Friday, June 01, 2012

Columbia River 2012

We can say it first off and get the fact stated and out there: fly rod carping is tough business. You can sit down and go through the variables that are in play, and then delve even further into the sub-variables:

(1) Conditions

a. Go back to last year’s post and see the CQS: carping quality score. It probably came off as an odd deal at the time, but I’ll tell you that equation kept popping into my head as we waded four ten-hour days in a row, peering and looking. Straining so hard our eyes and temples were sore and our pupils turned red. Wanting so badly to see. So much focus not on “please let us catch a fish” but rather “please, please just let us see some fish in good fashion (and then we’ll catch them).” Water level first: it was again limiting. Eliminated some possibilities for us. For how many straight years now we've dealt with that one. And then: sunlight, turbidity, wind. In that order, with sunlight carrying a heavy trump card and turbidity and wind occupying roughly equivalent secondary positions. Moderate turbidity and wind can be an angler’s ally, no doubt about that. Dead still aquarium stuff is tough. That’s why the equation isn’t simple. But you’d be hard-pressed to describe low light as a good thing when carping. The one exception I can think of would be fishing high ground here in MN, peering down at the fish in situations that allow prolonged study at distance/height. That can work. But walking around in the river pushing water with your steps in the dark… that won’t fish well. That was the main variable that exerted the influence here and gave us our relatively low fish count. The book I'm reading employed this acronym: we were handed some CSS days. Can't See Shit days.

(2) The fish community

a. The world of carp as I know it includes MN fish, Columbia River fish and Lake Michigan fish. All very different communities with unique habits. Applying techniques specific to each is important. Lake MI fish, although we’ve only had two trips in our log thus far, are predatory fish that will break 90s and chase down your fly from ten feet away. Giddy thinking about it right now. The Columbia fish are best described by JM, but I can summarize by saying that they don’t move a hell of a lot. They prefer to be fed flies. The MN fish are in the middle: they will move some and give good visual cues; they will eat bigger flies; they won’t run stuff down like the Lake MI fish though. Over the years we make a start at grasping all this stuff and that is what keeps the drive going: the fascination and intrigue; the puzzle solving. The knowing of the locales and the forages and the habits. So much more than just having a fly and a fly rod and walking out to a water someone gave you and casting at carp. That might work but it’d be a gift of sorts. The goal should be to, over time, stop asking for favors and make things happen by way of understanding and applied knowledge and skill. Probably anyway.

(3) Skills and flies required for different communities

a. The Lake MI fish like big candy bars. The MN fish prefer moderately sized crayfish stuff all the way down to small stuff. Bigger flies are a tough sell on the Columbia fish though. Small flies and lately, soft hackles as recommended by JM. And probably more important than the flies is the technique and approach. I get used to sneaking on fish, doing a lot of stealthy dapping with fairly heavy flies. I find them feeding in rocks or slow pools along the river bank. Ninjas can get to them and present a fly. There is a decent margin of error because the fish will move a bit. And in Lake MI, as already stated – you can boom out casts but your precision is not a deciding factor in most cases: you are often casting well in front of the fish. Columbia River you will not be on hands and knees crawling the banks. Maybe you find some dapping and some high ground but a lot of it is making moderately long casts with placement being important. Throw in light flies and a tandem rig… adjustment is needed. First must get by confusion re what fly are you fishing – lead or trail? Must know sink rate. Those would be the skills: recognizing fish at a distance, finding best angle, making the right cast and getting the flies in front of the fish. Then comes what can be called a skill but can also be described as an act of faith: understanding and/or believing that it’s time to set the hook. These fish don’t hand out cues. Sometimes some subtle hints but nothing emphatic in most cases. You absolutely cannot fish with a lack of faith. You will fail and that is what I did for one half day of this trip. Pagans will not be permitted and that’s how it goes. You will be murdered until you can get it into your head that your flies will be eaten even if all visual evidence falls short of confirmation.

(4) Mental and physical fortitude

a. This is easy to describe: you don’t give up. Persist. Push through bad conditions and missed fish and chalk it up to character-building. Do better and find more fish; get the next one. Push on… Walk and keep walking. As Abbey says: go it on foot. When your feet cramp acknowledge the old stumps and keep walking.

(5) Gear:

a. Carp wear shit out, plain and simple. Directly, by destroying things with their own applied force (i.e. breaking rods, wrecking drags, bending or snapping off hooks) and indirectly by requiring you to do certain things like walk for hours on uneven terrain, push through thick undergrowth, etc. JM and I noted that the 7 wt rod I brought out to the sagebrush country was the third iteration of its own self: he broke the first one on a Rochester carp, I broke the second one on a Columbia carp (and he proceeded to fish with it and catch carp on that day). Fortunately this heir made it through the 2012 trip tired but intact. And the hook thing pisses me off. Considering suing Eagle Claw. Those colored hooks didn’t fully stand up: bent some and the one pictured here broke in the grasp of a high-teens carp way the hell out in the river. And finally the Ross Reel: didn’t do my homework on that one. What I didn’t understand going into this trip was that the Flystart is essentially built for trout angling (no drag required (and no disrespect meant – just stating facts man)). The drag cannot stand up to carp and that much was proved to me 3.5 days into this trip. We struggled to jumpstart that drag in the field but it wasn’t happening. It didn’t end the campaign though: landed three fish free-spooling it, including one 15 lber. To their credit, Ross is overlooking my idiocy and has been very accommodating in remedying this situation. Thank you.

b. In addition to wearing out gear, carp require two pieces of equipment that other fish really don’t: a net and a scale. Net making your time on the water more efficient (really cannot understate usefulness of a net) and scale giving you very good information by which to describe your swashbuckling. I carried a very fragrant scale on the plane. It was duct-taped to a 7 wt fly rod tube. And I have to say that among the various other carry-on items, this package did exude a particular presence. And I really liked that. In among the plain stuff here was a lightly-packed adventurer. That was the truth and I liked that. Could be bordering on self-absorption but it is what it is. No use denying it. And the scale dissolves the various legends of “big carp” which may nor may not be a good thing but I tend to think it’s a good thing. Digital scale costs $15 dollars and the batteries never need changing. And telling someone you caught a dozen 15 lbers is good information, not bragging. If folks tended toward calibrating their gauges in the same way, information exchange would take on another level of utility. Which is meaningful to fanatical individuals and factions.

(6) The double-edge sword that is carp theater (sight-fishing):

a. The beauty of all this is that, when it all lines up, you can see everything that you are doing and all that plays out. It is in that way akin to hunting. In fact it is hunting, no doubt. Compared to blind fishing, it offers a lot of vivid imagery and memorable moments. The take is the premiere moment, I believe Mr. P says. So you can walk away with a mind full of goods to hold onto for a while. But the converse is at work too: succinctly stated that means you can see clearly all your fuck-ups. Just ask me and I’ll tell you. It’s not like I was bass fishing and didn’t see the 97 fish that didn’t eat my streamer, or trout fishing and I was ignorant of the dozen pods of hungry BNT that I drifted nymphs over (although you won’t catch me going light man, no way, I dig deep for BNT but anyway). Ignorance is bliss is a cliché because it’s true. Come off your bass fishing deal or your trout outing with no fish and you simply report “I couldn’t get ‘em man; it was tough today.” But come off a carp day after getting shelled and ass-kicked by the locals and it sticks with you. You feel bad. You feel guilty for taking those shots that your partner gave you and you screwed up. You have a lot of imagery of fish just killing you. Murdering your swashbuckling spirit. You wonder and figure that fish ate your flies and you didn’t set the hook on time. You know that some of your casts were off. You recall lined fish. In short all the bad shit is laid down right along with all the good shit. There isn’t a thing to do about it because it all comes together but it’s worth noting here. Taken as a whole, it’s fine. But there was one half day on this trip on which I was simply blanked. I don’t mind that if I’m by myself, in my water, fishing at my pace. But, I was handed these shots and I hacked them up. Granted the fishing was tough but there were easily ~15 fish that could have been caught by me… swimming unscathed at this point today. JM was understanding and patient and I appreciate that. My estimation is that he would have stuck 30-50% of them (even the best won’t go much past 50% in that system, for my money anyway).

(7) Fishing report, fish counts, etc.

a. 6-3-3. Those were my fish-to-hand counts for the first three days. I know because I kept track, because there weren’t that many fish to keep track of. The numbers aren’t gaudy but I’ll tell you they are not inflated by one single fish. If anything I may have forgotten a fish or two but I doubt it. What are expectations – 15-20 fish per day? No; one enters into this knowing that days like that come along with decent frequency, but ~10 is the likely outcome. That’d be a solid day for me (maybe a bit low for JM). But you also know that conditions and ass-kickings can put you at 6-3-3 for a three-day bit. Day four we had whitecaps but we had full sun. The latter as noted is the trump, and thus we both got into double-digits that day. May have touched 25 together on day four. JM caught more early on in the trip and we figured our overall total, rounded to the nearest ten, was 50 fish. Of that total, average was probably 11-12 lbs. Many fish in that range. Some fish were 8-9 lbers but they were offset by a good number being in the mid to high teens and two 20 lbers netted. We lost some nice fish. Blew some nice fish. Taken as a whole though, we’ll log it as a success gained by way of enjoyable persistence and steady fishing.

b. SMB were in play. When looked for they were found. JM can tell that story, as he went at them a bit. With good success.

(8) Memorable takes

a. We are getting some spider-sense about each other by now and we both flashed the video camera at precisely the right times: for the two 20 lb fish brought to hand. I regret all the cursing I threw out in my video, and I apologize to the respectable folks out there for that minor debacle. Those both qualify as memorable takes: spotted tails from far off and stalked up to the fish. I can’t detail JM’s, but my encounter was like this: approached a tail breaking the water in frolicking fashion. As I got closer, the dorsal came out of the water and the curved body of the fish was visible in the shallows. This was quite a sight. As I got ready to cast the carp broke into a straight swim at a great angle. I set the soft hackles in front of her… faith… whiff. On that whiff she turned toward me at a 90. Immediately placed the tandem rig in front of her… she swam to it and I saw a mouth open (rare but not unheard of cue). I picked up the rod and it went okay from there. I got excited too.

b. Number of other good takes stored up, but will only mention one more. JM put me on a nice rock pile situation. Every year he sends me out there and says there is a fish in those rocks. He is right every year. This time it was eerily empty and I was about to leave, but then on the backside, the river side, here came a black carp, already swimming away out to the big river. Usually this means: gone. But sometimes…. I put the soft hackles out in front and let them sink. Whiff. Looked at the fish swimming. The rate. Estimated. Set the flies eight feet in front of it. The fish was 3-4 feet down. When the fish intersected the rapidly-estimated plane scrolled by the falling tandem rig, I picked up the rod. Damn it if that trailing soft hackle was not exactly in the rubber lip. All good from there.

c. In the whitecaps scenario, I sensed the need for a heavy LOD and a heron stalk. This was quite a thing there in that camouflaging wind. Got right on two asses. Sent the LOD diving straight down on tailers taken unawares. That's two fish to hand if there's ever been.

(9) Closing

Main thing to say in closing is that I appreciate the fact that some punkass me gets to keep at these fishing adventures. I sure as hell don't take them lightly. My family is encouraging. They know that putting your feet in a big river and crushing sage under your wading cleats is a big deal. It's not guys running around getting drunk or wasting time or fucking off whathaveyou. It's guys keeping some important dimensions of definition in their lives. Some bonds and friendship. Hell in a way you could say it's a couple guys going to church. I appreciate the hospitality and generosity of my friends. And JM is what he is - master carper - only each year he manages to get both a little better and a little more relaxed.

Thanks again for having me. Thanks again to family for flying me out there and backing my credit at desert motels. At home now, pitching to my kid. Sitting in a lush backyard. Checking on tomato and pepper plants. Giving the neighbor all the extras. Looking at the grapes. Wrestling the kids into the dirt. Then watching them sleep. Sweeping and picking up piles of junk toys. G&T with my wife. All underlain by carping adventure which serves to add some depth and security. Somehow.

Pics from JM's camera; suppose I'll get mine later. Go look at carp on the fly reports.


Blogger John Montana said...

As always, well said man. You know how I feel about these trips.

Worth noting: at one point as you and I flipped through pictures of trips from years ago on the iPad we could distinctly describe the fish and situations for the bulk of the photos. This stuff burns in deep. It hangs with you, and that is a good thing.

10:04 PM  
Blogger testflycarpin said...

Man, that is just a great write-up i really really enjoyed that.

12:09 AM  
Blogger trashfisher said...

A great read. So true about the feelings associated with carp fishing versus those associated with other types of fishing.

2:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

enjoyed the post a great deal...glad you guys had fun and looking forward to the Door
County reports!! The Reel John Montana

11:53 AM  
Blogger Gregg said...

That was one of the best written posts I've read. Well said Wendy. I know a little about perseverance and the attitude of faith. I may have used some unusual tactics I've developed out of necessity. Having a tutor like John is icing on the cake. Great stuff.


6:38 PM  
Blogger Ty said...

If anyone out there writes a better trip report than you Wendy, I'd like to see it. Great stuff.

10:18 PM  
Blogger t said...

...thank you for making ALL the fish around 'here' seem so small :)

-and the great write up(I didnt expect anything else)

8:36 AM  
Blogger Mr. P. said...

Excellent write up Justin. So true about the effects, both positive and negative, of seeing the takes and of seeing the missed fish and one's own bad casts.

11:20 PM  
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