Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Columbia River 2015

The individuals that comprised this year's fishing party are for convenience listed below:

McTage at FlyCarpin
D. Frasier of US Carp Pro
John Montana at Carp on the Fly

First, Some Historical Notes

Best I can recall it went something like this, according to my assessment of one old correspondence and a review of our photos, of which there are many: in the year 2000 I moved to southeast Minnesota.  Fact is we had both spent the better part of the previous six years there too, taking classes shooting hoops etc.  But in 2000 I came down to work.  With me was the trusty spinning gear of many many miles; many bass and pike; days in small rowboats; crowded boats countless fish with my dad and brothers.  I think I must have taken that gear to the river for grab-bag fishing.  Probably in 2001 John Montana said why don’t you get a fly rod and get the trout that are everywhere around you.  I was slow to warm up to it; typical fashion; why change anything.  He took a St. Croix Pro Graphite 5/6 weight with a SA reel all spooled up and sent it to me via USPS.  He understood that it would make in me an obligation to get out and use it.  Fish eat almost all their protein under the water; use nymphs.  Fish two nymphs he said.  Why would I do that it sounds like more chances for tangles.  I did as much and I remember the exact location at which I stood, whining to myself that this would never work, when an invasive brown trout ate the beadhead hares ear that was drifting maybe six feet upstream of my position.  First trout on a fly.  I think that was not first fish on fly because I had been going to lakes and wading for sunnies/crappies/bass on poppers.  Those were the days of dumb fish, dozens to hand, eutrophic lakes giving up bounties.  On the trout though, I am unsure as to the year but I think 2001.  On one of our earliest (if not the first overall) fishing trips together, JM and I found a pod of brook trout in a beaver pond.  I know how we can get these fish he said.  Aquarium.  Only way to do it was to get upstream, belly crawl, strip out line and backhand cast an emerger.  Let it swing down and across to them.  Then they will eat it.  First attempt we stared at the line.  It jolted and we had fontinalis #1.  Next guy up.  Same deal.  Hundred brook trout and we caught two and that was exactly what we aimed to do so we then left. 
The email mentioned was May 19, 2003.  All things being measured in rain events and flow conditions, we were at that time subjected to the only major event of that year.  The email feels like me talking with an informant regarding fisheries that may serve as alternative to those for trout.  Big event; high water; streams blown out; my guy coming to fish; what to do. 
Here is excerpt #1:
My buddy John Montana from Westfly copied me on a letter to you re fly
>> fishing. I live in Cannon and I fish often.... catching quite a few
>> trout in the streams around here. Sounds like you're into some nice
>> bigger fish in the main river - rough fish, etc.
So the link is made: JM points me to his buddy, who is IMO an elite angler who set a record catching a fish on the fly for some ridiculous number of days in a row something like 59.  I remember we would fish together I’d pull up to his funny little no-frontage apartment and he’d come out looking tired and off we’d go.  This guy was key in tuning into the local carp on flies angle.
Next, after I said some things like this small northern come almost completey out of the water and shred my popper
> - missed him though as he bit it off and left if floating for me
, was the clincher of sorts:
you may have seen me or a buddy of mine up under the dam downtown
. it's by far the best place to fish for carp as they stack up
under there nicely. i've caught them there mostly on dead-drifted nymphs.
we really pounded this spot most of last month when the water was right.

The carp are there and they can be had.  Not like we used to throwing giant Northern Tackle Whistler jigs and retrieving them 22 mph; rather, they can be had on flies.  I would note that some people in the world were already catching carp on flies; I have met three people that were doing it for years before 2003.  But one’s world is largely defined by his own life and those very close to him; this is generally understood.  We got some carp in 2003 dead drifting nymphs; blind fishing.  

To this picture then – the first of our sight-fished carp.  Here is the flow context; the mean daily flow values (cfs) at the local river gauge: 193, 221, 696, 956, 1170, 1050, 739, 543, 428, 436 (date of picture), 1230, 1250.  And that is a relatively large drainage (292,xxx acres, compared to trout streams which very but are often fished at 12-20,000 acres).  So we’d just been hit with a big slug, and on May 24 water was rising again at the big station meaning the trout streams were blown.  Probably peaked and turbid.  Where can we go and what can we do.  The only hydrology that seemed approachable was that between lakes.  That held by wetland complexes.  We went to such places and found clear water; rivers of grass.  Within those forests undulating we saw buffalo and carp; in and out of our vision.  JM had made a bamboo rod; at great pains; finished just weeks prior.  This was the rod he applied; I cannot recall exactly why; maybe all we had along.  We gave it everything we had – trying to hook those fish.  They were not actively feeding.  But in 2004 safe to say we were not really tuned into carp moods.  JM used a small hares ear and in striking foreshadowing fashion he got one to eat.  This was a dirt road culvert scenario.  Several cars stopped to watch.  This better be good said one tobacco enthusiast.  And I do remember explicitly the second the people saw it was a carp most turned away without a word and drove off.  

May 29, 2004.  Still have that raincoat.  And matching pants.

June 17, 2006.  After one taste of MN carp, JM took to the mighty Columbia River system.  I believe this was my first day joning him there.
Just back from trout fishing yesterday.  I believe it was the first time I was out by myself in the year 2015.  Good timing in that it provided ultimate context/contrast with respect to carp.  Trout fishing is beautiful in that it offers a favorite setting, good protein and it is slow and relaxing for the most part.  It is highly formulaic and the rewards come to practiced execution.  The fish are where you know there are going to be; the flies all work.  In fact very little matters beyond getting flies in front of the fish.  There is no surer guarantee that approaching good trout water with nymphs; provided the conditions are moderately favorable.  Carp on the other hand require concatenation of so many finer points – all of which have been subject to verbose elaboration herein and in other literature and texts.  The Columbia River carp in particular do one no favors.  They must be fed flies.  Plain and simple.  And this act must be understood by the angler without the typical signs afforded by most other species on Earth.  More than a decade studying on this matter.

So the evolution of these adventures continues, as evidenced by 2015 outing.  Locations, species, techniques, flies change over time.  We fish with a lot of great people.  What are your main memories.  Do you remember sitting at a party talking with your friend.  Do you remember days spent at keyboards and terminals.  You most likely do not.  In an age of comfort we don't really have struggles; physical struggles anway, and many of us hold jobs for which we have no immediate accomplishment to look upon at day's end; nothing built, no dirt turned over and nothing planted or threshed or cut or skinned.  Hell you going to do.  How do you maintain your gender in a world that strives for unisex existence.  What you are going to do is invent some struggles and make some adventures; it must be done.  Why does all of suburbia flock to the countryside in camoflauge gear.  The memories are made in water; on rocks; in woods.  And as such we don't buy 48 beers and sit on the river bank and wait.  We set up to be challenged; to struggle; looking into the river hunting giant wary fish. So that is an attempt to address the inquiry why do you do this shit.  The specific merits of carp as a quarry can be reviewed in previous posts.  Further, this understanding is becoming more general as the specie is being accepted as a gamefish.

Following are a handful of images captured a couple weeks ago in the Columbia River Gorge or thereabouts.

First fish of the trip was at 9:43 local time on day one.  Nice stick by D. Frasier.  

Second fish 14 lbs.  Photo credit to D Frasier.  This image good documentation of conditions early on day one.  Pretty good overall.

We hit a dead spot in the afternoon during which the fish stoned us.  Glass calm is a killer; even the smallest flies betray the angler.  

Day two fish - a favorite take - that san juan worm probably ~8-9 years old.

A 19 lb beauty stuck by JM on day two.

People see and marvel at the big fish captured by JM.  What I think is not generally understood though is his rate of execution.  Case in point on this day we were walking back in tough conditions.  The wind had kicked up; big waves.  TFM and I were having a hell of time seeing any viable targets; we were looking shallow; tough go; no fish coming.  JM was walking the deep edge, nearly waist deep; waves slapping.  And he was taking them apart out there: fish after fish hooked.  I couldn't fathom how he was seeing them let alone getting them flies let alone detecting the takes.  This practiced method is what cannot be captured in the still images captured on the river banks.

End of day two, trying to depict both the glare we faced at certain angles, and the pock marks contrasted with the wave patterns in the sand.

Day three we got beat up pretty good by the waves.  We asked for wind and we got it.  Here is FlyCarpin walking, looking.  We did a lot of that.  Got some fish but not too many.

Two 20+ lb fish, one each to TFM and FlyCarpin.  I topped out at 17 lbs, pictured here.  Nice fish, cast up and across at a 45 and watched a subtle eat in heavy waves.

As for final numbers, they were down (per capita) from years past.  My count for the three days was 9, 3, 3.  On the fourth day I had about three hours to fish; hit it with TFM; honestly had zero positive targets and hooked zero fish. Should have had more to hand.  Like every trip out there.  So many fish that you flat out just don't get.  Either they spook because you hit too close; they don't eat; they spook at the fly; you don't detect the take; they break you off.  A lot has to come together.  In particular - I had four opportunities at fish that were by all accounts 20+ lbers.

(1) Hooked and played, started running toward D. Frasier who also had a 20+ fish on.  My determination was that his fish was more important than mine.  I decided to lock down and either turn the fish or break it off.  Broke it off.  He subsequently lost his fish; we really effed that one up.

(2) Sorted through the smaller fish to find the big mama.  Dapped on her; she ate it in plain sight.  I set the hook and my tippet knot gave out.  I watched the fish swim around - pulsing her white mouth in repeated attempt to eject the fly.  Damn it that one burns me still.

(3) Sneaked on a giant, giant solo feeding fish.  Walked on a rock ridge and waited for her to intersect a gap in the riverside scrub.  She came into view perfectly.  I put the hybrid on her four times and every time she pulsed her white mouth I set the hook and came away empty.  I still don't know what happened.  I suppose she couldn't find it to eat it.  It's possible I was late on the hook set but in all honesty I don't think I was; especially given the four attempts.  She put a pretty good hole in the water when she swam away.

(4) Last big one didn't afford me a good look: I dropped a fly on an obscure dark spot and counted it down; set the hook and fish was on.  Big black specimen.  JM got a good look and said nice fish; probably 20+.  In the course of fighting it my leader broke off pretty high.  Presumably some wear from fighting previous fish.

0/4 on 20+ fish.  The chances were there.

Be honest I'm not too worried about it.  We've woven a pretty supportive bed of laurel leaves over the years.  It is what it is.  My eff ups and shortcomings are well understood.  Get some fish and some you don't touch.  They're all there though, in the river.  

Thanks JM for steering us and giving us all the good shots; your hospitality was greatly appreciated.

Best part of the deal was fishing with good dudes.  Two guys I'd never met in person in Fly Carpin and TFM.  D. Frasier.  Fun Hogger.  Host JM.  These fellas are all stone colder carpers.  I thank each of them for their time and camaraderie.  The morning pictured here we were scheming to present JM with a birthday present; we were fortunate to be together to celebrate on the water.


Blogger John Montana said...

Nailed it J. Always appreciate our time on the water together...seeking adventure.

11:25 PM  
Anonymous Bryan said...

What a tale. Cool to hear some of the history, too.

8:30 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

thanks for sharing your story J. I had to live the dream through your adventures. hopfully one of these days I can get back to the Big C.

8:47 AM  
Blogger John said...

very nice write up, WB. enjoyed it.

9:53 AM  
Blogger spearyhopper said...

Great read. I'm itching to chase carp and the moment is approaching, accelerated by your adventures.

11:39 AM  
Blogger Wendy Berrell said...

Thanks for the notes; I like to hear from carp enthusiasts. Tight lines all and remember appreciate the free air and sun on the riffles.

4:31 PM  
Blogger Mr. P. said...

Great report Justin.

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