Fall is one of my favorite times of year to target carp. They often put on the feed bag during any autumn warm spell, bulking up before the cooling waters slow their metabolic processes, and it can be a time of high rewards. It can also be a time of difficulty, especially if an angler is looking for fish to act like they were earlier in the season. They often don't. Shallow feeding becomes rather infrequent; carp are much more likely to be feeding on deeper mud flats. Subsequently, with the long shadows of the shortening day, fall doesn't lend itself to sight casting to visibly feeding fish as often as spring and summer. But that doesn't mean we need to slow twitch flies on the bottom hoping a carp finds it by chance. A convenient natural phenomena and the basic feeding behavior of common carp allow the observant fisherman to see carp they can't actually see. I put this to use one day after work this October.
I started the afternoon on a pond that has some true monster carp in it, but is also loaded with bass. I worked my way around the bank casting a woolly bugger, slow stripping it, pulling up chunky little largemouth after chunky little largemouth, waiting to see the telltale sign that a carp was feeding in the water in front of me. Unfortunately I never really saw it at that pond, but the dink largemouth quota was satisfied by the time I'd made my way around to where I'd started.
I then moved along to a creek up the road, a spot I don't think I've ever visited without seeing evidence of carp feeding. It's a heavily altered body of water, not a natural state freestone stream at all. It has man-made pools along it's length, and in these deep pools some carp winter over. These deep holes have big deep mud flats full of settled detritus, dragon fly nymphs, and crayfish. Carp feed on these flats in the fall and winter, and it's the ideal scenario for seeing fish you can't actually see.
What I mean by this is seeing the reel time signifiers that a carp is rooting in the bottom. This is something I've written about before, but I do think its worth a refresher. Decomposition of organic matter on the bottom of lakes, ponds, and streams creates nitrogen gas, which gets trapped in little pockets in the muck. As a bottom feeding fish like a carp or catfish roots around, digging out macro invertebrates, vegetation, or dead organisms, it liberates these bubbles of nitrogen and they rise to the surface in a steady stream. It takes experience to discern between the natural release of gasses that isn't caused by a living creature moving around, turtles mucking on the bottom, and carp. With time on the water it becomes second nature. It then takes more time to learn to read what the bubbles mean as far as the fish's behavior. That's the biggest problem with this type of fishing: knowing where the fish is facing and getting a fly close enough that it can see it. Sometimes a bubbler has a clear path of travel, sometimes it wanders aimlessly, sometimes it sits in a spot for a while then hops over 10 feet before digging in again. This deviant behavior is compounded by the fact that a fly doesn't simply sink straight down to the bottom from where it hits the water. It gets effected by current, the leader, the fly line, it's own shape and weight balancing... it's very complex. Really you need to make quite a lot of experimental casts at bubbling carp to get in front of the fish. I've been doing this for years and I still don't know what I'm doing. That said, even a blind squirrel can find a nut... or the smaller nut eating the big nut's leftovers.
As often happens the carp the fallfish was following spooked when I hooked it's little buddy. Fortunately there were plenty more bubblers to cast to and eventually I got my woolly bugger in exactly the right spot. I'd led the bubbler quite a bit and gave the fly one little hop when it looked like the fish had lifted its head (the bubbles subsided briefly). The take was very committed, and not at all subtle. I just abruptly came tight and the fish was peeling line. It wasn't big but I'll take any carp, any way, any time.
Bubblers aren't easy. I pulled that carp out of about four feet of water just making educated guesses at it's position and direction of travel. So though I couldn't buy another carp that evening despite plenty being around, I was more than happy to have caught that one.
As we roll on into winter, bubbling will become pretty much the only way to locate carp in most waters. If you're ate up with carp on the fly like I am, I'd say it's probably worth practicing fishing to the ones you can't actually see... even though it's the opposite of the shallow tailers that got most of us into the game.