Paying his dues

GJ angler overcomes wind, finicky fish to win 2nd annual carp contest

Mike Ashcraft of Grand Junction holds one of the carp he caught during Carpocalypse 2014, the carp-only fly-fishing tournament held Saturday in the Grand Valley. Ashcraft netted and released a total of 115 inches of carp to win the tournament, which attracted 33 anglers from as far as Minnesota.

Mike Ashcraft of Grand Junction, left, displays the specially engraved Ross Reel he received Saturday for winning Carpocalypse 2014. With Ashcraft is Dave Litten of Ross Reels.

According to the Ford Motor Company, a 2015 Ford F-150 pickup is 79.9 inches wide.

Which means Mike Ashcraft on Saturday caught enough inches of carp to stretch across an F-150’s front seat and still have 18 inches hanging out both doors.

Ashcraft, who works for Elkhorn Construction and sounds like a totally sane angler in all other respects, spent Saturday competing with 32 other anglers in Carpocalypse 2014, the second catch-and-release, fly fishing-only carp tournament sponsored by Western Anglers Fly Shop and Edgewater Brewery.

That Ashcraft won the tournament with 115 inches of carp is only part of the story; the rest is that of the 33 anglers competing, nearly half – 16 – failed to catch a fish on a day when wind and clouds tested the anglers’ skills.

“The fishing was super-tough,” Ashcraft said Monday. “The key was being able to see the fish and them get getting them to bite. If you went out and blind-casted, you would have to be very lucky to catch something.”

Given the conditions — a cold front had lowered the temperature and a bit of wind kept the runoff-discolored water moving — it’s also notable that Ashcraft didn’t simply catch more inches of fish than the others, he caught a lot more inches of fish.

The two second-highest finishers, Jason Brown and Brett Walker, both caught 61.5 inches of carp, just about half of Ashcraft’s total.

Brown, winner of last year’s inaugural Carpocalypse with 151 inches, caught his first fish 45 minutes ahead of Walker and was selected the tournament runner-up.

This year’s tournament attracted nearly three times the number that competed last year.

“You have to pay your dues,” said Keith Hutcheson of Western Anglers as he surveyed the final standings. “And there is a bit of an art to it. The first part is finding the fish and then you have to make them eat.”

Both parts proved difficult Saturday.

Runoff has choked many of the normal places, such as backwater sloughs and shallow ponds, and the Colorado River, which can produce carp into the low 20-pound range, remains way too high to fish.

Fishing in the wind merely added to the challenge.

“It really was hard to find fish,” Ashcraft said. “It was cold and windy and just being able to see them was difficult. The ones I found were sipping cottonwood seeds along the bank at Connected Lakes and another pond in that area.”

His biggest fish was 26 inches, caught from Duke Lake, the first of the ponds you see after entering Connected Lakes State Park.

The tournament’s biggest fish, a 27.75-inch beauty, was produced by Dylan Brody of Faribault, Minn. Had there been one, he and fishing partner Jake Brady, also of Faribault, would have won the long-distance driving contest, making the 2,208-mile round-trip for the second year.

When Ashcraft isn’t prowling the lower-elevation lakes for wide-bodied carp, he heads for the backcountry lakes on Grand Mesa, which he calls one of Colorado’s “best-kept fishing secrets.”

“The fishing on Grand Mesa is so much better than most people realize,” he said. “As long as you are willing to get out and hike a bit, there’s some great fishing up there.”

For now, though, he’s quite happy stalking the wily carp, aka “Rocky Mountain bonefish,” in the flats around Grand Junction.


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