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Just every now and then you experience something in angling that makes you stop and think.That happened to me on recent trip to Michigan when I hooked up with David McCool. After wading the flats and sight fishing for carp for a couple of hours I was left thinking how much I miss stalking these terrific fish. Be it on traditional tactics or the fly rod I won’t be casting until I see the color of their eyes next time I’m out. Carp really may offer the traditional rough fisher and the classic fly fisherman a common quarry. I’ll let David McCool explain his early season tactics on the flats of Lake Michigan.
In late April, the rocky flats of Lake Michigan begin to come alive with the return of wild common carp. The fish are returning from a long winter slumber in the depths of Lake Michigan. The fish return to the shallows in search of warmer water and the promise of aquatic life like mayfly nymphs and other insects that populate the abundant sediment beds found in the great lakes.
When the fish first arrive on the flats in late April they spend brief periods in the shallows sunning themselves and waiting for warmer water to jump start their metabolic process. When the month of May approaches and water temps warm in excess of 50 degrees, carp begin feeding voraciously. Most of the feeding occurs after 2pm in the afternoon on days with plenty of sunshine that warms the dark bottoms of sediment beds. Carp work these areas by turning over the bottom in search of mayfly nymphs, stone flies, dead minnows and any other protein opportunity that might present itself.
Identify feeding areas carp are frequenting is very easy as the water in Lake Michigan is gin clear. Many of my clients say it reminds them of stalking bonefish in Belize or the Bahamas. Simply look for trenches with dark bottoms and you'll likely find carp. The bottoms of sediment beds are in stark contrast to surrounding water. You'll know if carp are actively feeding in bottom areas by the color of the bottom. The darker the bottom, means carp have been turning it over and actively searching for food.
Approaching feeding fish - Its very important to be stealthy when approaching feeding carp. Carp have three distinct hearing systems; an inner ear which detects high frequency sounds, second a lateral line that detects low frequency vibrations and third is what as known as the weberian apparatus. The weberian apparatus is a system of small bones and ligaments that connect the carps large, suspended swim bladder with it's inner ear and brain. The apparatus detects lower and wider frequency vibrations than the lateral line sensor cannot detect like boat hulls, push poles and wading anglers. It's very important you wade carefully and avoid bottom areas that may cause excessive noise when approaching feeding schools of fish.
Early Spring Fly Selection - Early season fly selection in the great lakes is relatively simple. Carp are looking for crawler mayfly nymphs which reside in large sediment beds found on many of the flats in the great lakes eco-system. My carp fly box contains stone flies, hex nymphs, caddis fly nymphs, dead minnow patterns and leaches. From the end of April until the first week of June these fly patterns are a good bet for feeding fish along the 45th parallel. Once you've cast into a pod of fish, make sure to let the fly settle to the bottom without a fast retrieve. Simply let the fly settle and give it a short twitch. A short twitch imitates a swimming nymph and is good for getting a carp's attention.
Making the cast - When approaching a pod of feeding fish in early spring it is very important to make a solid cast with the right fly line. I only use floating lines as full sinking lines and sink tips typically scare fish as they sink and touch fish which causes them to emit a chemical warning signal which can stop a school from actively feeding. Whenever you find a school of feeding or mudding carp, cast all the way across the entire school and slowly retrieve the fly through the many feeding fish. This technique will produce consistent results as feeding carp tend to be a bit competitive and will move quickly to take your fly. Always remember to make a slow retrieve as carp do not see well. The slower the retrieve through the fish, the better the chances that you'll get one to eat your fly.
I hope you’ve enjoyed a brief description of this little piece of Cypry heaven. Our spring has been hectic with many happy clients and new converts to Carp, the ultimate sportfish!