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Four Five Four

Jason Tinling

By Jason Tinling, Lancaster, PA

It's finally becoming summer here in the Northeast. We've had an overly wet spring, made all the more impressive in comparison to the past 3-4 years of drought. Spots I'd usually be wade fishing by the end of May are still raging and brown. We're working on our thirteenth weekend in a row with precipitation. Great for the plants, great for the water table. Not so great for the weekend angler.

The week started in the mid 70's, forecast to be in the mid 80's by the end of the week. I headed out at lunch to a small industrial park pond, home to some sizable but very wary largemouth and a large population of mirror carp. Here it is, mid-June, and I still haven't caught a carp this year. I had all intentions of changing that in the coming week of warm weather.

I got on the water and it was still a little murky, and the carp were not to be seen, except for the occasional foray to the surface, only to disappear back into the depths again. I worked through a selection of flies with no luck, and finally settled on a marabou damsel nymph that the crappie and sunfish were willing to hit. As I worked up the far shoreline, I saw a carp moving away from me slowly, pausing here and there to tip down and inspect the rocks for food.

I lay the line out tight to the bank, twitching the nymph back towards the carp and off the shore. As the fly drifted past, the fish turned its head to the shore, and slurped the damsel out of the water. I came back on the rod and the shallows boiled hard as the fish shot down the shoreline. It was about 50 feet down shore to the inflow pipe that feeds the pond and at about 40 feet away the fish took a hard left towards the depths of the pond.

Adrenaline surged through me as the fish ran. First carp of the year, first in too long. I put all the pressure on the fish that I thought the 4# tippet could handle. I had the rod laid over to the side when I felt it. That disheartening, sickening slack of a lost fish. There was no "pop" like a broken line, just that sudden loss of pressure and contact. I reeled in the line and confirmed that the hook had pulled loose. I had to get back to work, but would be back the next day.

The next day was much the same, the water still trying to clear, the carp few and far between. The crappie had turned off the damselfly, so I went to a small zonker minnow in chartreuse. A short zonker tail, lightly dubbed body and very small (1/100 oz) dumbbell eyes. Anywhere you had reed shoots growing up, the crappie would be found, and they were more than happy to feed on this impostor minnow. In the clearer water of the shoreline, I was able to observe some interesting things about crappie strikes. There seem to be two types of strikes, and their use was dependent on the closeness of the fish to the fly. If the fly was being retrieved within a few inches of the crappie, they would drift up and take it gently, often from behind. If the fly was more than a few inches away, however, the crappie would delay until the fly was within reach, then burst up on it and turn immediately back to the area they came from. Two very distinct feeding methods with two very different feeling takes.

I finally found a carp mudding along the shoreline, and flipped the fly out in its feeding path. As the carp moved into the area of the fly, I twitched it gently up and down. I felt a gentle tic on the rod and saw the line twitch. I set the hook and the fish swirled off into the murky water. Line peeled off the reel until my backing began to peek through the flyline. I got the fish turned and we played tug-of-war over 40-50 feet of flyline. The carp finally drifted toward shore, shooting off again every time its back or tail broke through the surface of the water. I finally slid the barbless hook out of the fishs' mouth nd watched it disappear into the safety of deeper water. Definitely coming back tomorrow.

Wednesday had more of the pond clearing, and the continuous days of warm temperature finally had the carp up and moving. Pods of 2 - 4 fish cruised along the surface, drifting down into the obscure depths to feed. I found a solo fish cruising and laid the zonker minnow past it. As the fly stripped past the fish it turned on the fly, only to turn away again. I put the fly out again, and as I stripped the fly in I got the same reaction. It seemed as though the carp was pulling off the fly as I stripped it. I made a longer cast to catch up with the fish and stripped the fly in. Once I had the carp's attention and it was turned on the fly I stopped stripping, allowing the eyes to carry the fly down slowly. Sure enough, the carp tipped nose down and followed the fly, intercepting it about 2/3 of the way to the bottom. I set the hook and the fish sped off towards the middle of the pond. About halfway out the carp turned tail and sped back towards me. I scrambled backwards up the hill, rod held high as I tried to catch up on the reel. I finally got tension on the line again, just in time to have the carp dive in towards the dead tree submerged in the water here. I was quickly down the hill, in the opposite direction of the tree, trying to pressure the fish away. A couple of breathless snags and pops later, the fish came free and we bulldogged back and forth for a bit before the healthy fish came to hand.

I worked the pond for the rest of my lunch hour, finding another feeding carp on the opposite shoreline. Like most of this pond, it's more commando and stealth fishing than delicate presentations. No 15' 6 X leaders here. It's all about tucking in behind a stand of reeds, flipping short casts around corners, or over the tops of cattails, to wary fish. I picked off a feeding carp over the tops of some reeds; running halfway down the shoreline to keep up with this hooked fish that wanted to wrestle in the mud and reeds. I rounded the corner of the pond, rod held high, and once I got some pressure opposite the direction of the shore, the fish rolled out to deeper water. I brought the smaller (5 - 7 pound) fish to shore fairly quickly. The abuse in the weeds and mud took its toll on the light tippet and it snapped. I had the fish up in the shallow water, and a quick grab with the forceps latched onto, and removed, the fly. I tailed the fish, and after a couple of passes through the water, it slid off.

Thursday was an exercise in frustration, as I missed two fish early and couldn't do anything but spook fish after that. The first miss came on a fish that keyed on the fly as it hit the water, shooting over from a couple yards away to pounce on the fly. Slow reflexes on my part, quick ones on the part of the carp? Whatever the cause, I missed, and missed big. The second fish hit as the fly was out of sight behind some reeds, and I didn't trust my instincts on when to set the hook. I tried to sneak a quick peek around the reeds and spooked the fish out of the shallows (and off my fly). As I headed up to my truck to wrap the day, I saw a huge patch of muddy water on the opposite shore and had to take a look-see. I peered past the reeds, and sure enough, there was a hefty tail, waving just under the surface. I flipped the fly out, and then there was a second tail, and a third. No wonder the mud bloom was so large. A couple of short twitches of the rod tip and the line jumped. I set the hook into a feisty mirror that shot out to the middle of the pond and then rolled around on the surface, causing all kinds of commotion. I finally wrestled the fish in, a little too green, and got a bath for my troubles. I also got the fish unhooked, and it vanished like all its brethren had before it.

Four days, five hook-ups with four fish landed. Welcome to summer. ~ ~ Jason.

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