Merry Christmas all! Zoo lights, Yule Log, and Christmas Ninja Cookies...a very Portland Christmas.
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."
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.
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.
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.
Ross and I shared the bow of the boat, each with a flyrod in hand while Travis ran the motor. I spotted the mud cloud about 35 feet away...a nice tailing fish, busy. Ross dropped a hybrid just inches away but the fish soft spooked at the plop and started moving along the shoreline towards the boat. Ross fired off a second cast, but the hybrid didn't sink fast enough and the fish slowly cruised by. I timed it...looked at the fish, knew my rigs sink rate and made a leading cast perpendicular to the bank. I watched the intersect path, and saw my flies touch down inches in front of the slow moving carp. The carp approached, and slowed ever so slightly...I set the hook.
The carp blasted down the bank and then took a hard left, burying deep into the weeds, and the team jumps into action. Travis put the trolling motor on full and we shot off after the carp, while Ross dropped to his belly on the front deck and began ripping weeds out of the way with both hands. As he freed more and more fly line I reeled like mad to keep up, and Ross continued digging a trench through the weeds. The leader appeared and I dropped to a knee and hand lined the fish, pulling gently, trying to force the head towards the surface. As soon as Travis got a look at the body he made a stab with the net and scooped up a 19 lb carp and about 15 lbs of weeds. It was the fist fish of the day, carping is more than a spectator sport.
If you haven't been to Carpocalypse, you need to change that. A good time is had, despite the fact that at times the carp are total jerks. But...if you risk it, and work, you could stick a 20 like Matt Simms.
But these are still carp, so you need to bring your "A" game...if you don't you may cause a stampede.
But when it comes together, it is all smiles! Tom stuck a nice 14 lber on Sunday, an incredible take at distance..."A" game indeed.
Fortunately, we have what can best be described as a "target rich" environment.
With that many fish around, we can all find a little love.
Even if you end up cursing some by catch.
The absolute silence that fell on the room as Adam announced the winner of the Costa 580 glass shades.
Adam and I screaming like 15 year old girls at the sight of a pop star when we saw a big white bucket open under water to eat Tom's fly. I think we startled him into setting the hook.
Spectator fishing. As Tom's (yet another) perfect cast settled on the water I watched the fish tilt, and flash some mouth at us. "Boom" I uttered under my breath as Tom set the hook on a nice 14 lber.
So many variations of the hybrid.
Travis getting out of the car at the first stop Saturday morning...and offering everyone a beer. Now that guy is a carper.
My phone buzzing with a text on Sunday morning...a photo of a monstrous 20 lb carp Matt Simms had just released...I whooped for joy miles away from him.
Watching a clearly exhausted Larry trudging back to the car after I drug him all over the river throughout the day. Suddenly his shoulders perked up, his head lifted, he made a short sharp cast and slammed home a hook set. No one could hear his reel shriek over our own cheering.
Laughing, as Terri quickly laid claim to the Orvis swag her husband Ross won.
Laughing even harder as Ross took the Helios 2 from Adams hands and walked back to his seat smiling. Good thing Terri already has one!
Giving out hybrids Saturday morning...no flies for you Kidwell!
Rob getting carp blocked by a 3 lb bass...and being genuinely upset about it.
102 degree heat. Mud flats and gravel bars. Tailers and sunners and cruisers.
Standing two rod lengths from a 30 lb fish and not casting because I really wanted Adam to see that fish. Had it been tailing I would have shown him a closer view.
Drinking a half bottle of Gatorade that had been in the car all day, and nearly burning my tongue.
Spotting a carp from the tracks as a train approached. Adam dove one way, I dove toward the carp. I used the train as cover and stumbled down the rip rap, scaring two people who had beached a boat on the sand and were sitting in chairs in the water enjoying the day. I crept toward them in a ninja crouch, covered in long sleeves, gloves and a face mask...rod in hand like a weapon. Suddenly I flipped a fly forward and as the train passed I hooked a carp. It exploded in the water, leaping and ripping off the flats. The people went from scared to interested, whooping and clapping as Adam reappeared on the tracks above. I casually released the carp and walk past their little oasis.
"Was that a carp." The guy asks...
"Yep" I say...and add "I bet you don't see that everyday" and Adam and I hiked the two miles back to our car.
I sell freight for a living (essentially), but that wasn't always the plan. I have a degree in English lit with a concentration in creative writing...I mention this just to make it clear that I am not much of a numbers guy. Math bores me, number perplex me and in general, I am just smart enough to know I am not really that smart. That said, I was thinking about the number 20 today. The whole concept of 20+ lb carp on the fly has been sort of the level setting device for me and my buddies the past few years. We catch a lot of very nice carp, we weigh a ton of fish and 20 lbs evolved as the goal simply because it was rare, but attainable. Catching a 20 lb anything on a fly rod and artificial fly (no scent) should be celebrated...it isn't easy, and it doesn't happen as often as you wish it would. So...some simple math.
This year in 2014 I have caught roughly 320 carp. Granted, this isn't an exact number, but is pretty close...say plus or minus 20 fish (more likely plus to be honest). It has been an unbelievable start to the year, and in general I usually finish with somewhere around 350 carp to hand. If I keep fishing until October and have enough solo days, I am pretty sure I can break 400 this year. I have caught carp in 9 states in my life, and every year for the past 5 years I fish two of what by any measure would be called "destination carp waters" in the mighty Columbia River, and the beautiful clear waters of Lake MI. My aim is always twofold...catch a fish over 20 lbs, or catch a mirror carp. As such, I frequently walk by smaller tailing fish IF I am in "big fish water." I never risk spooking an unseen 20 to catch a 9 lber. I always cast to the largest fish I can see, regardless of the quality of the shot vs another shot, and I weigh anything that I think will break 15 lbs with a digital scale. Lastly, I cover a LOT of water. My last time out I clocked 2.65 miles in the water, one way.
This year, I have landed exactly 19 carp that weighed more than 20lbs.
So the math is pretty simple...19/320 = 6%. That is an astonishingly low percentage to me. I like to think that my home water is one of the absolute best resources for carp on the fly when you combine the numbers, size, water etc., and Lake MI is clearly at the top of the list as well. I do everything I can possibly do in order to target the biggest possible fish, and still only 6 out of every 100 fish I catch are over 20 lbs. I don't keep detailed logs, but that number seems to sit well with my general memory of the past several years (when my dumb little literary mind started to pay attention to the numbers).
So, a 20 lb carp on the fly is a really big deal...at least the way I look at it. Yes, it is an arbitrary number but the percentages seem right to make it a good goal for any fly rod angler...and it is a nice, round figure.
What say the rest of you anglers? Is 20 lbs the right goal? Is 6% representative of the likelihood of catching a 20 lb fish on your water?
To catch more carp, cast at less.
Nothing to see here folks...best to walk on by. Or drop a hybrid on the head of that big one in the middle...her close up:
Solo day today...just me, the river, and a massive number of tailing carp. Crazy day out there. The fish were spread out, and single tailers were the norm for the bulk of the day. The fish were so aggressive that I caught several after saying to myself "what a shitty cast!" Even bad casts were often rewarded with a surge forward from a foot or so away, and a white mouth take.
Normally I would walk by those sunners in the weeds above. Not great eaters on the big C, and a nightmare to pull them from the weeds but so much was going right today that I ventured into the salad and caught a few that way as well. Some days, the sun shines, the wind is perfect and the carp are ready to go!
What can you say about Lake MI? In many ways, it is the hallowed ground for carp on the fly. The fish are big, the water clear, and they eat meat. I will forever be madly in love with the Columbia River, and my home resource has many large carp in it but the finicky nature of clam eating carp makes for an extremely technical carp fishery. You must get close, you must fish small flies with little to no motion...you must see the eat. Lake MI offers challenges, but they differ drastically from those of my home water, and in many ways the big lake is a little more user friendly. You fish bigger flies, and the carp (sometimes) chase them down and eat them. That said, I see a far greater number of "positive" fish on the big C. And therein lies the real challenge with Lake MI. You have to find fish that are in the mood. In a lake this size with thousands of miles of shoreline, that is no small challenge.
In addition to simple size and distance, weather is a huge factor. The sun comes and goes, the wind blows and the water temps change on a dime. One moment you are standing in a bathtub warm bay and two hours later you are wishing you had put on two pairs of socks and the carp are gone. Learning this water and where and when to go and be is not for the faint of heart. Just as an example, here are the rough "landed carp" numbers from our five Lake MI trips (generally between two anglers with 4 days on the water.)
2010--0 carp (we saw one in four days. Poor carp got smashed by a tumult of casts immediately.)
2011--85 carp (glorious trip)
2012--11 carp (we saw thousands, and failed miserably to catch them)
2013-- 135 carp (our top 20 fish all weighed more than 20 lbs...EPIC)
2014--57 carp (two great days, and some ass whoopings)
Five trips, five different results. 4/5 years we found the fish, but finding the fish doesn't mean you catch them. Lake MI fish aren't easy, they march to their own beat. Bottom line, you won't be "talking" these carp into eating...you have to find the players. Over the last few trips we learned that this often means walking away from hordes of fish. We often leave the bays and the numbers and head out onto rock points in search of single cruisers...we get less shots, but once you spot an eater on Lake MI, the odds are you will get an eat unless you do something really dumb. We do that too.
It is time well spent...afoot on a legendary lake with your best friend. We wander, we catch up, we peer against the grey glare in search of our quarry. We break rods (lamenting the loss of my beloved h2...soon to be repaired), we eat bad bar food, we laugh and cheer for each other to both miss fish and catch fish. We take photos, we sleep like dead men. One night on this trip we even attempted to get into the hot tub of the shit ass cheap hotel in which we were staying. The tub was slightly warmer than Lake MI. These trips MUST be about more than catching carp...because we don't always catch carp. We got blanked on day four, finally giving up around 430 and pounding on bass until it got dark. As Wendy would say...we go it on foot. And we are better for it.
Every year we take the time in this space, on this blog and Wendy's, with these words to thank each other and our families. You have likely read it all before and it remains true now and always. I am 39 now, years removed from the college where both Wendy and I met the most important people in our lives...Kelly and Emily understand us both and encourage us to maintain these bonds and these trips together. What an amazing thing we have here...a tradition started without intention, and driven not only by Wendy and I but by the ladies we love so much. I know I speak for my friend when I say thanks.
In closing Lake MI 5.0 I can't fail to thank my friend for his time and patience. Wendy is quite simply the best fishing companion one could ask for..smelly socks and all. As for the five people that read this blogworth noting is that none of this is done by magic. There is no trickery or unattainable ocean flat reality here. Wendy is a more skilled caster than I, but even at that we are at best, one step above total hacks with fly rods in hand. I hold no illusions to my technical proficiency on the rod or at the vice...I am a weekend fisherman with a family, a job and a life. I am thankful every day that fly fishing is part of that life. We do what we do and have done what we have done because we go, we try, we put in the effort and we make shit happen. Look back at the list written above...2010 happened. Four days of walking from 8-8 and we saw 1 carp...but in 2011 we came back for more, armed with the knowledge you only get from having your boots on the sand and limestone of Lake MI. Go and see...go and do. Good things happen when your boots are in the water.
Onward to the next chapter.