Catching carp on Chicago's Gold Coast worth the trip

Column by Brandon Butler

Chicago’s Gold Coast has nothing to do with carp. It’s actually the high-rent district along the lakeshore. Depending on whom you ask, there are different explanations of the name. A lot of the city’s up-and-coming business executives attribute the name with the expense of the area and their lustful desire for financial worth in the form of a lake view condo.

I like to think the name derives from the glow of a golden reflection off the strung together skyscrapers as the sun rises over the lake and beats down on the buildings. Either way, carp are an afterthought to almost everyone but they are gold and found on this coast in high numbers.

It only takes a single trip to Navy Pier to realize there are a lot of carp in the water. Like at many amusement parks around the country, the scavengers school in large groups to wait for offerings flung into the water by passing tourists. Most look at these fish from crinkled faces, uttering insults like “eww” or “gross.” A fisherman who knows a thing or two about carp though, stares in awe with a dropped jaw.

Austin Adduci is a native Chicagoan. It’s hard for some to imagine a “south sider” trying to make a living as a fishing guide, but he’s doing it. And because of his creativity and ability to successfully fish for multiple species throughout a diverse area, he’s doing it well. Carp happen to be one of Austin’s specialties.

Adduci starts his diverse season of fishing the Chicagoland Coast with carp. Before the ice is even off the south end of Lake Michigan, Adduci is guiding clients to multi-fish days by targeting warm water discharges. You won’t find any of these in the downtown area, but in northwest Indiana there are a few associated with steel mills. Sorry, but their exact locations won’t be revealed in this article, but a little research should answer your question.

Warm water discharges are the ultimate melting pot. You never know what you’re going to find at one of these locations on any given day. You’ll know the carp are there because you’ll see them up and rolling on the surface. Imagine your attraction to an outdoor hot tub in the middle of winter. I assume it’s a similar sensation for the fish.

From April through June, carp stack up on beaches as they stage to spawn. This happens from Chicago to Michigan City. You have to scout and look for fish, but once you find them you should find a lot. These fish are big and aggressive. The average carp this time of the year is going 20 pounds, and once in a while a 30-pound fish is going to put a hurting on your forearm. What’s most fun about the beach fishing is that it’s a sight fishing game. You target specific fish.

If you have never fished carp in the shallows of Lake Michigan before, it’s an absolute thrill. You want to target fish that are cruising. So you pick out a moving fish, then lay a cast out in front them, while trying to visualize the path you imagine they’ll take. You have to lay your fly a good ways out in front of them because if you place it too close they’ll spook. If it all comes together and the carp cruise toward your fly, wait until it’s with a couple of feet and then short strip a few times, quick. Then let your fly settle. If you see a big bugle mouth open up, count to three and strip set. Kevin Morlock is a guru of Lake Michigan carp fishing, and his Morlock’s Carp Breakfast fly has been proven to catch fish from all corners of the lake.

Fishing the beach at this time of the year is typically a lonesome affair. There’s a good chance you’ll have the beach to yourself. Why hordes of anglers aren’t out there after these fish that will make your drag scream is a mystery, but I imagine it’s just a lack of understanding that the opportunity exists and how to capitalize on it.

If you’ve never chased carp, especially with a fly rod, then I seriously suggest you consider giving it a try. The Chicagoland Coast is a s good of a place to give it a go as any. During summer they spread out up and down the beach, making them tough to find at times. But when you do, it’s on. And you can always get ahold of Adduci through his website Grab Your Fly Charters and book a trip. He keeps tabs on where they’re at all year long.

See you down the trail…




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