By Guy Jeans
Carp on the Fly: Lake Isabella
Owning a fly shop, school, and guide service for the last 20 years, I have heard every fish story from every river, saltwater flat, or lake on every continent on the planet. Don’t get me wrong, I love to hear stories and talk fly fishing, but I hardly ever hear of fly anglers talking about carp on the fly. In the last few years or so, though, I have started to see more carpers coming out of the closet. I love it!
When I first started fly fishing for carp in Lake Isabella about 20 years ago, it took me a while to figure them out. There weren’t many fly anglers fishing for them, so there wasn’t that much information about them on the Internet or anywhere else. By trial and error, changing flies, changing fly designs, and spending time on the water, I finally caught my first carp.
I had to put in the time to figure out what was going on with carp, because they are much different than trout or bass. Why didn’t that carp eat my fly? Why are those carp splashing around in the shallows? Why are those carp spitting out mud and sand? Why are those carp jumping out of the water? Why do all those carp have their mouths out of the water? What are carp feeding on? All these questions were running through my head as I studied these amazing fish.
Carp in Lake Isabella are big — 5 to 15 pounds — and you can sight cast to them on flats in clear water. The Lake Isabella flats run anywhere from one to four feet in depth and extend roughly 100 to 300 yards offshore. You can use float tubes or paddle boards, but the odds of spooking fish are high, and wading is the way to go. Just drive up to one of these flats, gear up, and start walking until you begin seeing carp. And you don’t need a lot of gear. In the spring, I wear waders, but in the late spring, summer, and early fall, I just wear shorts and my wading boots. I use a lanyard with tools, floatant, and tippet. I usually have just one fly box in my pocket. I tuck a big net into my belt and call it good.
These flats areas are mixed environments with sand, mud, rocks, drowned sagebrush, and willows. Isabella carp love these areas in the spring, when the flats fill up from the high flows from the North and South Forks of the Kern River. You can find them there in the summer and fall, too, as long as the river has good flows and the Army Corps of Engineers isn’t releasing
more water than what’s coming in.
Try fishing the northeast end of the lake at a place called Hanning Flat. You can also try my favorite area, at the north end of lake — the flats just behind the Kernville Airport.
Gear for Isabella’s Carp
I’ve fished rods from 4-weights to 8-weights for carp, but my favorite is a medium-action 9-foot 7-weight rod.
Some carp anglers use longer rods or even 8-weights. Some of the best fishing I’ve had at Lake Isabella has been for carp on dry flies, and for fishing dries, I like to use a double-taper floating line because its long, thin front taper makes for a softer presentation. I also use this line for
subsurface presentations. In either case, use a line that isn’t bright in color, because carp spook easily.
When dry-fly fishing, I use a 9-foot 2X or 3X leader tapered down to the appropriate size tippet for the fly. Landing a big carp can be difficult if you are forced to use a size 20 Parachute Adams and 6X tippet. When fishing subsurface flies, youcan get away with a 2X or 3X 7.5-foot leader and 2X or 3X tippet. I use a Lefty Kreh Nonslip Loop Knot on all subsurface flies.
Flies for Isabella’s Carp
Isabella carp eat a variety of insects, fish, crayfish, worms, plants, and even seeds. Many times, I’ve seen them eating cottonwood seeds off the surface in a wind-blown scum line, just like trout feeding in a lane on a river or stream. When this happens, it makes for a very challenging and fun day on the lake.
It’s said that carp are “clooping” when they’re swimming around with their mouths open, feeding and gasping air from the surface. I’ve found that I can catch clooping carp at Isabella on a variety of dry-fly patterns, including ant imitations, Stimulators, caddis patterns, grasshoppers, beetles, Adamses,Humpys, and various other mayfly patterns.
For cruising and tailing carp, I go with a Carpilicious, Carp Coachman, red or chartreuse Carp Worm, a Loco Moco variation, or a Carp Carrot, all in sizes 6 to 10. These are proven patterns at Lake Isabella. Its carp seem to like red, so most of my subsurface patterns have a red worm-
like tail coming off the end. They’re tied to ride hook up, and most of my subsurface flies have dumbbell or bead-chain eyes.
How to Catch These Fish
As I said, carp spook easily. When casting to clooping carp, don’t cast directly at them, but away from them in the direction in which they might be moving. A cast that slaps the water will put every fish in the vicinity down for a few minutes.
Try not to false cast too many times, either, because the movement of your arm and rod can spook the fish. When picking up your fly to recast, if you must false cast, do so away from the fish, because the spray from your fly line will spook the fish. Do everything right and sometimes, at the last second, they will move in the opposite direction from where you placed your fly. Don’t fret — this is normal behavior for these crazy fish.
When sight fishing for mudding, tailing, or cruising carp, use a shorter leader and a drop or pendulum cast — just swing the fly out and drop it softly in front of the fish. Many times, they will spook despite your best efforts. A good tip is to be still and find a tree, shadow of a tree, or bush for cover, then let the fish come to you.
Setting the hook can be challenging because a carp can take in a fly and spit it out in a split second. You must be focused and watch your fly at all times. Be like a great blue heron stalking its prey.
Catch Your Own Carp On The Fly
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