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Saturday, June 19, 2010

Klint's Questions and a Few Answers

These next three posts are in response to three readers who sent me email with Carp fishing questions and fly tying questions.

I am cutting and pasting your questions gentlemen.

"Caller one" is Klint, from here in Washington State. Go ahead caller:

"Mr P, thanks for the reply and the tips. I gathered some of this information from your blog, such as the best time to fish is during the warmer months and that spawning fish are difficult or nearly impossible to catch. The reason I have been going out anyway is because I just can't stop fishing. A day on the water with no catch is better than a day doing yard work. I almost took the day off work today to go back and poke around but the forecast of heavy cloud cover changed my mind. I also read that during the spawn fish are easier to spot so it is a good idea to get out and find where the fish are located (assuming they will be near the same location year round). Is the name of the game to remain mobile and hit different areas until you find fish? I guess what I am asking is if the fish are not on a portion of the flat do you move on to the next one? Do carp disperse over an entire flat or do they school and you just need to find the school which may be in one specific area of a flat? If you are not finding fish up shallow at a couple flats does it mean that it is likely that all fish are in deep water and you are going to be in for a tough day? If you are not seeing fish do you change up locations or just keep slowing down your walk? Hope I am not firing too many questions at you."

Some answers: In the beginning of our email, Klint, you said that you are new to Carp fishing and new to the Columbia River. You said that you had fished several areas one day and had not seen a tailing fish. It was May when you wrote me.

I am familiar with some of the spots you referenced but not all of them. Those spots with which I am familiar I have caught fish. As a starting point there are Carp all over the Columbia. For the Carp fly rod angler the issue is finding shallow water that you can get to. There is actually quite a lot of that too. Then of course you want shallow water where there are tailing fish.

You mentioned locating spots where you see fish spawning. They move into the shallows to spawn so it is helpful to see spots where they are spawning because you know they were there and may return when they are hungry. Still that is not necessarily the only or best measure of where you can catch a Carp. If you are scouting and not seeing fish a very tell tale sign of whether or not there have been feeding fish in the area is the pock marks in the bottom of the river. There are times you can see a single pock that is two feet in diamter and it was created by a single carp chowing down. There are times when you will see scores of 6 inch pocks and then you know Carp feed here. That said, they will also feed over rocky bottoms and there is no way to know if they have been around recently, or ever for that matter, except to catch them in the act of having lunch.

The water level of the Columbia can vary dramatically in a matter of a few hours particularly if you are around one of the many dams on the river. I would add here that there are a couple places that are near to where you were fishing where you need to be careful of the water levels because they can trap you, and one that is the most dangerous spot I have been to on the river. If the rising water traps you at that spot you will be lucky if you are able to swim to safety. If you see an island with a sign on it that warns you of sudden water level changes, stay OFF that island. I have pictures of it looking extremely harmless and inviting. Seven years ago I walked out to it when it looked so benign. I walked off before the water level started to change. This wasn't a matter of my good judgement; I was just tired. I had no idea how much the water level could change and how quickly it would happen. I have pictures of it with only the tops of the brush and trees sticking out of the water. That change happened in just a matter of an hour or two. I mention this for caution's sake but also because a flat that has fish today may have no water in it tomorrow. For the most part this is kind of fun to experience the changes but sometimes it is maddening.

Because the Carp are often on the move and because the water level changes, yes you should keep moving when you don't see fish. As to your walking speed, very slow is very good. The ideal day is one with blue sky, bright sun, clear water, and just a small amount of wind or no wind at all. You don't always get all of these conditions at the same time so you just deal with it. If the sky is cloudy and/or the water is cloudy then spotting tailing fish is difficult unless their tails are out of the water. When the sky or water are cloudy, or if they are both cloudy, walking slowly is like running--walk extremely slowly.

On any day if you don't see fish, keep moving. Fish may be all over a flat, there may not be a single one in a flat, they may be just in one corner. You just never know. You can walk through a flat in the morning and not see a fish and come back a few hours later and see a bunch of them or vice versa. I would add that if I have caught some fish on a particular stretch of river and then start the walk back to my truck, usually I don't see many fish at all on the return trip.

I will definitely keep moving through a flat or stretch of river even if I am not seeing fish. Sometimes it is a flat I have fished many times and have caught fish. Other times I am exploring new water. Either way, you still need to to keep walking. Sometimes moving means walking and sometimes it means getting back in your Carpwagon and moving to another parking spot. A simple summary would be to say, yes, keep moving.

Carp will form up in what is called a shoal (a group or school of them). If they are spread out over a big flat this is a ton of fun. If they are packed in and literally bumping each other, it is intoxicating to see them, but not as fun as a spread out group because sometimes one spooked fish will send the rest of them out into the deep water.

There will be times when you wade for an hour and don't see a fish and then come upon several feeding fish. There will be days when you go to a flat you have caught fish in and not see a single target. There will be days when you just get a couple shots and that's that. There will be days when most of what you see is a bunch of sunbathing/sleeping Carp. There will be days when you wade and see a fish every 50-100 yards.

Soon Klint, you will get your first Carp on the fly. You will be tempted to quit your job when that happens; don't do it, you need gas money. You will also be tempted to say the heck with yard work. Well, I'm not sure that's such a bad idea. We are entering the prime months for the Carp fly fishing on the Columbia. Stay with it. You can do it.

Robert and Gerhard, thanks for your email; I will answer your questions in the next several days.



  1. Thanks for the response! Sounds like the conditions vary quite a bit and so should your technique. Cant wait for the sunny and calm day when the carp are spread out in the shallows feeding in clear water with a nice gravel bottom in a place where I have plenty of room for a backcast.

  2. You're welcome Klint. Those warm days are coming soon.