John Gierach wrote somewhere that "in fishing there's a fine line between the impossible and the merely unlikely". I've never been sure on which side of that line dry fly fishing for carp fell. It seems like a fairly outrageous proposition. Like catching a 20 inch brook trout on a remote Appalachian stream. A thing that theoretically could be done, but isn’t likely.
Of course the rumors are out there - carp rising to mayfly duns or maybe terrestrials in the right conditions – always second or thirdhand stories of the “My friend’s father knew this guy that …” variety. Here in Georgia many of these rumors involve willow flies. These are mayflies, probably of the Hexagenia order given their size and proclivity for silty backwaters. They emerge for two or three weeks every June, big serious bugs so prolific that during the heaviest part of the hatch thick mats of the spinners can be found under any dock light on the lake. Carp and even catfish reportedly come in to join the feast, rising repeatedly to slurp up the easy marks.
With that as a background, here was the scenario Sunday:
-Sporadic willow fly emergence, with a few spinners dimpling the surface here and there.
-Carp cruising the shallows with purpose, stopping periodically to tip down and hoover a morsel up from the muck. But otherwise definitely on the move. So much so that if I cast and failed to get a take, I often had to chase the fish down in my boat to get a shot at another cast.
-A lone carp seen easing along the edges of a downed pine tree. At one point it stopped to investigate a bit of detritus bobbing in the surface film. It was a small piece of stick, roughly the same size (a #10 or #8 long shank if you’re wondering) and color as the bodies of the spinners.
Admittedly not a lot to go on. Circumstantial evidence at best. But compelling enough for me to tie on a large black dry fly. A large black dry fly, by the way, that I bought a few years ago in Mio, Michigan, when I was on a trip to fish the Au Sable. A river famous for its Hexagenia hatch. That occurs in June. I could feel a good story coming together as I slipped the tippet through the eye of the hook.
I cast this fly over several carp, maybe a dozen total, with no takers. No interest whatsoever. They all ignored the fly and, becoming uneasy after repeated casts, eventually moved to deeper water. But it only takes one. And there was this one.
The fly landed in front of him and to the right at the two o’clock position. He immediately turned to it. And then he began to rise.
It was the excruciating rise of a confident fish in no particular hurry. I’ve seen it a thousand times with trout. A slow, deliberate rise through the water column, the features of the fish sharpening as it nears the surface, the slight tipping up of the head, the casual opening of the mouth to slurp the fly in. This carp rose like that, like a trout. Exactly like a trout. And when the thick rim of lips broke the surface at the fly I realized I could hear my heart beating in my ears.
And then he refused it. Or missed it. I don’t know. Whatever the case, he closed his mouth and turned away, the fly bobbing unmolested in the swirl from his turn. Not spooked by any stretch. He moved a couple of feet and continued to feed. I recovered enough to make a few half-hearted casts to him, but I was still too stunned to make a serious effort. It was over. He soon disappeared into the deep water of the main channel.
So even though I'm still not 100% sure where this carp-on-a-dry thing falls on Gierach's line, I see now it's a possibility that cannot be ignored.
It felt more than a little odd to be clearing out space in my carp fly box to squeeze in several dry flies, but it can't be helped.
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