Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Columbia River 2016

May 11, 13:13 hours, Minnesota.

May 11, 13:19 hours, Minnesota.
It was suggested that these two local carp were good practice.  Good warm up for our trip out to the Columbia River.  Their photos and a brief explanation are acutely appropriate in this report because the fact of the matter is that fish like these are actually anti-practice if one is preparing to engage the clam-eating-non-moving-stingy-clue-giving carp in that grand river system out west.  The anti-practice was as follows, with respect to that second fish:

Walking a pond shore with decent cattails in front of me to break up silhouette.  Peeking through here and there.  Spot a carp in typical feeding position head down tail up facing me at slight angle.  Two steps forward to get my feet right.  Fish is clueless.  Two drag and drops with a medium sized black leech.  Second presentation is pretty good maybe a foot in front, just to the side.  All very clearly seen, all very obvious.  After about five seconds fish takes note of fly, moves forward and in semi-dramatic fashion sets down on the fly; like an asian fan version of a carp face and gills flaring out widening and setting down on the fly.  I laugh and pick up the rod and fight the fish and land it and find that it weighs exactly 9.5 lbs and has a decent curve at the back of its belly.

Minnesota fish.  Pretty easy.  Can't go so far as to say the fishery is easy, because as has been discussed there aren't that many settings that offer target-rich environments to sight-fishers of carp.  But if you have a Minnesota fish unawares, there is a very good chance you will be afforded solid clues as to when you should set the hook and as such a very good chance you will catch the carp.

These damn Columbia River fish.  Not easy.  I've been thinking and thinking on it and I believe I can describe the condition in which you can have crushingly good days but for now start with the tough news.  It's a tiered difficulty and each requirement has a relatively thin margin of error: find the fish, approach fish without spooking, present flies without spooking, discern the take (or intuit the take), set the hook, fight the fish, land the fish.  And if you are used to Minnesota carp or Lake Michigan carp you're in for some shit.  Quite a few eff ups.

We didn't have ideal conditions: first two days no rays of sun.  Third day we had some dead calm aquarium which is the deadliest worst condition.  Fourth day was best in terms of sun and wind but we had some anomalous interference blow some fish off the main flats and we spent some time running around looking for fish.  My estimation is that the best condition is finding good numbers of fish in moderate wind with decent sun.  Guessing JM agrees.  The wave action is the angler's friend.  Like moderate turbidity or even raindrops on the water surface when trout fishing can give the angler camoflauge.  Can always use the help especially out there.  I think in 2014 we had ideal conditions, two anglers and fish everywhere.  That resulted in 135 carp to hand.  I am not sure just what we did this year but it was a lot less; maybe around 50 fish total for three guys.  Sounds silly to say that catching 50 fish each of which is likely bigger than the biggest caught by 90% of fly anglers is a slow trip; that catching a half dozen fish 18-22 lbs between three guys is a slow trip.

On a playing field described by those conditions the difficulty of the already tough-to-catch Big C carp is amplified.  They just don't move.  And they rarely if ever eat big flies.  Can't see the fly (usually), which brings two issues: harder to know that you've put the fly where it needs to be; harder to tell when the fish has eaten.  And the carp won't give you clear indications.  So that goes to JM's rule: watch the fish. I think I do that, but man it is still really tough.  Look for a longitudinal rotation; look for a slight head dip; look for a little tail flutter.  All makes for good tension and drama.

We've addressed a lot of fish.  All the trout big and small.  Alaska.  BWCA for years bass and pike.  Carp of various fisheries.  My assertion is that in terms of going from the step of finding the fish to hooking the fish, the Big C carp are clearly the toughest.

Main thing for me isn't fewer fish photos, catching fewer fish, etc. it's that I feel like I let down fellow anglers when I don't make it all come together.  These shots are all so interesting and visual and cool and memorable and there is an urge to make it work.  Not for the individual accomplishment but for a sense of doing your part.  That's much of it for me at this point.  I like walking the water or paddling with friends and family and having all focus be on finding fish and addressing them.  I like the singular focus.  I think that a giant river full of golden hogs that you can see plain as day is very interesting and to hunt them down (sight fishing is hunting plain and simple) with fly rods is an absolute adventure; one worth pursuing.

It was a treat to fish with JM and Flycarpin.  I almost enjoyed the evenings as much as the days; hanging out with good dudes in restaurants of notably varying quality.  Got one dinner with Funhogger too.  Some carpy fishy dudes.  The best, really; elite carpers.

Some great fish counts are on the books; most recently 2011 and 2013 Lake MI and 2014 Columbia.  Not far off probably another big one will pop.  As we head toward it the in-between chapters are pretty damn good too.

...who drinks the wine should take the dregs; even in the bitter lees and sediment new discovery may lie.  - R. Jeffers.

Thanks JM for having us out; hospitality and river guiding is unmatched.


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