Mulberry Carp

by Scott Sadil

We’re standing around the ponds at the Orvis flagship store, where we’ve been casting rods I had to swear not to tell you about, when Drew Nisbet, Orvis’s fly fishing marketing manager, asks if I want to go fish for carp.

Do I hesitate a beat too long before answering?

“What?” asks Drew.  “You don’t like carp fishing?”

It’s not that simple.  Like most anglers, I’ll happily fish for just about anything that has gills and swims.  And if a fish eats other live animals—insects, other fish, crustaceans, small mammals, whatever—they can be fooled with a fly.  Vegetarians can be trickier, although the progress made by anglers casting for milkfish should be applauded, if only because flies tied to imitate algae pose a set of unique challenges, not the least of which is how to create a fly that approximates a wad of pond scum.

David Young and carp

Part of the breakthrough with milkfish, however, has been the discovery that they are actually omnivores; their nutritional needs are met not only by algae, but also by tiny crustaceans that live in the algae they feed on.  What a milkfish isn’t, on the other hand, is a predator.  Fishing for them is a fairly static endeavor, much the same as casting out a wad of bait and waiting for a bite.

Much the same has been said about carp and carp fishing.  Look at that mouth, for God’s sake.  But as fly anglers became interested in carp, often the biggest fish near home, found in waters that might be described as marginal at best, they quickly discovered there was more to fooling these fish than tossing out a fly that looked like a ball of wadded up Wonder bread.

Carp, too, are omnivorous—which goes a long way in explaining their unrelenting spread throughout the world today.  A glance at the carp literature (no, that isn’t oxymoron) reveals that carp are just as apt to eat insects and insect larvae, mollusks, crustaceans, and fish eggs, as they are aquatic plants and algae and even seeds.  With that well-known prehensile mouth, carp often feed by sucking mud from the bottom of pond or lake or slow-moving river, and then spitting out the uptake and feeding on whatever nutritional detritus they find suspended in the water before them.

In other words, carp are generally referred to as bottom-feeders.  Have you heard the one about the . . . ?  Never mind.  What’s important now, here at the Orvis casting pond, is that although I’ve fished often enough for carp, even with some success, I’ve never been particularly enamored with (1) casting flies for fish that grub through mud, looking for food, and (2) fishing in places that have little going for them, in the way of scenery or other bucolic airs, other than the chance to hook big ugly fish.

Well, come to think of it, maybe it’s just the settings for most carp fishing I’ve done that’s sort of turned me off the game.

Had I only known about fishing the mulberry hatch.

Catfish eat flies, too.

Sometimes you just have to admit you’re wrong, wrong, wrong.  And that’s utterly apparent to me the first time I see from Drew’s driftboat a ripe mulberry drop into the shaded water, beneath overhanging limbs, and a carp swirl and eat said fruit as if a big brown trout sipping a mayfly dun in a Delaware River back eddy.  Big like four big brown trout in one.  Are you kidding me?  Better still, the fly of choice, a tuft of some sort of sweet-pea-pink synthetic, is treated to float, so that when the carp sees it, and begins to ease its way toward the target, it all takes place in clear view, the real reason that most of us got into the sport of fly fishing in the first place.

When the nose comes up, and those lips open, you know you’ve done something right.

Gray’sangling editor, Scott Sadil, caught his first carp on a fly thirty years ago on Oregon’s Sauvie Island.