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Bill May: Interesting times on carp waters | OUTDOORS COMMENTARY

Fishermen, like most “experts” (especially stock brokers) are far better at explaining what happened than in predicting what will happen. Plus, as we’re always warned, “Past performance is no guarantee of future results.”

Except in the last week at Prettyboy Reservoir, where past performance of fly fishing the 2004 cicada hatch for carp was repeated as remembered and I predicted for this year.

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And except for me; I had interesting times. So I’ll mostly relay the experiences of two better fishermen, especially for carp, Joe Bruce and Billy Zeller, plus others.

Liberty and Loch Raven

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Things looked promising a couple of weeks ago. Joe was scouting Liberty Reservoir daily for signs of cicadas and carp activity. On his last scouting trip, he spotted some working carp. His cousin Chuck Thomson cast a Tiny Torpedo to them, a carp took and was landed, and the school scattered.

So Joe returned a few days later, hooked 12, caught 10, but had numerous refusals, which he attributed to smaller cicadas.

He returned the first Friday of this month, and caught 5 in 7 hours and the following Saturday taking only 2 in 5 frustrating hours. Meanwhile he observed a pair of geese and their gosling gorging on the bugs. At one point one of the adult geese shook a shoreline bush to dislodge more cicadas. Joe also observed muskrats with bellies disgorged with cicadas and still feeding plus an otter joined the feast. Meanwhile fish ignored the cicada hordes falling into the water and Joe’s bugs.

Billy Zeller caught decent numbers on his first trip to Loch Raven using spinning tackle including one specimen that bottomed out his 15-pound Boga Grip. He returned on Saturday and also caught only 2.

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Except for Billy’s behemoth, most carp were on the small side, about 3 pounds.

So last Sunday Billy and Joe tried Prettyboy Reservoir, the scene of our 2004 success and where Billy had a good day earlier this year. It was a repeat of 2004.

Using fly tackle, Joe fished less than 5 hours to hook 15 and boat 14 in the 3 to 4-pound range plus one over 7 pounds. Billy went farther up the reservoir, fished longer and took about 30 with several 7-pound fish. So, at least for this one day, my memories and predictions of the sizes and numbers of fish were spot on.

Joe Bruce with a typical Prettyboy carp last Sunday. Note the “fish cradle” for handling large fish.
Joe Bruce with a typical Prettyboy carp last Sunday. Note the “fish cradle” for handling large fish. (Bill May Photo)

Triadelphia Reservoir

When I scouted Triadelphia last week, two fishermen told me they “had a good day” on carp with spin tackle. One showed me his lure, a garish cicada plug shaped like a Jitterbug. I returned Sunday to scout and shore fish a cove before launching my kayak. On my third cast a carp grabbed my Tiny Torpedo, but I struck early and missed him.

Just as I retrieved the lure for another cast there was an enormous splash on my right as two golden retrievers jumped into the water in front of me. By some miracle I didn’t hook one. The fish departed at the disturbance as did I. I wasn’t happy. I have experienced and seen far too many cases across the country where people lead their dogs to jump into the water right where someone is fishing. I returned to the car, which also was unhappy, telling me electronically it was about to quit. So I gingerly returned home.

What’s the explanation and prognosis for this fishing? Prettyboy area temperatures are cooler than Liberty and Loch Raven, so possibly the hatch hasn’t peaked yet. Or maybe it just doesn’t have the overwhelming numbers. My guess is that no matter how much food is available, fish can only eat so much.

Western guides tell of giant stonefly and other big bug hatches where trout gorge for a brief time and then quit. So the anglers targeting these events often arrive at the worst time to catch trout. I once had a banner day in Utah on Pale Morning Duns. When I told the fly shop owner I thought I took every trout in the minor hatch, he replied these small hatches often produce the best action for fishermen.

I have seen bluefish and bass gorge themselves until they vomit up their feast and then keep feeding. (Some humans do this too.) But this behavior is the exception. Most species quit when they have had enough.

So as the cicada hatch winds down in the next few weeks, fishing might actually improve. The fish begin to lock in and feed on the cicadas again, and with a repaired car, I may still get a shot with my kayak). As I recall, perhaps faultily, our best fly rod carp action in 2004 was late in the hatch.

Liberty, Loch Raven and Prettyboy require a yearly permit for boating. Enforcement folks are active. Shoreline fishing is allowed for licensed anglers, but with high pool, shoreline access is limited and often blocked by shrubs.

This simple foam carp fly is effective.
This simple foam carp fly is effective. (Bill May Photo)

So here are some other options:

Loch Raven offers daily rental boats. Call 410-356-9272.

Triadelphia offers limited shoreline fishing and daily permits for boats. Call 301-206-7485.

Piney Run Lake has boat rentals and daily launch permits. Call 410-795 -5165.

Cunningham Falls Lake. Call 301-271-7574.

Centennial Park Lake. Call 410-313-7256.

Lake Roland is loaded with carp and has good access. Call 410-887-4156 or 410-396-7931.

These places have different rules, may or may not have significant carp populations, but do have other species that feed on cicadas if present. Make safety a priority, e.g., stay away from dams and prohibited areas.

P.S. Joe and Billy returned to Prettyboy Wednesday with Alan Feikin — 52 carp with one 10-pounder and a couple of bass.

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