Mile High Carpin' Adventures
By Mike Grose

My wife thinks I'm nuts. She's probably right.

We planned to be in the Jamestown, Colorado area for a week while she attended a science teacher workshop. So, what do I do to keep me busy during the week in some of the best trout fishing areas of the country? Book a guide for a Colorado carp fishing adventure, of course!

Boulder Reservior

A day before my guided trip, I decided to get out and see if I could find a few fish on my own. Reading up on some of the warmwater opportunities in the Boulder area in the Flyfisher’s Guide to Colorado by Marty Bartholomew, I headed off to Boulder Reservior to hunt down a few fish. After some reconnaissance, carp were found feeding in the very shallow, flooded flats on the north side of the rock faced dam. They proved too spooky for me. Following the shoreline to another cove however was more fruitful.

Spotting a few fish at a time feeding in about knee deep water, I positioned myself so I could get a good look at them. I was rigged up with my 5 weight with ten pound tippet and tied on my go-to carp candy fly in black. Finally, a feisty Colorado carp was landed. Not very big, around 22 inches is all. After the commotion settled down, more fish came out the reeds to feed. The next fish was a bigger one. She ran into the reeds and tried to saw off the leader. If I was using anything less than 10 pound tippet (2X Umpqua brand), I probably would have lost the fish. After pulling off the reeds to free the carp, she taped out at 25 inches and maybe 4 pounds.
After the second fish, there was too much wading and fighting to hold the other fish, and they bolted. On several occasions there were big splashy rises in the middle of the reeds by the deeper water. The temperature of the shallow water cove was much warmer than the main body of the reservior. I'm guessing some of these carp were breeding.

Pelican Shores, near Longmont

I met my guide at Front Range Anglers in Boulder at 7 am. Will was right on time and I immediately knew we were kindred spirits showing up in the same sand colored long-sleeved fishing shirts. Will is young, but I could immediately tell he was very passionate about flyfishing. He ties up a mean carp fly too. We picked up the drift boat and headed off to a private water call Pelican Shores. This area near Longmont is flat and open right next to the St. Vrain River. There were numerous quarry site lakes near the property that looked just as good to fish as the one we would spend the day on. This was the ideal pond to spot, stalk, and sight cast for carp.

I started rigging up my 5 weight after Will backed up the boat to the ramp. We turned around and immediately spotted fish working the shallow water of the boat ramp. Easing over to the shore adjacent to the ramp, we picked out a fish to cast to. A black carp candy in a size 8 would be the first offering. I connected with the fish after three casts and the fight was on! It was clearly apparent that the 5 weight needed to be put back into the truck. This fish was strong, 27 inches long and 7 pounds. We landed another slightly larger fish before retiring my outfit for the day.

We immediately noticed that the carp were feeding solo and herding very small (no more that two inches long) minnows at the surface. These carp were easily spotted causing wakes at the surface as they picked off the hapless minnows. For these carp, leading the fish by 3 or 4 feet and giving the fly a good strip was just enough to get their attention.

Will rigged up his 8 weight for me to try out. An ultra light Winston nine foot fast action rod matched with a large arbor sage reel made a very nice set up. His leader system was simple. To the flyline he connected a few feet of 17 pound hard mono leader material, then attached a few feet of 14 pound tippet (OX). This setup was a bit larger than what I usually fish, but we never lost a fish that day.

After the boat ramp and two fish under my belt, we walked to shore line. We rounded a gentle point without spotting anything. Then around another bend in the lake, we spotted more fish. I had a shot at a bonifide monster that looked all of three feet long. Unfortunately the cast was right on it's nose and it was gone in a flash and a swirl. To sooth my nerves, I reasoned it was a sunbather and wasn't going to eat anyway...

Toward midmorning, it looked like some of the carp were coming into very shallow water to feed. On several occasions we could spot the backs of carp sticking out the water as they rooted around for something to eat. This was very exciting fishing. Wet wading in ankle deep water, we were positioned so that the fish were heading our direction.

For these fish, getting the fly closer was most productive. A few short quick strips to get their attention was enough to watch them inhale the fly. On this stretch of shoreline small rocks covered the bottom and we spotted crayfish kicking up plumbs of mud as we worked our way around the lake.

After lunch, we were back again at the boat ramp. We tied on one of Will's crayfish flies and started back up were we left off. 

Clearly this was a banner day for fishing. I landed somewhere between 20-25 (maybe 30?) carp that ranged from 27-29.5 inches long. The average fish was between 7 or 8 pounds. We brought in at least 10 fish that pushed 10 pounds each! It was unreal. The majority of the fish took me into the backing. By 3 pm, I was so sore of hauling fish in I couldn't fish anymore!

 

In one stretch in the afternoon, I connected to two consecutive mirror carp.
Mirror carp are found in the population in very low frequencies, maybe 10% or less. They have greatly enlarged scales on some parts of their body, minute scales here and there, or patches of skin without any scales. To catch two of these genetic anomalies was pretty neat.

Elevenmile Reservior, South Park

If there is anything remotely close to a destination carp fishing lake, this has to be it. Yes, it is smack in the middle of the famed South Park, on the South Platte River, home of some truly large trout. At 8,600 feet above sea level it has wide fluctuations of temperatures and weather patterns that can even make tent camping challenging. But this lake is loaded with fish, I just had to find them. Two different sources (Will and the book mentioned above) suggested fishing the west end or inlet side of the lake.

I pulled into Cross Creek campground one afternoon with only about of hour to fish. Not expecting to see a whole bunch of fish, since it was noon, I rigged up my 5 weight (I’m a glutton for punishment) and walked the bank east of the campsites. As I dodged the goose “patties” along the shore, I flushed two red winged blackbirds. They flew over the water and spooked two large fish that made massive swirls in the water. Were these the carp I was hunting for? In a minute I had my answer.
x
A golden clad carp was in a foot of water milling around. I tossed out a rust colored candy a few feet away and immediately connected with the fish. I set the hook and for about a few moments the fish didn’t react at all. Maybe it was the high altitude or my slow response time being in the thin air for over a week now. Then, it decided to show me who was boss. It quickly emptied all the flyline from my reel, and proceeded to go deep into my backing. In fact, I’m sure I’ve never gone this deep into my backing before. It was an impressive run that finished with the fly pulling out of its leathery lips. Wow! I had my first encounter with an impressively strong fish from a lake roughly one and half miles above sea level.
x
We were scheduled to pick up camp by noon on July 3rd. I was dropped off again at Cross Creek campground for round two. Heading east again turned out to be a bust. The previous afternoon there were massive thunderstorms and lightning that soaked the area. I needed to head west toward the inlet in order to spot fish. I came across schools of minnows and even spotted a few baby pike in the shallow water. They seemed completely oblivious to my flies. Not wasting a bunch of time on them, I kept walking the shoreline west of the campground. Then I spotted them. The first fish was another mirror carp. A few casts later, I had brought him to shore, a nice strong 25 inch fish. This stretch of the lake was mixed with a small rock bottom, some aquatic plants, and some patches of sand or mud. My only witnesses were the a few California gulls on the shore, four turkey vultures perched on the fence posts, and a dozen cattle grazing behind me. x
Then I spotted wave after wave of carp, feeding in loose shoals as they swam my way in the shallow warm water. I spent the next 30 minutes sight casting to individual fish. The next fish landed was a 27 incher that ripped all the flyline off the reel again. They were very strong fish. The last fish I landed taped out at 29 inches. My family had pulled up in the car, so we were able to take pictures of this one. It is not an understatement that I could have spent the entire day(s) on this stretch of the lake.
There were so many fish moving down the bank to feed that the disturbance of fighting the hooked fish didn’t seem to bother the others. Instead of single fish feeding, there was a good mix of 3 or 4 fish moving together at a time to either feed or just to relocate to a different flat. It was an impressive sight.
x

Stocked pond near Jamestown

Believe it or not, carp were not only fish caught during our trip. A pond on the workshop property was stocked for fishing clinics for various groups using the cabins and lodge. After talking with a few people, I quickly learned rainbow trout were previously planted in there. The pond was also inhabited by another less desirable species, goldfish. The story goes that when a former employee moved out, he let his two or three goldfish into the pond. Now numbering easily in the hundreds the caretakers wanted them out. Never wanting to back down from a flyfishing challenge, I thought that I could try to thin out the goldfish population.

It was rainy and overcast one day but there were fish rising. I could make out the gold colored backs of goldfish as they porpoised out of the water looking for emerging insects. I tied on an Adams but had no luck. Then I tried a bead head midge pattern in orange. A few casts later, there was dead weight on the other end of the line. I gently eased xup on the rod only to find the line moving on the other end. Sure enough, a goldfish had sucked down the midge! I ended up catching 4 goldfish and 4 rainbow trout on an assortment of midge patterns and a size 12 olive carp candy.

Well you now know I’ve hit rock bottom, planning trips and even hiring a guide to take me out carpin’. That is what makes flyfishing a special sport though. Pursuing large fish on a flyrod is a very compelling and challenging goal. One I’ll no doubt continue to do in the future....

x

After spending 10 days in the thin air of Colorado, it is clear that I’m suffering from some form of mountain sickness, ACW or Acute Carp Withdrawal. Anyone want to go carpin’?

Tight lines,

Cyprinus