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Part Two hundred-six

Frustration, Thy Name is Carp

Jason Tinling

By Jason Tinling, Lancaster, PA


Heat waves and thunderstorms. This isn't spring weather in the Northeast. The latest combination of those two acts of nature had left the Conestoga running fast, high, and chocolatey, with air temps in the low to mid-90's.

I had been down the afternoon before, had seen a few carp, mere shadows in the light brown water. I had foul-hooked a couple while trying to entice them to bite, but none seemed interested, and I eventually conceded that blind fishing in this kind of water wasn't going to get me or the fish much of anywhere.

As I walked down to the shore the following day, I could see that a fair area of water around the feeder creek inlet had cleared. As I drew closer, I had to stop. And stare.

The carp were stacked up, 3 or 4 fish across and 15-20 yards of both sides of the creek mouth. I clipped free the small popper I had finished up with the day before, and tied on a #10 woolly bugger, olive bodied with a fluorescent orange marabou tail. The only other time I had seen the carp bunched up like this in the river, I had caught my first carp. Now, an "experienced" carper, I had visions of 3 or 4 nice fish before my lunchtime elapsed and/or my arms wore out.

I rubbed the fly in a bit of streamside mud to mask any unnatural scents and to encourage the fly to sink and looked out over the water, trying to decide where to place my first cast. A few escapee koi mingled in among the school, white blotches in a sea of gold and brass. Throw to a small fish first? Get in a rhythm and try to get one in without raising too much of a ruckus? Or should I just put it out there on the nose of that 20+ pounder and hold on? Decisions, decisions.

The carp were holding steady, never more than a foot or two below the surface, patrolling lazily. A 10 pound fish hovered up towards the surface, the sun's rays turning his bronze scales into a deep, deep red. I laid a cast out towards the back of the group, reasoning that a hooked fish would take off for the deeper water, and hopefully reduce the level of commotion in the bulk of the fish. I missed the cast by a bit, but being in such a "target rich" environment, I figured that a cast in the water was probably sufficient for accuracy. I worked the fly in with slow twitches. It was casually ignored by all fish it passed by.

I repeated the process several times, feeling more like an air traffic controller at LAX than a fly fisherman. Let it drop...ok, let him come over the top...not too low, you'll tangle there...bring it up high, you've got one coming broadside to your path. All without so much as a sniff. I switched to an all brown bugger, and proved that it wasn't the color that was the issue, as the sunfish attacked both flies with relative gusto. I lashed the line over and over again across the surface, a cat-o-nine tails, as if I were punishing the water for the reticence of the fish that dwelled within it. I began to talk to myself, and the fish, within the confines of my mind. A dementia of heat and frustration brewed inside my brain, as impeccably placed casts were given no heed. Flies that drifted no more than a sharp inhalation away from consumption were treated as if invisible. I began to plead and demand, curse and bless.

"Come on, it's right there. You know you want to eat it, just go for it. Look at that tasty morsel...you lousy, lazy, fish, it doesn't get any nicer than that, you need an invitation? It's right there on your nose, just take a taste...aww, come on, cut me a break...you %^$^**, just HIT IT!!!!"

None of it had any effect, save for another slip or two in my grip on sanity. I fished hoppers on top, a Clouser Swimming Nymph dredging the bottom, and everything and everywhere in between. And still they circled and cycled, 20 feet away and completely out of reach. I walked back to my truck, humbled and for the moment, bested.

I'll swing by again after I get out of work. ~ Jason

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