Breaking the Surface

by Christian Settles

IMG_2964 Christian with Pudd Common.jpg

The bank side scenery that comes with fishing is often part of the appeal for anglers.Though these breathtaking scenes are commonplace in carp angling, my introduction to the sport was less than visually appealing.

Located among a typical Sacramento suburb lies a featureless, man-made, sea-wall encompassed body of water most often used by residents of the gated community to walk their dogs and take their daily jogs. Lined with houses on one side and a single sidewalk pathway winding around the other, this metropolitan water hole is nothing more than, well… dull. It’s appearance is so uninviting that I was reluctant to even fish it at first. Its greyish stained water and lack of other fisherman had me questioning from afar if there were fish in it at all .

Still, an urge for discovery resulted in my ultralight rod and a small amount of tackle squeezed into the back seat of the car as I headed up to visit family in Northern California. I found myself examining the shoreline soon upon arrival. My fishing experience up to this point consisted of scampering around golf-course ponds in search of bass and a few guided trips a year for special occasions. I’d never seen a carp and knew basically nothing about them.

As I began to roam the water's edge for the first time, something stood out. This lake had fish - lots of them. The water was alive with commotion: fish splashing, chasing, and crashing everywhere. I eagerly casted out a lure and retrieved. Not a touch. Again and again, becoming more confused with each cast, my lure returned without as much as a nibble.

I later learned that I happened to arrive at the precise time of the carp spawn. Over the next two days, I witnessed spectacular displays of fish activity consisting of full body leaps, chases along the sea wall, and pods of fish on the surface. I took it all in, amazed by this new I still just couldn’t seem to catch. I returned on the third day to find the water still. I had spent hours the night before researching and discovering the “carp” and came back with a determination to catch the fish which so blatantly revealed itself, yet was so quick to ignore my bait.

Again, though, I fell completely perplexed. The fish were nowhere to be found. Instead of the constant action I'd seen both days prior, the lake was essentially still. I left a few hours later, defeated again. Carp 3, me 0.

I was amazed by the stark contrast in behavior I witnessed in just 24 hours. It made my desire to catch one of these fish grow every time I thought about it. Over the next two days, I put down the rod and focused on learning everything I could about carp, as well as trying to catch them. I walked to the water every dawn and dusk to observe. I learned the fish were not shy to feed on the surface. If still and quiet enough, a small orange mouth would appear from the depths and slurp a morsel of food from the surface every few minutes. They were quick to scare, and quick to learn. They always seemed to know where I was, and very rarely did I see them before they saw me.

I returned on the sixth day with a bucket full of dog food, a loaf of bread, and a new plan. I scattered a few handfuls around a small cove I had selected to fish as the sun was beginning to peak from behind the houses across the water. Within minutes, fish were rising cautiously to investigate the offerings floating on the surface. Subtle movements or loud sounds would surely scare them off, so I sat like a statue.

A piece of bread crust threaded on a small hook tied directly to my 6lb test main line floated amongst the dog food. The instincts of the fish were remarkable. They were always sure to investigate a morsel of food before eating, and it was difficult to watch them swirl around my offerings while having to remain completely still.

Finally, a small carp rose and took the piece next to my hook, and then again taking the piece on the other side. It disappeared for a few tortuously long seconds, before finally rising to slurp in my bait.


I set the hook, and the fish was tearing off, perhaps as surprised as I was. A few adrenaline filled minutes later, I was holding my first carp, unaware of the obsession that would follow.

The sheer power of such a small specimen, the strategy, the mentality, and the direct connection to the fish through surface fishing is what set this species apart from any other I had ever caught. Over the next few years, I connected with a number of character fish from ghost carp, to koi descendants, and even what appear to be bird attack survivors (as pictured below). Nowhere else have I experienced such a thrilling way of capturing carp, and the beauty of this small and unbothered fish.

Each time I return to the water, I fall in love with stalking the margins and outsmarting the elusive carp all over again, and my appreciation grows with every capture and with everything new anecdote I learn about them. Though I’ve expanded my horizons and have fished much larger and more visually pleasing waters, my journey began where I least expected it. That’s the beauty of these fish, I think. They can be found in all settings and in all places. And even if the backdrop isn't picture-perfect, what lies beneath the water, or right at its surface, might just be.

IMG_0772 Rods on Pod.jpg

That’s the beauty of these fish, I think. They can be found in all settings and in all places. And even if the backdrop isn't picture-perfect, what lies beneath the water, or right at its surface, might just be.