Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Fathers’ Day 2012

Last time I touched a trout was May 17, and that was a short bit early in the AM while kids slept 40 yards away. Last time I dedicated any time to trout fishing was May 11. April – June in this part of the country is regarded as blue ribbon trout time: bugs everywhere, ranging from caddis to all kinds and sizes of mayflies. I haven’t fished one hatch all year and almost assuredly will not at all in 2012. Not sure what to think about that one; if I flip back through pictures of caddis swarms it might bother me. But what’s happening is the day-long trout outing has fallen through cracks and given way to something greater (three multi-day trips per year) and something shorter (urban carp, misc investigative fishing and canoeing) and something more inclusive (fishing with kids).

Fathers’ Day weekend showed all kinds of good dimension: mostly time with family. Including a tour of Mystery Cave, Root River watershed, planet Earth. Rochester Honkers baseball game last night with older son. That content will be set aside though in this venue. Two notable instances of fishing for trout in coldwater were recorded:

Nymphing on Saturday Night, in note form:

(1) Start 3 PM; found a guy just getting underway at my entry point. We talked a bit and I put forth some of my newfound effort to be pleasant. Nice conversation. Turns out he lives on the Zumbro. We exchanged info; maybe carp, maybe SMB. One nice link: he was fishing the 2 wt SPL, which is also my DA rod of choice. Discontinued. I deferred and said I’d either go somewhere else or trek way down so as to not bother him. But it became a non-issue when I saw that he’d be searching with dries. I had the pry bar along, and thus would be fishing deep. So we were compatible in that way. Still decided to book ass downstream though; you never do know how far a guy means when he says “a ways.” I walked for a while; turned upstream; never saw him nor anybody else again. So we had a good exchange that worked out for everyone.

(2) All the foreboding was “you won’t be able to nymph because the veg is too thick.” Etc. The first couple reaches were indeed tough; choked with veg. Some aquarium stuff that I don’t even bother with. But I wasn’t about to go to dry and dropper without giving the tandem nymph rig its proper due. First deep hole I came to is pictured below. It was so full of fish that were taken unawares that I almost set up camp on the bank. After an hour or so of catching fish every few minutes I just left. Some took dead drifted nymphs but most took twitched or slowly raised flies. No really big fish but many nice ones. Four to the creel. One BKT.

(3) One of the BNT had a stomach full of snails. These snails were thick in the veg. Notable to me that only one fish showed this. Was he foraging in the veg, or was there some sort of drift in play? My guess is the former but no one knows.

(4) All the deep holes gave up fish. It was just a matter of taking the time to iteratively step down to their eye level. Moving indicator mostly; occasionally adding split shot. I like nymphing. Never got to dry flies (no reason/prompt) or streamers.

(5) This nice little gray water under the overhanging tree limbs called out as a nice big fish lay. I sneaked a bit and bow-and-arrowed a cast to the head of it. Indicator stopped and I set the hook. Sow trout showed itself for one second and then simply powered through the hook. Didn’t have time to properly get to the reel, etc. Nice encounter though.

(6) Last fish of the day was probably around 15 inches. I guess I did use a streamer in that case – casting up and across, stripping back beneath some rising fish that I couldn’t figure out. So I guess I did try dry flies too now that I think of it. Memory isn’t right. Poured rain on me as I stripped that streamer. All wet wading though and nothing that couldn’t get wet. I stood dead stoic in the rain and kept casting.

(7) Heavy creel came home, fish set aside in salt, garlic, lemon.

Streamer fishing on Sunday night:

Let me take a minute to describe the set up for this one-hour chapter:

Driving a route that we use frequently; dropping my son off to spend some time with his grandparents. On the way back. It’s around 8 PM. But where we sit now on our path around the sun: there is daylight left. And I don’t get this far down here too often. The daylight is gray now and just a few degrees between the sun and the land edge. But I don’t get down here and I figure I should check it out. So at a right angle in the main road, I just kept going straight. Onto the dirt roads and up goes the curtain: 100 yards later the world of transit and traffic and destinations A and B was forgotten. Now came long stretches between farms. Rolling topography and big sky clouds. Beautiful country and you could spend a lot of time looking at the pastures and the clouds. Most of the tracks in the dirt were narrow, on the order of 2 inches; horse buggies in play. The houses were white with darkened windows. No phone lines or power lines connecting them to fast-paced scenarios. I did see quite a few kids playing in yards as the sun left them. Slowed down for a giant snapper, and also for a loose horse. This was surely other-worldly. Fascinating to think how little you see and know from the main road travel. Glance down at my map; back up to the road. Watching the intersections and stream crossings. At one in particular I got out and looked in the water. Right size: not big like the main branches but not the little skinny water that is so tough right now. The right size. Fireflies lighting as they shot upward. Just starting to come on strong. Dense vegetation; fair amount of woody debris in the water. This looked good to me. I could see riffles and holes and dark water. I could see fish right under me. The stream corridor was tunnel-like: dense canopy overhead. Who had been here? I could see signs of some but the signs were not strong. Few people I suppose. There’s a lot of good water between this point and MPLS. I figured in my head that I came here and I had my gear; I ought to get in and walk around. Really I knew it was going to be good but to manage expectations that is what I figured to myself. Boots on; no waders. Black shirt and dark green pants; carp mask. It felt like I looked ominous. Before I got into the stream I hid in the vegetation and flipped a streamer out there and drug it across the water surface in a radial pattern. Maybe 4-5 casts in I drug it across the bottom of a riffle, right as it came to a shallow pool. I can’t say for sure what I did but I remember this: out of the gray came a long and heavy trout; for some reason that really puzzled me it was thrashing and it flipped its entire body on top of the streamer. If I remember correctly I just stood there slack and staring waiting to feel any tension on the rod. None came. That trout left a serious bass note resonating there at the bridge. I stood for a good amount of time wondering about it. God damn. That was a serious fish. I got in the water and started upstream. Yes, this would be good – that was obvious. There were pools and riffles and overhead cover. And I could see fish rising. I proceeded to cast that streamer in relative blindness upstream, and then high-stick it back so it made a v-wake in the water. This was new to me; hadn’t really fished much this late, and hadn’t really tried this (essentially a mousing) technique. The trout became bass. They were crushing and flipping their bodies at that fly with complete abandon. To be honest this was not optimal for good hook up rate; they were too wild. And I found that the gap on my streamer was garbage so I switched it out. That helped a lot. Caught a few fish of moderate size. Nothing huge but the toilet flushes were everywhere and I saw some big bodies. I was really haunted by that big fish back at the bridge. Man: what a hole it put in the water. Fireflies now coming on everywhere. Rising all around me. Fish rising but no way could I tie a not. I had to work hard to keep the fly safe and sound because standard operations were out the door. No light. I fished until 930 PM and then figured I’d better walk out carefully while I still had 5% light filtering through. A beautiful mix of suspense, thrill, mystery. Fish hitting so effing hard that they were scaring me. 10% feeling that I might not make it out okay. That is actually a nice component of the whole deal. But I’m always good when by a stream: worst case you just lay down and swim/walk out to the road. All the streams go to the rivers and the rivers lead home.

Driftless Area clouds

Native Ginger, a favorite plant

Right after this pic the hen pecked him in the face and then the boy tried to beat the hen with a stick

Suppose 15 inches or so but to be safe saying 14-16

Big fish lay or badass water

Fish concentration point, just loaded

Victim of at least one previous sour catch and release

First hole of the day, essentially a fish camp

Late night fishing with v-wakes is haunting me right now

Thursday, June 14, 2012

LOD World Tour Continues

June 2012 shows little bits here and there.

Paddled a couple times.  Goal was to get JD on good woody debris so he could toss his spinner around.  He did that for a while but in the end he was more intrigued by simply paddling around.  Learning to hold the paddle correctly.  Etc.  He wants me to buy him a buff.  For now he can use the blaze orange.  I toted the LOD around, just in case something made its presence known.  We saw a few carp but nothing approachable.  One guy on shore did proclaim "my four year old caught a carp that was all of 50 lbs on his Buzz Lightyear rod."  FWIW.  My guess is that he doesn't carry a scale.  But in truth, a legend of a 50 lb fish, as long as it's not inappropriately applied, can live on and do some good I suppose.  Just keep the jurisdiction of the conversation under control.  Maybe it did both the kid and JD some good; some fascination.  I discarded it like I do most conveyed carp weight data.

Standing around and laying around at beaches while the kids swim and dig channels.  Build reservoirs, etc.  I urge JD to fish in these situations but he's more interested in the engineering.  So I let it be.  I cast a little bit here and there.  Put the LOD out deep and let it sink.  Put it on the edge of the ruckus caused by swimmers.  Catch little bass.  LOD diversity chapter.

Waded a eutrophic reservoir.  It'd been on my list for a long time.  Few hours came around so I approached it.  It looked rough: very green.  Visibility approx 3-4 inches.  But it had been on my list for so long...   I went ahead and figured at a minimum I'd gain valuable wading/etc. data.  And really, logging that information as part of your long-term effort is as important as catching fish.  Filling out the map in your mind that shows you where fish are present and more importantly where they are approachable...   that's your centerpiece.  The map, the information, remembering everything.  So I walked around and yes, did find it to be highly wadeable.  Visibility poor but solid bottom.  And fish were present.  They were in the quiet bays with woody debris.  If a person had time to heron-dog it, you could catch some fish.  I didn't have much time but did stop to get one.  It took about 3-4 presentations.  The first few fish simply did not see the fly, due to excessive algae.  This fish saw it and swaggered forward.  Easy tell.  Small fish.  Woohoo.  Another waterbody for LOD log.

Then on the same day, a detour to one of my old waters.  The fish were sunning.  No feeders.  It was intriguing. Had only 35 minutes to consider things.  Did a quick lap to confirm no active fish...   then started a game of numbers: putting the LOD on sunners and just waiting for the right one.  Predictably, most fish turned away.  Some slowy, some with more alarm.  But plenty of targets allowing for numbers game to continue.  Key here was getting INTO the pond.  Fishing from the bank was not allowing for effective presentation.  Just that slight change in elevation significantly reduces angle of observance for the carp.  Got in the water and got down low, moving slow.  Was able to get right on these sunning fish.  Finally found a trio and put the fly in front of the closest fish...    very deliberate snap-to-attention, swam ~2 feet and inhaled.  Small fish.  Fought over the sunfish beds seen in the pic below.  LOD on sunners.

Then heading to another big carp haunt.  I know they are present; people tell me and I've seen them.  But getting the timing right is tough.  River situation, with deep water.  Hard to see, hard to get places.  Calculated gamble, etc.  Requires canoe, so you can't just wander there.  Whiff on the carp; one seen but it was sickly looking and shook its head slowly at me as it ghosted into a deep pool.  No other carp.  Big, big quillbacks but good luck with that sight-fishing endeavor.  Got one redhorse out of the way and then did not address the hundreds of others around.  Waded in some situations to near-chest deep.  Looking and looking but knowing no way would I see a carp.  So started casting LOD and DC flies here and there in faster water and in seams.  SMB were ready to roll.  Without trying caught around a dozen.  One pretty nice one, several in the low teens and several smaller fish.  Saw one nice SMB swirl in slower water...  approached carefully and saw the fish marauding.  Put the fly out and on first cast watched it freight-train it broadside.  Nice take in bass style.  Then 20 feet down a blind cast produced Esox lucius.  S-curve in the water while fighting was cool.  If I would have been less stubborn and flipped this bit to a SMB trip, figure I could have had good numbers.  But being less stubborn doesn't always mesh well with questing after carp.  Case in point: I abandoned the SMB for one more exploratory mission.  Connnected to but away from this water.  It was a near home-run, maybe a triple.  Carp everywhere on a wadeable flat.  Visibility of one inch though.  Spooky as hell.  With more time, more sun and more heron-ness, it will work.  I know it now.  A place on the map filled in.  Question mark erased.  Further questing necessary.  LOD campaign continues.

The water in the pic below was highly productive; casting across the riffle and letting fly sink and swing through the seam on the far side.  Many smaller fish like this one.

Wet wading a bigger river.  Not a bad place to be.  In the middle of it.

Another exploratory mission: a reservoir "filled with carp."  "There are some big ones in there."  Etc.  It was doable because it's also a campground, so it can serve double duty: weekend with the boys, and my eyes on the water for recon.  Sure the carp were there...  but all things considered: travel distance, size of fish, clarity...   likely won't be back.  Another checked off the list.

And one gear note: Ross provides exceptional customer service.  The not-carp-worthy FlyStart is hereby retired, replaced by Ross with this FlyRise.  Thank you folks; it will be fished with appreciation and it will see many waters; many long runs in many waters.

I suppose something more focused is coming up.  Tying some flies and watching weather.  Thoughts drifting to clear water and dark shapes.  June has been a good piece-meal bit thus far; we'll see how a more focused effort produces.

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.