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Fly Fishing for South Dakota Bonefish – Why Carp Rock!

Ryan Gabert Black Hills Fishing carp carp fly fishing fishing Fly Fishing Uncategorized

Carp have grown an unfortunate reputation in the western hemisphere of the world as dirty, bottom feeding, easy to catch trash fish, that are essentially good for fertilizer, and that’s about it. However, in many other locales across the globe, Carp are the apex of game fish. People of the European continent, essentially as a whole, are absolutely nuts about Carp fishing. They take fishing for the “Golden Ghost” more seriously than most of the American public takes Trout, and I think that there’s a legitimate reason for that. Carp really are an A-class gamefish, for a multitude of reasons – They grow quickly to extremely large sizes under the right conditions, they fight like you’re hooked to a Peterbilt, you can sight fish them for a long season, and they will eat dries, regardless of what you have been told in the past. This is starting to sound like the stereotypical trout nirvana, just with a different type of fish, right?

Carp have suffered a grisly reputation in North America for several reasons. In Europe, where Carp were raised as a food fish for hundreds of years, they were kept in clean, cool water, which resulted in them being high quality table fare. Americans saw this, and figured they would bring them over by the ship-full, and dump them into any old stock dam in the deep south; complete with hot, murky, stinky, stagnant water. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to see where the problem lies, but Americans automatically blamed the fish and labeled them trash, and decided to attempt to  take every one of these fish out of these lakes, ponds, and rivers, by whatever means necessary. Fast forward a hundred years, and this mentality is still alive and well. Go for a stroll around any lake that has Carp in any true numbers, and I almost guarantee you that you will see not only one, but multiple carcasses of rotting carp, left by closed-minded fishermen – for no reason other than, “This is the way it’s been done here, those are trash fish”. I think that this is truly unfortunate, because these really are an amazing fish to pursue with a fly rod.

Don’t let the stereotype of these fish fool you – Carp will humble even the most seasoned fly fishermen on occasion. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve blown up a school of 15-pound fish by misplacing a cast by a few feet. Hell, even a few inches will do it some days. However, when the stars align and you have a day where everything comes together, I personally haven’t experienced anything in flyfishing that comes close to it. You’re sight fishing for a fish that’s a conservative 5 pound average, even in marginal waters. Some places I’ve fished, that average seemed to be closer to 15 pounds. If you don’t seriously enjoy sight-fishing 15 pound fish, you need to reevaluate your fishing priorities. There’s just something about sight fishing to a big, tailing Carp in less than a foot of water, and putting a small bonefish-style fly in front of it, and seeing them come over to size it up. At this point, it’s more or less a guessing game of whether the fish even ate it or not. If you’re lucky, they’re close enough that you can see them eat, or at least open their mouth. Sometimes you can just slowly strip until you can feel the slightest resistance, but this doesn’t always work. Sometimes it’s the bottom. Or a weed. Or a bluegill. And then the fish blows up and spooks every other fish for fifty yards, leaving you wondering what you did to deserve such a cruel fate. But sometimes it works out, and when you strip set your 8 weight with everything you’ve got and a 10 pound Carp blows up in front of you, screaming the other direction, it definitely makes the hard days more bearable.

For many people, the main issue is that you have to set your ego aside, string up your 8 weight, open your mind a little, and go try it. I have yet to introduce anybody to this style of fishing that hasn’t become a Carp junkie like myself. Sure, some of the “purists” might chuckle at you, but you don’t fish for them. You fish for you, and you can chuckle to yourself knowing how much fun that crowd is missing out on. That’s another thing about Carping – forget about crowds. Ever pulled up to the Bighorn at Afterbay in, say, May? Yeah, forget about dealing with crowds. I’ve never run into another angler pursuing Carp that I didn’t know or that I wasn’t with. Even if you do, you’ll more than likely bounce patterns, ideas, and spots off of each other, just because this is such a small community of anglers that everyone is figuring it out for themselves. The no crowds aspect also means that you will literally have hundreds of miles of rivers and ponds all to yourself. This is beginning to sound alright, isn’t it?

Many of my most memorable days flyfishing have been for the “South Dakota Bonefish”, and I think that’s for good reason. Don’t get me wrong; I love fishing wild trout in streams all over, and catching a steelhead was one of my most memorable angling accomplishments. I enjoy fishing smallmouth and white bass on the Missouri in central South Dakota. But there’s just something about Carp fishing that I can’t walk away from. Maybe it’s the fact that the fish are generally large. Or that it’s dominantly a visual game. Or that they battle like a cagefighter. Seeing a 15 pound fish slurping beetles or Hexagenia mayflies is a pretty astonishing sight also. I personally think it’s a combination of all these attributes that keep me coming back for more, and there’s no end in sight for me. Try fishing Carp sometime – you wont be disappointed, and you’ll more than likely be a hopeless Carp junkie like me.

Ryan Gabert



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