A Long Time Coming...
By Jason Tinling, Lancaster, PA
Archive of Warm Water
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
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
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
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
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