February 01, 2021
The dorsal fin breaks the surface, cutting the water like a knife before gliding slowly back into the depths. Attached to a large, chunky body, the dorsal is only one of the tell-tale signs that a grass carp swims in the shallows of fresh and brackish waters across the south.
You don’t catch a grass carp because it's a trophy (it's not) or because it tastes delicious (bleck!). Going after them requires sight-fishing and a quick hand, and when you can’t make it to bonefish flats or redfish waters, a grass carp will do. Can you catch a grass carp on a fly rod? Absolutely. But it’s hardly a sure thing.
Grass carp are members of the minnow family, growing over four feet long on a predominantly herbivorous diet. Found across the state but originally hailing from Asia, grass carp are stocked in Florida to control aquatic plants. The hatchery-bred "triploid" specimens planted here are functionally sterile; if you do catch one in Florida, you must release it.
Because of their herbivorous feeding habits, grass carp don’t rise to traditional flies or streamers. On warm days, watch for the fish cruising the shoreline—they will swim into waters so shallow that their dorsal fins break the surface. Tie on a ten-pound tippet. You’ll want a 5- to 8-weight fly rod, depending on the size of the carp in the local waterways.
Unlike many other species, the specific fly is less important than its general ability to land in front of their noses and stimulate opportunistic feeding. Small panfish poppers, brightly colored, will attract the carp’s attention, as will leggy, buggy nymphs beneath a strike indicator. In South Florida, carp are known to go after flies that imitate other parts of their predominantly vegetarian diet—including mulberries and the rich purple ficus berries, blown from shoreline trees into canals in the spring and fall (watch attentively beneath overhanging limbs for surface activity indicating the presence of grass carp feeding).
It’s critical to determine first where the grass carp are cruising. Wading along the shore or in a stable boat, anglers must sight-fish and quickly cast poppers or nymphs directly in the path of the carp. They will not chase the offerings like a predatory fish species, but will rise to the surface to mouth the fly. Use the slow, mouthing take as the impetus to strip-set.
Once the hook is set, the carp will make two or three long runs, but let the drag do the work; don’t horse them because the small, wire hooks will inevitably straighten. They’re not known for long fights, so give the fish plenty of drag and wait for the fish to tire easily.
They may not be excellent eating or a particularly exciting chase, but grass carp have one characteristic that all anglers seek: size. When fishing opportunities are curtailed to a local pond, lake, or a slow-moving, nearby river, going after enormous grass carp will raise heart rates and add a novel species to the life lists of outdoorsmen and women.
Editors Note: Grass carp are protected so they cannot be kept or relocated. FS
Florida Sportsman Magazine February 2021