Thursday, July 02, 2009

Part I: The Place

Any good story is in large part dependent on its setting. Hoosiers wouldn’t work if it were set in New York City, No Country for Old Men would be garbage if it took place in London and The Thomas Crown Affair would be awkward if Brosnan and Russo had met at the Perkins in Grand Rapids, MN. We know that for sure. For this adventure we just completed then, a brief discussion of the place is appropriate as prelude to the meat of the story.

Thinking of the Columbia River now, here is what I remember, in no particular order: strong flow, steep sided gorge, red-brown slopes with long-ago cut gullies and larger ephemeral channels, clear water, open land, sage bushes, big dams. Thinking now that that is a pretty good recollection, given that my mind was 99% on carp for the entire trip, and thus my eyes were on water nearly every minute. I wasn’t journaling or taking soil samples. I did lift my head often enough to look around and soak in some imagery it seems. John Montana calls it high desert. What an interesting contrast to our own Ole Miss: heat, scrub, scrabble, snakes, clear water vs wide, forested floodplains, sloughs, oxbows, mosquitoes and houseboats.

JM and others have referred to the Columbia as the Mississippi of the Northwest. I thought about that a while and noted that it did look big like the Miss, but I knew it didn’t drain near as much land. In fact, the entire river drains 265,000 square miles; Miss is at 1,245,000 square miles. Roughly 5x difference there. Lengthwise: Columbia is 1,243 miles; Miss is 2,320 miles – roughly 2x. It gets more interesting when you consider typical discharges at various points in the watersheds:

Columbia River at the Dalles: right now around 300,000-400,000 cfs
DRAINAGE AREA.--237,000 mi2, approximately.

Here is a USGS site on the Miss that is roughly equivalent to that discharge – note that drainage area is almost 3x though:
Miss at Chester IL
200,000-300,000 cfs
Drainage area 708,600 square miles

Here is a little closer to home:
Miss at Clinton, IA
Contributing drainage area 85,600 square miles
~60,000 cfs
In comparison, Columbia at The Dalles is ~3x larger drainage, but 5-6x more flow.

Water yield is dependent on drainage area, climate, precip, runoff coefficient, evapotranspiration, etc. You kind of know this, but to see a different river up close and personal is very educational.

Anyway, this seems to fit with what the Columbia feels like when you stand in it or observe it: pretty big and strong. And a couple key notes: very wadeable, and many flats. That’s the draw here – what can drive two guys to fly across the country to premiere coldwater fishing and skip it in favor of carping: outstanding sight fishing in clear water to beautiful, strong fish. Plenty of them.

Here are a couple good summaries of the Columbia River basin:

Part II: The Fish

There is no freshwater fish like the carp. I consider myself moderately qualified to make that statement. Not perfectly qualified, but moderately so, and confident enough to take the scope of the fishing I’ve done and make a bit of an extrapolation: there is no fish in inland waters that is like the carp. I have love and respect for any and all fishes. I tackle smallies. I’m thrilled by the idea of catching northern pike on flies. Panfish on poppers. Trout are my beautiful brothers and sisters. They aren’t carp though. I sure want them to act like carp. In recent years I’ve been begging BWCA fish to step up and fight like a carp but it ain’t gonna happen. Not ever. When carp are handing me my ass, I often find myself making a mental note: do more trout fishing – it’s a lot easier. "Gamefish" take a backseat to the ridiculous tenacity of The Gray Ghost. Likewise, the other fish that are commonly grouped into the “roughfish” family are a step down: no quillback, buffalo or sucker could ever dream of staging a run like a carp. Thinking back on Buffalo Days 2007, those brutes were near-impossible to land, but it was due to simple mass – not athletic ability, endurance or attitude. This power then, is the identifying feature of the carp, as far as I can tell. It’s the lead on quite a list of attributes though:

(1) Power and endurance: through your line and most of your backing can an average carp go if he has the room.
(2) Size: they get big. Sometimes really big.
(3) Feeding mechanics: they have a “feeding cone” or cone of sight that must be intersected by your fly. It is rare that any carp will do you a favor and chase your offering.
(4) Spookiness: the carp is a discerning creature. If your fly splashes, or sinks too fast, or if you push too much water toward the fish… you look for the next target.
(5) Method of ingestion: there is no strike. It’s an eat. Usually nothing violent or sudden (some exceptions), and very rarely anything that you feel.

Add up all those tiddy-biddies and you have quite a fish. Definition of unique in the world of freshwater fishing is what that list sums to, I’d say. And that segue ways to:

Part III: The Method

Nobody on this trip was asking the carp for a damn thing. No favors requested. There was no waiting for fish to come by, no requesting that a fish catch a scent and swing through for a taste. No reaction to a noisy or flashy lure was sought. No drifts over or though a good hole were cast out with a letter attached: please eat. No fuggin favors. It was a hunt, plain and simple. The areas selected were known hangouts. Stalking methods were employed. Decisions were required: does one cast now at a higher degree of difficulty, or sneak closer and risk spooking the fish? What flies to use – splashiness vs sink rate? Once those items are cleared up, the next set of more difficult questions comes to light: where does one lay the flies – right on head, or out a bit? Which of those fish is most likely to eat this fly? Did that fish move to the fly? Did he eat? And the kicker: sometimes you are working your way through those questions while looking at nothing more than a stream of bubbles emanating from a silt plume. Hehe.

Very clearly, the fish win this numbers game. More missed fish than caught fish (particularly by some of us - to be exact by two of the three of us). In fact, more missed fish than we know: many eat and spit while we sit and stare in wonder. In this method, half-guesses are common, and full-out-guesses are required now and then. Set the hook. Pick up that rod. Raise it and feel that glorious resistance and the thrubbing of a connected fish. Revel for just one moment in the coming-together-of-it-all though because now the details of the method have passed and you’ve looped back to Part II: The Fish. You’ve got a fuggin carp hooked and your line is peeling away from you so fast it’s burning your index finger. Palm the reel and engage. Duel this brute of a fish to your hand, take a picture by which you can remember his brilliance and then let him go.

So that's why a couple guys spent some money to fly to the trout-fishing Mecca of the US to fish carp. The fact that a good friend is home-based in PDX and stacked with beyond-guide skills made it all the better. The rest can be told by way of pictures.

Consider the fact that three trigger-happy dudes were walking flats four four days straight (12 hours each day) armed with cameras... It follows that there are a lot of images. The only feasible means by which I can post a few of them here is to create general categories and then just load them in no particular order. The logical proceeding seems to be:


With that, here are the BENT RODS:







May add some captions later. Fugging blogging is a lot of work. Skipped lunch to complete this... geez.

Thanks John Montana for hosting another great trip. It's always a pleasure.


Anonymous winonaflyfactory said...

You know I'm looking for the rest.

7:02 PM  
Blogger John Montana said...

Great stuff as always j. I am once again having a tough time putting those 4days into words. All I know is I wish we had 5 days.

11:02 PM  
Blogger John Montana said...

Well said. Perfect.

5:56 PM  
Anonymous Uncommon Carp said...

Wow. Nice report, nice writeup, and even better pictures. Thanks guys you have me wanting to get out on the water soon!

4:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I get a big grin looking at the photo's. Great shots, from the Rods, to the fish, your brother. Thats so cool man. I love the triple release photos! It shows you had a good time.

5:56 PM  
Blogger amanda said...

Wow, some really fantastic photos there, many of them. You're very right - blogging is a lot of work. I skip a lot of hours of valuable sleep to complete posts of my own, especially those with lots of text & lots of photos and wanting them all to go where you want them. This one here is quite a piece of work!

1:01 PM  
Blogger Royce Gracie said...

Great photos. Particularly like the facial expressions of the two people dropping the fish.

12:12 AM  
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