The carp may be our smartest, and most challenging freshwater gamefish. BY DAVE WHITLOCKDave and Emily Whitlock (above) fish for carp on the flats of Green Bay on Lake Michigan.
This golden ghost weighed 38 pounds.
Let's create a super-fish for fly fishing in the 21st Century. It should be smart, selective, strong, fast, almost indestructible,
and plentiful in cold, cool, warm, and tropical waters from coast to coast and border to border. This super-fish should never
need stocking, must coexist peacefully with other gamefish, feed on flies from top to bottom, and be as colorful as a Snake
River cutthroat. Such a mysterious wonder-fish would be as valuable as gold, so we should call it something special; how
about the "Golden Ghost?"
What fish could we cross to develop such a magnificent super-hybrid? How about first crossing a bonefish with a permit for
speed, strength, wariness, selectivity, and prestige? For durability, let's cross this "per-bone" with a redfish and a cutthroat
for brilliant color, ability to live in warm or cold waters, and a distinct willingness to feed from top to bottom on flies that
imitate almost every conceivable natural food. Dave's Popcorn Bug Dave's Damsel Nymph Whitlock Chamois Leech Whitlock's Bright Spot Carpenter Ant
There's still one more ability that this wonderful fish needs to posses: the ability to survive man's pollution. Resistance to acid
rain, PCBs, heavy metals, siltation, and oxygen depletion, as well as disease and parasites, would be a distinct advantage. It
looks like we'd have to find a stainless-steel fish for the final hybridization. The crazy twist to this fantasy fish idea is that
nature has already evolved it for us, and it has lived in the United States for well over 100 years. It's been in Europe and in
its native Asia much longer. This incredible fish is the carp, and I'm coming out of the closet to tell you that I've been quietly
fly fishing for this "golden ghost" for over 50 years.
n fact, since I declared myself a carp fly fisher about four years ago, I've been amazed and pleased at how many people have
told me about accidental and planned encounters with carp as they fished lakes and streams across North America and Europe.
The first carp I caught on a fly hit a #10 black-and-yellow bream fly I was using on Taft Lake in Oklahoma on June 1, 1946. It
fought so hard and so long that it put a permanent bow in my first fly rod, a well-used, 9-foot, 3-piece bamboo that my dad
had bought in a pawn shop.
I never forgave that rod-warping carp, not only because it bent my rod, but because I thought I had a 10-pound bass and it
turned out to be a meager 4-pound, golden-sided, "bugle-mouth bass." Even back then, I was ashamed to tell my folks that
I'd caught a lowly carp, because I thought they might laugh.
The fact is that fly fishers since the beginning have been fooled by carp into thinking they have hooked a world-record brown
trout, walleye, salmon, or smallmouth bass, only to have their elation sink into shame and embarrassment when their "record fish"
rolled to the surface to reveal the golden-laced, checkerboard side of a carp.
Over the years, I've gradually become more interested in these remarkable fish. Encounters with them have always been challenging
and surprising, like my first hookups on surface flies in the spring of 1957.
While spring squirrel hunting from my canoe along Bayou Creek in Oklahoma, I noticed large fish swirling under overhanging mulberry
trees as feeding squirrels and birds dropped the berries into the water. The next weekend I returned with my fly rod and a purple
deer-hair mulberry fly I had tied, and I hooked carp from two to nine pounds, right at the surface!
Any fish is fun to catch on a fly rod, but when a big carp takes a fly, it's more fun than any other freshwater fish. Why? Carp are more
like the elite saltwater flats fish--bonefish, permit, redfish, and cubara snapper. They are faster than a trout, stronger than a permit,
and have more staying power than a smallmouth bass. After all my years of searching, four years ago I discovered a paradise of carp
fishing, and I can't keep quiet any longer.
I have been fortunate to fly fish some of the world's best fisheries, but I rank the trips I've taken for the last four summers to the
limestone flats of Lake Michigan, fly fishing for tailing "golden ghosts," high on my top-ten list.