One of the most important skills an angler needs to consistently be able to catch carp on the fly, is the ability to read the carp's behavior. Right now, across the northern USA, many carp are spawning. If you are new to carping, this can be an exciting and frustrating time. There may be carp everywhere, some larger than you may have ever seen, and some may even be jumping way the hell out of the water. To the beginning carper, all of the fish and activity can truly blow your mind and get your heart pounding. However, I've got bad news. You're going to want to keep moving if you want to actually hook one by the mouth!
Generally, spawning carp will not eat. You will be wasting your time on these fish but likely, there are fish feeding close by. Instead of pulling all of your hair out, you'll need to find the fish that are actually willing to eat. Surprisingly, fishing during the spawn can be incredible, as long as you can read the fish's behavior and choose the right one to cast to. To complicate this, there are many different types of spawning behaviors. Below I will discuss a few.
Carp spawning behaviors
Obvious spawning behavior: This is a no-brainer. If you are seeing groups of carp circling each other and splashing around in super-shallow water right next to the shore, these carp are obviously getting busy and are not going to eat anything you throw at them. Keep moving!
Subtle spawning behavior: I took some folks out earlier this year before I assumed any carp would be spawning. These carp were slowly chasing each other around and were in small groups that were both, closely and loosely grouped. Sometimes there would be just 2 or 3 moving slowly. In August, this would simply mean 2 fish cruising slowly; pick the bigger one and cast to it! However, during the spawn, these fish will not eat. Even though it may not be super-obvious spawning behavior, they are in some aspect of spawning. We couldn't get any to eat anything. Move on!!
This conduct can be the hardest to read. Below is a video I took of a group of carp exhibiting this behavior. Notice how they are grouped up. Before I started filming, they were in smaller groups and sometimes they were alone, but not for long. These fish were not actively engaging in reproduction but they were courting each other. These fish are not looking for food!
Many books, blog posts, presentations etc. have described what has come to be known as "wallflowers." These are carp, which are in the vicinity of spawning carp but for whatever reason, are not taking part in the ritual. They may have already spawned, may be taking a break, or are just not ready to spawn yet. These fish are catchable and there are at least 2 types of wallflower behavior.
Inactive wallflowers: These carp will be in the vicinity of spawners but may be sunbathing, resting, sitting still, or some other type of passive behavior. Just like any other time of the year, these fish may be caught but they are not actively feeding and therefore, the results may be varied. Make a few casts to them, if you are not getting any responses, change flies. If still nothing, move on! On some days, these fish will wake from their inactive state at the sight of your fly and pounce on it. Other days, they'll wake up and bolt.
Active wallflowers: Just like you may have already imagined, these are actively feeding/searching carp and they will eat big-time! If you can distinguish the difference between "subtle spawning behavior" and "active wallflowers," you are in for a good time. Sometimes these active wallflowers will be in a completely different part of the lake or stream. But as I ran into last week, I caught tons of active wallflowers tens of feet away from actively spawning shore splashers. My targets were tailing hard and some were even clooping. It was really insane to hook into one and watch it blow up the hundreds of spawners as it made its initial run.
In conclusion, reading carp behaviors is always important for distinguishing actively feeding fish from those that are not. During the spawn, it can be even more challenging. However, if you put in the time, the spawn can be some of the best fly fishing for carp of the year. Many of our Montana streams are currently experiencing a solid spring run-off. Don't get bummed, go carping!
|A group of carp showing subtle spawning behavior|
|These carp are exhibiting a more obvious subtle spawning behavior. Keep moving!!|