Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Death March

Just found something I wrote last spring...pretty sure I never posted this, but if I did...well, the 5 people that read this blog can skip it.




I call it the Death March for a lot of reasons. One is as simple as it sounds...it is a long fucking way out and back! Mixed in there are some other, less obvious reasons. First, part of the walk is that nasty, softball sized cobble...you know, the kind that makes you roll your ankles, slip, stumble, and general force yourself to face the fact that you are not as agile as you once were. Second...you occasionally have to slog long distances through waist deep water, and it is dead water too. You don't see carp there so you push through it hard, moving fast and burning your thighs. The gravel bar on the other end of the dead water always makes it worth the effort though. Lastly, the return trip when you are not really fishing can be a monster. The distance you travel when on the hunt is always deceptive, and it seems a lot farther when walking back, facing the aforementioned softballs, deep water pushing, and even some side hill and rip rap leaping.

All in all, the Death March is not for the faint of heart.

It can be especially nasty in August, when the temps might hit 105 and the sun bakes down, burning through your buff. The wind never blows in August, and the carp are monstrously difficult in a dead calm. One plop too close, one drag and drop with too much wake and they bolt off of the gravel bars and pockets like rockets...20 lb rockets. On multiple occasions I have landed four carp over 20 lbs on the Death March, perhaps why I keep punishing my body and my skills with this water. The big fish don't hang out where you can easily reach them, so you need to put in the work. You need to wear out your boots, and return home with raccoon eyes, dehydrated, tired, but often exhilarated.

Last year I slogged along the Death March, solo. Hunting for big fish, passing up shots at "ordinary" 9-10 lb carp. I was after the 20s...the big gravel bar fish that you only find when your time and path happens to intersect that of a big carp, sliding into the shallows to feed. These big girls don't hang out up there...they come in with a purpose, complete their need, and then ghost off into the deep, safe water. You need to walk to find em...and hope. But if you wander around long enough, it will come together.

I spotted the tail first. Bigger than my hand and slapping gently at the water from side to side, pushing its face between the cobble and rocks, digging out clams and nymphs and having a grand old time. This was a big fish, 100 feet away and happy as they get. Carp on the fly is about decisions, and I needed to make quite a few at this moment. How to approach this fish? Do I have the right fly? How close can I get? What is my best angle?

The options ran through my head but came back essentially a big zero. This, was going to be tough. There was 100 feet between me and the fish. 100 feet of nasty, slippery cobble that limited my stealth options. Only about 6 feet of water from the shore to the deeps was fishable...it immediately dropped into 5-8 foot of depth, so sneaking out deep and to the side wasn't an option at all. This was going to be a straight stalk...right up the bank at the fish...careful footstep by careful footstep until I was in position. I ran through the first three rules in my head.

1). Know your forage.

2). Don't cast until you can see its head.

3). You gotta make em move.

Then I got after it. I put one foot in front of the other, slowly. I went as slow as I could force myself to go, then slowed down even more. I used the trees on the bank to break up my outline and I moved along. 80 feet out...the fish was still happily feeding. 60 feet out, and I can make that cast but rule #2 popped into my head, so I kept creeping. One more step and a real problem suddenly emerged. 20 feet away, just 35 or 40 feet from my fish was a small, actively feeding carp. No chance of sneaking by this fish, and I had zero interest in catching this fish. I stopped and pondered this situation for a minute. Immediately I knew I had to spook this carp, but I couldn't spook it hard for fear it would make a ruckus, and take the big girl with it into the depths. I rejected the idea of lining the fish, or doing anything that involved me getting any closer. Instead...I slowly stood up out of my crouch and inched to my left to make my profile show against the sky...ever so slowly. I stood there, exposed, but not moving. The small carp stopped feeding, and turned and swam off with great dignity. It knew something wasn't right, but hadn't hard spooked. The game was still on.

I crept closer, muttering "rule #2" under my breath. 50 feet...40 feet, I nearly stopped here but the fish was still mostly a general shape in the glare, only truly visible because of the tail continuously slapping the surface. At about the 30 foot mark I could see the rounded head, gills, and the occasional white mouth as the carp munched something dug loose from the cobble. I made my cast, landing the two fly rig about 5 feet past the fish, right on line. I quickly lifted my rod tip and dragged the flies into position, just inches from the still feeding fish, and I let them drop to the bottom. As they sank, I counted to five in my head to gauge depth, and at five I saw the white flash of a mouth, right about where my San Juan worm should have been...I set the hook.

I nearly lost the fish right then. Most 20 plus lb fish are dogs, but this guy blasted out into the river in an instant and I almost got in my own way. Fly line peeled off the reel, backing next and I looked out to see a barge way out in the river. I laughed at the idea of this fish catching the barge, then reconsidered the laughter as backing continued to disappear. Eventually, the fish slowed, and I towed her back in to my waiting net. 36 inches, 26 lbs...a real, serious athlete.

It was late in the day, and the Death March had once again done its job. I was busted...beat up, aching and tired, but this last fish had been worth the work. I sat on the bank for a few minutes and watched the barge, listened to the river and replayed the take in my head. The stalk, the cast, the distinctive white mouth flashing as a well fooled carp eats...all good things, made better because they didn't come free.


Sunday, March 15, 2015

One Shot

The fish was coming right at me, about 30 feet up the bank...a head on shot. She was slow cruising, but unlike most slow cruisers there was no side to side searching, no sudden stops or tip ups...just a steady, slow, dead forward movement. Still, her body posture just screamed feeder. Her head was lower than her tail, and her movement, while straight lined, had a clear purpose. This fish was looking to eat. With a head on view of both length and girth, I knew I was looking at a 20 lber. I figured I had one shot.

My only cast was a good one. I laid the two fly rig just past and to the left (the deep side) of the fish. When the flies hit the water I immediatly lifted the rod tip and slide the flies just under the surface and into position. The angle of the cast and subsequent drag put my worm pattern directly in front of the slowly moving carp...maybe10 inches away. The hybrid, unseen due to distance and color would finish about 6 inches out and somewhat in line with the carps right eyeball. As the flies settled, I shifted focus and watched the fish. I knew the worm was heavier and could see it falling through the column in my mind as I watched for a reaction from the carp. I counted silently, aware that the lighter hybrid would be a beat or two behind the worm on its descent. As I hit a three count in my head the carp turned slowly, ponderously to her right and eased forward at the same glacial pace. I watched and stared...and saw it. The briefest of pauses in molasses motion...all the cue she was going to give. I set the hook, thinking about speed, not power. The big ones don't hold the fly long, and the 2 x tippet doesn't lend itself to a power hook set...fast is the name of the game.

The line came tight, and the fish was gone from view headed to the deep water. The rest was a matter of side pressure, palmed reels and good knots. Sometimes one shot is all you need.


Sunday, March 08, 2015

Back in the saddle

Sorry for the long drought...truth is I have been too busy to write, too busy to fish, too busy to do much of anything really. Got a nice vacation with the family in there this winter and caught a beast of a speckled trout thanks to Willy Le of Native Fly Charters, but overall I have just been working and hanging out with the kids. Oh, and playing Pickleball. Sure sign that I am getting old.

Felt young today though! Last year I had some epic early season success, and I have a hunch I can duplicate that again this year should I choose too. I have a couple of early season spots that are easy money, and broke forty twice in March in 2014. I could have done so again today, but I hate one of those spots. The bottom is soft, the water dirty, and the fish are lethargic and not very big. Still, it is a h ck of an icebreaker after a long, cold winter and I stuck 9 fish there this morning. Enough to feel good, and open up an afternoon of exploration and hunting. Leaving a sure thing paid off with the 21 lb beast pictured above.

All told I landed 16 carp. One monster, and several really nice fish. The 21 was a memorable take. She was tailing actively in waist deep water and all I could see was her tail and a mud cloud. I dropped my hybrid rig into position and did a slow count to 6 to let the flies hit bottom. I counted one more in my head, and as I said "seven" I lifted the rod, figuring the fly had been in the perf ft spot and she wouldn't need long to slurp it up. I guessed right, came tight and battled that fish with 2x tippet and a 5 wt superfine fiberglass rod. I was pretty fortunate to land her, and will probably put the glass away early this year. I took a beating today.

I had one other big fish eat, but she destroyed me quickly, diving into some branches...I had no chance with my gear of choice today. All in all, an outstanding first day to the 2015 season. All 16 fish ate a standard green hybrid, not one fish on the worm today. They dig that stupid fly.

More to come...the season has begun!

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Fly Fishing Film Tour

I have always been a huge fan of RA Beattie, so when I heard he was making a carp film for the Fly Fishing Film Tour, I was pretty excited! We met last year for some filming, along with Adam from Orvis and we had a great day. I lucked into a couple of monsters, including the beast pictured here. I sat down with RA a few months ago to talk carp, and it sounds like his film is, as usual...awesome. I cannot wait to see it!

If you live in the Portland area, the tour hits the Alladin theater this Saturday, Feb. 7. I will be at the 4 pm showing, so if you are there and see me say hello. No way would I miss the film tour or RA's Carpland! Hope to see you there!


Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas all! Zoo lights, Yule Log, and Christmas Ninja Cookies...a very Portland Christmas.



Sunday, October 19, 2014

One more cast


Yeah, reports of my season ending turned out to be a bit premature...though for the record, I really do think today was my last day. On a whim, I gave it one more shot today. I avoided the big flats and the big gravel bars and looked for areas with small bays and lots of sand pockets, figuring they would be a little warmer than the big bays and flats. That half ass strategy paid off...finding fish was not a problem. I did struggle with some cloud cover, a morning fog, and the low angled sun, but with enough targets around those are more annoyances than problems. I landed 18 carp today. Crazy. Top fish was 18 lbs with a handful of 15s in the mix and the usual cadre of 10-12 lbers. I also landed my smallest fish of the year, maybe 5 lbs...and managed to blow 3 shots (2 creaky good ones) at fish that were pretty clearly over 20 lbs.

Pretty amazing for a day in mid October! All but three fish took the hybrid, with the other three eating the trouser Worm. It amazes me how different those flies fish. The hybrid gets more eats on my water, but when the fish want that trouser worm they eat it with absolute resolve. Really fun to see them just plop down on that big fly, rather than trying to discern the exact moment they suck in a hybrid.

That should be it for me and Columbia River this year...then again, aren't we all victims of "one more cast."



Saturday, October 11, 2014

Season's End


I am always reluctant to call it good. Granted, by this time of year I am somewhat sated and feeling pretty satusfied about a solid 9-10 months of tails and backing, but actually admitting it might be time to hang it up is tough. Truth is, I can still go catch carp. I can walk the river and see 10% of the numbers I expect, and I have caught carp on Halloween in the past; but I do live in OR. Fall in my state is full of opportunities and the decline of carping coincides with some pretty good salmon, steelhead and trout action. So odds are, I am hanging up the hybrid for the year...unless I don't.


Regardless, it has been a banner year on the big C. One of my formerly considered "C" spots exploded to "A" water this year, reminding me that things can change on big reservoirs fast. Two seasons ago this water was full of 9 lbers...this year I caught seven fish over 20 lbs in ONE day on that same stretch. As always, the rule on the big C is you need to keep moving, keep looking, keep your boots in the water and good things will happen.


Our Lake MI trip was a success, despite a mid trip cold front that left the flats suddenly vacant. Still, Wendy and I had two solid days of fishing and time with my buddy on the water is always a win. This year Wendy came out to the big C in the early spring, and together we stuck around 135 carp in 4 days...an epic clip for this water.


All told I put up some big numbers this year. I finished in the realm of 400 carp to hand on the year (give or take 20 fish) and landed exactly 21 carp that weighed more than 20 lbs. That second number is a record for me, for some reason in years past I kept getting stuck at 19!


Sitting in a coffee shop this morning. My son is decked out in soccer gear, reading a book and the rain is coming down outside. I can't help but think of brightly colored pink and purple steelhead flies, the moss and ferns of the coastal streams and the sound of the rain on my gore tex hood. Winter is coming, and the carp will wait...but there is fishing to be had, it just might be silver instead of gold.



Saturday, September 13, 2014

A Painful Reminder

I was wading about ankle deep. To my right was a wall of bushes, and to my left the water went from ankle, to knee, to thigh to belly deep in maybe ten feet. Big fish water. Normally I approach this type of water and realize it is a numbers game. My goal is to be in the right spot the moment the big fish moves out of the depth to feed. If she moves in way ahead of me she will probably leave before I get there and I won't see her. If she moves in behind me, I won't see her. If she doesn't move in, I won't see her. With that in mind I usually motor through this type of water quickly. I trust my eyes. I can spot carp, usually at a distance so I often walk a lot faster than most people would guess when I am hunting big fish. But today I had a strange angle, and a nasty glare that not even my trusty Costa 580g's could cut...plus, the drop off was too steep to wade out and look in (using the bushes shadow to cut the glare). My only option was to crawl forward slowly, and it paid off.

I spotted the color first. Just a dark patch, 25 feet away but as I slowly cut the distance I could suddenly see a tail. I stopped then. It was a BIG tail, and I was only 20 feet away. I was tempted to make the cast now, but I couldn't see the head and this carp was happy, digging away, tail waving lazily. It was not going to chase a fly, not going to move. I needed to feed this fish, so I inched forward, looking for the head. At about 15 feet away I had a clear view of the fish, and remarkably, I had gotten there without spooking it. I made a long cast, letting my flies splash several feet away, the dragged them into position and let them sink. Here is where I messed up.

The second the lead fly (a trouser worm) hit the bottom the fish stopped tailing and inched forward. I could clearly see the fly, and clearly see the huge fish and it massive white bucket mouth about 4 inches from the t worm. The fish stopped, tail barely moving, holding itself in place as it considered the fly. I held my breath, certain I was about to latch onto a 30 plus lb fish. 5 seconds went by, then 10...I started to get itchy. The fish continued to stare. 15 seconds, I waited...20 seconds and I couldn't wait any longer. I twitched the fly and the big fish immediately spooked, and spooked hard. Water blew up, mud billowed and the fish ripped to the depths with one push of its tail.

A painful reminder...don't move your fly.

I have learned this over the years on the big c. The carp out here don't like to chase. They will reach out and grab a fly, turn left, turn right, occasionally dart forward but for the most part the only motion that doesn't spook them is a fly falling to the bottom. They seem t accept gifts from the heavens. On the big C, your best move is simple:

Show them your fly, and then let them eat it.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Euegene, OR

Come say hello Monday night in Eugene at Mckenzie fly fishers. Carp talk starts at 7!


Sunday, September 07, 2014

September carp

Got out for a solo day today. Late in the season the fish are spread out, and I didn't see masses of fish, but what I did see were pretty solid targets. I moved around quite a bit, covered a bunch of different spots and when I kept moving, I came across plenty of singled, tailing carp. Even late in the season, they dig the hybrid.

Most of the fish were tailing hard enough that I was seeing the muds long before I would see the fish. In one spot, I saw a huge mud from a few hundred feet away, and painfully snuck by some smaller fish to see what was in the big mud. When I got there, there were four heavily feeding carp. I stared for a while, figured out the biggest one and then promptly lined one of the other three trying to catch the big one. So it goes.

Ran into my friend Todd, just in time to see him catch a 20 lb mirror...yes, I was appropriately jealous. That is like my holy grail right there!



All told I landed 9 or ten fish. I weighed three fish at 19 lbs and hooked at least one that I thought was bigger but lost that fish to a nasty weedbed. It was a nice, relaxed day. I never got in a hurry, just meandered along, casting at singles...late season carping is just a different pace than the frenetic spring.