Find shallow dishes near deep edges. Look for the rivers that feed Merrymeeting Bay, as well as the flats in the bay itself, as this is the only place carp live here in Maine, introduced by Europeans as a food source in the late 1900s. 1800. Even though they’ve been here for about 150 years, they’re invasive, like most of us, if you go back far enough.
Do: watch and learn. Watch the floating carp sink and rock, watch the cloud of mud rise around it, the carp disappear, disappear somehow. Look for mud clouds. Not the rapidly dissolving feathers of startled fish (you’ll see those too), but the slowly rising clouds of ash that betray the feeding carp, bulldozing for molluscs and worms.
Look for tails. Not the full outline, but the color not quite right – tan with pink hues, then the slow motion of a feeding carp tail.
Don’t: Throw at floating fish. Don’t even bother. It’s tempting – their O-ring mouths just below the surface, their piggy bodies shaped like skittles. They look silly, easy to fool, but don’t kid yourself.
Also, don’t cast at fast-swimming fish; they won’t eat your fly. Don’t toss lead fish into a string; frighten him, and the rest will also fly away, like geese. Don’t fake too many casts (they’ll feel you), rock the boat (they’ll feel it), cast over their heads or swim your fly towards them (prey swims away from predators, I was once told a wise guide).
Do: wade as much as possible. You will make less noise and scare the fish less. Wear thigh high boots (or get duck itch like I did recently). Do: Keep carp spots nearby. Where else can you toss 15 pound freshwater fish in 12 inches of water on sight?
Do: Cast at slowly gliding fish, those that come out of mud plumes. Don’t: Take your fly off too quickly (or not at all).
Rod high, drag your fly then drop it naturally close to the carp’s eyeball, fly away from the fish. Observe body language. A flare or a quick turn equals a scared fish. A slow turn and rocking down means you’re ready.
And whatever you do, after all those fishless days (there will be fishless days), all those refusals (embrace them), don’t wait to feel a strike. You will not feel any pain.
Do: Watch for the slightest tremor, the head buried atop your fly, the enthusiastic tail kick. It can’t be taught: it’s intuition, fishiness, a sixth sense. Feel nothing. Undress for a long time and tighten.
Do: Add reinforcement to your fly line before the trip. The big ones (over 10 pounds) will drain your fly line. Check your drag. Check your hook point. Let them run after the hook; they will bend the hook if you don’t (my friend Courtney can attest to that).
Fight them quickly. They will tire after a few good runs. Anticipate the climb when they first see you or when they see the boat for the first time. Bring a large fillet or, if you forget one, grab the thick meaty strip near the tail. Get ready for a beating.
Carefully remove the fly from the rubbery golden mouth. Take some pictures. Admire its clumsy beauty: wide prismatic scales, drooping barbells, powerful paddle tail. Revive the carp slowly, so that it comes back on its own, again in the dark. Tell your trusted friends, but not those who would give your place.
Go home and tie some carp flies. Experiment with color and shape and drop rate. Fall asleep thinking of mud plumes and wagging tails, strip-set and whiny drag. Wake up and check the tide charts; plan your next carp hunting day.