Old School Meets New School: The Urban South Platte Will Never Be the Same

fly fishing for carpLa Carpe

Cyprinus carpio, the common carp, is at once a revered conventional tackle sport fish for Europeans, the largest aquaculture species in the world, and considered a pseudo-menace that negatively impacts many waterways they are otherwise introduced to. In Denver, however, the carp has quickly become many fly anglers’ target numero uno, pushing trout, for which Colorado’s famous tailwaters are renown, firmly into the alternative species category.

The fish are extremely wary, highly intelligent, and frequently responsible for broken tackle no matter the angler’s skill. While they feed in pods, foraging across the water bottom and churning up wide swaths of muck, they are also extremely selective about their meals. They represent the ultimate challenge for the future of fly angling, and may someday be credited with saving the urban South Platte River as well.

Like A Six Weight

The South Platte Pro-Am Carp Slam was conjured in 2007 by the Denver chapter of Trout Unlimited as a way to raise money for a unique project, turning the upper mile of the urban South Platte River into a viable trout fishery. The section barren, the water quality questionable, and the estimated price tag in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, DTU’s black sheep image would be secure for at least a few more years. The group linked up with Barry Reynolds, author of the seminal work Carp On The Fly, gathered a handful of sponsors, and pulled off their first event. It barely broke even.

Behind the scenes, however, fly-fishing for carp was exploding in Colorado. Die-hard anglers, tired of crowds, infighting over water access rights, and the constant bombardment of guilt over the spread of invasive species into the rivers they frequented, began looking elsewhere for their fix. They soon found it, in suburban ponds, besides golf course greens, and in putrid drainage ditches. They began making purposeful trips to South Park, not for the lunker trout cruising the river in Spinney Mountain Ranch, but for the carp carousing the flats around Eleven Mile Reservoir. And they flocked to the South Platte River running straight through downtown Denver, in droves.

You don’t flyfish for carp anymore in town without bumping into someone else who’s doing the same. Cyclists along the riverside trail used to hurl insults as they passed by – now they stop, watch, ask a lot of question, and sometimes even spot fish for anglers. The areas around Mile High Stadium and Confluence Park, where Cherry Creek meets the Platte, were the go-to spots – everything south of Union Street in Englewood all the way north to Bridge Street in Brighton has now been scouted out. New school urban carp fanatics pay careful attention to the weather, monitor river flow gauge stations, and share daily speculation as to what sections of the river might be most productive for after-work outings.

The Gunslingers Don’t Shoot Each Other

David Luna, affectionately referred to by friends as “Butters” for reasons unknown even to him, is one of the new breed of fly angler committed to chasing carp. David spends in upwards of a 100+ days a year pursuing the fish across the Front Range, with particular emphasis on the water right out his back door. While David has been carping for just a handful of years, the work has paid off – during this year’s Carp Slam, David stood atop the podium in both the Pro-Am competition and the inaugural Open event the following day. He edged out colleague and mentor Barry Reynolds on the first day too, generating some controversy in the process.

The Carp Slam is an all-volunteer event, and in the interest of making things easier on field judges and those tallying the scores a last minute rule change was inserted in to the mix – all fish lengths would be rounded up to the next whole inch. As the Pro-Am progressed, it became clear to all that competition would be tough – only a few teams had even landed a carp. By day’s end, teams led by Luna and Reynolds were neck and neck, with single 28.5 inch and 29 inch fish respectively – in essence a tie. Officials convened behind closed doors, and when they emerged the team of “Butters” Luna and Paul Beranato were declared the victors, a smallmouth bass picked up by Team Butters the deciding factor. By the following Monday, word had spread that Barry Reynolds was fuming, and might never compete in the Slam again.

The problem with rumors is they are generally speculation, often taken second hand, third hand, or worse. When you add fly-fishing, and an after-party that includes alcohol consumption, you can generally bet those rumors are bunk. Messrs. Luna and Reynolds were quick to set the story straight. “I had absolutely no problem with David’s win,” said Reynolds. “It is what it is, although I thought it was odd that the judges would include a non-carp species in making the final determination instead of simply dropping the rounding up rule. But what did irk me was that in the confusion, Justin Clark, who paid to fish with me, didn’t get the recognition he deserved.”

Luna agreed: “I can’t say I’m not happy my team won, but it was touch and go there for a while and I’m still a little shocked. Personally, I thought Barry’s team deserved the cup when it was all said and done.” Luna wound up offering Reynolds the trophy, but Reynolds declined, noting, “David earned that cup. He works very hard at a very tough game, and I’m glad it was him. Heck, he even used one of my rods for the event!”

David Luna and Barry Reynolds

David Luna and Barry Reynolds are the best of friends. They fish together, exchange ideas about carp fishing, and shine as true sportsmen when they go head to head. Both share the same goal as it relates to the Carp Slam and the river in general. “This is not about winning or losing,” said Reynolds. “It’s about promoting a healthy fishery, and it’s getting healthier every day.” Luna added, “We’re catching a lot more fish besides carp now. That’s got to prove that someone’s doing something right. It makes us believe in this tournament more than ever.”

About That Bass

The 2010 South Platte Pro-Am Carp Slam was decided…over a smallmouth bass. “We caught fewer carp this year than we have in years past,” says Carp Slam Director Tim Emery. “The flow was unsettled, and anglers I’ve talked to are also saying the carp in the Platte have gotten a lot smarter in the past few years. In a way, the awareness we’ve created has made us our own worst enemy. But, more alternative species like smallmouth bass were caught than in any other year,” Emery added. “That is our future, and a sure sign of the progress being made on this fishery.”

Todd Fehr, President of Denver Trout Unlimited and an active supporter of efforts being made by the Greenway Foundation and others, views the urban South Platte River and the associated Carp Slam effort from 14,000 feet. “We started with this simple idea of turning the upper section of the Platte into trout habitat, but the after-effects of volunteer clean-up efforts up and down the river are already happening right before our eyes.” Fehr refers to the Carson Nature Center rehabilitation effort, which is taking place near the Chatfield Reservoir, and the trash collection projects that various organizations, including Trout Unlimited, sponsor throughout the year. “Carp can live in sewers – we’ve always known that. But we are now beginning to see that varying species can survive and thrive in the urban South Platte. There is potentially a fish for every section of that river, and we are expanding our thought process and our efforts going forward to reflect the fact.”

What’s Next For the Carp Slam?

It’s not going away, because the river and the carp are here to stay. Many people are suggesting, however, that despite raising over $10,000 this year, the South Platte Carp Slam needs changes – earlier efforts, new blood, and widened breadth to reflect its increasing scope and purpose.

Proposals to expand the effectiveness of the Carp Slam are already being floated…

  • Developing a committee process for various parts of the event, thereby alleviating the pressure which ultimately falls on the present small team of organizers;
  • Selecting professionals, fishing beats, and publishing rules earlier, allowing participants to begin preparation long before the event takes place;
  • Pursuing sponsors far in advance of the event, and significantly increasing the size and scope of potential winnings; and
  • Promoting the competition outside of the Denver Metro area, with the goal increasing participation from fly fishers throughout the US.
  • Additional, potentially controversial suggestions also include expanding the Open day with an all-tackle division, pitting the fly anglers against those using conventional tackle, allowing scent masking, and, based on the expanding health of the fishery, officially targeting additional species.

    Nothing is set in stone, and the decision-making is being left wide open. Tim Emery is organizing a get together, tentatively set for early evening September 13, 2010, at the Wynkoop Brewery, as a forum to exchange ideas about how to make Carp Slam ’11 the finest ever. If you care at all about the South Platte River running through our fair town, have fished in the Carp Slam and/or want to fish in it in the future, or are a bystander, naysayer, or fair-weather rumor-mongerer that wants to speak their mind, now’s your chance to be heard. Additional details will be posted at CarpSlam.org in the coming few days.

    A new era has dawned for the carp, the once smelly waterway it calls home, and every angler, boater, bird, biker, and fine-finned friend that shouts out the same. Because it’s certain our river is moving right along.

    MG signing off (to stock up on burritos and beer for a guest coming in to fish the urban Platte)


    Good Stuff. Nice write-up! (especially since you may or may not have been committing bachelor-partyesque activities 150 miles away)

    Congrats to Butters!

    Nicely done, congrats to Luna and to everyone involved in this event. Hopefully one year I can participate, it sounds like a great event and a fun time!

    Mark says:

    Very enjoyable read. The competition waters on the Platte that I have been reading about for a few years sound like a carping paradise. One day maybe I can reach that nirvana.

    […] Chase carp on the fly with the big boys.  Maybe even try to fish the Carp Slam in Denver, though I still don’t know what to think about that smallmouth deciding the tourney last year. […]

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