I've been fishing the Shenandoah river for over ten years regularly now, and I saw something today I've never seen before. I hit the main stem of the 'Doah north of Front Royal. I was paddleing upstream to a set of rapids I fish and I looked at the western bank of the river. There waas a huge spashing that kept on going. I investigated and saw gobs of carp. At first I thought they were spawning or something but even better they were feeding. The bank of the river here is dirt/mud and steepish. At the edge which dropped of immediatly to 3 ft was grass. The carp were pushing thru the grass and popping up crustacians and minnows and gorging. It was a carp feeding frenzy. Ive seen large schools of carp in this area before, but always in deper slow water just meandering about and turning off any fly I would ever present. I've caught carp in shallow water when they are feeding withcrayfish patterns. But I had never seen dozens of really big carp feeding at once like this.
i beached my yak and got out the best I could. I casted to them from the yak but could not get it were I wanted with out getting into the grass so I got out. Not an easy task here BTW. I thought for sure I'd spook them but they could care less. I ties on a weighted crayfish pattern and the first cast and drift I actually snagged one in the tail. That sucked. I could not turn him, but I wanted my fly so I played him a bit and finally it let go. I tied a lighted crayfish and and the next cast BANG! Game on. He took me under tree limbs, across the river twice around rocks, and all manor of Shenandoah obstacles. I finally got myself into a shallow area and played him in. He would then take out linee. Carp of this size can really bulldog you a lot. The fish was pretty big. 15+lbs or more honestly. The fisht went on for 30+ minutes and he bagan to tire. But then next problem wasa how to land him. I was woefully unprepared. No net, by myself, with a 5wt flyrod. I did my best best w/o breaking my rod. I grabbed leader 3-4 times and each time he made a run and I hunkered down again. I grabbed it one last time and he made abreak for a tree limb. I dropped the rod to proect it and held on to the leader but it broke around the sunken limb with out me actually landing the beast. Still incredible fun! By this time I had spent over an hour here (mostly with one fish) and I decided I should still paddle upstream to the rapids.
Here I caught smallmouth from 10-14inch on every other cast (fly of choice was a silver and gold Kreelex streamer) Water perfect color and decent flow but lowish for spring. We have had some rain recently that helped. I paddled by the carp again and many were still there doing the same thing. Crazy...
The may not be muskie but carp are a great fish to targt with the flyrod! Also the smallmouth bite is really good right now. No cicadas though. God help me and my work if they hatch this year.
Minnows and carp? I understand crustaceans but minnows? I know a place near Frederick, MD where the carp can almost always be targetted with a fly rod and will chase wolly buggers reguarly. But it's the only situation and place I've been able to duplicate that.
I agree with the minnow thing, but it was very cool to watch. After I almost landed the big one I hooked I watched for a bit. They would push into the grass and anything that swam off, crustaceans or small fish, they vacuumed up. A very smart way to feed actually. I did not try a streamer but kept with a crayfish pattern, but no reason a properly presented small Clouser would not work. The real funny thing is how they were not spooked. Usually I find these fish pretty wary.
The only time I've seen such unwary carp was when they were very much engaged in making little baby carp. That these fish were so distracted with hunting/flushing/hoovering up prey is doubly interesting. It seems that some rough fish in certain bodies of water adopt, at least part of the time, the foraging behaviors we associate with gamefish, while in other waters they meet their needs without giving chase very often. I once found a pond population of fairly large bullhead catfish intermediate between the black and the brown. So help me, they could reliably be taken on a wooly bugger unadorned with any scent and fished rather high in the water column. Now, you did have to sight fish to them, and for whatever reason they spent a lot of time suspended, but a slow retrieve would induce the cats to trail and often take the fly. Thanks for sharing your 'Doah adventure.
I spoke with a friend of mine who is the Shenandoah River keeper and here is his take.
"They spawn exactly now. Second week of May, and they do it in a number of places and there will be congregations of them, tons of males running around agressively fighting each other and eating EVERYTHING In the area including minnows and crayfish and anything eating the sticky eggs which they disperse. I see them lay eggs on grassy areas, fast sandy cuts in between islands and sometimes on shoals. Maybe this was what you saw. They definitely bite aggressively."
That is a plausible, and fascinating notion. Carp are said by those who measure relative intelligence to be comparatively brilliant, for a fish! If this explanation holds water, you'd next have to wonder why they would not adopt the practice (raptor-like feeding on high value forage items) more generally. Optimal Foraging Theory suggests that all consumers select their prey or other forage items on a caloric cost-benefit basis, essentially settling on those foods that yield the most bang for the buck, which also happen to be both available as well as vulnerable at the time. But the idea of 'beating the bushes' clear of potential predators upon their eggs on prime spawning turf... that's a new one on me... THANKS for sharing that! If this behavior applies in other waters hosting major carp populations, the immediate pre-spawn period would seem to offer the ideal op to flip flies at 'em, no?