Finding the Hidden Carp

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Photo by John Bartlett

By Dan Frazier

“Flash your break lights a thousand times before we turn off or the car behind you will smash into your rear end,” Trevor yelled through my phone.

I was following him through downtown Denver at 50 mph on our way to a second spot to fish for the day. All of a sudden, his break lights lit up like a strobe light at a rave and I begin tap-dancing on my brake pedal. In what looked like a scene from a heist movie, Trevor suddenly veered off the road, not at an intersection, and comes to a screeching halt on a tiny patch of concrete under a construction sign. I put my rental car to the test, swerved without slowing and then laid on the brakes before I climbed up Trevor’s tail pipe. Had I not had antilock breaks the screeching tires and blue smoke would have made the slide-stop that more dramatic. Instead, I came to a quick but reasonable halt behind Trevor’s car. The black BMW missed rear ending me by inches and the driver screamed out the wind at me as he flew past.

TrevorWe geared up and waited for traffic to clear, eventually bounding across the 4-lane road to get to the top of the wall. The water was 25 feet down as we hiked along, but it wasn’t directly below us. Ten feet down was a dirt ledge and another 15 feet from there was a sloping shoreline. The ledge was littered with the encampments of Denver’s homeless. We walked along, looking for carp. When we saw our first tailer, Trevor started taking off his gear and handed me his rod. He then lunged over the ledge into the crotch of a tree and shimmied his way down to the lower ledge. From there he could get a presentation on the fish.

Trevor isn’t the only master carp-on-the-fly angler that has taken me to spots that are insanely difficult to access; places that leave you scratching your head and thinking, “how the hell did he figure out how to get access here?”

John Montana has put me (and anyone that fishes with him) through the same paces. We’ve parked under overpasses and on unfinished off-ramps, slid down 60-foot scree slopes and bounded along railroad tracks. Both he and Trevor have taken me to spots that either currently were illegal to fish, or had been when they’d first been busted. Most you can sweet talk your way into getting permission… some you just get sneakier. Hell, I have places that involve crossing electric fences or parking at marginal pull-offs and hoping your car isn’t towed when you get back.

Until I was screeching to a halt with Trevor, however, this commonality had never occurred to me. We talk about carp being accessible to everyone and within walking distance of your house. And that’s true… carp are. But the guys putting up real numbers and big fish have spent hundreds of trips and thousands of hours scouting for both location and access. And they can be fiercely protective of these spots and access points. You would be shocked at the photos of the Columbia River that I have that are NOT allowed public exposure.

On the plane ride back from Denver I spent some time thinking about this thread among carp fly fishing’s most productive fishermen. Why is it they spend their time looking for difficult to access water? It’s more than just looking for spots that others don’t fish. And it certainly has little to do with them looking for solitude or natural beauty. So then, why is it that their favorite spots tend to be in extremely difficult to access places? I think the two answers I came up with will help beginning anglers better understand carp and more effectively locate their own extremely productive water.

First, the locations speak to the wariness of carp.

Yes, you can find them in public places and amongst people, but carp are generally a very spooky species. They prefer to feed in shallow water, exposing them to threats from both the land and the air. Additionally, a sunning or cruising carp is on alert and paying attention to threats, but a feeding carp tends to be far more oblivious to the world around it. This means they are most comfortable actively feeding in low traffic areas. Places where land creatures, like humans and dogs, rarely intrude to disrupt feeding time. So it’s more than just finding places people don’t fish. It’s about finding places people don’t (or can’t) go. A person walking the shoreline and skipping rocks, or walking their dog or wading or casting for bass is as much of a hinderance to the carp settling in for a good long feed as a carp fly fisherman is. The locations these guys have settled on are either very difficult for people to access or are, for some reason, out of the way enough that people don’t go there. They allow for the carp to have long periods of time in very shallow water to feed without being spooked. So these areas become favorites to more and bigger fish. When the fly fisherman does get access to these areas and can stealthily walk them, not only will they find more fish there, but they have a chance at fish that aren’t on alert for people.

The second reason is a little more straight forward.

Spooking carp out of a cove or off of a flat does not mean they leave for an hour and then return. More often those fish will go to deep water and find another feeding area altogether. So they won’t be back that day. If a windsurfer blows through your flat an hour and a half prior to you showing up, you won’t find that the fish have returned. Small numbers of new fish may be back up on the flats, but all of the fish that were in the area will probably not have returned yet. Your entire fishing day can be shot by one person coming through your fishing area well before you ever showed up. Now this rule is not hard and fast. There are places where fish are contained enough that they have little choice but to remain in the area. Some of them will even resume feeding, but they’ll be jumpy and in smaller numbers. And if your water is big, the fish will move on. This is why high traffic or high use areas tend to be far less productive for the carp fly fishermen than more isolated or difficult to reach places. The hard to get to places have less people. Simple as that.


So the next time you ask someone for their best carp spot, and they get a little jittery and evasive, remember: they spent years looking for that spot. More importantly, part of what makes it good is that no one goes there. Not that it doesn’t have pressure. A good carp spot can handle a lot of fishing pressure, in the traditional sense. It’s that people being there, or fishing it, or walking through it can screw it up for a day, and will eventually cause most of and the biggest fish to abandon it totally. But there is good information there for beginners. Start looking for water where people don’t go. That water will tend to hold the most easily reachable carp and in larger numbers than other spots.

Dan Frasier
Gink & Gasoline
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6 thoughts on “Finding the Hidden Carp

  1. Good stuff. This article has me rethinking my favorite spots and thinking about a few I’ve been meaning to scout.

  2. Fishing for catfish and we always have many carp around us they are jumping, flopping and move away from boat when we approach but don’t leave. Water is very cloudy and 12-16 in.deep. Are carp spawning or feeding or both? Is this an opportunity missed or should we look for different conditions. It would be great archery fishing.

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