Thursday, July 24, 2008


You'll forgive me if I have the heebee jeebies. I spent the morning fishing in a place where humans weren't meant to go, and I'm sure of this because Nature has erected the proper defense. Primarily, according to my scientific study, the defenses stem from the fact that the area as more spiders per square mile than any other temperate location on earth. The spiders are also bigger, and there's at least one large black one that will crawl on your arm and make you realize that you're unable to identify black widows, and that you don't even care so much about necrosis, you just want it off you.

The trek's worth it, of course, even if I doubt it when I stumble off the path yet again, dodging brush or webs. At the end of the trail -- or at least as far as I take it -- is some good smallmouth water, and that's why I'm scraping through with a fly rod in hand. I've only hit this spot twice before, but I'm aware that I could possibly catch the biggest bass I've ever taken on a fly today.

When I reach my spot I realize two things I'm going to have to compensate for: the water is much lower and it's much slower than I had expected. This means longer casts and stealthier wading, neither of which is my forte. My strength in fishing, as you might guess, is my willingness to go into ridiculous places to catch fish; my strength isn't actually being skilled.But I've still got a plan today. I'm fishing a smallish popper trailed by a soft hackle hare's ear. It's not a perfect bass set-up, but it's ideal for catching something, and I'll be happy with that today.

Before I tie on, though, I realize this day could be turning into a struggle. My leader has somehow snuck through the side of my reel (while sitting unused), and I've developed such a backlash that I've got to pop the spool out to fix it. No real problem, and I'm rigged up quickly enough.

My first cast provokes a strike, and my second takes a bluegill on the popper. The first hour or maybe 90 minutes continues like this. I'm wondering now if I should have left the 7wt at home and brought the 4wt, but I remind myself that I'm going to be throwing bigger streamers in a little while and should remain optimistic about big bass. Then, as I pull in a small bluegill, a giant smallmouth takes a swipe at it. My faces does all the cliched googling and dropping, and I bring in the very lucky panfish. [Note: soon I'll put up a story about the bass I once actually hooked like this, leading to the question: are there flies that look like sunnies?] A few minutes later, I do take a fair-sized bass on the surface, and he gives me one good jump and plenty of fight.

After that the day quickly fizzles, trying to cast next to a stump, I bounce the popper off it into the water, which would be perfect if the hare's ear hadn't snagged the wood. Too deep to wade, I eventually break my line, unfortunately at the leader/tippet knot rather than at one of the flies. I'm mad at myself, because I'd forgotten extra leaders and because I couldn't get the new 5X tippet unfurled, so I had 4X both to the popper and to the dropper, meaning I couldn't break off just one fly.

I switch to a variety of streamers after that and flail around a while without getting a single strike. I fish some riffles for a while and then clip off and head out. I'm cutting it close to being on time for work, so I hurry.

Then I'm stopped.

Below me a school of carp fins in some shallow water. Not only do I see carp going an easy 20-24 inches, I see some nice bass following them, looking for easy prey that carp might root up (as the Bob Clouser book I'm currently reading repeatedly mentions) as well as bluegill and suckers. I'm late for work, but I'm tempted.I've got three challenges (let's not dwell on my considering going home without casting -- that'd be nuts). First, I'm not sure how to get to the water, but that's always manageable. Second, I need a good approach. The only options I see are from straight downstream, or to come in from far upstream, cross the river and work from a ledge that reaches about halfway across. That path would test my casting range and accuracy. Finally, in the midst of the carp is a big brush pile that I'd have to turn any fish away from quickly. I'll just have to chance that one.

I head downstream, find a drop-down to the streamside and take out my fly box. I'm stumped. Nothing looks good, and I couldn't figure out what they were feeding on. I should, perhaps, tie on something bass-y and focus on one of the foot-plus smallies I saw. Instead, I'm an idiot. I tie on a glo-ball, which I've never caught a fish on. I've heard about a vaguely similar pattern taking carp, but it's not smart. It's not a terrible choice, but I'm in an utterly new situation using a fly I don't trust (and that I probably selected because somewhere deep down my subconscious was thinking carp like orange), which isn't good.

I wade upstream carefully, away from the bank, and realize two more problems. First, I'm in over the bottom pockets of my vest, soaking my streamers and pliers. Oh, well. Second, I'm so close to the water level that I can no longer see the fish. I marked their range with some objects on shore, but I wanted to sight fish, since a carp's mouth opening can be a key signal. I cast blindly.

A few casts and absolutely nothing. I'm just about to leave (now thoroughly late for work) and take the typical "one more" cast. I watch the drift, twitch it a little, and the fly just halts. I set the hook. It doesn't even move.

Because, of course, it's not a fish, but a snag. Again I break off, again at the tippet connection. I've tight the double surgeon's knot differently this time, based on the Orvis guide rather than my old learning. I can do without the glo-ball but it irritates me. I head up into the woods again, ready for the spiders.

I pause when I reach the fish again, and this time I nearly lose it. The carp king has now come in. He's the type of fish that just looks like a different species. I take five steps and see a drop-down to the river right there. I won't be able to backcast, but I might be able to roll cast, or at least shoot some line out bow-and-arrow style...

No, I go home, shower, and start my workday. I have this sort of relationship with carp, but I'll talk about that another day.


Justin Cober-Lake said...

To answer my own question, apparently there's this:

Justin Cober-Lake said...

I should say, though, that I'm not convinced this would look like a sunfish in the water.

Stewart Voegtlin said...

I am scared of spiders. Like, really scared of spiders.

Justin Cober-Lake said...

Then I will not take you to this spot, unless 17-inch smallies are worth it. They are for me, but as bad as it was this trip, just barely.

Or we can find a way to float down to it -- it's a long way to wade, but it might be do-able.