Pothole Fish with John I Missed
Anyway, John Montana had displayed his renowned graciousness and now we were on the water. I was ready for big fish and plenty of them. I mean, I’d been known to catch a carp or two and, despite John’s warnings, it seemed pretty obvious that the Big C was just another carp laden body of water waiting to be conquered.
We hit the road from John’s house early. He had a vague plan that involved a lot of “if they aren’t there then we’ll move onto the XYZ spot”. To be honest I’d quit trying to keep a mental map. John speaks about the Big C like you do with an old friend; using allusions to past events, pet names for places known only to you and broken references to memories that are more feeling than fact. Plus it didn’t matter anyway. If I ever repeated the names of where we were headed John would have hunted me down like a member of Seal Team 6 and people would be left to ask, “Hey, what ever happened to that Dan guy?”
My first bout of nerves started at the first water we walked. Things here were different, but in an eerily recognizable way. My brain immediately grasped that the water looked like a carp heaven. Like something I’d seen before and recognized. Good water, good clarity, obvious feeding areas. And yet it was wholly different than what I was used to. The bottom was more like a moonscape than the mud flats I fish. Cobble, sharp rock appearing volcanic with divots and craters made up the bottom.
The water itself was the color of those translucent aquamarine glass shower doors. You could see through it very well, but it wasn’t colorless. Just colored with an opacity that meant you had to consciously try to look through the water instead of at it. It was like the Columbia gave you enough to make the carp fishing reasonable but no more.
John and I walked this submerged moonscape with the confidence that is natural at the beginning of a long fishing trip. John knew he could catch every fish he saw and I felt confident that I’d either get my share now or learn quickly enough to have plenty of time left in the trip to get it later. We saw a few fish, had shots at a couple (which John let me take) and landed none on that first pass. It was alright, lotta fishing left to do.
So we hopped, stumbled and crawled our way along the riprap. This was more reconnaissance that serious fishing. We were looking to find fish in a perfect situation and passing by everything else. No point in taking shots you don’t love on the Big C.
We wobbled our way along the boulders, trying hard not to break a leg or a rod. John and I were both reasonably athletic in our youth, and were having trouble recognizing that there are some things we can’t do as well anymore. It’ll probably take a broken tibia to really drive the point home eventually.
I can’t remember the last names of some of my past girlfriends. I have no idea where I had lunch 4 days ago and without my phone calendar I’d never be quite clear on what was happening in the coming week. I can, however, see this scenario as perfectly as if I was standing there right now.
As we were picking our way along, about 10 feet above the water line trying hard to find the right fish in the right situation. We came upon a tree growing straight out of the shoreline with a pothole under the water next to it. In that pothole was a car fender with a tail; tailing hard in 3 feet of water right against the shoreline. She was blissfully unaware that John and I were whispering obscenities to each other and I was trying to get into position to make a cast.
You remember all of that unattractive hubris I described earlier? Yeah, well it melted like ice cream on a warm apple pie. This was the largest fish I’d ever seen in the water. Hell she was a nearly as long as my leg and far thicker. And she was RIGHT THERE! The visual was like watching television. I could count her scales.
Deep breath, keep the backcast up and cast farther than you think so the belly of the line pulls the fly into the feeding zone instead of out of it. I was trembling. My first cast was perfect. The flies drug along just enough and settled just inches from the fish’s dinner plate. She turned, tried to eat the worm fly and I set the hook exactly one third of a heartbeat too early. Took the fly right away from her. Miraculously she didn’t spook. I set up for a second cast and put the fly a foot off target. Cast three missed the pothole she was in completely and shot four was at a different fish that had swum into my field of vision. Buck fever had taken over and I was out of control. I remember John hissing, “Cast at the damn giant fish that is right in FRONT of you!”
You remember that small tree that had shielded us? Yeah cast five was directly into that tree. John took my rod and handed me his to take another shot but before I could get any line stripped out the fish was gone. I didn’t ever see her swim off. I just looked down and there was nothing but an empty pothole.
I remember laughing at how comical the situation had become, as I stood there limp lined reflecting on what had happened. Somehow I’d gone from a seasoned carp angler to an out of control beginner in the span of 45 seconds. I’d flailed away, getting worse with each shot until I’d blown the whole situation. I’d like to say that I’m too cool for that to happen to. I’d like you to believe that I’m one collected carp hunting SOB. The reality is that, even after years of stalking these fish and many hundreds caught I still get excited enough to screw the pooch at times. I think that’s why I still do it. The day it becomes routine and uneventful will be the day I don’t stalk the mighty carp anymore.
Help me thank Dan for his fantastic contribution to the site by checking out Carppro.net and his book: The Orvis Beginner's Guide to Carp Flies.
This year I'm trying to bring voices other than mine to the site. So if you have a story to tell or a technique to teach feel free to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.