Welcome to Panfish!

Part Two hundred-four

Hall of Mirrors

Jason Tinling

By Jason Tinling, Lancaster, PA

Casual Friday. It's a bit of a joke here at work, where it's been replaced with "Wild Shirt" Friday. You know, 'that' shirt, the one with the Hawaiian print, tucked away in the back of the closet. I had on my favorite today, a pale shirt with small fish scale patterns drawn in beige. Palm trees and Yin and Yang koi dot the shirt, in dark and light blue, respectively. Orange characters that may or may not be authentic scroll along side the drawings. Fridays, it becomes a contest to see who can, or is willing to, wear the most 'over the top' shirt. My koi shirt has already been retired as a past winner.

I had on my retired shirt as I headed out at lunchtime. Weather is mild, in the mid 70's, with a breeze blowing. Tomorrow, it's supposed to rain, and drop 15 degrees or so in temperature. I'm getting in my fishing now. The water in the small pond is still stained from the soaking rains that fell last week.

I had a Tuck Bugger on from the last time fishing here, a couple of days ago. I cruise along the shoreline until I'm in the windbreak caused by the row of trees separating the pond from the factory behind me. I stalk the shoreline, looking for clues. A tail breaking the surface here, fresh boils of mud blossoming over there. But I don't see any of those things. I strain into the murky water; finally coming upon a tail waving slowly amidst the stumps of water logged cattails. I flip the fly out a couple feet in front of the waggling tail, and let it sink to the bottom. Twitch. Tug. In a swirl of water, the bronze shape plows through the weeds to deeper water. Must have gotten the line across the fish.

I cast to a couple of fish over deeper water, the ones that get high enough in the water column to be visible. Every cast is placidly ignored. I work up and down the shoreline. I'll see a fish at the surface up the shore from me and quickly work up the bank towards it. Too often my angle to the water changes to a point where I can't see the fish, even with the polarized lenses on. I back track to where I could last see the fish, and there's nothing there. No swirl, no traces, no anything.

The air is full of fairy blue damselflies, hovering and darting over the water. A dragonfly or two break through the groups like jumbo jets lumbering through a squadron of Cessna. Hmmm, maybe a dragon nymph? I switch over to an olive dragon nymph, and work back down the shoreline again.

I make several pacing laps, up and down the shore. I'll come across a carp finning silently against the weed edge, or the occasional mudder. Nothing seems interested in feeding, though. As I lift the fly from the water in front of a stand of cattails, I feel a tug and hear a sudden splashing. I drop the rod tip, and feel a small fish surging against the rod tip. I work the fish to the side of the cattails, and lift out a small black crappie. I didn't even know there are crappie in here.

Well, the carp aren't cooperating, and the crappies are. Got'ta go with what's biting. I switch over to a small minnow fry pattern; a #12 dry fly hook, wrapped with pearl cross-stitch braid. Fray the tail; add a wing of red floss. Simple stuff. I flip a cast out over the still mostly dormant weed bed. I twitch the fly towards me, when a shape slices up out of the obscurity of the murky depth. With a rolling strike, the crappie is headed back towards the bottom. I pull the line tight and the fish dodges off course, head shaking. The hook comes loose from the paper-thin mouth and the fish drifts off into hiding again.

I catch a dozen or so small crappie, all 4 - 6" long, feisty but thin. Not bad for a fish that, until today, I didn't even know existed in this water. A quick glance at my watch shows I'm already running late. I'll work a couple casts on the near shoreline as I head back to the car. As I work the shoreline, I see a tail waving slowly in the water. I follow the bronze back, up and over, to the descending forehead. The carp is tucked up under a floating weed pad, plucking something from the bottom of the vegetation. There's a small hole in the weeds, right near where the fish is feeding. I tight line the fly, and dap it into the hole. The fly drifts over the fish's head and the carp drifts backwards.

"Don't spook! Just don't spook," I yell inside my head. The carp drifts back up under the mat and begins feeding again. I drop the fly in again, and this time the fish turns its head towards the hole. Extended lips pull the drifting fly out of the water, and I tighten the line.

The fish rolls out of the shallows, pulling half the weed mat with it. Surreally, the only coherent thought to burst through my adrenaline-saturated brain is "I'm going to have to work late now."

The carp burrows into the depths, a bronze flash seems to linger in the shallows as the fish disappears. Thankfully, the weeds slip free of the fly line as the fish dodges and runs. This fish is very much a bulldog, staying about 20 - 30 feet off he tip of the fly rod. It's a game of give and take, and it's not measured in feet lost and winds of the reel gained, but in inches and lifts. The fish drives back into the shallows, looking among the waterlogged cattail stumps for anything firm enough to wrap around. I move up and down the shoreline, pursuing the fish through stand after stand, working the line as high and tight as possible to keep it from becoming entangled.

The fish rolls up to the surface, and I can see some fairly recent scarring, most likely from spawning. I need to get this fish in and back out with as much speed as possible. I toss my glasses up the bank. Turn on the digital camera and lay it in the grass, ready for a quick shot. I put the pressure on the fish, as much as the 8# test and the small hook can hopefully stand. After a couple of hasty retreats from the shallow water when its head comes out of the water, the carp slides onto the grassy shoreline. Thumb in the slippery mouth, and a hand around the partially scaled tail. I lay it in the grass alongside the rod and snap a quick shot. Slide the barbless fly out of the fish's mouth and back to the water's edge. One push-pull through the water to right the fish and it shoots off strongly into the depths. That's funny. I don't remember this being a wide gape hook.

Yes, it's a CARP!

I never catch carp when I've got a camera with me. Must be the shirt. ~ Jason

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