The Cottonwood Seeds of Summer
by Amy McMahon
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. How hard could it be? Many casts later, and many refusals later, I determined that I needed to tie up some flies that mimicked cottonwood seeds, as that was all the carp were focused on. I was on a mission now, I would not be defeated by these "less-than-trout" fish.
It was a few days before I could make it back out to the reservoir, but my mind kept replaying what I had observed a few days earlier. Round two at the reservoir came with a beefier rod/reel setup and a handful of flies I'd tied. This time around, I was able to cast my fly into the floating seeds, and convince the carp to take; however, there were factors I hadn't taken into account. Previously, I had noticed the carp would shy away from my line and leader on the water, so that day I had put on 4X tippet (which is only about a 7lb test). When I finally got a take and set my hook, the excitement lasted less than a minute when the good sized carp immediately broke off and I was left with a surge of adrenaline, a missing fly, and immediate regret.
Within just a few days, I became obsessed. I read everything I could about these fish, started talking about them with all the fly anglers I knew, and plotted strategies to catch these fish I had always ignored. I began to get nervous the cottonwood trees would quit blooming before I had caught my carp on a dry fly. There was a pinnacle moment where I realized my loyalties to trout were gone.
I had planned to do a float trip up in Wyoming to pursue trout, but the day I was to leave I got up early and went out to the reservoir to hunt my carp, figuring I could get a few casts in before I left town.
Everything aligned that day, I had the right gear, one of the flies I had tied especially for the occasion, and cooperative fish. Up to this point in the weeks before I had felt the take, tug, and fight of the carp, but had yet to land one. That morning everything came together.
I almost couldn't believe it was finally happening! After about ten minutes at the reservoir, I had a take and was fighting a nice sized carp! Each time I thought I had it to the net, it would take off running out to deep water again, my reel screaming. When we were both tired out and one of my most memorable fish battles was over, I had a gorgeous carp in my net! I went on to catch trout all weekend, but they just didn't seem to compare to my first carp.
My love of fly fishing for carp has only grown since those first days. All summer I found myself out on the water before and after work, and chatting with fishing friends to convert them to the way of the carp.
I've since landed many carp with my fly rod, with dry flies, nymphs, and streamers; but I eagerly await the cottonwood bloom this upcoming summer so that I can re-live my first carp, the one that started it all!