Thursday, June 26, 2008

Fireflies Were In The House
A nice evening approached, and it was decided that a good neighbor and I should ply the waters of a small stream that is tributary to our home river. We fished in tandem. We had good conversation. I foresee learning a lot from this guy, who is finely educated and well read in the world of rod and reel mechanics and history.

We did not catch a lot of fish. The stream was deadly low and clear and the fish were wary. We did catch a big and beautiful female brown - she was holding in small water between logs... very cool. She jumped on pink squirrel. She did in fact run me under a log and into the bank a few times. It was interesting because as the fight progressed, the fish grew. Also caught a very delightful brook trout. I'd say 11-12". [more later]

Local Product

Zumbro River gave this up on Tuesday night. Found a small group of fish feeding on a nice little flat. This fish (and the smaller one caught just before) literally HIT this fly as I strip/hopped it through the group. Kind of half-sight-fishing. Pretty cool. I saw my backing on the spool during a great run downstream, although she never actually got into it. Measured 29" and my guess on weight is 12-13 lbs. Rod for scale is 7 wt Redington.
Days 3 & 4: Wading the Flats

“The carp was dead, killed, assassinated, murdered in the first, second and third degree. Limp, I fell into a chair, with my hands still unwashed reached for a cigarette, lighted it, and waited for the police to come and take me into custody.”
Alice B. Toklas, American writer (1877-1967)

We didn't kill any carp, and we both detest smoking. However, as I flopped my ragged ass and burnt and cracked lips into the seat of an airplane, I was in fact A.B. Toklas. The airport security and la policia SHOULD have taken me into custody and beaten me with a rolled up Dex Direct phone book to force the words from my mouth... "J-J-John Montana... and the place, the beautiful and sacred, secret and most wonderful place of all places is... is... ahhhhh!" And then I would flop my chin to my chest and sob and sob and sob.

The place shall remain anonymous. The fishermen and the fish shall not.

We spent days three and four on the Pacific NW's version of Meche Sebe. The difference is that this Big River is in a gorge. It's very clear, and the effects of the numerous dams seem to be more apparent. We drove into a desolate setting, walked even deeper. There were sage bushes everywhere. It was very dry. It did indeed feel like a desert. Not too much time to marinate on that though. The Mountain Goat led the way and we found water. Hard bottom. That was one of the coolest bits about this deal... Easy wading. Seems like a secondary detail, but as days wear on, it's supporting bits like this that can make or break. The water was high, but still only calf to thigh deep.

Right away we saw a lot of carp. Most were still sexy though, and thinking only of engaging in prolific reproduction and passing on the family name. That made it tough. We still caught our share of fish. We probably only landed one in every 20 fish that we saw (if that)... but for the ratio folks out there, we saw somewhere in the n'borhood of 400-500 fish I bet (we figured we were on the water for ~20 hours and saw an absolute MINImum of 20 fish per hour). So while we were both aware of how it could have been crazy-good (see most recent post on Carp on the Fly), we were more than happy with the level of goodness we were offered. Hell, I'll shut up and let some pics do the talking. Before that though, do need to summarize and provide some highlights:

(1) SETTING: as I said - mountain desert eco-sphere. Something I'm not used to... and very cool. It felt like the setting of an underground movie. That sage smell permeated everything. And then to come on a world of water... We saw a few deer, and none of them spooked at us. They kind of chewed cud and observed us observing them. We didn't see any people. It was remote.
(2) WADING: great substrate. The flats of a legendary river. The wading was not a hindrance, which allowed all energy to be focused on the fish and fishing.
(3) SEEING: the water was stone clear. Very clear indeed. Seeing fish is so far and away beyond blind fishing... I think you know what I mean. We could see and identify mirror carp as they swam by...
(4) TAKES: subtle is what they were, in most cases. We didn't see many tailers, so we had to be pretty focused and make a lot of educated guesses. When they worked out, it was candy. We had some great takes.
(5) THE FISH: the native brand of carp is that of a strong and racecar-like fish. They run like MFs... and this gets back to the setting: once hooked, one can let these fish properly defy you by giving them the Big River... just let them have their way, stay connected, and then bring them back to you. Allowing the fish to be the fish and to beat you for a while was important. I liked that. I liked the fact that some ran and ran and then came unpinned. They are beautiful, solid, golden fish.
(5) SIZE MIX: set up perfectly here is a fish population that seems to show you limitless 9 lbers, and occasional biggies. The general population keeps you interested and focused and in fish all the while... and the giant that ambles along now then provides periodic bursts of excitement, anticipation and occasionally fulfillment.

In summary it seems that a person could find any of these "pieces" somewhere else, but it'd be difficult to find a place that marries them as this little joint does... So the whole then is what makes this place.

Some highlights specific to our trip then, followed by some pics:
(1) DOUBLES: we had numerous doubles. We had a triple even, meaning JB had one in the net and while waiting for me to land a fish, he flipped out a fly and hooked another. Two guys connected to three fish.
(2) SWEET TAKES: we made some long casts to cruising fish that worked out. In a couple instances, ever-so-subtle slow-downs were the only indicators... but we jumped on those and did what they said to do: set the hook. The take is indeed the premiere moment (followed closely by ass-whippings though).
(3) SOME BIG FISH: we fought to hand some beauties - including a 16.5 and a 15 - two fish that fall on the big end of my history.

There's a lot to describe here but I've already typed too much I think. Maybe I'll add some more later. Suffice to say that here, weeks removed, I'm still riding the high.

Thanks John Montana for having me out there and leading us to so many intriguing places and putting us on good fish.

These are in disorder... maybe sort them out later. They tell the story nonetheless:

Day 2: Pond Hopping
[pics coming]
Transition from trout to carp. As excited as we'd been to watch redsides flush the toilet on some big ass dry flies, we were equally, if not more amped to see some golden ghosts. We started out by hitting some local "ponds" as a prelude to the drum-roll-demanding moment that we'd lay eyes on the Big Flat. It was windy. The first couple joints we scoped were pretty much busts. Saw a couple fish and put flies on them... The third pond got us each a hook up - mine popped off but I believe JB landed one... The wind was just whipping our asses. At one point I tried to cast from a high bank and my flies actually ended up on dry land, down wind from me.

We eventually found a pond that provided a little shelter... some clear water... and a nice mix of flats on which we found a load of fish. Spawning behavior was evident, but we managed to hook and land a number of fish. The highlights were three-fold I think:
(1) The straight up coolness of the place - we found fish in a little bay, fish on a gravelly flat, and fish at the far end in a silty bay... and fish sunning out in the "pelagic" piece of the waterbody.

(2) This 11 lb fish (may have been 13 lb - can't remember now) that I hooked and landed... it ran like an absolute biatch - took me to nearly the end of my backing in fact. At one point I made the mistake of getting my thumb too close to the reel... swear on a stack of Bibles that carpio nearly busted a nuckle. I honestly thought there was no way I could bring that fish back... but it worked out in the end.

(3) The big fish of the trip was caught this day... same cool pond, just feet away from where I landed that racecar fish. We saw a big ol' tail waving like an oriental fan in the water... and I believe that we both knew it represented a caught fish. We didn't see many tailers. It looked good and it looked big. JB strutted on up and presented a fly... immediately hooked the fish on an educated guess hookset. As he fought it, we began to understand how big it was. Big. We guessed 24-25 lbs. It scaled at 22 lbs. Beautiful fish.

We ended the day with a drive to the big flat... and initial observations suggested that it would be fishable. Exciting. Would have to wait for tomorrow to confirm.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Day 1: Dinosaur Dry Flies

With respect to both size and nature that is… Genus Pteronarcyidae means big bugs. Big enough to resemble hummingbirds, and big enough to feel creepy when they land on your neck. Cool bugs. Salmonflies and golden stoneflies. Fish like to eat them.

Our first day was spent on the powerful and beautiful Deschutes River, watching these bugs crawl through bushes, flap through the air and be folded by hungry fish. Our big 2-inch dry flies were our attempt to connect with the local rainbow trout.

JB allowed me the privilege of casting his Sage 4 wt all day, which was great in itself. What a smooth and cool rod. We were worried that the big bugs would draw out big numbers of folks, but we didn’t bump too many people… A few campers maybe. Our approach was to walk the river, and jump down the steep bank when ever we saw water that looked good. This was a well-paced, walking fishing bit that allowed us to take in the River Valley as we fished. The banks can be treacherous. JB is a mountain goat. I’m not overly clumsy, but I’m not a mountain goat. It’s amazing to watch that guy hop from rock to rock. I think it’s because he wants so badly to fish, he maximizes speed during travel. Anyway, the approach involved a lot of fishing under over-hanging trees. Casting side-arm upstream under them, or feeding down beneath them from above. Very enjoyable. Wading was somewhat challenging, as the river is brawny and the banks are composed of large boulders. JB took a dip or two even. I came close.

Casting these big dries was the essence here – watching the fly on the water and anticipating. To be honest, we didn’t have a huge numbers day with respect to fish to hand. We probably had ~40 takes though, of which we hooked maybe 25, of which we landed maybe 15-20. Not exactly sure, but I believe I only got 5-6 fish to hand overall, of which only 3 were 12-14" (no big fish for me)… JB probably 2x that or more. The three best fish I hooked all day came off. JB landed a beautiful and big rainbow – probably 18” or so… he had to chase that one downstream.

However, the take was the deal here. Watching fish fold on the dry fly was the pinnacle.

So among the sage, the snakes and rimrock we strode along the high bank and fished at our discretion. No keyboards, no phones, no roofs. Eating some jerky and swigging some water now and then… till dark came. Good day.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Day 0: The Approach

Time spent on the water is precious – so says the introductory paragraph to Carp on the Fly. Happiness is only real when shared - supposedly scrawled by Chris McCandless in the wild of Alaska. Considering those two statements then, one can understand why a person would board an aircraft and fly over the Platte River in Nebraska, southwest to Denver, and then northwest to Portland to fish with a good friend.

In my bag were waders, wading boots, two reels (4 wt and 7 wt), lanyard, three fly boxes, a load of tippet, a few leaders, a bunch of clothes I knew I’d never wear, the Pentax Optio, my Twins cap, polarized glasses and a copy of What are People For? by Wendell Berry. I had a couple rods along too. And a Dunn Brothers travel mug.

Got to PDX around 1130 or midnight. John Montana was waiting. There was some anxiety and discussion regarding conditions. We got it handed to us on our MN trip this year by rain/snow/cold/wind/highflow/poorsun… we felt like we were in for some good fortune, but in the days leading up to this trip we were in fact fearing the worst: snowmelt had driven the Columbia River system to a swollen state. Even after close study of river gauges and fishing reports, it was difficult to tell exactly what we’d encounter in the field. We knew we’d have a good trip – we just weren’t sure how the fishing would pan out.

To bed around 1:00 AM and up again, out the door around 5:30 AM. Did not feel the effects of lack of sleep.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

The Whitewater Valley

Not fishing. I had a work bit in the general area, and it happened that I could stay at the home of some friends who live near the confluence of the Whitewater and Meche sebe. A great evening of Schells, Point Brew and conversation. My thanks are extended to them. The following day included a garden tour, discussion of permaculture and a walk up the bluff to gaze on Old Man River himself as He spread his mirrors out in all directions. THis is a shot of the varied land use on the valley floor.

Also found in their library another good pancake recipe:

Left with a generous gift of asparagus - that is, the dirt of the valley embodied in these tasty spears:

Learned a bit about allelopathy and accordingly developed a hypothesis as to why our rhubarb is stunted: Wally the Walnut tree requires a toll from all those who would set up shop near his drip line. His agent is called juglone.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Carp Wooley when the Sun Came

The short story is that I had a great day at work, and I have a long ass day planned for tomorrow, so when the sun broke through I left two hours early to address a certain faction of cyprinid fishes that had gathered at a given location. I spent much of that time casting and high-sticking and naked nymphing, etc. to those fish only to land nary a carp. Smallies and white suckers - yes... but carp - no. I did snag a few, but they all popped off, and rightly so.

As 16:55 came around, I decided to jump out of the river and investigate a good-looking sight fishing joint I had scoped yesterday. Bingo-fuggin-zingo. Carp everywhere. Trouble was that water was dead calm and they were fairly wary. Even a carp wooley - a fly that has a pretty modest splash factor - was putting them off. Ten minutes of casting and pulling the fly to drop in a tempting fashion finally produced a great take though... this carp sidled on up and inhaled it in aggressive fashion. Watched the whole bit as though I were in a cinema. I had to pull some pretty gymnastic and fancy stunts to land this fish, given the location. Rochester MN.

Count it as the seventh instance in 2008 in which I've literally been able to view the fly entering a carp's mouth. Good tally. Nice little fix.

Also - saw a trio of guys waving fly rods... never expected that. Great to see. If any of you were them - hello, and I hope you had some luck. Let me know if you got any of those fish in the tailwater to eat. I could not do it.

Also - I found that if you "jig" your fly while raising it from the bottom, you can pretty consistently get suckers to eat it. Kind of a cool discovery.