Considering fly patterns and carp

The other day I sauntered into the local fishing tackle store, in part to simply kill some time, but more to see…

The other day I sauntered into the local fishing tackle store, in part to simply kill some time, but more to see if they had received their order of this season’s fly patterns.

I guess I sort of look forward to looking through all the flies, hundreds of different patterns, row upon row in their little square sections within each of a half dozen display cases. There are always a few new and interesting patterns worthy of a cast. This time I noticed a couple of new patterns  I figured just might work on some of the lakes I like to fish. A person can never have too many different fly patterns.

Todd, one of the sales people, came over.

“I thought you only used one pattern – Bill’s caddis pupae,” he said with a grin.

There is some truth to that. I have caught more trout on that one fly pattern than all others combined – especially on ones that were hand-tied by Bill himself. Bill Keown is one of the best fly tiers I have ever come across.

One fly really caught my attention. It was called a Pumpkinseed. Todd, the salesperson with the sense of humour, said that he thought it would be a good pattern to try fishing for the carp that we have in Shuswap Lake. That got me thinking.

Carp are members of the Cyprinidae family and inhabit fresh waters from the Gulf of Mexico to northern Russia. The common carp, which inhabit our Interior waters, is easily distinguished from other cypinids by the heavy and strongly serrated spines in the anterior portion of its dorsal and anal fins, and by the presence of two rather long, fleshy barbels on each side of its upper jaw.

They are not a pretty fish by any stretch. Carp are omnivorous feeders, with a preference for chironomid pupae and damsel fly nymphs, as well as other aquatic invertebrates, plankton and macro algae. When feeding, they tend to disturb sediment, thus increasing water turbidity and causing all sorts of problems for the insects which inhabit the flora on the bottom of the lake.

In their natural habitat and over their natural range, carp can live to be well over 20 years old and can grow to reach lengths of up to 1,220 mm (50 inches). Sexually mature fish move into the warm waters of the shallows to spawn in late spring. One single female will lay anywhere from 300,000 to 600,000 eggs. I could not help but wonder what it would be like to catch one on a fly rod.

There are a tremendous variety of angling methods used to catch coarse fish such as carp. Everything from worms to doughballs to pieces of cheese can be used.

Species such as pike minnows tend to be predatory, non-selective feeders, while suckers and chub, which have smaller mouths, will tend to take worms over food sources such as bait fish. Carp, on the other hand, are both aggressive and opportunistic feeders which will feed on everything from micro-invertebrates to insect larvae and pupae to baitfish.

I have read articles about catching carp on a fly rod with artificial fly patterns, particularly patterns such as damselflies and micro leeches. But would they take Todd’s Pumpkinseed. I figure there is only one way to find out.

When the water levels come up on Shuswap Lake in another month or so, and the carp come into shallow waters, you can expect to find me out there on the lake flailing away with my eight-weight fly rod, casting a clear-tip nymph line with one of Todd’s Pumpkinseed patterns tied onto an eight foot sinking leader. We shall see if carp like pumpkinseeds.

If I don’t have any luck with a Pumpkinseed, I can always try Bill’s caddis pupae.


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