Urban Fly Fishing: Tricking Carp in Downtown Houston
Growing up within an unsupervised bike ride of Brays (Braes – see note below) Bayou*, I’ve seen countless carp swells from the Braeswood running trails. As kids, we would take our conventional starter rods and some hot dogs under the Stella Link bridge to channel our inner city Huck Finn-nature, even if only for a couple of unsuccessful casts.
It’s not a normal fishery. Brays Bayou is an urban stream, subject to all that goes with being an urban stream in metropolitan Houston, Texas. Let’s be honest: it’s a drainage ditch of poop (sewage) water fed by the treatment plants.
After some internet digging, I found the Brays Bayou hasn’t always been sporting the industrial funneled-with-concrete look. Way back in the mid-1800s, Brays was a much more attractive tree-shaded waterway lined with sporadic sand bars and filled with swiftly moving, clean water.
Regardless of the nasty nature of the water, it isn’t uncommon to see a fly angler casting along the banks. A curiosity that stemmed back to my childhood adventures led me to reach out to experienced Houston fly fisherman Matt Phillips for some basic tips for beginners looking to get into urban fly fishing Houston’s Brays Bayou. Here is what Matt had to say:
Prepare for a Low Success Rate
These carp are difficult to catch. A beginner that is looking to hone their skills should recognize that this waterway is just that, a body of water to practice on that gives you a slightly higher chance of catching a fish than your usual practice space: your front yard. This will not be an exercise in catching.
On top of a low success rate, prepare to be fishing on higher levels of frustration that usual because most of these fish will be highly visible and feeding right in front of you.
Your odds are increased in the spring through the fall where the carp will be feeding in higher numbers.
Tackle and Fly Recommendations
To land a Brays Bayou carp, a well-placed cast is going to be the trick. These fish aren’t going to aggressively chase your fly. Like a pizza delivery man, it’s your job to put the food right in front of them because they aren’t interested in the effort required to get it themselves.
Casting off of a 7wt or 8wt is recommended. There will be a lot of action on the surface, which means dry flies is the place to start. If the surface isn’t feeding, switch to general nymphing in the quick current.
Sneak Up Slow and Fish Low
In general, carp are extremely spooky fish. The spook factor magnifies exponentially in Brays Bayou; these fish have a cryptic sense of the observation that makes them seemingly uncatchable. While they are accustomed to noise, they will spook immediately at the sight of you creeping down the bank on top of them. The wrong route down the steep concrete bank could cost you your shot.
If you spot a school of carp, walk down as close to the water level as possible a good distance away from the school. Once you are on the water level, you can start gaining ground on the school until you are within a relatively comfortable casting distance.
If casting an adequate distance becomes a problem with the high concrete wall or overgrown shrub behind you, try roll casting. Roll casting will increase the number of casts you get in front of their face thus increasing the probability of you landing one.
Clean Strip Set
Their “pick up and spit out time” is very quick. When they bite, you have to strip set immediately – don’t try to trout set; it won’t work. Before the fly passes in front of the carp, make sure your line/leader is as straight as possible to set up a clean strip set. The downside to an aggressive strip set is that if you are unsuccessful, you will likely spook the entire school.
*Interesting Note – Is it Brays Bayou or Braes Bayou?
Thanks to some research by the Harris County Flood Control District, the two early documentations of this waterway couldn’t agree on a name. On January 3, 1828, Edward N. Clopper referred to “the junction of Buffalo Bayou and Brays Bayou” in his journal. On January 4, he wrote “at the junction of Braes and Buffalo Bayou.” The name discrepancy endures 180 years later. Credit – Bayou City History – Bayou City History Blogspot
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