Broke Out the Teaspoon and Dapped
I was back at my home river yesterday for work, and I was fortunate enough to acquire all necessary permits/certification/permissions to fish from end-of-work till nightfall. I had it in my mind to nymph the hell out of a tailwater, but I knew that wading would be borderline-safe. The window for the buffs is closing though, so I was planning to give it a go. I stopped and bought a walking stick to act as a wading staff. I also rigged up an old landing net I found at a BWCA portage some years ago with a piece of para cord so I could tie it to my waders (I lost my good carp net last month – didn’t realize what a good size it was – Gander Mountain has trout nets and HUGE nets with long handles – nothing in between).
Stopped on my way to meeting and looked at the staff gauge – it was exactly where I’d calculated it should be… right on the cusp of wadeable.
After meeting I decided to stop at one of my old quick hitters first, to look for some sight fishing before nymphing. Never got to the dam. Right away from a high vantage point I saw a nice carp… ran back to the car to rig up and returned to find him gone. I proceeded to the river and started to walk upstream… found some carp in a big tangle of logs. I blue-heroned it for a while, trying to see them and find positions to get them flies, but couldn’t do it. I continued upstream, because I saw that a new snag had taken hold since last year and created a great looking slackwater. It was definitely a jackpot.
There were dozens of carp around, all doing the mouth-pulsing-open-and-pulsing-closed bit. You see this a lot. None of these fish were eating anything from the river bottom. Just constant opening and closing, while holding or slowly cruising. I remember reading in Carp on the Fly that you should try a little midge or something on these fish… I didn’t do that, but maybe I will on Friday. I did try the Carp Wooly though.
The bank was up ~6 feet from the water surface elevation – perfect for viewing these fish. The veg was calf high, so the nettles and prickly ash were bad, but bearable. I stalked through those woods like a panther if you can believe that… to the wonder of the gear guys fishing across the river (what is he doing?
). I basically started at the back end of the slackwater and worked my way up – encountering these “pods” of fish. As I spotted each pod I’d get on my hands and knees and sneak up on the bit... ignoring plants that would have the flesh of my knees and palms.
Fish #1:Dapping like a MF is all this really was. The interesting thing was that these fish would not move one centimeter to eat anything. They were so freaking keyed in and keyed up about their current situation, you couldn’t snap them out of it. Because of my position though, and the fact that I could literally SEE everything, I was able to break out the teaspoon and put flies right in mouths. I had a carp wooly on and I was drifting it down, watching it the whole time… the fish wouldn’t move to it… then all of a sudden, in came a slightly bigger fish with a slightly different mood: instead of hanging in the water and “filter feeding” it was kind of strutting its way through the pod – moving side to side and swimming kind of fast. There’s the target then… quick plopped the fly right in front of fish… and watched with mine own two eyes as it entered bugle mouth. Candy for an addict is what it was, and the hook was set and the fish was fought and landed (it took half an hour but observers said later that it was more like 3-4 minutes). It quickly became apparent that landing at this site was going to be a biatch. The bank was steep, and there were snags everywhere man. As it turns out, I was actually lucky to have that crappy long-handled net – really helped. I didn’t have it with this first fish, but immediately after landing I ran back to the car and tethered it on.
Fish #2: I got one of the filter feeders to eat – just by drifting the wooly right into mouth… they’d eat it if they didn’t have to move or stop concentrating.
Fish #3: Got a little choosy and took my time, thinking I had a lot of fish to catch here… so I picked out the biggest filter feeder and got the fly to her… worked out. Immediately after hooking, this fish ran under a giant branch in the river. I had to hold the rod under my body (down below bank level) and work her back up. I think this fish was in the high single digits, maybe just approaching 10 lbs but I doubt that it touched that number. However – it was the biggest fish I saw at this site all day (a lot of small 2-4 lbers).
The trouble was that every time I fought a fish, it spooked a big segment of the slackwater. I kept herding them upstream, but I really only had three chances. After landing this third fish I ran out of slack. I looped back to the beginning, thinking I’d start over, but they were not visible… went out deep. So I left, to visit a couple other quick hitters, thinking I’d give this water some reset time. Quick hitter #1 showed a great pod of sunning fish. I cast at them for ~10 minutes... they were "negative" to use a Carp on the Fly bit. I’ve gotten those fish to take before (after a lot of work), but I abandoned them thinking my next spot might show me my first true tail of 2008. No such luck though – saw nothing there. Back to the slackwater then.
When I returned I found that the pods had thinned out, and the fish had gotten their spook on for sure. It was more difficult to present a fly to them – they’d sense the fly or a shadow or a footfall and they wouldn’t spook, but they’d kind of “turn off” and fade into slightly deeper water. Tough. So fish #4 was hard earned – many drifts. I finally put a fly right in a mouth though and got what would be the final fish of the day. I kept at it, but for some reason they started hating that wooly – turning away from it even. They’re smart and they are freaking spooky. In the finale, I walked way upstream through a horde of prickly ash and found a great pod of filter feeders… One was a mirror ~6 lbs or so. I fished to her for ~20 minutes off and on as I saw her… Just couldn’t get her to take a fly. In fact, none of her compadres would take a fly either. Then after my knees had grown into the dirt of the forest floor and my rod had become an ash branch, something spooked that pod – still don’t know what – and every single fish did a 180 and bolted out of their like horses from the gate. I had to laugh at that one.
All in all, it was a very fascinating time. Being able to watch those fish so closely… having that vantage point… young forest vegetation…. And the sun offering up some visibility amidst this gray-ass spring and early summer. While it didn’t do anything to hone the casting skills I’ll need out west in June, it did fill the sight-fishing void that was growing in me. It was pretty intense sight fishig too: not just seeing cues from fish (wish is more difficult and also very cool) but actually watching point blank as the fly enters mouth… HA! I would not trade those four takes for 20 blind nymphed carp. Maybe for 10 giant buffs though – haven’t decided on that one yet… hehe.
As a follow up question – any thoughts on exactly what the carp are eating when then “filter feed” like that? It must be either algae or midges of some sort. I’ve only seen them do that in current – the water is bringing them food. I’m tempted to try a little midge, but it wouldn’t be visible, and that would make it extremely difficult.
One other note - the Carp Wooly was tied on a very short shanked, very wide gap, big ass hook. The weight of the hook itself makes wrap unnecessary. All it is: thread, chenile and a hackle on a hook.