly for carp is like dragging a piece of fried chicken through the local seniors’ center. If it looks good and moves slowly enough, something will eventually try to gum it to death. Oddly enough, flyfishing for the toothless common carp is hot, a long-simmering trend that’s grown dramatically over the past three years. Carp are wary and smart and frequently hit 20 to 30 pounds. They sometimes feed in clear, shallow water, where they can be seduced with flies similar to those used for trout. There are now carp-on-the-fly fans from Washington state east to New York and Massachusetts, as well as in Europe. Books and videos on the subject are starting to appear. The staid International Game Fish Association now keeps fly-rod carp records. This is the next big deal. Flyfishermen, who can romanticize just about anything, are even calling them “golden ghosts” or “golden bones,” comparing the shallow-water habits of freshwater carp with those of saltwater bonefish. This is a real stretch. Since their introductionto North America in the mid-19th century, carp have been widely seen as nothing but trash fish here. Carp are not pretty like brook trout. They don’t leap like smallmouth bass. They don’t make blazing runs like steelhead (or bonefish). They are, instead, coarsely scaled, rubber-mouthed bottom feeders with large round eyes that seem to express perpetual surprise. On the plus side, carp have become almost ubiquitous in waters across the United States. The best flyfishing involves stalking them in shallow water, which is fun, and a large, hooked carp will run well into your backing, albeit more like a Mack truck than a Ferrari. Given that perspective, you need to take your fly rod out for these fish. I did that last spring with a pair of flyfishing experts in Michigan, where I got over—well, almost over—a lifetime of disdaining carp.