The Colorado Bonefish
By Paul Prentiss

Think you're good fly fishermen? One way to find out is to see how many Colorado Bonefish (carp) you can catch on flies. The only anglers that don't think carp are worthwhile are the folks who have never caught one.

One of the most revered fly fishermen in this country, Dave Whitlock, had this opionion on carp: "Any fish is fun to catch on a fly rod, but when a big carp takes a fly, it's more fun than any other freshwater fish. Why? Carp are more like the elite saltwater flats fish--bonefish, permit, redfish, and cubara snapper. They are faster than a trout, stronger than a permit, and have more staying power than a smallmouth bass."

Stalking the Colorado Bonefish on a fly rod is a hot subject and one of the fastest growing segments of our sport. It's a no brainer! You can find carp in just about any watershed. Most local fishermen can think of places all along the Front Range where one can find this fish. Best of all, many of these locations are close to home. I live in North Boulder and I can come up with about 20 public lakes with plenty of carp within a half hour's drive.


This Common Carp was caught in mid-June on a size 16 cinnamon ant pattern. He measured about 30 inches and weighed roughly 15 pounds.

Once you tie into a really big carp (over 15 pounds) and he zips off all your fly line and a good part of your backing while making several long runs, you'll become a permanent fan. This year my best fish weighed 23 pounds and I've had at least two on that were bigger (the fight with one lasted almost 30 minutes). In the end they both snapped my 4X tippet before they could be landed.

If you're a saltwater fly fisherman, the Colorado Bonefish is an excellent way to tune-up for your next trip. See if you can find a pond or reservoir that has some good flats where you can wade and cast to feeding carp. I have friends that have outfitted john boats (squared ended rowboats) with casting and polling platforms. If that's not bad enough, they will immediately quit fishing for any species when they find large carp actively feeding.

Carp were introduced to North America from Europe in the early 1800's with the idea that they would be an excellent source of protein. For a while it worked, as many immigrants were used to eating this fish. Subsequently, they were vilified in the press because they were capable of displacing native species and were better able to survive polluted waters.

In Europe and Asia, carp are enthusiastically sought by anglers and gourmets. Carp fishermen in England do not kill carp. There are famous and specially named carp that well known fishermen of Asia and Europe compete to catch.

In this country and Australia carp are generally viewed as trash fish. While fishing for carp a week ago, a farmer advised me to throw all the fish I caught up on the bank because they were "no damn good." Interestingly enough, studies have shown these fish to be to be a highly evolved organism topping the scale of fish intelligence. They are flexible eaters and capture live foods from the top to the bottom of the water in which they live. Carp mouths are not located on the bottom of their heads, like the mouths of suckers. They are positioned and shaped much like bonefish, redfish, and permit mouths.

The common carp (the most numerous and best-known species) and its variants are omnivorous and will eat almost anything that they come across - plants, insects, crustaceans, and so on. Grass carp can also be found in this area and are herbivorous meaning they principally dine on aquatic plants. These fish are extensively used to control weed growth. Both versions can grow to significant sizes - fish over 4-feet and 70-pounds have been recorded in this country. According to the Colorado DOW, fish over 40 inches and in excess of 40 pounds have been caught in Colorado.

Carp possess highly developed senses of sight, hearing, touch, and smell. Their ability to avoid danger is enhanced further by a unique ability to detect sound vibrations in a lower and wider range than other fish. Foot or boat noise, movement, the flash of a fly line, a sloppy presentation, or a fish merely swimming into your leader can trigger a single fish or a shoal (school) of carp to vacate the area.

You don't catch Colorado Bonefish by blind casting. You pick out a specific target and present your fly right in front of the fish at the right depth. Carp are tunnel-vision feeders that don't veer off to investigate and capture foods. The takes are not aggressive so you need to watch very carefully. To be successful, get as close as you can and make your first cast as accurate as possible. Your success is diminished by each subsequent cast. You need to be able to cast quickly and accurately from close in to 60 or 70 feet - just like saltwater fishing.

What kind of flies and tackle are needed? I like a 6-weight, 9-foot rod with a high quality single action reel. I use a weight-forward line with plenty of backing. Leaders are dependent on conditions but generally a tapered 9-foot leader with a 4X tippet is my preference. You can go heaver, 3X to 1X, which may be advisable in areas with a lot of snags. I'd also take along a good sized net or a BogaGrip. Don't forget your polarized glasses.


Shoaling carp feeding small mayflies and assorted midges

Because Carp will dine on many different foods you need to carry a good selection of top water flies, nymphs and small streamers. Depending on the location and time of year you'll find that subsurface imitations will be the most productive. The must-have patterns are the Clouser Swimming Nymph, small Black & Olive Wooly Buggers, Damselfly nymphs, and rubber legged bead heads. For surface action you need hoppers, beetles and ants plus midge and callibaetis patterns.

One final suggestion, secure a copy of "Carp on the Fly" by Barry Reynolds, Brad Befus and John Berryman. You will find this book to be a significant help in finding and catching the Colorado Bonefish.

Jon Spiegel, FRA Manager, caught this carp from Union Reservoir in Longmont
in June of this year.