Ah. The walk upstream. Treading softly past old bridge pilings and debris from flood years well within recent memory. Locals can remember a time when the roaring torrent crested just below the bridge I am now standing 40 feet underneath.These are reminders of the raw power that hides in the quiet burbling water tumbling downstream. Now though the slow, clear flow is confined to the deepest channels and holes.
Past the debris and well above the bridge I pause for a moment to remove my shoes. The soft rich silt layer of the riverbed oozes up between my toes in a delightful way, and the solid sandy layer just underneath provides traction. I like being barefoot in the water; for me, it’s a more fulfilling connection to the environment that I am moving through. The heavy layer of organic sludge is what lends so much fertility to this watershed, and why the carp are so prevalent here.
No sooner did I have my shoes off and safely stashed in a hollow log on the shore than I turned around to see a cruising pair of carp sweep down the current and turn off into a shadowy spot under a mulberry tree. Ah yes. Let the games begin.
Stepping into the sunlight I made my way across the softly squishing riverbed and angled to a point slightly behind and downstream of my quarry. I had learned the basics of how to stalk wary fish in low, clear water here on this very river, and it had served me well on everything from freshwater trout to bonefish. Now here I was back in the river, and I was immensely satisfied to apply all that I had learned since then. It was like showing an old teacher that you had taken their lessons to heart and gone on to make something of yourself. Staying low and wearing drab clothing, I was as stealthy as I could be. Once in position, I flicked a cast under the overhanging branches and let my ‘berry’ fall with a satisfying plop.
The pair of fish practically tripped over each other moving to the source of the sound; two rubbery mouths emerged from the water, groping for what they thought to be a delicious berry. A long second happened, me intent on the fish, the fish intent on the fly. One carp shouldered aside the other and found success, slurping the berry down. An instant later, a strip strike set home with a watery explosion as the stuck fish streaked upstream. A game of ring-around-the tree ensued where I found myself run-sloshing through the water trying to keep the fish from breaking me off on a submerged stump. Clamping down on the reel as the fish bee-lined from there to a logjam, I executed a maneuver known to my friends and I as ‘stop ’em or pop ’em’. This is where you’re trying to handle a large fish heading for cover or maybe you hook into something a little too large to handle on the gear you have in hand. In this situation, locking up the reel with your hand or by jamming it into your thigh in order to either turn the fish or break it off might be the only thing keeping you from losing an expensive flyline and maybe all of your backing too. I locked down and angled my rod hard to the left; the carp slewed sideways in a powerslide, never stopping his tail as he continued to angle into the tangled mess of branches. Time slowed down. Then, with an almost audible creak, the hook bent and popped out, reducing my electric connection to a disappointing slack.
I took a deep breath as my world expanded again, away from the tunnel vision I get when locked onto a piscine target. I could again hear the birdsong floating through the trees, and notice that the wind had picked up a bit. Stripping in, I confirmed that it was indeed a hook failure. Mental note – use stronger hooks.
And on to the next spot.