Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Phoenix Carp Fishing

After a conference in Arizona this past week, I found myself with some spare time for fishing. I hit up The Hook Up Outfitters for a couple trips, one being some urban carp fishing. My guide, Dale, took me to the Crystal Gardens, which is a community development with a bunch of ponds stocked with all kinds of carp and koi. Over the half day, he taught me the tricks to getting them to eat, and I pulled in about 5 fish. I went back out on my own the next afternoon and even more. Here's a few pictures, with some pointers for doing it yourself after the jump.

Urban Fly Fishing for Carp in Phoenix

Where to Fish

We hit the Crystal Gardens. This is a community where the ponds are open to the public. You can walk around every pond on the map. You need is a freshwater license. All of the ponds have fish. I only had time to explore a few of them. The ponds all range in size and, at least this past weekend, in water clarity. Some are crystal clear, while others have a foot of visibility or less. My favorite was the pond by the playground because it was one of the crystal clear ones.

What to Catch

There are several different kinds of fish in these ponds. The most common are a type of koi, but don't ask me to break down the species of koi because I have no idea. You'll find lots of different colors though. There's also a healthy population of common carp, with my guide witnessing one catch of a mirror carp. I saw a couple grass carp as I was walking around, too. Of course, there are a bunch of smaller largemouth bass in the 10-14 inch range. I'm sure in the next year or so, they'll keep growing to a decent size, but with the general lack of cover, I doubt you'll run into monsters.

Tackle to Bring

We used 5 and 6 weight rods. The fish are all nice sized, but not are huge, and there are few obstructions from which you need to muscle them away. No need to bring big rods for these guys. Check out my post on picking the right equipment for carp. Leaders need to be VERY light. These fish are spooky. You'll need to run 6X tippet or smaller. I caught all the fish on small egg flies. Orange was the most productive color for me, but pink and yellow also worked. I tried a hare's ear for a little while, but visibility was too much of an issue. I'd suspect a San Juan Worm or something similar would work too, but I never tried it.

Technique to get the Eat

The bad news is these are SPOOKY fish, and you probably have a legitimate shot at around 5% of the fish you will find. The good news is you will find hundreds off fish. To have success, all you need to do is walk around the ponds. Most of the fish swim counter-clockwise, so I walked clockwise. The ponds have a few feet of gentle sloping flats and drop off to about 4 or 5 feet deep about 10 feet out. You'll generally find several different behaviors:
  • Fish eating algae off the edge of the wall
  • Lone fish (sometimes a pair) poking along the ground on the flats for food
  • Small schools of 4 or 5 fish slowly cruising along the edge of the flats or coming onto the flats
  • Enormous pods of 50-100 fish cruising along
These fish are spooky. Have I mentioned that already? No? These fish are spooky. In the more clear ponds, they're more spooky. The technique is generally the same for all of the situations, except the wall eaters. Find the closest feeding fish (the further away you can accurately cast to it, the better) and figure out it's relative depth. The eggs sink slowly, so you'll need to lead it enough to have enough time to get it in front of the fish's face. On the first day, I used a tiny bit of split shot to help get it down, but on the second day, the splash would spook the fish. 

When these fish want the fly, they'll swim a few feet for it, so you don't need to be perfect - but you should still try. If the fish looks like he should have seen the fly, but doesn't eat, I found stripping it a few inches would sometimes get them to come after it. Even still, you'll probably have 80% of the fish being completely uninterested in it, and 10% refuse it last second. The remaining 10% are the ones you're looking for. If the fish ignores your offering, move on. There will be many more shots in these ponds. After the closest fish ignores it, go for the next closest. If they're grouped together tightly, you'll need to be careful casting to the next fish. Once one fish spooks, they'll often spook out the entire group. This is especially important on your first cast to the large pods of fish.

When you find a fish eating against the wall, you need to take a slightly different tactic. These guys will often be poking their mouth completely out of the water. They're generally keyed in on algae and pond scum, so you'll have a more difficult time getting it to eat. Your best bet is to gently drop it as close as possible to the fish, and hope you time it well between when he's coming out of the water to eat and when he ducks under to move a few inches down the wall.

Final Word

This should give you enough information to get out there and duplicate my success. It's always a riot catching fish in an an urban setting - in my opinion anyway. Next time you're in Phoenix, swing by Crystal Gardens and let me know how it goes!

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