The Rain Train Hits Town and Stops

| August 19, 2016

ray roberts grass carp on fly

Well … who says there’s a drought? We have the rain train running over Denton, and that has put a lid on things around here for awhile. Not only do I have fly fishing rain delay, I also have some great new steel waiting for its final destination because of the rain delay.

Two days ago, I actually went out to steal some sanity, alone, in one of my favorite coves and I needed to visit the fishes after all. Little did I know I would be walking out with two tall tales, that just happen to be true! I know fishermen are known to be tellers of tales, okay liars, and fly fishermen generally have their share of tale tellers as well, okay they’re liars too. But two things happened on that overcast day that were, in all my years fly fishing Lake Ray Roberts, absolutely extraordinary.

When my Simms Boots first hit the squishy shore, and the toes started to swish the shallow edges, I heard a noise. I stopped dead in my tracks. My hearing isn’t that good anymore, mind you. As I scanned the first line of sticks offshore, I saw a tail fluttering in the wind between the sticks. Then I saw another. It was a “herd” of grass carp, and they were frolicking in the sticks.


I waded out, deeper and deeper, as quietly as possible. I was loaded for bear (for some strange reason) with the Simms Half-Day pack and a fanny pack under that as well. By the time I got to them, they hadn’t spooked. Why would they? They were in a churning mass of five fish, heads down dredging, tails up in 38-inches of water, and the mud cloud around them expanded for a diameter of eight feet.

There was only one way to go, and that was because they were in a clearing, but surrounded by sticks. The only way was to actually get close enough to get the drop (a dap) on them. Now going after grass carp is a frustrating, discouraging heart-pounding proposition at best. At worst? I can’t print it here.

It took forever just to get to the herd, but I was starting to make my calculations. My fanny pack was slowly going under. I already had a strong indication of water temperature as it passed my belt loops. I figured they had churned so much mud that they wouldn’t be able to see my approach underwater, although I was dressed appropriately for the day’s pursuits. I calculated that if I did hook one, now looking much bigger up close and personal, that it would be futile. I had an eight weight, and 10-pound fluorocarbon leader attached. And that if I did hook one, the sticks would make quick work of my slow stalking pursuit.

With all the odds I could imagine against me, I finally got so close that I was on the edge of the pasture where the cows were grazing. I dropped the fly on the 7-o’clock position of the circle, through the churning brown water. Tails were wagging. Tails as much as ten, twelve inches across. Tails wider than a keeper sand bass is long.

I gave one of those cautious lifts to see if there would be resistance. There was. I heaved straight up to set (no angle to do anything but), and the place exploded. Grass carp are notorious for how they fight, and not knowing they are hooked. And the first thing that happened was that the fish bowed up to the top on its side, about 36-inches worth. Then, it figured something was actually wrong, not indigestion, and it righted itself and immediately, as in instantly, ripped off 30 feet of line. We were headed to the next set of sticks, and I had no choice but to follow, as it had already woven the first thread of a tangled web through these sticks.

Now, the fanny pack is going under and the water is about to hit the backpack holding my camera. Thoughts ran between the fish, and what could I do to lose all the paraphernalia attached to my skinny rail. There was nothing to do, but get shallower, so I slid to the three-o’clock of the northbound train. I was able to actually get it to surface again, sideways, head up and we locked eyes. And that’s about the time it realized it was hooked again, this time headed for the bigger sticks.

These fish are pretty smart. This one hit the tree and tried to spin around it. I had lost ground as the water got way too deep, and just gave all the side pressure I could stand to risk. He came around and did a 180; we were heading right back to where we started … with me in tow.

We’re about ten minutes into this cage match, and we’re right back into the pasture where we started. The only way I could imagine holding onto this 30-plus fish was … to actually put the death grip on it, like a three-year-old headed into oncoming traffic. Thirty-eight inches of water and my elbow is up and my stick is dangerously high. I grab the leader and can only think I will have to drop the rod before I grip a fish that is about 20-percent of my own weight (on dry land).

The fish gods showed mercy on him, and left only the memory curse for me. He turned sideways once more, I presume for one last look at me, and twitched. The pop of fluorocarbon is so distinct isn’t it?

He headed back to the herd, which had stampeded to parts probably forever unknown. That is the thing about grass carp, they almost never come back.

Adrenalin, was coursing through my body. Extreme highs followed by extreme lows – perhaps the fittest definition of fly fishing there is for my ways of living these days. Even the instant replays in my head were distorted by the chemicals in my brain. There wasn’t much that could have gone better, given the situation, but it all still went all bad.

That was my first legitimate shot at a Ray Roberts grass carp. READ MORE It would have been a catch-and-kill fish because they are invasive on Lake Ray Roberts. These carp come, I’ve heard, from Lake Kiowa during the floods that wash over the dam there, and they make it all the way down to Ray Roberts. I have seen a couple of them in the past, including one that pushed the 70-pound mark, and another tail in another place last month. Over all these years, that was my third sighting and first encounter.

After I finished beating myself in the head with the “ifs” – if I had done this, or if I had done that – I started to think of the next time (heck I was planning the next day!) and what I would do differently. Take the skiff? No, wouldn’t have helped. How about a harpoon? Not exactly a conventional landing method – no. Heck, what about a gaff? Hmmm, I’ll have to look into that one? A net? The size of a Volkswagen maybe, and with a five-foot handle. No.

I realized a few hours later that was the adrenalin talking. The odds of another encounter with a grass carp, after three in ten years? Let’s just say I won’t be turning boy scout (“Be Prepared”) for grass carp anytime soon.


I tied a new leader on, and continued my calming walk along the flats. Carp were flushing here and there, but had zero interest in my fly. I zig-zagged back into a corner of a cove, the water warmer, and gin clear. It was a rainy Wednesday, and there was no sun to help. God help them if there were a sun to show them up.

The vegetation had become incredibly thick back in my old standby cove. In most areas it has grown in solid, with the light wispy kind of vegetation that fish tunnel through to avoid detection. I am telling you – IT’S THICK NOW! It is the kind of stuff that fowls a hook just by looking at it.

I still managed to get the drop on a few carp, and a few more refusals. After the grass carp run-in? it was adding insult to injury. The water was so calm, and need for stealth kept me moving slow. I spied and got the drop on another fleeing carp, and as I was holding my rod underarm to get a hand on the fly and de-weed my fly, I saw something different out of the corner of my eye. For those of you wondering, for those of you reading along after all these years: The answer is yes, my eyes do still work. Not a lot else does work as in the past, but my eyes are working for now.

I followed my eye, turning the other to get both eyes on a fish just laying there in six inches of water … dead-like. It had the splotchy look of a spotted gar along its sides, but it was so wide around and unlike a gar, I could see both sides of the fish at once. I edged closer in full stealth mode, and stood right over it. The head was down in the vegetation, but all the way along the back was a fluttering dorsal fin.

I tried to drop a fly down into the vegetation to actually catch the snakehead on a fly. There was no way of knowing where the head actually was, and the fish was definitely in some kind of stasis – probably because of the temperature drop in the weather. I simply lost my mind. I never thought to whip out a camera or phone. I was too freaked out standing toe to tongue with one of the strangest, scariest fish to roam freshwaters of the USA. I guess I thought I was going to catch him and take a picture? I was reconsidering the harpoon. The fish wasn’t moving. I took my rod and poked it a lot like a kid does when they come across something fantastic. He just slowly slithered off into that thick vegetation and was gone.

Will I go back and look for the snakehead? What do you think? Nobody believes me, so it becomes a science quest … for another needle in the haystack, but even rarer than grass carp. Strange days indeed.

CONCLUSION – Floods of spring brought more grass carp to Ray Roberts. There is one, and probably only one snakehead in Ray Roberts as of this writing. Where did a snakehead come from? Trust me, I have not used and have no supply of medicinals that would enhance or distort this story. The truth is much stranger than any fiction I could ever have written this rainy day.

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Category: Adventure, Complimentary Reading, Culture on the Skids, Fishing Reports, Fly Fishing For Carp, North Texas, Science and Environmental

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