Earlier this month the annual CARP SLAM took place along the banks of the South Platte River in Denver Colorado. The event is put on by the local Denver Trout Unlimited Chapter, we caught up with Rick Mikesell who sits on the board of the TU chapter to learn more about the Carp Slam event and who won the 2020 slam. Rick is an avid carp angler in the Denver area and Chief Operations Manager at Trouts Fly Fishing, a sponsor for the event.
Flylords: What is the Carp Slam?
Rick Mikesell: This was the 14th year of The Carp Slam – a fly-only carp fishing tournament celebrating the urban Denver stretch of the South Platter River. Each year, 15 pro/am teams compete to catch the most inches of carp. Teams are paired via random draw, and each team receives a randomly assigned morning & afternoon beat on the Urban Denver South Platte. Prizes are also awarded for the largest exotic species caught, like smallmouth bass, crappie, or rainbow trout. The event has become well-known in Denver.
The Carp Slam is the primary fundraising vehicle for the Denver Trout Unlimited chapter. This is a not-for-profit warm water tournament like many of the others you have seen pop up in the past few years, all proceeds go directly to our conservation efforts on the Denver South Platte. Planning a fundraiser in a global pandemic has been quite challenging, be we are confident we can use this day to continue our mission of creating a sustainable, quality urban fishery; literally out our backdoor (my new office window looks directly at the river, and I get to watch tricos creep out of their shucks on the glass every morning as I respond to emails).
Our charter is conservation first – we do not use our funds to pay fishing celebrities to speak at our chapter meetings, we do not use our funds to arrange private water fishing outings, our funds are directly applied to real initiatives in and on the Denver South Platte.
As the urban corridor undergoes stream restoration through its entirety, we have slated ourselves stakeholders in each individual project. Denver is a large city, and there are many vested interests in the river as a resource. Most projects are focused on broad outdoor recreation access, primarily boating and urban beautification, with little focus on fishing and fisheries health. Through fundraising and advocacy, we have been able to give a voice to the angling community, and to the fish inhabitants of the river, seeing that every step is executed with the health of the fish and access to anglers in mind. A link to completed and in-progress projects can be found here.
Our biggest achievement in the last few years has been in the Chatfield Reallocation Project. As a stakeholder, we have directly raised $75,000.00. These funds go directly to the purchase of Acre Feet of Storage in the Newly Expanded Chatfield Environmental Pool. With our allies; The Greenway Foundation and Denver Water, we now have access to 500-acre feet of stored water, to be released at the call of CPW to eliminate the 100+ zero flow days from Chatfield Reservoir. You can only imagine the immediate impact a constant supply of cold, clean water will have on the temperature, aquatic insects, and fish stocks of the river below. We will begin seeing these releases in 2021.
In the 20+ years, I have been fishing the Denver South Platte, I have seen an unbelievable positive charge in the health of the system, and am grateful for the work those before me have done to benefit my home river.
Flylords: Who took home the 2020 Carp Slam title?
Rick Mikesell: This year, Chris Galvin (5 Time Carp Slam Champ!!!) and Ryan Russell, a rockstar carp angler from the Phoenix Area, crushed the competition and put up some astounding numbers! Together they put up 89” of carp, including a 35.5” monster. With Chris’ Tournament Winning Pedigree, Ryan’s extensive knowledge on the uber-technical AZ Carp Game, and a beat with some happy fish in the morning, there was no stopping them!!!
Flylords: What were some of the highlights from this year?
Rick Mikesell: 2020 was a year of challenges to planning a charity event, but we took the challenge head-on and, from all accounts made some very tasty lemonade! The success of the event has long rested on the full-time guides who volunteer their services for the day, given the tough season our guides have faced early on, we, as a board have fundraised a $350 stipend to pay each guide for their time, ensuring that the stewards of the river are given the credit and compensation they deserve. This is independent of the tournament’s conservation net proceeds, and many Pro/Guides have chosen to waive this payment, and put the funds directly towards the river. We have also taken the fundraising first approach to an extreme this year, and cut any superfluous spending on the event, running lean and mean to maximize the end net for the river.
Last year was the largest grossing tournament in its 13-year history, and we likely beat that number in 2020. In 2019, we made a very large push for inclusivity in the event, with more female participants in 2019 than in all previous years combined. I was lucky enough to fish with the first female amateur champion, Brittany Nickolas. This year, almost half of the amateur participants are female! These amateur competitors are also responsible for the bulk of the fundraising. To date, the amateurs have raised over $18,000.00.
Flylords: How did you and your team do?
Rick Mikesell: While we fell short of the podium, all in all, it was one of my favorite carp slams! I was paired with an awesome amateur – Priscilla Dorszynski,- who has been really crushing the saltwater game and was taking the carp game head on! Coming off a 1st place finish last year, there was a lot of pressure to keep the title, we had quite the entourage of photographers, spectators, volunteers, following us around in the morning beat. Couple the pressure with extraordinarily low and clear river flows, and maybe the spookiest freshwater quarry of them all, and it was a challenge to say the least! The few happy fish we did find were well guarded by a group of sentry dink largemouth bass, who made sure to light up your fly before it got anywhere near an intermittently feeding Carp. If I don’t see another dink largemouth on the end of my line for the next 5 years, I won’t complain!! Priscilla and I caught more little bass than we would ever want to and did our best to try and get around them to the cycling super grumpy carp.
The afternoon we finally settled in and got into a groove. The spectators had thinned out, and the pressure was waning with Chris Galvin already way out ahead of all the other teams. After finally finding some truly happy fish, I went 0-2 in the very first fishing session on the afternoon. Both fish were tailing in a slough right in front of an agricultural pump. The pump was the best camouflage I had to keep them from seeing me in the extraordinarily clear water. The first fish pounced, and ran directly under the pump, wrapping around the valve; boom, hook straightened…… Carp have super gummy mouths, and with good knots, and heavy tippet, it is very rare to break fish off, unless they wrap you around something solid, like a pump valve……
Luckily, I found one more still feeding just a clip downstream. When carp spook, they release a stress pheromone, that alerts all the other fish around that something is not right, and generally, all fish in close proximity spook too, or at the very least, stop feeding. The second fish was much wary than the first, it rolled over to the fly slowly, and took a quick taste, set, and he immediately ran right into the pump. SNAP, this time at the tippet knot (should have checked after the last fish wrapped me….).
Priscilla was up next, and we found some smaller fish cycling in a slot just upstream. As we were retying from a tree snag, a much nicer fish rolled into the slot, and right in the zone. We finished tying the knot; CAST, HIGH IN THE COLUMN! DRAG! DRAG! DROP! SET! BOOM! FISH ON! Priscilla did everything perfectly, and we scooped her first DSP carp, and her biggest fish ever into the net! The fish was measured, photos were snapped, and air high fives were given, and we were feeling great! Unfortunately, all the commotion of the first hour had put all the fish into a super grumpy mood, and they wouldn’t stick around to look at anything. We moved back upstream and found a few fish here and there, but all spooked before we could get a good presentation….
At the end of the day, Priscilla took home the prize for the largest fish (and only fish) caught by a female angler! It was one of the more challenging Carp Slams I have fished (My 5th year competing) and had I came through with just one of the fish I fed, we would have had a strong second-place finish, but that is part of the fun of the tournament. The random beats, the timing, conditions varying all across the drainage, it forces you to approach your fishing from a completely different light, and that is what makes it a special way to try and give back to the resource!
Flylords: What gear were you using?
Rick Mikesell: Depending on conditions, a 6-8wt rod, I had all three rigged and ready just in case… Loomis NRX+ 6wt, Orvis H3D 7wt, and Loomis Asquith 8wt. I use Abel SD (S & F) reels across the board for Carp. I have used so many others over the years, and none have stood up to the absolute beating of carp fishing like the Abels have. Urban fishing is tough on gear, concrete, metal, and hard pulling fish, really push rods and reels to the limit, and I have not had an Abel Fail yet. For terminal, I have really been fond of the new Umpqua Deceiver HD Fluorocarbon. Unless I do something dumb, like wrap around a metal object, lol, fish stay stuck!
Flylords: Does camo make a difference when carp fishing?
Rick Mikesell: In the Denver South Platte, absolutely! Carp have extraordinarily keen eyesight, and unlike most other freshwater fish, true color vision. Couple that with the pressure the DSP sees (carp on the fly all began here in the 80’s with Barry Reynolds & Brad Befus!!!). It may be one of the most fished carp waters in the country, and all little advantages add up. Camo has become standard among the DSP angling community, and I have even seen some go as far as Ghille Suits in past competitions!
Flylords: Why should anyone want to chase carp on the fly?
Rick Mikesell: Carp are the ultimate freshwater sport fish! They are most likely the closest angling opportunity to most American anglers. They are big! The average in the Denver South Platte is 8-9lbs, with fish caught well over 20lbs each year (A trophy trout is 5lbs, and dink carp is 5lbs). And most importantly, they are hard as hell to catch! It is a 100% sight fishing game, they can actually hear vs. just sense vibration through the lateral line, their olfactory senses are second to none in freshwater, a real challenge when you offering is animal feathers, and glue tied to a hook. It is a constant, evolving challenge, and that is why most of the hardcore carp anglers get stuck in the pursuit and never come out!
Flylords: How can somebody get involved in the Carp Slam next year?
Rick Mikesell: Go to denvertu.org and sign up for eNews & Notices. Because the Carp Slam tournament sells out every year, it’s important to get notified once registrations open up next spring. We can always use volunteers for the day of execution, and most importantly, would love to have any interested parties join Denver Trout Unlimited’s monthly meetings, to provide new voices to the conservation work that is at the heart of our organization and this event!