Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Cross-tie Walkers Make Good on Another Carp Chapter

Always the teller must be at pains to devise against his listener’s claim – perhaps unspoken, perhaps not – that he has heard the tale before (CM, page 155).

And there is ever the required disputation of the assertion that one ought to live in the moment because the moment is very clearly tied to a reaching back and an unfurling forward and both are important.

Setting 
Between 17 million and 6 million years ago, huge outpourings of flood basalt lava covered the Columbia River Plateau and forced the lower Columbia into its present course.  The Cascade Range began to uplift during the early Pleistocene era (two million to 700,000 years ago). Cutting through the uplifting mountains, the Columbia River created the Columbia River Gorge.  The river and its drainage basin experienced some of the world's greatest known catastrophic floods toward the end of the last ice age. The periodic rupturing of ice dams at Glacial Lake Missoula resulted in the Missoula Floods, with discharges 10 times the combined flow of all the rivers of the world, dozens of times over thousands of years.  The exact number of floods is unknown, but geologists have documented at least 40; evidence suggests that they occurred between about 19,000 and 13,000 years ago (wikipedia, no page).

Carp
Further, one must stake a claim for the worthiness of a fish that was brought here and set up in ponds banded by barbed wire and patrolled by armed guards such that they not be stolen, precious and sought after as they were by any and all immigrants who had demanded the US Government remedy the carpless waters of the new world.    It has been noted that There is no freshwater fish like the carp.  And it's true. The following considerations provide in sum the difficulty, the adventure and thus the draw of pursuing these fish with flies; some of the details pertain specifically to the carp of the Columbia River (as it is well known that carp of the world show different habits and behaviors according to their respective genetic codes and natal environments).  

Contextual 1: Finding good water
Surely there are carp everywhere; it’s a known fact.  Look up look down in and out there are carp.  Resilient, prolific.  But as has been noted on varying occasions, the presence of carp does not readily segue way to sight fishing opportunities.  If your cousin says there are 50 lbers in his metro lake you can congratulate him and wish him good dreams of the remarkable fish but they are not to be sought; they are not targets because they are not in good carping water.  This foundational piece can’t be understated when it comes time to set up time for a homerun trip.  You can go to marginal water and get a few fish here and there with hard work; we know that; it’s done often.  But the really good carp water is that which allows one (1) easy or at least bearable wading, (2) typically moderately clear water, (3) plenty of carp with a good number of bigs mixed in there, (4) good amount of water to cover and explore.  You could stop right there; more attributes to discuss but at the most basic level I think those are cemented.  We don’t really have it here.

Contextual 2: Conditions
Sun, water clarity, water level, wind.  Full sun is desirable.  Dead calm and dead clear is not desirable.  Wind and turbidity in moderate degrees provide cover for the hunter.  Water levels are generally notable insofar as they impact water clarity and disallow fishing of certain waters (e.g. water too deep to get on a good run of cobble bar, or water to shallow to keep carp on a flat).  Recall this note from 2011: Carping Quality Score = 150 – [% cloud cover] – [(% above long-term mean flow)/2] – [turbidity NTU value] – [ABS((wind speed) – 6)].  The final word on conditions is that one is allowed to bitch about them for any length of time and with any degree of intensity; however, when offered a chance to engage a premiere fishery, one is not allowed to fold up or not fish or not focus due to conditions.  Tell it to yourself like you say to your kids: you get what you get and you don’t have a fit.

Technical 1: Spotting fish from afar
Scan ahead; that is the reminder; that is the reminder from JM.  Tendency is to burn eyes into the water in an immediate radius.  But spotting fish at a good distance allows for design of the best approach.  Degree of difficulty is moderately high.  Dark shapes are usually obvious; but one is not always afforded high contrast imagery.  Sometimes subtle color differences, nervous water, varying grayness, obscure lines in the water are the only signals.  

Technical 2: Stalking fish
Consider the angle of approach that will allow best presentation.  Because there are no favors being granted here; it comes down to execution on the part of the angler.  I mentioned to JM that a nympher here in the DA said once in his presentation one of the most overlooked and oft-shrugged-off considerations in nymph fishing is where one plants his feet when presenting the fly.  The end-node of the stalk of the carp marks this point in this application. Weigh carefully the closeness of the approach termination.  Carp feel water pushed at them.  They feel reverberations initiated by boots on cobble.  And they aren't like the sunfish I saw yesterday that not only didn't spook at my presence but followed me around in a school, presumably figuring I had something for them.  In this venture we see countless carp that perceive our presence before a stalk can even be initiated; they leave; move on to safer havens.

Technical 3: Presenting fly
Cannot spook fish with fly plop.  Cannot allow fish to feel tippet (the actual tippet or the water moved by tippet).  Carp must see the fly.  Must get into feeding cone.  And the Columbia River fish require much of a presentation; they do not stand for tangentials; they do not move much.  You will not be stripping flies through the path; you will not be hoping to break a carp off its linear course.   Here is the feeding cone; you put the fly in it.  Or you walk away stoned.  This is unlike other carp populations of the world and thus worth noting.  Difficulty level can be very high, especially if fishing small flies in wind.

Technical 4: Detecting the take
Generally speaking carp don’t strike; rather, one must detect a take.  An eat of the fly.  They don’t offer obvious tells; rather, just some clues if they are feeling generous.  Changes in angle of inclination; hurrying of the tail motion; subtle head turns.  This puts the burden of detection on the angler.  It’s not like fishing pike or bass both of which give clear messages that the fly has been eaten.  Watch like a bird dog.  Study, and when you feel the fly has been eaten, pick up the rod.  Many times there is no fish; but here and again there is one and the resulting head shake marks the penultimate reward; possibly the ultimate reward as some have said the take is the premiere moment (Mr. P).

Technical 5: Fighting, landing
Fight like no other; no other freshwater inland fish.  Long runs and remarkable endurance.  It’s been professed; it’s all true.  Is there another freshwater fish that will show you your backing without the aid of current?  Please share; I do not understand any such possibility beyond carp.  I think we’ve become conditioned to the heavy, heavy fights and bulling pulls and refusal to submit.  Grown accustomed to releasing oxenesque 15 lb fish without remarking.  I suppose we figure we’ll land them now for the most part, using 7 wts and 1x tippet.  But they can still cut lines on rocks.  They can still sweep across in diagonals and run so far as to put long bows in lines (up to 10 feet) such that the tension is degraded to the point of possible hook fallout.  This is the fish for which drags were made.  Bring a net; you’ll catch twice as many fish simply because you’ll cut fight time in half. 


Few notes unique to this outing in brief/bullet format:

Varying conditions, challenges
Good sun, dead clear water day 1.  Then wind came on, constant, strong wind for most of the remainder of the trip.  This provided a good school, requiring careful consideration and varying flies, approaches, etc.

Various settings for fish, various waters
We fished different water every day.  No repeats.

“Read” water like trout water on last day
Often times saying “there should be a carp in here,” etc.  Water looks good.  But on the last day we dialed it in such that we were very accurately predicting carp presence; beyond speculation/probability.  The waves were big; whitecaps.  We came to understand where the fish were holding and feeding, to conserve energy, stay safe, find food.   We would point at a haven and say “fish in there, go get ‘em” and they were there every time.  Much like trout of SE MN.  It was rewarding to approach these pockets and find any number of tails showing in the gray. 

Met Mountainscaler
Had one day on which we were joined by a local carper; a guy who could have written the intro re Columbia River history and geology.  Always good to connect with folks who appreciate carp and the planet earth.

Good flies
Flies that caught fish: hybrid, trouser worm, deadpool, little green nymph, orange fly from the last carp swap. 

JM “walk up fish”
On three occasions JM walked up to the river, waded in, looked in, cast in and connected with carp.  This all seemed outrageous but also right and good. 

Two mirrors
We came away with two mirror carp.  Had chances at some more.  Saw them clearly.  But in the end, two came to hand.  First one was a superb sight and stalk.  Second one was about the same size (shade smaller for the record), caught by JM.  I netted it deftly, normally, all fine.  And then I relaxed.  And then the fish backed out, leaving the flies in the net and JM saying “not so great a job.”  He was right.  I think I got used to a netting approach and technique and got lazy holding them.  We’ll remember the one that I let slip away. 

Gear troubles
Furthering the laziness theme – I lost JM’s net crossing heavy current.  Wasn’t clipped to my belt.  I looked; it was gone.  Claimed by the river.  And his boots and his other boots went to hell.  And a carp grabbed my fly rod and reel entire, and pulled underwater and took off.  This was just it seemed, from the perspective of the carp.  We were resigned to the fact that the rig was under the waves, slowly bobbing.  Gone.  We looked for 5-8 minutes.  Nothing.  Then JM started some Sherlockian analysis putting together placement of fish, rod, people and surmising that carp could not have gone deep given constraints and laws of physics.  Could only have gone into shore.  We turned and looked in that directioin; there was the rod tip, 1.5 feet above water; fish still on. 

Fish numbers
The hope for a visiting fisherman, given the difficulty, is to land at least 3-6 carp fishing all daylight hours, with 10 fish making for a good day.  By now I understand this coming in and so when noon rolls around and I have 0-1 fish I don't get too worked up anymore.  Keep at it.  These are the numbers as I remember them.
Day one: hooked 7, landed 5; top fish 23 lbs
Day two: hooked 11, landed 9, top fish 20 lbs
Day three: landed ~20, top fish 23 lbs
Day four: landed ~20+ top fish 19 lbs

All throughout JM landed many many fish without much effort.  He got some 20 lbers to hand; would have caught many more had he not given me a lot of shots.  I don’t have precise numbers for him but total probably around 80 without much sweat.  On Day 3 Mountainscaler was at 20 count too, meaning we had three guys catching fish all over hell, whooping with beers in one hand fighting fish without care that were surely bigger than most will catch in the next 10 years.  In the end, good numbers for this water, I think JM would confirm.  Most we've caught I'd say.  Vast majority of the fish were 12-14 lbers with plenty edging up from there.  

Double 20s
On day three we achieved a double 20 (two 20 lb fish to hand at same time) for first time in recorded fly fishing history on Columbia River. 

Triple
Day three also featured a carp triple.  We dug into the bank thicket and JM one-handed his carp while he hit the plunger on the camera and stumbled into the frame. 

Three straight days 20
Catching 20 lb carp on three straight days in this tough fishery was beyond any unreasonable expectation I may have had if indeed I had any.  But it happened, days 1-3.  Will be tough to duplicate.  

Three takes detailed
Any number of good takes when you catch a combined ~150 carp.  White mouths, slight head tilts, faith hook sets.  All there.  I’ll detail only three that provided comprehensive process and great visuals.
(1)    Day 3: spotted a mirror carp in a shallow bay; singular fish, slow cruising/feeding in rocks up tight to shore.  This fish was a lock; meaning it would eat if approached properly.  I got into bird dog mode and crept; first cast was behind a rock such that the fish could not see the fly; pick up.  Second cast was poor; aborted before it could alert fish.  Third cast was right.  A slight head turn by the carp was noted and the hook was set.  Had I known the camera was running I would have refrained from cursing. 
(2)    Day 4: first fish of the day was about stationary on the bottom of a bay.  JM presented from directly behind.  My angle of view was about 120 degrees.  The flies sunk.  Few deep beats.  Then the carp’s head turned very slightly to the right.  JM picked up the rod; all over.  Unbelievable stuff.
(3)    Day 4: favorite.  Here was a fish in a mirco cove: 5-6 feet of small tuck-away.  It was holding in good fashion, in feeding position.   JM called me over and pointed out; yes, there is the carp.  I see it.  I stripped line off, ready to cast.  JM suggested an adjustment of approach angle, which was realized.  Maybe 16-20 foot casts.  First was too far in front, we saw right away.  Pick up.  Second, same.  Third was aborted.  The fourth cast hit just right, given the depth of water, current and wind.  As the flies were placed we both uttered some phrase that meant “that’s it, that’s the one.”  And it was.  The carp’s head dipped down and turned left very slightly at which point I picked up the rod.  This was ultimate reward; ultimate fulfillment.  The mouth and the head turn; the heavy weight on picking up.  The subsequent fight.  And the fish to hand.  Ask for nothing more. In the net we saw that it was just short of 20; in fact we uttered the words "pound or pound and a half short."  We scaled it at 19 lbs.  A pound of short of four straight days of 20s.

      One lesson / take-away /reminder to self
      Don’t try to imitate the inimitable.  If someone says to you this is the play we employ to score touchdowns you should first examine the play and then consider your abilities and your teammates and maybe the weather and field conditions and then determine whether or not you should use that play or maybe consider a more conservative step-wise approach.  JM can describe well how he catches a lot of carp, applying a method and flies that he wields with assassin precision and known result.  But the degree of difficulty is high, especially in tough conditions.  Consider:
                                                               i.      Would you rather use the best flies and get placement right 20% of the time, and get eats 90% of those instances and detect eats 50% of those instances; or, get placement right 75% of the time and get eats 50% of those instances and detect eats 90% of those instances?
                                                             ii.      Of 100: 20, 18, 9
                                                            iii.      Of 100: 75, 38, 34
Meaning in low light and waves I struggled fishing the hybrid-like flies.  Small and dark in big waves and poor sun.  Couldn’t see anything.  It helps to see the fly not for detecting the take but for tracking drag and drop, placing flies; fly placement for these C River fish is critical.  As has been noted.  When I switched to a bigger fly that allowed me to track the drag and drop, I got a lot better fly placement and thus a lot better result.  I also note that a two fly rig helps because when you drag you can see the lead fly up out of the water.
  
Closing
Thanks to JM and his family for hospitality, and thanks to my family for supporting the outing.  We noted on each day that fishing into good water one does not perceive the miles covered.  Walking out, seems like an eternity on sloped ground with sun and wind blocking the way.  This is the symbology.  Each night we slept as dead boulders.  The perfection of total exhaustion accompanied by fulfillment.  Never pulled any cover or sheet; just horizontal on beds, instant dark corridor of sleep.  No movement and no dream.  Another chapter in a long story; I think it was our eighth trip in the Pacific Northwest (four trips to Great Lakes and probably eight in SE MN).  By dedication and good graces of our families we keep it going.  And in this May 2014 we reached the end of the Oregon trail pretty well spent.  Having risen to the challenge of the river and its remarkable carp fishery; indeed, having risen to it; driving west toward the Pacific leaving every fish swimming but in terms of the task at hand leaving nothing but bones and ashes. 


Day 1 Photos

23 lbs.


River.


Contour.




Day 2 Photos

20 lbs.


McTage's Trouser Worm; great performance on this trip.

One of many unnamed bigs.

Double; we had a few.




Day 3 Photos

Double 20s; I think 23 lbs on left and 21 lbs on right.

Badass photo by Mountainscaler.

Lumpy 23 lbs.

Three carp.

Many of this size.  Nice hat.



Cruise control on Day 3.

The Leader.

Mountainscaler.
Happiness is a warm gun.


I like this sequence, next four pics.  Water and fish.




Found a duck decoy in this scrub.  Brought it back through security as carry-on.




Day 4 Photos

19 lbs, highly memorable take.

First fish of Day 4; painfully little signal was offered but it was in fact discerned.

Conditions snapshot; we saw a lot of water like this: marginal light, waves.

The little pocket that held the 19 lber.

Trailing fly of two-fly rig that it ate.


Rocky water with many havens full of tailing carp.  Badass water.





17 Comments:

Blogger John Montana said...

Another great trip...and great report.

As usual, where do we go from here? Will be fun to figure that out.

11:52 PM  
Blogger trashfisher said...

Great report and superbly penned. Such writing keeps the memories fresh. We will definitely have to fish together again. Thanks man!

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Anonymous Howdy said...

Nice Fish - golden and large.

8:10 AM  
Anonymous winonaflyfactory said...

Some awesome photos man. Way to kill it on the Big C.

10:01 PM  
Blogger Royce Gracie said...

Precise planning, approach..essentially two kids giddy over a take. I can see it. Happy for you guys.

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