While fishing along a narrow, urban ditch in Houston, I spotted a school of grass carp. To my delight, the fish were circling under the sagging limbs of a short mulberry tree. The tree was not much bigger than a shrub, but its outstretched limbs were laden with ripe black mulberries.
As if on cue, I watched a plump mulberry plopped into the water. A grass carp moved towards the berry, gave it a brief look, then devoured it, just as I had hoped. I was giddy with excitement.
To combat the rush of adrenaline coursing through my body, I took a deep breath, calming my nerves. I had one shot at fooling these grassers before the whole school would spook. If I screwed this up, the pod of fish would surely flee the pool, waking the streambank, and sending a muddy plume downstream for a hundred yards.
I cracked open my fly box and peered inside. What fly could I use to mimic a mulberry? I saw it, a black Bully Bluegill Spider. The hook on this fly was small and thin, intended for panfish, but it was the right size and shape. I tied the fly to the end of my line.
When the fly hit the water, two grass carp immediately turned on it. My eyes widened as one of the grassers nosed the fly, then nonchalantly opened its mouth, and sucked it in.
I set the hook firmly, and as expected, all hell broke loose. The pool exploded as grass carp torpedoed this way and that. Small waves slapped the sides of the narrow waterway turning the once calm and semi-clear pool into a turbid mud puddle. Amidst the hectic scene, I felt the rod pulsing in my hand. The grasser was still on the end of my line! I had him!
I loosened the drag on my reel, letting the fish take line as it swam downstream. I was afraid the light panfish hook would give way if I applied too much pressure. I walked along the bank, giving the fish room to run. As it tired, I was able to reel in line. Once the carp was next to the bank, I carefully slid into the water, placing a hand around its tail. I removed the fly from its mouth, and with a jolt, he swam off like nothing happened.
Since that day, the Bully Bluegill Spider has become one of my favorite carp patterns, regardless if there are mulberry trees around. When tying this fly for carp, I use a stout hook like a Tiemco 3761 (size 8) or a stronger hook like a Daiichi Xpoint, style X510 (size 8). This pattern is simple, yet effective, and I often will tie them in three different colors, black, brown, and olive. I’m convinced the rubber legs on this fly act as a major attractor for the carp, especially grassers.
Although this fly has become one of my favorite carp patterns, it was originally intended as a bluegill pattern, as the name suggests. The inventors of the fly, Terry and Roxanne Wilson, first shared this pattern with warmwater fly rodders in 1968. The inspiration for this pattern came after Terry and Roxanne watched a bank fisherman using a cane pole and live crickets to coax chunky bluegill from a weed bed. The bank fisherman lowered the baited hook into the weed bed, and the squirming legs of the cricket attracted the bluegills to swim from cover and strike. In Terry Wilson’s own words, “The leg gyrations, clearly visible as the cricket descended, appeared to trigger the fish’s interest.”
The same trigger points that entice bluegill, appear to work on carp also. The combination of wiggling rubber legs, and a slow sink rate, have proven very effective. Carp that live in all manner of environments throughout the city of Houston, from cement-lined ditches to natural creeks, have fallen prey to this pattern.
When tying this fly, don’t make it too heavy. Grass carp (and to a lesser extent common carp) can be found feeding near the surface or in the water column. If the fly sinks like a rock, they may not see it. Be conservative with the lead wire. Five or six wraps of .020 diameter wire allows the fly to sink slowly, which appears natural to the fish.
When the Wilsons were designing this pattern, they experimented with several weight variations before settling on a system that worked. They suggest making more wraps of lead wire near the bend of the hook, which allows the fly to sink butt-end first. As the fly sinks, the rubber legs wiggle back and forth.
Try fishing this pattern for yourself. I think you will find it effective for many warmwater species, especially carp and bluegill. Also, if you aren’t familiar with the Wilsons’ many books on warmwater fly fishing, check out their website. They also have warmwater fly patterns for sale on their website, including the original Bully Bluegill Spider.