Golden Bones and Silver Drums

As people around the United States honored the nation's fallen soldiers with celebrations, races, and other fanfare, I decided to take advantage of the freedom that these brave men and women provided to me by grabbing the fly rod, waders, and heading out in search of some big fish. 

Rather than going to one of the places that I already know, I decided to check out a new spot that another local angler had told me about. As soon as I arrived and made the trek down the wooded trail towards the creek, I instantly knew that I had made the right decision. 

First Memorial Day Carp
Looking over the edge from behind some dense overgrowth, I could see many carp swimming up and down this creek's edges. A steady flow of floating algae pods were making their way downstream and every few blooms had a school of carp enjoying the bounty that they offered. Taking note of this surface activity, I tied on a fly called the devil bug. This particular fly had a green body and a dirty white shell that matched the abundant amount of white fluff that was floating on the surface and sticking to the blooms of algae. 

About ten yards upstream, I noticed a very active set of lips going to town on a bloom so I made a cast that landed about two feet from it. The cast was noticed and a fish quickly left its bloom and made its way to my fly. As I watched, a set of lips emerged and my fly disappeared. I set the hook and the fish quickly ripped some line off my reel and gave me a great fight. As it was ending, I had the fish near the edge of this creek but I struggled to figure out how to actually land it on this steep and slippery bank. As I struggled with this, the fish decided it had enough and took this opportunity to self release. This actually happened a few more times this day.  

After a couple more attempts with the same result, I decided to throw on a new backstabber that I had tied the night before. I changed the colors a bit to match the hatch that I have near me as well as adding some bulk to make sure it would be noticed a bit easier in the murky waters that I frequent. I also used bead chain instead of a barbell to slow its rate of descent. My goal was to have it sit in front the face of cruisers instead of it sinking to the bottom so quickly. I wasn't really sure how well it would work, but I figured this would be a great place to test it out since most of the carp here were cruising instead of rooting.

I spotted my target, made the cast, and had two come right for it. When the fly disappeared, I set the hook and heard a snap followed by a weightless feeling at the end of the line. Holy crap, that fish snapped the line! While it was obvious that my new version worked quite well...I wouldn't get to use it since it was stuck in the lip of some poor fish. Oh well, at least I know how I am going to start tying a few of them. 

I tied on another backstabber and on the next cast hooked up with fish number four for the day. I cast to a pair of cruisers that had one big fish and a markedly smaller one. I had hoped the bigger fish would grab it, but the smaller of the two was the first to the prize. It was a short fight without much excitement, but as the old saying goes, "third time's a charm." I found a somewhat less steep edge and was able to get down to the water a bit easier which allowed me to actually land the fish. 

Brandon Road Lock and Dam
After snapping a couple of photos, I decided to walk downstream towards the sound of rushing water for a bit of an investigation. Once there, I was quite overwhelmed at the size of this dam. I had seen pictures of it before, but until I stood face to face with this giant wall of water, I really didn't grasp it's enormity.

Even more surprising to me was the sight of a guy standing out there fishing right in front of it. After watching him for a minute, I figured if he was comfortable with it, then it must be OK.   So I cautiously waded out there to talk with the guy and see if he was having any luck. As I write this, I realize how dumb that sounds and I recommend that people use common sense before doing anything; even if everyone else is doing it. Anyways, as I neared the guy, I realized that the person out there fishing was the very guy that told me about this spot in the first place! HA! 

Naturally, I stayed out there and did some casting. While we talked about fishing, he caught quite a few fish including a pretty big drum, a nice smallmouth, and a beast of a catfish. I, on the other hand, kept getting strikes but was never able to actually hook up. I looked down at my feet and saw a three foot gar swimming by which explains why I can't connect! With this knowledge, I changed flies to a small chartreuse clouser as well as my approach. My goal was to work the lower portion of the water column and avoid the gar. On my second cast, I was rewarded with my very first drum on the fly!! A while later, I would repeat with a second drum. These are great fish with a lot of power making them a blast to catch on the fly!

Shortly after catching the second drum, the water flow increased from the dam and the water seemed to start rising pretty quickly so we decided to start wading a bit closer to shore. The wind had also picked up quite a bit so I decided to hit the creek again and see if I could find another willing carp while he stayed back and continued fishing the dam.

First Drum on the Fly
I decided to be a bit more selective and wait for the bigger targets that I had seen cruising earlier. About ten minutes later, I spotted two huge carp actively hunting and I placed the fly right between the two. All of the sudden a third, and much larger fish that I had completely missed, raced up and snatched the fly right from the mouths of the other two! I hadn't even seen this fish at first but once I saw him inhale the fly, I set the hook and held on.

Now, people have said that carp can make some good runs but generally they aren't blistering fast or incredibly long - this was NOT the case with this one. I hooked this fish about eight feet from where I was standing and just seconds later, I was stunned as I saw ninety feet of fly line dissapear followed by yard after yard of orange backing. I could do nothing but hold on and think to myself, "maybe that custom 6wt isn't such a good idea..."

Finally, the the drag's pitch lowered from a high pitch scream to a slow click click click and I began to reel. Suddenly, the line went completely slack!! No snap this time; just slack line. I feverishly reeled in some more line hoping that the fish had just turned and started heading back towards me but as I reeled, hopes began to dwindle. Finally, I could finally see the end of my line and a small black fly in tow with no lips wrapped around it. I sat down in disbelief, eventually collected myself, and decided to make one more cast in an attempt to end the day on a high note....Sure enough, I was greeted with a fish that was happy oblige.

One thing that I find incredibly fascinating about fly fishing for carp is that it is almost exclusively pure sight fishing. You see every moment of it from the big dark shadow cruising along to the take. I know that we humans like to assign human qualities to non-human things and I did just that with all of these fish. This fish, like all the others, seemed to be instantly filled with regret as I set the hook. I could almost read its mind and all I could hear was, "Oh man! Why couldn't I have just left it alone?!" It reminded me of a troubled person who was really working on trying to make the right decisions in an attempt to get their life back on track. Then, in a moment of weakness, they make one poor decision that derails everything they have been working for. With an instant and overwhelming feeling of regret, they try their best to run from that poor decision in an attempt to separate themselves from it.

Unfortunately for that carp, I was the bad choice and there was no running away from me

Ending on a high
That day, I went two for six on carp, zero for five on gar, and two for two on drum. The previous day, I went one for four on carp. All in all, it was a pretty good weekend!!


  1. Awesome! When are you headed south again? New kayak just arrived today....

  2. I am heading out around the 13th of June and will be there until the 22nd. My free days would probably be the afternoon of the 17th, mid morning on for the 18th. I am not sure if I will have a car this trip though...

  3. Awesome fish, I love dam fishing for smallies, surprisingly poppers wrk great at dams, well at least at Dam 5 on the Potomac.

    1. Loud top water stuff does seem to work quite well in turbid water.

  4. Interested much in carp on the fly. Haven't done it yet but the stalking aspect is appealing

    1. I'll trade you a carp trip for big browns, skams, hos, or kings

  5. I've been telling fly guys for years to try for carp. They usually poo-poo the suggestion.

    Only, I've never done it myself. Darn smallies keep getting in the way.

    People that say carp don't make blistering runs aren't fishing for them in rivers. It's the only fish I've ever caught that blew the ligament out in my hand, twice. I didn't learn the first time.

    Wait till you land the ones that are twice that size. Go to Lake Michigan some time and sight fish for the ones that look like dolphins.

    1. That's because many of them are just like any other purist...imagine telling a pure bass fisherman to go target carp and they would look at you like you just devirignized their daughter. Like I was talking to Dale about on his show, carp and other rough fish aren't "sexy". Bass fishing is sexy. Rainbow trout on the fly is sexy. Smallies with little pearl white grubs is sexy...

      Carp are not sexy so people feel that there is nothing to brag about so they don't care and rather catch a 1 pound bass with 40lb braided line and heavy action rods. (I won't lie, I still enjoy that as well)

  6. Wow nice fish! Sounds like a lot of fun catching carp on a fly rod.

    1. It sure is! I highly recommend doing it at least once


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