Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Nymphing: oft-maligned, misunderstood mode that when applied in even a decent fashion brings innumerable trout to one's hand.  This time of year - no prolific hatches, fewer anglers and many of those few looking to fish terrestrial patterns and/or thinking ahead to tricos...    one can walk alone on a SE MN trout stream, going ankles to balls deep wet-wading and catch a lot of fish.  Good number of big fish.  One can fish early - be home by 830 AM.  I find this to be very desirable and very practically manageable.

In the context of these two recent short outings, I would offer these statements:

  • Had I fished a dry fly attractor or a hopper I would have caught many fewer fish, and probably no big fish.  It is very likely I would not have filled my creel with fish that met the various criteria.  It does not follow that I would have had a poor or necessarily unfulfilling outing, but I think that, given my goals, I would have had an unfulfilling outing.
  • Had I simply fished a nymph under an indicator - a static rig - I would have caught some fish, maybe a big one; maybe a creel full but the numbers would have been down.
  • The outings were highlighted by reading water and patiently exploring.  I remember in ~2002 one guy said to me "you just gotta keep moving that indicator to get them sonsabiches."  Fishing alone, standing and looking, peering in and then going in with nymph flies; pretty much any in the box.  This is actually a middle ground between sight fishing and blind fishing.  I think of the former as spotting fish and approaching; the latter as fan casting or probing likely water.  One might describe nymphing as probing likely water.  But I'd argue that in some modes it is sighting the water that holds fish; sighting water for which it is a known fact that fish are held there (and thus sighting the fish) and approaching.
  • The fish that were killed all had empty stomachs except one RBT that had a gut full of periphyton.  I don't remember seeing that; it was remarkable to me.  
  • Never did walk the bank one time for one second.  Always in the water; staying cool, out of the head-high vegetation and all it has to offer.  My approximation is that being in the water reduced my fish count by 0%.  
  • Fish are in deep holes; in the bellies and tucked right up to the plunge lip.  You can envision this and see why they are good lays; good places for fish to feel safe. Don't fish dead water; another good analytical that I read a long time ago.  At first read one might pass right over it, as understood and implemented.  But it is not so, I think.  I take it to mean plan to actively examine water and purposefully not fish it because the various ratios that describe time, effort, difficulty, probable size of fish present, etc. confirm that it ought to be skipped.  Not just enough to say "yeah I know, don't fish dead water."  For an angler with limited time on the stream, a love for seams and a need for good protein there must be an active approach to deleting water from the day's exploration.  This can be cast aside in situations that allow casual perusing; for example a day-trip car-drop deal with Surly.

Outing number one:

Death is part of it.  Light dying and rising again.  That RBT was hiding in this side-channel; no cast was afforded due to canopy.  With only tippet out of the guides, the rig was set above the lip of the pool.  The indicator showed some not-understood irregularity in its path.  Which confirmed for me that a fish had grasped one of the flies and was hanging onto it with its jaws.  That was the information I needed.

A nice triangle of gray water.  Drift the red line and then mend or delay such that the rig lingers.  One big fish came of there.

Found this lamprey laying still on the streambed; appeared to be dead.  But on further exam, it was in fact moving; just moving.

Lead nymph, trout, trailer.

Absolute destruction hole.  So full of fish I walked away from it; left the stream.  Down deep, twitch, take.

Last fish of the day; the short-mouth.

Outing number two:

First fish of the day, taped at 16 inches even.  

Few fish later I saw this and it struck me as maybe more telling and/or important than would be images of any of the 12" fish that were cut open.  For this proten gathering there is blood right on one's own hands.

On this day the trout were juiced; all fought hard; seemed to me to be exceptionally hard.  I've wondered if it was in fact the case; will never know.  Wondered if it was some combination of weather, pressure, time of day and feeding situation.  The 2 wt was moderately challenged.

Wet wading; just stay in the stream.  Leave this note on your dashboard: FYI, I am going upstream and I will surely walk back downstream in the water so as to avoid the vegetation; good luck to you in all your affairs from here on out.

I don't know the exact length of this fish but it was noticeably bigger than the 16" I taped.  It doesn't look huge in either of these pics.

Two big fish left me with good memories only.  First one was from the next hole down from this picture; it was holding in a bubble trail flowing out of the main pool.  It was a big log of a BNT.  On hooking, it leapt maybe 4-5 feet and when it hit the water a big bass note resonated.  Then it did it again and left the same bass note.  I was very much engaged.  It's unclear to me exactly what happened but in pretty short order the fish came unpinned.  The second was in the hole pictured here.  I hooked a fish deep, felt it, and then it seemed to stop.  Pressure on the rod suggested maybe the trailing fly had snagged on woody debris.  Some uncounted seconds later my rod was pulled out almost flat in front of me and then it thrubbed about 5-6 times as the fish ran across and up that pool and simply shattered the tippet.  Uncontrollable.  Unseen.  But understood and appreciated.  2/4 on big fish, not bad.  And I believe that all four ate the big lead nymph.

Some fish to eat.  I underestimated the size of the fish in the foreground.  In fact my hand-span method regulary underestimates trout size (likely story, I know). 

Decided to fillet instead of cook whole.  Family likes this better because the eating is easier.

Pesto crust; credit my wife.

Broc from a friend, with pine nuts and shaved parmesan cheese, olive oil.  We were not wanting for anything else.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Thank you MN DNR.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Photo Series: First Carp

Dialing back to late May.  An onlooking couple took great interest in the kids' battles with spring carp (which have been detailed here previously).  This is a cool camera angle.  They took care to email us the images, which I appreciate.  They said in parting that they liked the fact that I would only net the fish; would not grab the rod.  Wouldn't have been the same had I done as much.

Photo credits R.M. of NW USA near Canada.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Great Lakes 2014

Regarding a goal statement, i.e. what we look forward to in this venture: a single focus in a special setting with good company.  Eliminate any of those three legs and the stool tips; falls.  You see pictures of carp and you might think that they constitute the dreams; the looking forward.  Big perfectly scaled golden matriarchal legendary fish; many in pictures, done up just right.  Held aloft.  Comes naturally that one might think they stand as a goal.  And much is made of sound bytes regarding not the destination, the journey, the walk to remember, etc.  This is not any sort of statement resembling anything of that nature: the goal is a few consecutive days walking around trying to figure something out.  That in plain terms anyway.  If the goal is catching fish X-prime one might spend more time and money (maybe paying other persons) to help facilitate.  But you cannot pay another person to help you achieve singular focus in an old lake with your buddy.  In other words: we are afforded a concatenation of days in which we approach the task of working out an old puzzle that involves old wary players.  In a place that can be waded; waded forever, endlessly.

And so that's a little insight as to why one might leave a family; wife and kids and home, for an undertaking such as this one.  Even as someone plagued by indecisiveness and guilt that hovers with every aching movement, I've come to a doctrine that prescribes open air treatments of ailments and the ague that hath one's hams.  It was printed in 1968 by E. Abbey:      ...get lost for awhile, come back when you damn well feel like it, it'll do you and her and them a world of good.

E.A. provides a natural segue way to another key component: go it on foot.  We going to walk this sum buck.  Yes sir, yes madam, I entreat you, get out of those motorized wheelchairs, get off your foam rubber backsides, stand up straight like men! like women! like human beings! and walk -- walk -- WALK upon our sweet and blessed land!"--Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire (1968).  Can't say enough about the glory of being unencumbered; mentally and physically.  Shed motors and most gear.  Drop all thoughts at the dead end road.  All you're doing now is looking for carp in clear water; seeking out dark shapes that move slowly along rock points.  It is conceded that the notion of unencumbered is discussed in terms of degree.  We know it.  Shorts, shirt and a flybox in a pocket would be one way to go.  Matt Damon Elysium outfit would be another.  Somewhere toward the short side is about where we fall I suppose.  We ain't hassling with boat trailers; we have no combustion locomotion outside of the basic cell processes.  Another concession is that we do drive to locations before getting into the water.  Fair to say that if we did not allow this intrusion we would disallow ourselves from engaging at all.  Therefore that, like concessions here and there, must be managed.

Something corollary then is the act of shielding oneself against elements.  Who would say it is highly desirable to walk on uneven ground in calf-deep water from 8 AM to 8 PM with not a single swill drink and not a gram of any organic matter be it meat flesh from roaming animals or vegetable matter in root or fruit form?  You can mark it down now; I would say so and I say it right here; now.  Four days of it.  One goal: look in clear water for fish.  And these just the basic elements; shielded by waders and lug boots; penetrated by sunglasses.  The atmospheric variables that mingle and twist and descend of their own accord are another stratum of passive assault that can surely be met head-on and beaten back.  And we talked about this; actually had maybe a five minute conversation about it: the supremely satisfying feeling of being in poor weather and being comfortable; able to operate to satisfaction and maybe even effectively.  It can be visualized as such: wading knee deep, cool to cold air temperatures, steady moderate rainfall; you are dry in your waders - standard stuff; but you have about your upper body a warm collar shirt, over which rides a wool vest maybe fifty years old come from the second hand store; over this warmth is a shell rain jacket that simply and beautifully repels; your neck and ears are covered by a buff and your hood is pulled tight and forward such that it shields your glasses from rain droplets; you move slowly with head slightly bowed, rod tucked in crook of arm, spitting sunflower seed shells and looking in the water; you can see well enough to understand contrasts; and that is all you need.

And so the cards and the sound bytes - the inspirational/confirmational/affirmational - I think they are trying to state this: it's what comes tangentially and contextually that in sum forges the memories.

Some notes pertaining to the actual execution of the angle and the fish that were encountered:

People have asked: how was the trip?  It's a courtesy to ask and I appreciate it.  Some may not ask again though because this inquiry is an inlet to any of varying sorts of counter-questions, comparisons, discussions of technical merits, adverse weather conditions, the valiant common carp, old limestone, and the fact that people don't get hungry when they're staring into water hour after hour always looking and hoping.  That's how the trip was, good man.  Thanks for asking.  The real answer is that we are still figuring on some rating of this outing.  Relative to last year, it pales.  But I'll say it here and now: everything pales when held to that candle burning.  I'll just flat out say that I (and some others, confirmed) hold the belief that Great Lakes 2013 set any number of world records, that include but are not limited to these [with respect to any inland freshwater fly fishing outing]: greatest weight top 20 fish combined (471 lbs), greatest weight top 10 fish combined (didn't compute it but it's a lot), greatest mass top 10 fish one angler (239 lbs), greatest mass top 5 fish one day one angler (120 lbs), most 20+ lb fish one day combined (9)...   others.  So 57 carp to hand in 2014 reads okay but short of epic; epic being well-defined at this point.  It's generally understood that had the weather held we would have approached and likely exceeded 100 carp.  But she didn't hold; dropped off a cliff in the end.  And that goes to this approximate recounting:

First 40% of the trip we did well, I think 44 carp to hand.  Cool air, gray, mist, rain came.  Specific heat of the bays such that they did not warm well and thus there came no reason for the fish to ascend them.  Day three we sought out wandering black shapes and we got some (only four total).  By day four they were gone to us.  No longer known in the shallows.  We resorted to bass fishing, which was successful.  Day five we assembled a triage approach and we made it work.  Some new water, new setting.

Worth noting that whatever the conditions, one does not come in early; no daylight left on the table.

Regarding big fish, I got a moderate humbling this year.  And also some interesting perspective: thinking about big fish and the fact that we no longer honor 16-19 lb fish with any sort of special note or ceremony.  Fact is I got one fish of 20+ lbs to hand; I think it was 21 but could have been 22 lbs.  No picture because we dropped her in the lake during the process of handling.  In an interesting twist I had my hands on two other 20+ fish: (1) the hook fell out in the net, and the fish had a cut under its chin; a gash that by all accounts indicated an act of snagging; this fish was weighed out of curiosity (22 lbs) and released without tally, (2) after managing my profile effectively I broke out of a minor slump spell on day 1 and watched a giant sow move to my still fly and set down on it; on hooking she ran across the particular water and into a mat of vegetation; to the point of burying my entire leader; I dug and dug, found the leader and dug further; sure, found her there buried and still; I put my hand on her head and rested it there, my thumb in her mouth while she held, safe; never saw her again; in the course of attempted extraction she very readily snapped the tippet and disappeared.  To lose a carp is all too easy; it cannot swim fast, not more than seven or eight body lengths per second, but it swims strongly  and determinedly and can put its great weight into play (Downes & Knowleden, page 133).  JM ended with six (6) fish 20+ lbs, including a nice run of three consecutive days with at least one.  I think he topped out at 23 lbs.  A great showing and not surprising at all.

Just a few words on the carp which have been extolled here and abroad; moreso lately.  These Great Lakes fish can be tough but the statement needs qualifiers.  There are a lot of tough fish around it seems; those in spooky settings and/or those that are not hunting.  Surely these fish can be had and when they are it is as a giant exhale and it is with some jubilation because they have been overcome.  The right fish though, will provide the drama that is sought.  The rocky points, the wave troughs, the slow-moving dark shapes.  These fish seem more just because if they are found and encountered, and approached correctly and understood, they will eat a fly; and they will break off at extreme angles to chase a fly and eat it.  Comparison to the Columbia River, in my assessment: the river fish are tougher on an individual basis (because of their eating mechanics) but taken at a more macro scale, maybe easier because there is a greater probability that a given enountered fish will eat if approached correctly.  The Great Lakes fish need more decisions at a macro scale by the fisherman, but when you slide into the right groove, the fish will eat and move much further to do so, therefore requring a lesser degree of technical skill.  And in both waters, all waters: full sun dead calm conditions are tougher than hell.  Waves and wind are desirable.

There are carp fishermen, and others for whom angling is only a sport (Downes & Knowelden, page 129).

Cyprinus carpio is the quintessential cyprinid; drowsy, majestic, powerful, beautiful to its admirers, shy and cunning when pursued, valiant when caught (Downes & Knowelden, page 131).

Carp are clever as well as big; to some extent, clever because they are big.  A large fish has large eyes, with more cells in its retina and can therefore make out fine details more clearly; a large cyprinid has a large swim bladder, and therforee its Weberian ossicles move more in response to sound and its hearing is keener; and a large carp is an old, experienced adversary that is not easily deceived (Downes & Knowelden, page 132).

Four carp.

One word on bass: they have a ceiling, pictured here (unlike carp).  Same setting every time (unlike carp).  Eat mechanically if you do things right (unlike carp).  They are relatively small and they can't run (unlike carp).  The qualities are jolting takes, leaps and bulling pulls.  I do like bass.  But I can't bring myself to target them when there are dark shapes off rocky points; moving slowly.  

Final words would note respect for a DIY trip and appreciation for friends and family.  Without their loving kindness I don't know what I'd do...  G.B.  Not particularly easy for grown men to make friends; some anyway; me I mean.  What are venues for it?  Moved far away from my brothers and miss them every day.  If not for sports and the affairs of the outdoors how would a person approach another with a first word?  Certainly it all runs deeper than that but to plan and execute together thereby making the substance of it all; fishing is good.  And in fact on this outing we were treated to dinner with some long-time carpers.  Venerable cats; I will remember it well.

There isn't a better carp on the fly guy out there; I live and learn alongside JM and I appreciate it all.  He travels great distances and keeps traditions.  My family has gone from putting up with these adventures to encouraging them; I'm a fortunate son in that way it seems.

larga vida a la carpa

The New Compleat Angler.  Stephen Downes & Martin Knowelden.  1983.