Fly-Fishing for Grass Carp

Barry W. Smith

Grass carp in the 20-pound range are exciting action on a 5- to8-wt fly rod. Although it is not quite the same as sight casting to a redfish in the saltwater marsh, it is fly action close to home.Are you in those summer fly-fishing doldrums without the time or extra cash to travel to the coast and hookup on some saltwater action? I’ll bet there is some real hot action close to home that will put a sure ‘nuff bend in your 6 wt. and make you glad you spooled some backing on that fly reel.

Grass carp or white amur, as they are correctly called, often grow to big strong fish that can be caught on a variety of baits and tackle. On spinning or casting tackle they will often inhale a cricket, a blade of grass, a dough ball or even a piece of dry dog food. But if you want some real sporting action, hook one of these 20-pound class bruisers on a 6- wt. fly rod.

The old fish can usually be found around the welfare food line, patiently waiting their daily handout from the automatic fish feeder. As these fish age and grow to15 pounds or more, they become less efficient in consuming vegetation and often present a nuisance at the feeder, making such a commotion that they discourage bluegill from feeding. If you have ever witnessed this scene, you will often see these big grass carp with their mouth open at the water’s surface, literally vacuuming dozens of floating fish pellets from the pond.

These lips are unmistakable. Undisturbed,  large grass carp often act as a giant vacuum cleaner, sucking floating      fish food off the water’s surface. This makes them vulnerable to the proper presentation ofthe “pellet fly.” We receive complaints from pond owners each year asking how to remove these big amurs or at least discourage their presence at the fish feeder. If you are a bow-fisherman, these fish present great targets. If your location permits, simply shooting a .22 rifle or a shotgun in their proximity while they are feeding will discourage their presence at the feeder for several weeks.

Those of us who are fly-fishers view this scenario as an opportunity. There are several “flies” that will fool a big grass carp, but none seems to work better than one that truly matches the hatch. Since these are feeding on a floating fish pellet, why not make a pellet fly? For those of you who tie flies, like my fly-fishing buddy Russell Thornberry, spun deer hair on a # 10 hook works great. If you are not a fly tier, purchase a bottle of your favorite wine. OK, maybe just a bottle that is not a twist-off, but has a real cork stopper. Carve a piece of cork that roughly matches the size of the fish pellet, sanding it to final shape. Then with a red-hot needle, burn a hole through the cork. Push the eye end of a light gauge # 10 hook through the cork ball and glue it close to the eye. Better make a couple of flies, and then you are ready for some fun fly-fishing action.

Thornberry prefers to use a limber 5- or 6-wt, rather than an 8- or 9-wt that you might normally use to catch a 10- to 20-pound fish. Don’t forget you are using a small wire hook that a big amur will straighten in a heartbeat. A light drag and plenty of bend in the rod will help you land one of these big bruisers. These fish are not leader shy, so experienced anglers like Thormberry, prefer a 10- to 12-pound tippet.

Russell Thornberry landing a large grass carp on a fly.The technique for fishing at the feeder is simple. Throw a handful or so of feed, just enough to entice some amur feeding action in front of the feeder. If you set off the feeder, there will usually be too much feed to concentrate the amur. Wait until you see those unmistakable fish lips sucking the pellets off the surface like a vacuum cleaner, then gently place the pellet fly in front of the amur. Do not move the fly! When the fish has sucked in your fly and the line begins to move, gently raise the rod to set the hook and hang on for a wild ride! Can you say backing?

Sometimes these huge grass carp will become airborne, but most of the time they will fight like a redfish in the marsh, making some moderate to long runs, enough to get you on the backing. They will sometimes show their strength for up to 20 minutes, before they finally roll on their side.

Maybe it is not the same as sight-fishing a red with a fly, but it is great fun and for most of us, some great action close to home. What a great way to remove some of these big grass carp from your pond or your neighbors. Get out there and have some fun!

Barry W. Smith is a Certified Fisheries Scientist and co-owner of American Sport Fish Hatchery in Montgomery, Alabama.


Seasonal Tips

Threadfin Shad Winter Kills

Threadfin shad are great supplemental forage for both bass and crappie in fertilized ponds. They spawn multiple times during the spring and summer and the adult shad are always in the size range that bass can eat. Adult shad seldom exceed 5 to 6 inches. Threadfins are sexually mature at a size of 2.5 inches and the offspring of a spring spawn will be mature by the end of the summer and often spawn in late summer or early fall. Almost all lakes that are successfully managed for largemouth bass contain threadfin shad as an additional forage species.

The single drawback to threadfin shad is they are susceptible to winter kills. These kills do not typically occur every year in the southeast. The farther from the Gulf Coast, the more likely you will experience a kill in the threadfin population. Ponds and lakes that have a third of the lake with depths greater than 15 feet are more likely to have survival of some shad even in cold winters. Ponds and lakes that ice-over for several consecutive days are likely to experience a shad kill.

Although water temperatures below 38 F will cause mortality, the number of consecutive cold days plays an important part in mortality. Threadfin can be stressed by low temperatures and the fish will swim slowly, becoming easy prey to bass, crappie and larger catfish. Many of these stressed will be eaten by fish and birds, never showing up on the shoreline. Just because you never see dead fish on the shoreline does not mean you did not have threadfin mortality.

This has been a much colder winter than we have experienced for the past four years. It is always a good idea to re-stock threadfin in the spring or early summer to insure you do not miss a year without shad.

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