This isn't your dad's fly fishing tournament: 11th annual Carp Slam to showcase Platte River
Updated: Mar 15, 2019
Note: Originally published in the September, 2017 issue of the Washington Park Profile.
One might not know it in fishing-crazy Colorado, but each year, Denver’s Platte River is the site of what is becoming annually a hotter and more spectacular fly fishing tournament, drawing the finest Colorado and regional anglers. The fish of interest? Believe it or not, it's carp.
Dubbed “Carp Slam” and put on by the Denver chapter of Trout Unlimited, the catch-and-release tournament is in its 11th year and has been steadily changing the face of the river while bettering its fish-holding capacity.
More on that in a second, but first: why a carp and not a trout slam, especially when the tournament is put on by Trout Unlimited?
“There are guys out there who have fished this river and they have said ‘screw the trout and the walleyes and the bass, I only want to catch carp’ because they’re so much harder to catch,” says Ronnie Crawford, Overland Park resident and Vice President of the Denver Chapter of Trout Unlimited, a chapter of national nonprofit Trout Unlimited. Founded in 1959, Trout Unlimited has the express aim of conserving, protecting and restoring North America's coldwater fisheries and their watersheds.
Rob Kolanda, winner of the 2008 Carp Slam. Kolanda is also a member of Fly Fishing Team USA. Photo courtesy Denver Trout Unlimited.
It is true that carp are heavy, hard fighters, and they are very picky about what they choose to eat. And landing them on a fly rod makes the thrill of hooking up with one all the more intense. Carp also have a bad reputation nationally and internationally as being an invasive species which drive out native fish, but, at least in the Platte, that’s not completely the case.
“We all want to catch trout, and trout is the symbol of a healthy river … but the huge misperception is when carp move into an area they outcompete all the other fish. But actually, what they do is provide a biomass for a lot of those other fish. Carp reproduce six or seven times a year, whereas trout have a spring or fall spawning season,” revealed Denver Trout Unlimited President John Davenport, who feels there’s an upside to the carp’s presence in the river.
Still the question remains, why not a trout tournament? Davenport says there truly is irony in the tournament’s use of carp to bring back awareness of the health of the trout population in the Platte River, but interest is there. Fly fishing for carp is hot, and interest in recent years has exploded. Plus, it’s not as if fly fishermen will ever get over their first love of trout.
“There are guys out there who have fished this river and they have said ‘screw the trout and the walleyes and the bass, I only want to catch carp’ because they’re so much harder to catch.”
As proof of the popularity of flying for carp, the tournament field fills regularly (and quickly) and is comprised of 15 guide-amateur teams. A big draw is the pro field. “The amateurs are going out with world-class guys,” Davenport says. “These guys are the cream of the crop of all the guides in Colorado.”
The amateurs, or “Slamateurs” as they are called in this tournament, offer up a $500 donation to compete and then fundraise after that. The highest individual donation in years past was $6,000. Crawford and Davenport say the annual goal is $20,000 to $30,000 total.
The tournament has meant big improvements for the Platte River and the communities through which it flows. Tournament funds have underwritten ecological studies which have influenced the planning of river improvement and restoration projects. In time, the inclusion of these studies’ recommendations has meant the return of a very healthy fishery.
“We cannot possibly raise the millions it takes to actually get [earthmoving] equipment into the stream, but we can fund these little studies that show what’s possible,” Davenport says. “The last couple have been on what are the positive effects of increased flow out of Chatfield.”
Slowly but surely, Davenport says, the studies and the projects that have worked off of their recommendations have helped convert the South Platte from a drainage ditch to the healthy river it once was decades and decades ago; a healthy river capable of supporting a robust fish population.
Crawford, who lives near the river and who fishes it regularly, has himself caught a 33-inch carp and numerous other notable fish there. “I also that day had a 30 to 35-pound catfish,” he says. “I didn’t see the fish for 20 minutes; he was just running and running and running… He had about 380 feet of my line out at one point.”
Want to witness some premier guides and top amateur fishermen landing big fish on light lines right in Denver? The slam takes place September 23, and begins at 9:00a.m. The best places to watch, according to Davenport and Crawford, are right downtown: the bridge-shaded stretches of river at Eighth Avenue or across from Sports Authority Field. Access to both areas is best from the Sun Valley side of the river via the South Platte River Trail. For more information, visit carpslam.org.