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Carp on the fly is a visual game...if you can't see the fish, good luck catching the fish. I don't claim to be the world's best angler, trust me, I know my limitations. I cast like crap and tie flies like a 10 year old but if there is one thing I do well, it is spot fish. Those that have come out to fish with me usually leave convinced that the reason I catch a decent number of large carp is that I can see em...at distance. Then I plan an attack, put on the stalk and hope my mediocre casting skills don't completely abandon me at the wrong moment.
So how does one spot carp? My basic approach is simple...I scan the water, side to side and then back toward my body. I start looking pretty far out, usually around 100 feet and I slow down my scan as I get closer to my body. At distance, I am mainly looking for obvious things...tails, nervous water, etc. as I get closer I search for more detail...them I pick my eyes up and start back at 100 feet again.
The trick is that I am never looking for fish. Instead, I look for three very specific things, in order:
As I walk I look for any patch of water that is out of place in terms of color. In my water, this usually means a darker patch, but can also mean a gold color, a tan color, or the crescent line of a white mouth. Once I have spotted some color, I study it to determine shape. In general (especially at distance) I am looking for lines. Carp, are often linear in shape in the water...the line of the back and dorsal specifically can be a dead giveaway. If something has triggered my attention with both color and shape, I immediately stop, and watch for movement...either of the entire fish, or a tail etc. While number three seems pretty obvious, the amount of carp colored and shaped rocks in the Columbia is astounding...not to mention the occasional tire.
The entire concept of "looking for fish" seems really simple, and at times it is. The vast bulk of fish that I spot just simply appear...suddenly and big as the daylight from a spot where there was nothing one second before. Without these moments, carp on the fly wold be even more challenging. But invariably I find I see more fish, and even better targets when I stop "looking for fish" and start my countdown. I take the gifts when they come, but I hunt out the fish that are a little better at hiding.
Conditions were miserable. Cloud cover, high water, even a little rain made the fish tough to spot and the normally nearly imperceptible Columbia River takes were even tougher. Then the winds came...big winds. Targee was a great sport and we kept stalking and looking and only his considerable skill allowed a few fish to be put in the net, but no monsters. The big slabs of Columbia river gold eluded us, but it only takes one.
We slipped into a sheltered bay, mercifully out of the wind and the eerily dead calm water was a welcome relief from the whitecaps. The sun stayed hidden, and visibility was maybe a couple of feet. The bay looked fishy, but we simply couldn't see. Then I spotted a bit of nervous water, waist deep and just barely noticeable. I crept closer, the soft bottom masking my footfalls. At 30 feet all I could see was a mirror of clouds. I crept closer. At 20 feet the mirror was even more pronounced, but there was clearly a fish there. Based on the nervous water and the depth, it had to be tailing, and it had to be big. I crept closer. At 10 feet I could see a clear line of mud, but no visual of the fish. I took one more step, then stopped. The clouds persisted, the wind crashed through the trees, unable to disturb our bay and I stared. I willed the mirrored water to give up their secrets, and slowly...extremely slowly...a shape began to appear. At first it was just the tip of a tail, waving slowly under the surface. Then a line of the back, and the mass and bulk of a body. I stared, and I stared but the clouds won and I just couldn't see the head. I looked over what I could see, estimated size, and flipped the hybrid toward where I thought the head would be. I counted...one...two...three...four...five...and lifted the rod. Nothing. I dropped the flies back in, a little closer this time and counted...one...two...three...four...five. Then I lifted the rod and the big fish bucked and exploded, shattering the mirror and sprinting toward the whitecaps.
I can't wait! I will be there, but not as a competitor this year...going to hang out, talk carp and have a great time! Hope to see a bunch of you in Kennewick!
Makes me wish I lived near Knoxville. Word on the street is Carp Aficionado may be there...Celebrity attendees! Good luck to all, watch out for that Ty fellow...
Solo days this year have been infrequent. I pretend to grumble a bit about that and tease that my # of 20 lbers this year would be bigger if I wasn't sharing shots, but the simple truth is fishing alone hasn't been the same since Dad died. It has been almost a year now, and every time I find myself on the water alone I struggle. Quite simply, I lose focus and just wander. I look for carp, and cast to tailers, but it isn't the same.
I fished a spot dad knew well today, and as usual I could feel him with me. He was there as I stalked a fish, and I know he laughed with joy when the fish took the fly and cursed when the weedbeds cost me a big one. At first, having him there is a comfort and wonder. I am really not fishing alone when I can hear his words and listen to him tease me about a bad cast, but as the day wears on it gets harder. Honestly, I think I am just doing it wrong. Rather than simply knowing he is there, I am carrying him along, holding tight and not letting go and when alone on the river we both loved so well it is just...so...heavy. At the end of the day I am exhausted.
But I keep trying. I have faith that eventually I will have a solo day where instead of carrying dad with me and wearing myself out I will look to my left or right and see him there, walking along beside me. The weight and emptiness will be gone and dad and I will laugh about past takes missed and fish lost while we walk and look for more. Deep down, I know that he can't walk beside me until I let go and the weight I feel when on the water alone is something that I can simply set down. I am just not ready to yet.
Miss you dad.
Even the best laid plans can be waylaid by 30 mph winds. Adam and I had been trying to put together some time on the water all summer, and finally managed a day this past weekend. Everything fell into place, except the whitecaps and breaking waves.
There were a few fish around, but as usual when the waves are pounding, the fish were spread out and a little harder to find. The ones we did find were eating...cruising the shallow edges, marauding in the waves like pirates. This really is quite a sight, sneaking up on a gravel bar to see a dark black shape darting in and out of the waves, feeding off of the froth and confusion. Very exciting, until the 30 mph crosswind blows your cast 8 feet to the side. Presentation, so critical on the big C challenged us all day.
We did stick some fish...Adam hooked a half dozen or so, but they all came unbuttoned, none hung around for a photo. I managed to hang onto a decent number of fish, all taken on a hybrid with most of the takes being of the darting, slashing, wave surfing, mind blowing type that I only see when the whitecaps are around. Truthfully, I love these tough conditions. It really brings out the best in the carp and REQUIRES the best in the fisherman.
At the end of the day Adam and I were smiling and laughing despite our wind blown and sunburned faces. The best laid plans don't always turn out as intended, but when those plans involve a friend, a fly rod, and a river...they always turn out well.