I am often asked why I like fishing. I suppose we all have our reasons. Some people are in it for the glory of landing a new personal best, for others it may be the comradery of fishing with friends, more the social aspect. And in some cases of course – for food! I fish for multiple species for multiple reasons, but if I had to nail it down, for me it is really about the overall outdoor experience no matter what you are fishing for….
Winter is a time of endings. The warmth retreats from the waters. The colors drain from the flora and only the bones of nature remain. To the casual observer the land is asleep waiting for the return of spring, but there is a hidden kingdom were life continues. It’s hidden beneath the dark surface of the water, under the chop and churn of the winds, and its monarchs drift through its depths feasting. Life here is full of color and grace, but to experience it you must place yourself among the grey wastes of winter.
So, its winter in full swing, after the holidays hustle and bustle its back to the normal. It’s cold in the north, under a foot of snow and ice. The stir crazy, cabin fever as that say, starts to set in. Unable to fish and all the spots to at least get out and check, maybe at least see some fish are frozen solid. (sometime seeing open water and maybe a fish helps the cabin fever) So what is a carp fly fisher to do. First thing first, find all your rods, reels and gear and get them out in a spot, office or such….
Although I have been fishing all my life, I am relatively new to pursuing carp as my target species.
For the last 15 years, I have been fortunate enough to have a lake house in Michigan, which allows me to wash away the stress of life near the city. I have fished for largemouth bass on this clear lake for many years. In addition, to being a good bass lake, this lake houses another resident well known to the bass fishing world who is like a big brother to me. This particular resident is known as the Z Train or Mark Zona and I can guarantee you that there is not a human on earth that knows this special lake and the beasts that dwell in it better than Z.
A year in review as an American carp angler
Illinois winters are generally very long and cold, during those frigid winter months I like to start making my plans for the upcoming season as cabin fever sets in very quickly! This includes picking out 2 or 3 big trips paired with scouting new potential venues for the upcoming season along with checking in on the venues I know of. The amazing thing about carp fishing in the US is the abundant amount of mostly untouched venues we have the option to wet a line! Anyway, back to my review!
Hell and Back
by Milan Nikolin
It was a chilly, windy autumn night and I was fishing my favorite swim in the North Country with my dad and Ivelin. The river was cooling quickly, and the fish were feeding heavily, sensing all too well that winter was just around the corner. My cold weather clothing that I was wearing offered little protection as every gust of wind pierced right through to my skin. The rods were going off left and right with plenty of chunky fish to show for…One of these was a stunning low thirty common that my dad managed to land. We decided to sack it so that he could take pictures in the morning when the light would be better. We placed the fish into a shallow bay in about 2 feet of water as it was nearly impossible to sack fish in front of us due to the current and waves. The runs continued into the night and we finally managed to catch some sleep in the wee morning hours.
At the crack of dawn we were awoken by splashing sounds. Not fish rolling or crashing but rather hard splashing coming from shallow water. We ran out to investigate and saw the beautiful common that we sacked earlier fighting for its life. It was being dragged close to the shore and being eaten alive right through the sack by a snarling raccoon. Reacting quickly we chased off the little devil, then turned our attention to the fish. We managed to restore life into it by getting it back in to the water quickly and the once stunning common was now a gnarled mess missing chunks of its body, dorsal fin, and tail.
We doused the injured warrior with antiseptic using up a half of a bottle of a natural propolis base spray with hopes of giving it every chance to survive.
My dad reluctantly took a few pictures so that we could remember this wounded beauty before releasing it back in to the depths. It was a bitter end to an otherwise unforgettable fishing trip.
This late session was followed by a brutal winter. As cabin fever set in I could not stop thinking about fishing and often wondered “would the raccoon fish survive? Did we use enough antiseptic? Could we have done more?” The cold winter passed and with spring in full swing my thoughts and questions about the fish gradually faded away. I was convinced that we did all we could and hoped the fish had made it through the harsh winter. As the seasons passed we kept fishing and soon enough October rolled around and we were back on the same water and the same swim, my favorite swim. We got there and did what we do best…we “fished hard”. The fishing was just as good as the previous year with no delay in the action. We were hauling and couldn’t have been happier with how the trip had progressed.
On the very last night the stars aligned and something extraordinary happened. The stunning common, the fish that was being eaten alive a year earlier and whose chances of surviving the brutal winter were slim, slipped into my net. At first we thought it was just another thirty from this amazing water but after closer inspection, and to our amazement, it was the raccoon fish in all of its glory. Miraculously I had recaptured it exactly one year and one day from its original capture…Its missing chunks of flesh were now mostly covered with scales and its half-eaten fins were regenerating and looking much better. We took very good care of it snapping just a few pictures before sending her back on her way.
Carp can localize in certain areas in rivers at certain times of the year, meaning it is not a total coincidence we recaptured the same fish almost the same day a year later. However, with countless fish along hundreds of miles of this magnificent river I’d like to think this recapture was nothing short of a late season miracle.
As this unbelievable session wound down the resilience of this magnificent fish made me dig through some online documentation. I tried to understand more about how carp regenerate. As far as the scales go, carp will fully regrow them if the scale pocket is undamaged and there is no ulceritis or infection preventing the cells’ regrowth of the scale. Carp fins will regenerate as long as the fin rays are not damaged too closely to the muscle tissue. Tail fins regenerate more readily than other fins, so this fish was somewhat lucky in that respect.
As yet another season fades in to memory and the dreaded cabin fever sets in again I sit here writing this blog pondering “will she survive another brutal north country winter, will she be back again next year… will I be so lucky to catch her at an even higher weight and in better shape?”
Fish Hard and Stay Lucky!
Milan “The Kid” Nikolin
As a primarily trout-focuses fly angler, I had always heard about people catching carp on the fly, but never really bothered to pursue it myself until recently. It was early summer last year, and I was out walking my dog around a familiar reservoir, observing the movement of water and wildlife. I stopped beneath some trees and noticed several common carp sipping cottonwood seeds off the water surface, completely unconcerned with my presence and absolutely gorging themselves; I was mesmerized. I went back to my car and collected the fly gear I had with me, rigged up a light colored hopper pattern, and went back down to shoreline thinking this was my opportunity to see what all the fuss was about with carp.
I don't want to name the water due to preservation reasons but for a few CPR anglers in the area who know, it has both a reputation as being a very difficult water and for holding some absolutely gorgeous fish.
At about 800 acres long, I have to admit that I didn't know where to begin. My first session there had me driving around for about an hour before finally making up my mind on where to setup. With having had no time to pre-bait, I was prepared for a blank but still hopeful, so I got the rods out. At the very least, I'd learn more information about the water from the session for the future…
There is a particular attraction about the transition zone between the waters edge and the banks that hem it in. These zones are sometimes profitable, often interesting and frequently dangerous. In the natural word boundaries between habitats, areas where one ecosystem shades into another (‘ecotones’ as they are called) are often places that have a bit of the character of both. They may have more sun for these living out in the open, a little less for those living in the shade. They may be shallower for those coming from the deep, or deeper for those coming from the shore. They also collect food.
As the winter months and the cold weather approaches, a lot of anglers take the time to hang up their gear, do a little maintenance, tie rigs, make bait or catch up on their carp porn. Then there are other anglers, the brave souls that just can't bring themselves to submit to the Winter conditions, even when it means sitting in sub zero temps with the howling winter winds freezing the extremities just for the chance of one more bite...
The whole Apache Lake/Apache Trail area is nothing short of breath taking with abundant wildlife and excellent fishing opportunities around every corner. None of the fish so far have been massive but they were all extremely, hard fighting, fit as a butcher's dog, river fish!!
Although we've caught fairly steadily throughout most of the session days fished, we could almost 100% guarantee that the Carp would come by every morning in huge shoals, just as the sun was rising! It'd be nothing to have runs on both rods 3 or 4 times in a row during what I called the mad hour. As you can see in the video, the Channel Cats also got in on the action too....
A small pond and a new dawn…. a summer morning was enough inspiration to get out the float rod and try for some pretty mirror carp that had eluded me all those years ago.
Sitting beside the same body of water 40 years on I would not make the same mistake again of using tackle that was not up to the job….back then I was fishing specifically for Rudd, a beautiful fish with golden scales and blood red fins…and at the specimen level of 2 lbs were extremely hard to find. The younger fish were not that elusive but the older ones whose pictures I would see published in the ‘Mr Crabtree’ books or ‘Angling Times’ were never caught by youngsters …you see they were smart fish. Too smart for the likes of me with no experience…
A crack of thunder that sounded like it came from mordor followed that made the ground shake!!! It sent a shiver of doom down my spine and for the first time in the last few minutes brought me to my senses!
I remember muttering to myself something like, “What in the heck am I doing here right now!? This is not smart Wayne!!”