Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The "Golden Bones" Misnomer

I love stalking the flats for both bonefish and carp and, while there are some similarities between the two species, it is time to stop treating carp like an ugly freshwater stepchild.  Carp are great quarry, period.   

Here's why we should put an end to the 'golden bones' and 'poor man's bonefish' analogy:

Tails from the Dark Side
All Fish Within a Species Are Not the Same:  A bonefish in Los Roques behaves very differently from a bonefish in Ascension Bay. One will slam a gummy minnow while the other will delicately slurp a Gotcha.

The same can be said for carp.  I've heard Lake Michigan carp will chase down, inhale and annihilate a large goby streamer pattern, while carp in other parts of the country barely move an inch to pursue their prey.  I had the pleasure of fishing with John Montana and Mr. P last week and they told me carp on the Columbia River eat a lot of clams.  Perhaps their local carp are not used to chasing their prey, as they rarely move towards flies.  Apparently the takes are incredibly subtle as well.

Here in east Idaho, the carp feed on a smorgasbord of forage and take flies extremely aggressively.  Yesterday I had two different carp jump out of the water and cartwheel when they felt the hook set. I've never seen a bonefish do that.

Our local carp are a lot more like redfish than any other species.

A Local Carp Reacts to the Hook Set
They inhabit very similar weedy, shallow water; they will usually chase down a fly and reward a decent presentation; if you miss a take the first time, they will frequently strike again; when you hook one carp, one or two others will frequently follow the hooked fish and your fly.  

Hell, our local mirrors even look like redfish when they are swimming.

The Runs:  Some of our smaller local carp will make your reel sing, peeling off 90-100 feet of fly line and 50 yards of backing in the first run.  In that respect, they are quite similar to bonefish, although the overall velocity is not the same.  Larger local carp, however, tend to simply power forward with a deliberate brute force, like a boss redfish.

Rocky Mountain Redfish
Our local carp generally travel in small groups to mud up a flat, frequently with their bronze tails waving in the air.  Some days it looks as much like the Louisiana bayou here as it does a reservoir in Idaho.

Fly fishing for carp will make you a better bonefish angler - you get used to stealthy shallow flat wading, casting to cruising/tailing fish and, most importantly, avoiding the dreaded 'trout set' on fish that like to 'hoover' their food. 

However, I think the similarities between the species end beyond that.

At the end of the day, it's carp fishing - period.


  1. It's interesting how ones mindset can change concerning these things. I have come to appreciate the beauty that carp have. I never would have thought I could, but I find their golden hues, differing scale configurations, and line patterns fascinating and appealing.

    Granted, I have caught a couple nasty looking fish. But for the most part they are just a darn cool fish to catch all around.

  2. Excellent stuff. Following the blogs of many of the above commenters over the past couple of years, I have been amazed at the different ways we go about catching these awesome fish. Great post.

  3. I agree Gregg. We have some beautiful carp here in Idaho.

    Yes, bonefish are awesome, but so are carp - in their own distinct way.

  4. Right on Dave. I just think carp are more like redfish than bonefish.

    Have a great time at Beaver Island.

  5. Completely agree. Carp are NOT bonefish. That's for sure. I've fished both (mostly bones) and have to say so far carp are my favorite fresh water fish. The whole sight-fishing aspect is just addictive... and you've got to bring your A-Game as well. Fairly delicate presentation, with accuracy, no slack, feed the fish, feel for the take. It's all there.

    I'd second the carp-fishers bonefish trip. I'd have to say successful carp fishers are probably the most prepared of all freshwater fly fishers for the rigors of bonefishing. The only exception to this is the speed with which everything happens on the salt flats. Of course, there are those times when bonefish are barely moving, tailing away and you've got time to get set and make a proper presentation. Carp almost always seem to be moseying along.

    Of course, the other big difference is the sheer speed and power of bonefish. I've caught 8-pound carp on 8 pound tippet. You ain't doing that with a bonefish. Not unless you're Neo from the Matrix... or maybe some kind of Jedi. (Yes, I'm aware of the world records for bonefish on light tippet.)

    Anyways, keep preachin the word, brother.