The canals in South Eastern Florida differ greatly from one to another. Some run through suburban backyards,others run through downtown city blocks, and some have thick canopies on the banks littered with Palm trees, Ficus Trees and other vegetation looking much like the canals in the Everglades. Certain times of year the Ficus trees blossom drop their fruit into the canals. When this happens it raises interest of a few hungry species of fish in the canals that like to eat the fruit, one of them being the Grass Carp. This is the best time you will have a chance at hooking one of the Grass Carp that inhabit these waters. They are true giants who prove to be quite challenging to stalk with their keen vision, and a sixth sense of just knowing you are there. Not to mention that these Carp eat different types of grasses, after all, that is why they were planted in these canals to begin with. They are responsible for the underwater "Landscaping" if you will in the canals to keep the weed growth down. This poses an issue to the fly fisherman who wants to target one of these beasts. What fly represents grass? Well, nothing on the market that I have seen...I have done plenty of research on Grass Carp patterns and have only found a few designed to target the Grassy but are not in production so you will have to tie them yourself. One is a Boa Hair tied fly that have a bit of Peacock Hurl tied into them to imitate a piece of grass, the other is a Ficus Berry fly. The Berry Flies are constructed from Styrofoam balls much like trout cork indicators which are glued to a hook and are painted to match the Ficus Berry. I have found both patterns raise little if any interest to the huge Canal Carp most of the time, but, once in a while, when conditions are right and you have a little bit of luck, you can get one to eat a properly presented Berry imitation.
Last weekend I made a trip back to the mainland to get some things in order to finalize my move to the Florida Keys. I hit up my buddy Chris and we made plans to do a little Bonefishing at a spot I had found outside of Miami. We tied some flies, gassed up the truck and motored to the flat. We made the 30 minute drive, suited up and waded out into the Atlantic. Shortly after getting into the water I spotted a GIANT Bonefish that probably went 12+lbs cruising like a mad man through the water. By the time I got Chris to see the fish it was too late to get a shot at it. It had dipped off the end of the flat into the channel and we never saw it again that day. So, we continued wading towards my favorite sand flat hoping to find another BIG Bone. By the time we made it to the prime zone, the thunder clouds had moved in and we lost all visibility. We both decided that this day was a loss and we agreed to head back to Lauderdale and get some breakfast.
While we were eating, the heavens opened up and it rained like hell! The streets flooded almost instantly. Lets just say that the drainage at sea level in Florida is less than ideal. We checked the weather and found a break in the systems and decided to try out one of the local canals nearby since it was still early in a.m. Rain can mean great canal fishing! Everything in the canals seem to go on the chomp after a new rainfall, especially Tarpon. We headed out the door and made a short drive to the ditch. Upon our arrival, we had no idea what was in store for us. Chris rigged up his 5 wt with one of his great looking, ever so productive minnow patterns which will work for everything from Ditch Tarpon, to Snake Heads. I on the other hand, was thinking a little bit different. I decided to focus my efforts on the freshwater Ditch Permit, Ditch Hippo or otherwise known as the Grass Carp. I was hoping for some good luck since I was fishing with the Ditch Fishing master himself.....Chris has many years of canal fishing in the Ft Lauderdale area and has many impressive catches in the ditches on light tippets. For instance, he has landed 25 lb Tarpon on a 5 wt running straight 8lb Maxima with no shock tippet section in his leader, and has landed a 30 lb Grass Carp on his 0 wt running straight 6 lb. Not too shabby. So, in order to keep it real in honor of Chris, I decided to throw my Sage SLT 4 wt. dry fly rod that I brought to Florida with me from trout country. I strung it up with one of Chris's Berry Flies and we headed up the bank. Chris was throwing casts along the weed line and was hooking all kinds of fish. He landed a few small Bass, a Peacock, and a few Mayan Cichlids. We spotted a few Snakeheads chilling up in the Grass, but could not get them to commit and make the bad decision and eat the fly. We kept heading up the canal and stopped by one of the bridges. I spotted a monster Grass Carp tailing on the surface. He was floating around and eating off of some of the grass mats near the bank. I crept down and made a ninja cast at the fish. I got lucky and put it right in front of his face. He did not even react! What a dick head!! He just kept on chomping away on stinky canal grass. He sat there for a minute and then turned towards me and slowly made his way towards my direction. I picked up my fly and made another cast at the fish. I put the fly down about 2 feet in front of the Carp. He cruised over to it and sucked it in! I am not going lie to you guys, I froze. I have seen probably 100 of these fish in the canals, and have cast to probably about 40 of them, some of them were good shots but none were this perfect. To actually see my fly disappear into the mouth of this giant vegetarian was indescribable. As I stood there doing nothing, Chris was yelling at me that "He ate it, set it". By the time I reacted to it, it was probably 2.5 seconds after the actual take. I buried the hook with a strip set, the fish turned and broke me off instantly! This fish was pushing 30 lbs without a doubt! I threw my rod down into the grass and laughed my ass off. Chris was cracking up at my tarpon set on this fish and he had every right to bust my balls. I finally got one to eat the Berry and I blew it. Oh well, I hooked one and saw it eat, I was stoked on the day and was happy regardless of the outcome.
I figured that it would be a while before I would get another shot, but somehow I must have tickled the Grass Carp's nuts just right that day. Chris spotted another Ditch Hippo pigging out on a Ficus Tree branch that was hanging in the water. I snuck my fat ass over to tree and set up for a cast. I made a cast and plopped the fly down right next to the tree. The carp rushed it, blew up on it like a Tarpon, and completely missed the fly. Surprisingly enough, he went right back to what he was doing before and began dining on the Ficus again. I could not believe he did not spook. I waited a minute, and made a second cast at the tree. The Carp rushed the fly again, but, this time he ate the crap out of it. I lifted the rod and got tight to him, and then it was game on! The fish took off into the deep water. I put as much torque on him as my 4 wt could muster up, but, there is just not that much backbone in a slow action dry fly rod. I managed to stop the fish briefly, then he ripped to the other side of the canal, then turned around and came straight back at me. He thrashed around on the surface and wore himself out pretty good. This turned out to be the last of the long runs. He made a few more small last ditch efforts to flee but could not shake the hook, and after a few, I managed to ease him over to the bank and tail him. I had finally managed to get my hands on a Grass Carp! All the prior attempts had finally paid off and I guess I finally had put in enough time for one to eat the fly.
Some species of fish will track flies and refuse them at the last minute, some will boil on and miss a fly, Tarpon will eat and jump you off sometimes, Grass Carp hardly ever show the slightest interest in a fly! Nothing! They just keep on swimming as if they did not even see your presentation. Once in a while you will get a brief consideration of eating the fly from a Grass Carp before the turn away and give you the finger and basically laugh right on your face. It is totally brutal, and is a game of extreme patience. But, when one eats, you will be very happy in all of your efforts and time invested wile your line is screaming off of your reel. Carp get a lot of Crap and don't get the respect they deserve. They fight hard and are tough to get to eat the fly. Give them a shot sometime, you will see what I am talking about.