Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Columbia River 2017

Calendar is pretty well booked through first week of August: sports, folks visiting, visiting folks, travel, fishing trips with kids, Lake MI.  BWCA end of August.  Wedge in some trout fishing where possible; if possible.  Busy time and not a bad thing at all.  Majority of our time is spent guiding our kids in their various pursuits: athletics, fishing, relationships, eating (that's a big one), getting hair cuts that look cool, acquiring clothes that aren't jeans or nice shirts but rather shorts or tights or quick dry T-shirts.  We probably thrive in such settings for the most part; it's what we're here to do.

One consequence of attempting to merge calendars for various persons who are each generally becoming exponentially busier as years pass is that the task becomes increasingly difficult.  I had opted out of CarpCon 2017, sending my regrets and best wishes to JM and company.  No dates in May worked; last weekend of April is my kid's birthday.  Etc.

My wife is pretty good about supporting these adventure chapters and I think she realized that I hadn't spent more than a day away since deer hunting in November (which was two days).  It's probably healthy for adults to on occasion engage others of similar age/sex/interest, particularly if the engagement involves a shared pursuit.  She recommended I work with JM in an attempt to craft a short-notice trip to the Columbia River Gorge.  I credit her; credit JM and his family for making it happen.

The river was high and cold; dates were April 20-23 with the redeye back that night.  Never been there that early in the year, as far as I can remember.  Pretty risky.  But in this case JM had locked down a good situation that would remain as a fallback if our examination of the river confirmed what was suspected: too early.

We poked around the river and the picture was painted pretty well.  Comes down to temperature which in this case was a function of residence time.  From the interweb: The hydraulic retention time (HRT), also known as hydraulic residence time or t (tau), is a measure of the average length of time that a compound (ex. water) remains in a storage unit (ex. lake, pond, ocean).  Waters with higher HRT had accessible carp in them.  Flowing water with lower HRT showed no accessible carp. We imperiled ourselves to walk to one inside corner on the river that JM figured would be off-current enough to allow for warming; indeed it was so, and this little triangle seemed to hold every carp in the river.  We caught one in about four seconds (catching a 12-13 carp in four seconds is considered a failure because I didn't catch one of the 20 lbers; I kind of agree but also pause at the suggestion) and left.  The real deal was in some water with very long residence time: water that had pushed through culverts and flooded what is typically upland.  The carp found this development to be very desirable in that it provided warmth, foraging and fellow fishes; no real predators at hand save the occasional fly anglers.

We ended up pounding on this inundated land days one and four.  On day one, we wore ourselves out catching around 60 fish by early afternoon.  We left to scout some other water; found nothing good.  Decided to head back as the sun was setting; with little effort caught around 40 more to bring daily total to 100 carp to hand no joke.  And that was passing on dozens of "small" fish.  Day two we fished a cul de sac (I think translates to bottom of the bag) that we knew would have high HRT.  Fish around.  It was a greater challenge and they weren't as thick in there, but it was just enough to keep us interested; keep us in fish all day.  Think we touched 50 that day.  Day three JM stayed home and for the first time ever I drove away from his place without him for a day of fishing.  Odd feeling for sure.  I was to meet up with Mountainscaler; the Cuban cigar grinding bonefisherman.  We had some intel that turned out to be sour; basically killed our morning.  We walked around in balls-deep water kicking fish that we couldn't see.  Mostly talking politics and mumbling about our current condition.  I had a bed of laurels so I wasn't sweating it too bad.  And he was practically en route to Cuba so I don't think he was too worried either.  We drove a lot; fished a little; he caught one fish; I caught zero and it was a good day if you can believe it.  At one point a big white pickup stopped us at a scrub corner; we were standing in our waders drinking can beer; do you have a lighter they said.  Yes, he did.  We listened to them talk about fish they'd caught; studied the Negro Modelos in their cup holders; they on their way without much salutation.  I hate cigarettes so I had refused but I did hint that I wanted one of those beers; they never did give me one; I've always been told I should be more direct.  Day four we went back for more rodeo in the tight quarters.  One more time to the well of giving.  We were very deliberate in standing with the landowners, listening to their stories and offering our appreciation for the access.  As JM said: it's remarkable what happens when you show people an ounce of decency. I've heard stories of anglers lipping off to landowners, leaving litter in the yard, parking out of place, etc.  In fact we lost one of our best trout stream accesses in SE MN thanks to said behavior.  In this case, after listening intently to these guys talk about the work they do, the operation they run, some chapters of their life histories...   listening and nodding and validating and appreciating.  They were literally giving US gifts and telling us to come back any and all the time.  I'll remember them confirming verbally that we were careful and respectful; that was our aim all along.  Whilst catching a ridiculous load of fish.

Some good mirrors.  We could see them plain as day. Some of the biggest I saw wouldn't eat.  Did hook one that may have been close to 20; broke me off.  Fish pictured here very pleasing to eye.
We released most fish unscaled, and without picture.  This tub was resting after unhooking and I liked the dimension of the gut so I snapped this photo as it appeared to be inviting as much.  Didn't weigh it; pretty nice fish though.  An internet 35 lber.

Lot of fish this size.  

Went back and forth between two fly rig and single hybrid.  That's my version of the hybrid, to be clear.  

JM discerns the dimensions of the fish really well and he basically hunts 20 lbers.  This was such a treat for me, I couldn't bring myself to limit in that manner.  I wanted good eats; wanted to bang my way through this target rich environment.  So I ended up catching a lot of small fish in that 12-16 lb range (funny and true all at once).

Like the scales on this one.

Big fish of the trip; in fact I think it must be one of the top 10-12 fish we've seen in person.  28 lbs.  JM can verify. I know he has a few over 30 and a some high 20s on Lake MI.  I've got a 31 and a 27 on down.  Carp on the fly 28 lbs or better are not common; nice fish buddy.  But not a handsome fish; rather some distended, plate scaled bug-eyed beast sow.  Pretty in the end but not the "clean" pretty.  

Dimensions pretty remarkable.  

Minutes before this fish I hooked a strong 20+ lber on a great take.  She bolted for a set of pillar trees wreathed in scrub.  I put the heat on her and she simply broke me off.  Too much.  But I think it was a calculated risk in that she was probably going to murder me in the woody debris.  So this fish was spotted by JM and gifted over to me.  It was in a really odd setting, all alone, very still.  The eat was not sweet at all; sort of obligatory, but it happened.  20 lbs even.

Only photo I have from day two, when we were faced with a more traditional Columbia River setting in terms of fish numbers, positioning, habits, etc.  We were fishing the two fly rig and I struggled some with it.  Not always easy to manage it.  Here the carp has eaten the lead trouser worm.  JM has it down; ridiculously so.  For an indecisive, rule-driven, focused person like me, a singular point is probably better.  I like to know exactly where I am sinking the fly on the fish; it somehow freaks me out to have two flies sinking and some question as to which I'm fishing.  The answer is I am fishing both.  But easier said than done.  I can do it, but it's a good challenge.  And of course noting that the carping two fly rig is no way related to the trouting two fly rig (which I use in almost every case).

Barbwire gash in waders just above knee; end day one.  The UV repair from Aquaseal is just that, as we verified.  I tried the repair in the hotel room.  Did not work.  Did not set.  I took it outside around 6 AM; sun just showing in the east; standing in hotel parking lot drinking amber coffee; here the UV came and indeed it set in "seconds" as advertised.  Important repair; made the next few days a lot better than they'd otherwise been in terms of comfort.  

Guides and good fisherman offer both micro and macro scale skills/knowledge/advice.  The micro stuff for JM is the two fly rig and the ability to get they fly where it needs to be, even in very deep water.  We don't talk about that stuff much; I know he can do it and I can do it a lot of the time but not all of the time.  But we don't talk about it much because one just has to keep working on it.  On day three when we fished without JM, the macro level stuff was really apparent: (1) knowing based on general context/weather/flows how to sequence the waters to fish, (2) knowing the pace at which to fish them, (3) knowing when to say screw this, abort and move on.  You wouldn't call those fishing "skills" but you would underscore them as invaluable in crafting a good fishing day.

Thanks JM and family for hosting on short notice.  Thanks to my family for sending me on my way.  Thanks Mountainscaler for driving so damn far to walk around in turbid water with no light. Thanks to the good dudes who let us on their property to wade around looking through the various carp on hand.


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