Saturday, June 28, 2008


Some days just seem to come together...No work, no effort and yet everything kind of falls into place. Today was definitely one of those days. I'm not sure what it was, maybe the combination of high, cool water starting to drop and warm. Maybe the sudden change in clarity (not 100%, but a drastic improvement). Maybe just something in the air but whatever it was I can say something I never really thought I'd say.

Carp fishing with a flyrod is easy.

I stopped counting today when I hit 30 fish, and it was about 1pm. I fished until 430, and even though I changed locations (and broke the cardinal rule...don't leave fish to find fish!) I still put another 15 or so carp in the net. Call it 40 fish total, all between 7-14 lbs...all but one that is. More on that in a minute.

There were so many fish around that when I was fighting my first fish of the day another carp was chasing him down the entire time. I got my fish in close enough to net, took a stab and came up with both of them! One with my fly firmly in its lip, one dumb enough to get too close to me and a net.

Horrible picture, but you get the point.

About 4 out of every 5 fish I was was actively spawning. Every 5th fish, was actively tailing. I walked along the shallows and the water is still high enough that the shallows used to be the bank. In every little opening in the grass, I'd either see one tail waiving, or 3-4 fish rolling in a frenzy. The spawning carp were so intent on doing their thing that I was literally nudging them aside with my feet. The tailing carp were so intent on doing their thing that I could walk right up to them, and was fishing about 6 feet of leader out of my guides...no flyline through the guides at all. I simply dapped the fly in front of a tailer, watch for some excitement and set the hook.




In case the vids don't work:

Fishing to a Tailer

Stepping on Carp



The only thing that prevented me from landing 100 carp today is that it takes so long to fight and land them! Each fish was hot, I saw my backing quite a few times, but after a while I was really laying into them and trying to stop them from running. I put my 7 wt through its paces today, which made me more than a little uncomfortable as I've actually broken that rod twice. I really missed my 9 ft 9 inch 6 wt today. Most fish were 7-9 lbs, with the biggest common carp topping at at just over 14 lbs. It bottomed out my weigh net, but barely and I didn't bother to put the digital on the fish.

If you noticed, I said the biggest common carp was 14 lbs. I fished an area home to a monster grass carp known by many of us as General Sherman. You are not supposed to target grass carp out here, but in the murk you are often casting at shadows, and today one of those shadows turned out to be none other than the good General. I cast at a dark shape that was so big I was reasonably sure it was just a submerged log. Then I saw a white circle open up underwater...it seemed to be size of a bucket. The circle slammed shut right about the time my San Juan Worm should have been in the vicinity, so I set the hook.

I knew I was in trouble right away. General Sherman threw water 20 ft away in a splash I've only seen rivaled when my dad does a cannonball into his swimming pool. I was in a very, very bad position. I was standing precariously on a steep slope of rip rap which ran for hundreds of yards in one direction. In the other direction was a deep bank lined by willow trees. At the current water height, the water directly under the trees was around 5 ft deep. Absolutely nowhere to beach or land this fish.

I duked it out with the General for a good 10-15 minutes. The fish didn't make any notable runs, in fact he basically stayed at about 30 ft away, but I could get him no closer than that, and he didn't seem to want to go any farther away. Eventually, he tired and kind of floated to the surface. I finally got a really good look at him, and after glancing down the bank in both directions again...I swore out loud. I was totally, completely, utterly screwed.

I got the General's head up and headed in my direction. I knelt on one knee in the water on top of a boulder, with the other leg straight down into the depths perched on top of another fortunately placed boulder. The water surrounding me was about 6 or 7 feet deep...that comes into play later. When his head got within reach I made a stab with the net that would have made Wendy Berrell proud and bingo! I had General Sherman's head in the net. Unfortunately...that was all that fit. Literally. The good General is so big that his head and mouth were at the bottom of my net, and his pectoral fins were just inside the hoop. 70% of that fish's body was still outside my net. In a panic (I never scored well on those spatial exams or I probably would have realized that only 1/4 of that fish was going in my net) I jammed my fly rod in my teeth and scooped at the beasts tail with my right hand. At first, I tried to tail him like a salmon, but I couldn't get my hand around the base of his tail...it was way too broad. Instead, I pulled the fish toward me and kind of hugged his tail to my body. So there I was, kneeling on a boulder with one foot precariously placed below me for support. A huge fish barely in the net, and the majority of the fish pressed up against my chest. I tried to lift him and of course he started to fall out of the net. I stopped that idea, and instead tried to lift with my whole body. It worked much better, but this fish was HEAVY. I managed to get most of him out of the water, and then took two crablike steps toward the bank with the willow trees. I figured I could maybe find somewhere there to at least get a picture of the beast. I took a third step, and things got hectic in a hurry.

Apparently, the General had had just about enough of being lugged around by a fisherman. He started shaking his head and flapping his huge tail. That would have been fine except I was holding onto that tail. He slammed me a few times, and I lost my balance and slipped off the rip rap and fell sideways into the water. I somehow managed to hang onto the fish by squeezing his tail to my chest but I dropped the net by instict when I reached for something to break my fall (very smart...I tried to grab the ground that was under 6 ft of water to keep myself dry!) General Sherman tried to make a run for it and started swimming for all he was worth. I still had him pinned to my chest and as I spluttered up to the surface that fish started beating me with his tail again and I felt like I was in one of those old fashioned weight loss machines that jiggles you with a rubber belt. It only lasted about a second, because there was no way I could hold onto that tail. And just like that...poof...he was gone.

I crawled to the bank, dumped most of the water out of my waders, then realized my net was somewhere down there. I spotted it easily though (lucky) but had to get wet again to pick it up. I sat on a boulder, relived that whole debacle in my mind, and despite not getting a picture of the General...I still smiled.

I did take this one picture sometime during the battle. It sucks...the fish could be 12 inches long, no scale, and no possible way at all to know that this was absolutely the fish of a lifetime. Honest estimate after holding/fighting that fish like an MMA fighter: 55 inches long...at least 50 lbs...maybe 60. Biggest freshwater fish I've ever touched.

19 comments:

dan peirce said...

John,
That sounds like an awesome day!!! How do you keep your forearm from cramping?!!!!!
Dan

john montana said...

It cramped...by the end of the day my arm was killing me.

The fish were just crazy. They ate anything you could put in front of them. I've caught a lot of carp the last few years, and never seen anything like today. It was unbelievable...they just ate anything. If they were tailing, it was over...if a single cruiser came by, he'd chase your fly down. I doubt I ever see a day like this again.

Anonymous said...

Glad you called to tell me the story. It was fun to hear it on the phone as you were still pretty excited, even if wet! thank
the Reel John Montana

Shane said...

You should come to our club meeting sometime and talk about fly fishing for (gasp) carp

Anonymous said...

John,

What a fine day. Extraordinary, indeed

Funny, but as I was doing stuff around the house yesterday, I found myself thinking that it seemed like a good carp day (not sure why I thought that) and that I should be out for my maiden carp day rather than working at home. I said to myself: "I bet John Montana is out today!"

Thanks for sharing the excitement.

Cheers,

Bryan

a/k/a "bimini twist"

Anonymous said...

John,
Wow, what a day! I haven't been out in a while. Never have had a day like yours. Gonna tie up some of those SJ Worms tonight that you have so much success with. Good on ya!!!!

Chad
aka PbSlinger

Jean-Paul Lipton said...

Dude you were murdering them out there. Insane. No wonder they featured your blog in a carp fishing article in the summer issue of Flyfisher.

dan peirce said...

John,
The video was cool as well. It was neat to see you hook some right in front of you. It seemed like cheating when I hooked a few that way, but now I feel vindicated. Thanks again for a inspiring report.
Dan
ps What size hook is that sjw tied on? I have had two hooks broken by these beasts on shop bought sjws so I am ready to try something new.

Terry said...

Great post, riveting story about the general. I found you through MN Justin and added you to my feeds. Keep up the good work.

john montana said...

Dan, I tie my sjws on a scud hook, size 8-10. I tie them bigger than i should, but it seems to work. i also use a huge tungsten bead, which does one of two things when you cast at a fish.

1) spook the hell out of the fish.

2) allow you to put it RIGHT on the fish, resulting in a better hook up ratio.

with a lighter fly, you have to guess the path of the fish to give it time to sink...with the super worm...no guessing. if he doesn't spook, you can feed him.

Anonymous said...

Epic, John ... EPIC !!

Ed said...

John: This is Ed Laven, Met your father while fishing for steelhead. He told me about your carp fishing and your latest trip and your blog. I have long considered trying to catch carp on a fly after doing so accidently while after small mouth. had no Idea that people like you have made an art form out of it. Good descriptive writing too!

Joseph said...

hey so is it possible to ask where u can fish for carp in oregon?
i'm planning a fishing trip down in oregon and really would appreciate any places u can suggest

MajorGeek said...

Instead of carrying a bigger net, I wonder if a boca or lippa is what I need to battle the General.

I thought you were a track walker and always avoided the big hill. Water was pretty deep still?

- Major Geek

john montana said...

water is down, but deep. terrible spot to hook that beast. solo, i really had no chance of doing more than taking the fly out of his mouth.

joseph...i'm a show not tell kind of fisherman. in general, look at any water in the willamette or columbia river systems. we have a lot of carp out here. a big tip would be to check the sloughs in PDX off of the main rivers.

good luck

Wendy Berrell said...

That is the best sh*t ever. I was busting a gut while reading it because I could picture the whole bit perfectly. A determined fisherman who just wouldn't let that MF get away... squeezing and holding for everything he's worth. What a great story. And true to the tales of all the great leviathans and mysterious beasts... only a half-assed photo exists.

There are fewer and fewer pieces of the carp world for you to conquer... what's next? 30 lb common probably.

Joe Watkins said...

Jon, I really can't imagine you smiling after that fish got away from you....helluva story though.

john montana said...

I smiled a little Joe...after I stoped crying.

Kev2380 said...

Great report! I really want to try to target carp, there is some by my house but they don't show themselves often.