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 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 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 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 least 50 lbs...maybe 60. Biggest freshwater fish I've ever touched.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Quite a few days of fishing with Justin. I was worried about conditions the weeks leading up to the trip, but I never doubted that we would have a good time. As it turned out, the conditions didn't detract from the fishing nearly as much as I had thought they might. I'm too tired for more than just the highlights right now, but here are a few moments from day one through day 4.

Day one...Trout on BIG dry flies:

There is nothing like the salmonfly hatches of the west. Justin had fished the big D with me before during this hatch, and this time was no different. We chucked monster flies up underneath every tree we could find and were rewarded with plenty of spectacular action. The redsides on the D fight as hard as any trout, and watching them smack a fly on the surface is just the kind of visual candy J and I are always looking for. Quite a day of trout fishing.

Day two...Carp, any way we could get 'em:

The carping was not easy. The water was high everywhere, and muddy in most places. We stalked around as well as we could and with a little luck and some clear water, stumbled into some nice fish. Justin literally busted a knuckle on one hot fish, and I put the hurt on a big tailer that ended up tipping the scale at 22 lbs.

Day three...more carp, what did you expect?

Day three found us stalking some bigger flats, and surrounded by hundreds of spawning carp. The fish were thick, and too busy getting down to be thinking about eating. We stayed patient, kept moving and picked out the singles from the herds. Justin put it all together on a really nice fish with a 50 ft cast that plopped the fly right into the zone. He then followed up that great cast with a hook set on a nearly imperceptible take. To top the day off J hooked and landed a 15 lb beast that prompted me to tell him "The next time you come to OR, bring more backing."

Day four...despite the lure of big trout on dry flies, we "settle" for huge carp on nymphs:

We really did think about going back to the D, but it wasn't a very long discussion! Day 4 brought even higher water, but we found the fish yet again. At one point Justin was hooked up to a big fish (turned out to be 16.5 lbs). I was standing next to him with the net and flipped the fly out on a smaller fish and hooked up. I landed the fish while J continued to fight his big daddy. I kept the fish in the net planning a picture of a double, and like a dope I flipped another fly out one handed and hooked ANOTHER carp. Three carp between 2 guys is a little too much to handle, but we did managed to land two of them! Highlights of this day included multiple doubles, and we each landed beautiful mirror carp.

All in all, a spectacular trip. I loved showing Justin some of my favorite spots, and can't wait for him to get back out here again. Always a pleasure to fish with you J!

Great 4 days of fishing with Justin! Full report later, but suffice it to say that the trip was a success.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Rough day. I headed out today primarily on a scouting mission before Justin arrives to chase some carp. I wanted to take a look at just how bad the water was and figure out if we could still scrape something together. To get an idea just how bad it was today...I called Justin and had him look into changing his ticket and coming out in July.

Conditions were horrible. The water is ridiculously high and muddy, and even the areas of the flats that are often dry were covered by 5 ft of water. I drove all over and checked everything I could think of and it was rough. I fell in at one point, slipped off a boulder I was using as a platform to vainly search for carp. Ended up neck deep in cold water. I tore holes in my waders because I got stuck in some blackberry bushes...those same bushes ripped my already many times repaired net into pieces.

But at the end of the day...I was still fishing. I did find a tiny bit of clear water, and lo and behold there were some carp around. They were spawning, but when you haven't seen a fish all day, you take what you can get. I snuck into position, made some fruitless casts and then spotted a single fish milling around on the outskirts. I put the worm on him and BANG! My day turned around. It was only a 7 lb fish, but it felt good. Minutes later another single guy cruised within site, this one ate the worm as well.

I was heading back to the car and like most fisherman, was just looking for an excuse to make one last cast. I found it in the shape of a big, dark shadow cruising the edge of the shallow water. I made a 25 ft cast, dropped a two fly rig about 2 ft in front of the slow moving shape. It kept moving for approximately 2 ft...and then stopped. I almost felt bad for the fish, the take was so perfect, even in the slightly deeper water. It just stopped, right on top of my fly. I set the hook before the fish had time to realize its mistake, and had a real battle on my hands. I swear, my 7 wt Albright doesn't have the butt of my 6 wt st croix. The big fish made a run for a logjam and I couldn't stop it, but managed to turn it instead. She dove into a weedbank, and I had to give her line and let her swim out. My fly line reappeared on the other side of the weeds moments later, draped in salad. Eventually, I got her within distance of my tiny little net and managed to steer her head into the opening. The rest of her wouldn't fit. She weighed out at just a hare over 21 lbs.

I felt really good after letting that big fish swim off. So good that I actually stuck to my little mental promise that fisherman always make. I cut off my flies, reeled up the rod and headed home. Not bad for a last cast.

Justin will be here this weekend, and while I don't expect conditions to improve, and I'm convinced we'll have a tough time finding any consistent carp fishing...I know we'll have a good time. We will likely resort to trout fishing (the horror!) but I do love the big D. I imagine we'll poke around for carp and sooner or later we'll stumble across a few. Hopefully we can find some big ones and find them in an eating mood.

See you soon J!