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The Salt River Project: Urban Carp Fishing

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 When most people think about fly fishing, they think about wild trout in beautiful forests or high mountain lakes. But how about fly fishing for carp in urban canals? If you fly fish in Arizona, you’ve probably heard about all the rave over canal fishing or seen impressive pictures of fifteen-pound commons on Instagram. It has definitely become more popular over the years.

The Salt River Project (SRP) has many miles of canals, with most being open to fishing. SRP puts buckets of grass carp into the canals to control algae so chemicals don’t have to be used to keep the canals clean. They also do not reproduce. The Salt River and Verde River flow into the canals, so there are also common carp, mirror carp, largemouth bass, strippers, bluegill, catfish, yellow bass, and a few other species that have made their way into these urban rivers.

A lot of people think that carp are “trash fish” and that they are easy to catch, but in reality they are a tricky species to land on the fly. Their swim bladder is connected to their inner ear, causing all vibrations and sounds to be amplified; sneaking up on these fish can be almost impossible. Not to mention they can be very picky. When starting out, I usually go for a crawdad-colored fly or a semi-seal leech and a minimum of 3x tippet (after losing a long battle with a fifteen-pound common on 4x). Although, I often find myself using flies or different techniques (like a dry dropper) for these fish that I never would have thought to use. I use a dry dropper for when the water is low and the fish are packed together. Throwing something light will spook less fish. I have had a lot of luck with Copper Johns when targeting grass carp. I’ve also talked to people that say you even have to change your sink rate. It all depends on the water conditions, what species you’re after and how the fish are behaving at that time. I try to look for grass carp that are actively feeding on the surface or common carp that have their faces buried in the mud.

When chasing these fish in the canals, it isn’t unusual to fish all day and only hook into a couple fish or none at all. Persistence truly is key when chasing these fish.

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