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Berry Pickin'

Jason Tinling

By Jason Tinling, Lancaster, PA


The first call came on Saturday.

"Hey, it's Tony. Have you ever fished Speedwell Forge?"

Speedwell Forge is a man-made lake, a couple hundred acres, about 30 minutes north of home. But, I'd never fished it.

"Sorry, I'm no help on that particular body of water. What's up?"

"I'm looking for *somewhere* to fish on my day off. All the creeks are blown out, the river's not wadeable, so I figured I'd give it a shot."

The conversation passed into longer term memory as the weekend progressed and on Monday I emailed Tony. He had gone looking for bass, with little success. He had seen some nice carp though, and was planning on heading back his next day off. Now, carp is the magic word for me when it comes to fly fishing, so I was definitely intrigued. I awaited the next email report anxiously.

I wasn't disappointed. Friday morning I read about the previous evening's trip, complete with 2 nice carp over 20". The fish were congregating under the mulberry trees, feeding on any fruit that dropped in the water. Did I want to meet up there on Saturday? Of course! I mean, I do have to pack for vacation coming up in 3 days...but there's not *that* much packing to do...and it's carp, on top water!

I was on the vise Friday night, spinning up some lovely maroon and red deer hair mulberries. It was on a whim that I gave Tony a call on Saturday morning, to double check on times, talk flies, etc. This was a fortunate phone call as Tony related to me that the mulberries the fish were feeding on weren't ripe yet, they were a whitish green. Quickly back to the vise, I spun up a few more #8 mulberries, this time in light and dark greens.

I pulled into the parking lot at the lake and headed down to the tree I had been told was "the spot" on Thursday. I saw a couple of good sized carp hanging on the bottom, but not doing much, and definitely not rising. I talked fishing with a gentleman fishing from the dock beside the tree, found out there were some carp further down the line. I hit the trail and cruised up the shore.

Spread Fly

I had a yellow and white version of a Spread Fly tied on from a previous trip. I could see carp working under the overhanging branches of the mulberry tree here, but I had gotten to the lake a bit before Tony, and didn't want to "steal his thunder" so I flipped the minnow pattern at a few of the bass I could see suspended in the water. I managed to entice three strikes, and missed them all. I headed further up the shore, dropping down a hill face to fish another opening in the overgrown shoreline, but with no luck whatsoever.

I headed back to the spot where I had teased the bass and the carp were rolling and rising, sucking white berries off the surface of the water. I couldn't resist. I sniped the spread fly free and tied on an all light green berry. Casting here was an exercise in a lot of things, including patience. The best approach was under a fair sized tree whose branches hung down to about 3 - 4 feet off the water. You had to sidearm cast under those branches and try and put the fly under the mulberry tree, whose branches went from touching the waters surface to about 3 feet up. Did I mention the need for patience, and a fairly decent cast?

I lay the fly out on the water, and immediately, a searching pair of lips rose to the area where the fly had landed. In an adrenaline soaked state of overreaction, I pulled the fly cleanly from the fish' mouth and into the tree above me. Right...patience. After missing 3 more fish, I finally strung it all together properly and put a chunky 7 pounder on the line. The fish blazed out from under the tree and surged up the shoreline. We went back and forth for 5 or 10 minutes and I finally got the fish in to shore. Attempts to get a decent photo only resulted in my getting splashed with a carp's tail worth of water, and I unhooked the fish and slid it back into the water.

The fish seemed to have been put down by the entire ruckus, so I headed back to the first tree to see what was going on. Tony had arrived and was headed down to the water. "Jason, how's it going?"

"You couldn't tell?," I asked pointing at the ear to ear grin across my face.

"Got one already, huh?"

"Yup, up the trail a bit. Nothing going on here that I've seen."

Tony landing his carp

We headed back to the spot where I had hooked up but the action had slowed. We bushwhacked up the trail, dipping into a couple of spots to catch bluegill and crappie on small streamers. A return trip to the trees showed the water was still slow going, so we fished up towards the boat launch, catching more crappie and bluegill.

I headed back to the trees, and Tony indicated that he'd be there in a bit. I tied on the same mulberry fly that had worked before and flipped it out onto the water. Instant rise and I was into a fish. Instead of the usual run, this fish burrowed back in further into the tree, my flyline tangling and wrapping in the low hanging branches. I pulled for all I thought the 8 pound test could handle, and after a few minutes I had the fish out from under the tree. I ran up the shoreline, trying to get the fish into open water. But, again the fish tangled up, this time in a branch just off the shore from the second tree. The mono popped just as I got back to the fish.

I tied on a new fly and worked the water some more. A large carp rose about 20 feet out, so I picked the fly up quickly and fired out towards it. The fly splatted down and the carp wheeled hard, targeted in on my fly. I saw the fish take the fly, or could swear that I did, but it must have been just beyond the fly and I set the hook into nothing but air.

Tony headed down the tail as I was backing away from the water to extract my fly from the shrubbery behind me, shaking my fist at the water.

"A good one, Jason?"

"Yeah, and I missed it. Truly a toad!"

Tony with another

I stepped off the shore to check my tippet as Tony looped a brown and white Cat's Whisker into the hole. He counted about one and set the hook as the water rolled. The rod arched in his hand and suddenly went slack as the carp launched clear of the water, twisting in turning. We both stared in impressed awe until the rod bent over again. Tony went back to work on the fish, bringing the feisty carp to hand fairly easily on his 8 wt. I snapped a couple of pictures, then stepped back into the casting lane. A couple of drifts later I tied into a carbon copy of my first fish. A quick run up shore, then a sudden run back towards me. I ran to and fro on the bank, arm and rod up high in the air, trying to maintain pressure on the fish. This one had a lovely bronze, almost reddish color along the back and down the tail, and was quickly released.

I managed to hang another fly in the tree, chumming the water with berries as I tried to pull the fly loose. Finally the line gave and I set to retying my last green mulberry. The carp had come up to gorge on the berries that had hit the water during my extraction attempts and Tony's mulberry fly soon disappeared in searching mouth. I set my gear in the grass, and came down to help out with the fish. A quick tailing, and the barbless hook was slid free. Back in the water and off like a shot went the carp.

Tony with success

I finished retying my rig and tucked in under the tree again. Drift after drift, curling the fly back under the tree, went unrewarded. I resisted the urge to reach out and shake the tree. Finally a god sized carp rolled out away from the tree. I fired a quick cast out and again was rewarded with another rise, this time right on target. I set the hook and the fish exploded, streaking out into the depths. Tony and I looked at each other and grinned at the sound of the screaming reel.

"Hey look," I laughed. "Here comes the end of my fly line. Oh, there it goes!"

In a few seconds the fish was 80 feet off shore and heading for the opposite side of the lake. The fish finally turned and we went back and forth. This is one of those moments where I envy those Saturday morning flyfishers with their large arbor reels. Arms, what arms? I've just got an extended mass of quickly building numb attached at the shoulder. The fish wanted nothing to do with the shallows. It burst off for the depths again as its back broke the water, and we were on again. This bout didn't last quite as long, and Tony managed to tail, and then cradle the fish. It wasn't much bigger than the two I had caught previously, but was much thicker and a little deeper. I put the hemostats on the fly and popped it loose, and the gorgeous fish returned to its element.

"That," I said, "Is what it's *all* about." ~ Jason.

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