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Loaves and Fishes

Jason Tinling

By Jason Tinling, Lancaster, PA


A 60 degree day, I was definitely heading out for lunch at the industrial park pond where I first met Spike.

I left the gear in the car, taking a wander around the pond to see if anyone was active. A young girl and her mom were throwing bread to the ducks (and the seagulls), and I thought I might have seen a couple of heavy underwater swirls in the vicinity.

The koi weren't stacked up in their winter staging area, so signs looked good. Unfortunately, I covered half the small pond without sight of a fish. I popped up to the higher pond, but it was overflowing with geese, and no fish to be seen. As I dropped down to the lower pond, I saw a white koi working in the depths, and life was good. I hightailed back to the car for my gear.

I started out with an olive wooly bugger, as it had worked for me in the past. I worked around the pond, casting to a couple of mud blooms that might have been fish, might have been residual disturbance from departing geese. I finally spied the white koi and flipped a couple of casts to it, leading it down the line as it cruised the shore. I was studiously ignored.

The fish settled in to work an area, so things were looking up. I made a few more casts, but was getting no love from the import. At the end of one retrieve, I noticed a good sized mirror working up the shallows and tried to flip a cast in front of it. I threw too long and put the line and fly across the fish's back and it spooked out of the shallows in a swath of mud and water, taking the koi with it.

I moved further down shore and saw an orange koi patrolling out deep. I sent the bugger out towards it time and again, with no luck. It finally settled in to work the bottom near where the bread was being tossed earlier, so I quickly snipped the wooly bugger free and tied on a bread fly I had received from a friend. I soaked it in the water and rubbed it in some mud along the shore both to help it sink and to cover any scent.

I worked a couple more casts to the deeper water, waiting for the fly to sink down to where the carp was working. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted her working. Spike! I stripped in quickly, letting the fly settle towards the bottom, no luck as she was well past the fly before it was down deep enough.

Finally, on the third cast, the fly worked down to eye level just as the fish passed by. She turned on it and quickly tipped down to inhale the bait. I lifted the rod and got that heavy, satisfying bend to the rod. The fish rolled out and swirled around in the shallows.

For 10 minutes, she was content to play tug-o-war, a bit of a sparring match. Unfortunately, I was throwing my hard 1-2, and she was still shadow boxing. About 10 minutes into it, the line went slack. My heart sank, but the fish was still out there swimming around, the line following her. I looked down, and the spool had popped off the reel. I slapped it back in place, trying to get it to catch and it finally clicked in.

The fish had had enough of this and barreled out to the middle of the pond. I'd wrestle her back in, and off she'd shoot again. I checked the watch after the first run. 12:35. My reel was now a bit of a shambles, and every time I flipped the rod over to pull to the left, the spool would drop out unless I held it in place. *^%&^!

We moved into the end game, me muscling the fish toward the shallows, the fish bustling off five or ten feet from shore. Repeat. I finally had her near shore enough that I got the rod back over my head and got down to the water's edge. I grabbed the leader, slid down to the fly, and just as I got a grip, she shook her head and POP! went the 8# tippet. I tossed the rod behind me back on the grass and waded in. Thankfully work clothes are jeans and a t-shirt; going back to work with half a leg on my Dockers soaked might have drawn some stares.

I went for a tail wrap and got more of a tail clutch. Halfway around. Barely. I tried to slide my right hand under her head, but she was having none of that. I slid the fish out to a bit deeper water, got my hand in on the underside behind the gills and slid around the pectorals, my thumb up under the head. A deep heft and a couple of uncertain steps on the loose rock and I laid her down in the grass. Holy hell, she's bigger than I realized.

I laid the rod beside her and snapped a quick photo with the digital. A guy walking by stopped and stared. "I didn't know there were fish that big in here!" he told me. I asked if he'd take a pic of me holding the fish and he agreed.

I hefted her off the grass and to my chest as the guy took the camera. He stepped back. And then back again. And one more time.

"Ok, I just push the button, right?"

"Yeah"

And the guy pulls the camera up close, focuses in...and the guy hits the off/on slide and turns the camera off!

A silent *)&)(*&%^%^^)*&)_(*)+(*)&(&^(*^%*)& echoed through my brain pan. I wasn't keeping the fish out any longer, so I headed back to the water, waded back in and slipped her into the depths. A couple of powerful tail swings and Spike was gone again.

I didn't realize how cold the water was until I washed my arms and hands off. Funny how adrenaline does that to you. ~ Jason

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