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A Long Time Coming...

Jason Tinling

By Jason Tinling, Lancaster, PA
I had hit the local river yesterday. It was high and off color, but I had managed a couple of smallies, although the best one threw the hook. So I had the itch. I needed some smallie action.

I hit the Susquehanna below the Route 30 bridge. I had hoped the river levels would be down enough to work out to mid-river and fish some big Deceivers but it was not (safely) to be. So, I kept on the small hopper pattern that I had from the previous day, and began working the flat pool inside the first bridge piling. I covered the expanse of the pool, but no luck. I clipped the hopper free and had to make a tough choice, switch over to the deceiver and see if I could pull some toads out of the slower current runs or go with something smaller, increase my chances of catching *something*.

I decided on an olive marabou bugger that I had received from a friend. It had a nice, beefy bead head on it to fight down through the faster water. Two casts later, something started rising and, taking flies off the top, downstream of me. Figures. I waded down a few yards and placed some casts in the vicinity of the rising fish. No luck. And then some motion caught my eye.

A fat carp had moseyed up into the flats of the pool, not actively mudding, but on the prowl, probably for one of the numerous crawdads that had been fleeing my clumsy wading. My adrenaline level skyrocketed and the first cast flew wildly behind the fish.

A couple deep breaths, calm it down. Next cast was a bit ahead of the fish and it redirected before getting in the vicinity of the fly. The fish turned to backtrack and my next cast fell right on its nose. Lined it! I was sure the fish was a goner as it moved off at a more rapid pace toward the depths.

Either it was really hungry, or I hadn't spooked it as much as I thought, because it turned back up into the flat again, the tip of its tail occasionally breaking the surface of the water. I measured the cast and placed a beautiful one, about 4 feet ahead of the carp, and a foot deeper than its line. I wanted to get the fly to the bottom, but the fish was closing fast. I gave a quick strip of about 6" of line, and the fly danced up and toward the oncoming fish.

If you've never had the experience of watching a carp take a fly in clearwater a couple of feet deep...it's the reason guys like me live for this type of fishing. When you're on the opposite end of that flyrod, trying to tempt that strike, moments draw out into hours. You know it's right when you can tell the fish has sensed the fly. It's rarely obvious, and often, not even something you can put into words. It's a slight alteration in the speed of the fish, a tiny side slip, a wavering of the fins that slows the carp's travel ever so much.

And then there's the turn. The head, pivoting, locking on to the fly. Then, the bend of the head uncoiling across the length of the scaled body as the fish swings over on the bait.

The flare of the gills as the carp commits. That sometimes imperceptible tic, as the fly line registers all that you've watched unfold. And then, infinity is shattered in an explosion of water and the screaming protestations of a stressed reel.

River fish aren't dumb. They know that their advantage is in the current, and this fish was no exception. My thoughts were on the fragile 4# tippet that was the weakest link in the chain tying me to this fish that was streaking off into the expanse of water before me. I palmed the reel as much as I dared, but basically had to give the fish its way, hold and pray.

The fish was into the first current run off the shore, thankfully not too strong, but the fish wasn't looking for this advantage. It outpaced the flow of the currrent, the fly line making a sizzling sound as it ripped through the water. I looked down at my reel to realize that the bright yellow of my fly line had long since disappeared and the clear mono was evaporating at a frightening pace.

I began wading as rapidly as I could downstream. I leaned back into the rod, trusting in the flex of the rod and the long expanse of flyline to protect the tippet. The transmitted pressure was just enough, and the fish rolled over not but a few feet shy of the next current seam, which was kicking along at a blistering pace. I quickly tried to gather line as the fish headed back toward me, trying to keep pressure on as I collected some of my missing fly line back on to the reel.

The fish was still running hard, skiving off at a diagonal to the pressure until it found itself in shallow water between two rock outcroppings. The shallow water panicked it, and it wheeled quickly, turning the water a creamy coffee color as it ripped off downstream again. The second run didn't get nearly as far into my backing as the first, and I grew more confident that this battle was mine to win or lose.

The fish headed into the same shallows as before, but I managed to turn it before it spooked and with as much muscle as I feared the line could take, brought the fish up into the flat water pool where I had first hooked it. A slow lift of the rod above my head guided the fish in until I could grab the fly. Yes!

A bit of back and forth wrestling about who exactly had who, and I popped the fly loose. Perfect placement, top of the upper lip. The fish slid down into the water at my feet and I wrapped its tail, turning it into the current and giving a couple of gentle back and forth passes to reinvigorate it. With a burst of energy and a flick of the tail, the fish was off to the safety of deeper, faster waters.

Fat, thick and heatlhy, it was better than 15, maybe up to 20. The numbers aren't what matters. It was the power, the energy, the connection between man and fish. A battle from getting the strike to landing the fish. It's ultimately about losing yourself and your worries in the flow of the river, and having the opportunity to burn another memory into the recesses of the mind, to be pulled out again on some quiet day, as the kids at your feet clamor for "just one more story, please."

Oh yeah, got a few smallies too, including a nice fat 17"er that gave a beautiful 3 foot high display of piscine aerobatics. ~ Jason

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