A four day trip with John Montana fly fishing for carp on the Columbia River is difficult to describe. The entire trip feels as though you are doing the backstroke in a sea of obsession. You eat, sleep, drink, talk and dream about carp as the rest of the world drops away below the vast blue horizon along with all your cares and worries. The experience becomes all-absorbing. As you would expect I found it exhilarating and profoundly satisfying. In real life wallowing in our obsessions is rarely healthy or practical. After all, life demands attention for the non-trivial.
In contrast the difficulty of the Columbia River in the summer defies expectation. Most of us read John’s blog religiously. His frequent pictures of massive carp and reports of staggering numbers gives a false impression. It seems as though his fishery is easier than yours. After all it is hard to swallow or even imagine that John may just be orders of magnitude better than the rest of us.
True, with some hard work and a little time on the water most hard-core carpers could reasonably expect to catch more and bigger carp than they are used to. It does, however, take a frightening level of mastery and determination to achieve John Montana levels of success.
High water levels precluded fishing John’s most productive water for the entire trip so we started out Friday fishing John's "Option D" water. Option D seemed pretty good to me. We had good light, moderate winds, hungry feeding fish with superb takes and I was on my game. It was exactly what my over-active imagination had been picturing for weeks. The highlight of the day for me was getting to stop, sit back and watch John battle a 22 pounder. What a fish, what a fight.
The excellent conditions did not last long however, and on Saturday I awoke to thunder! The rain faded rapidly but we had overcast conditions nearly all day that
made sight fishing nearly impossible. I was still on my game however and although I found it harder to spot fish than John we came away from the day with a fair tally, some great takes and the sure knowledge that we had made the best of it.
Sunday conditions went from tough to ridiculous as 25 to 30 mph winds pounded us and the Columbia River all day. The gale force winds virtually eliminated easier shots to
smaller fish. In a bizarre and tortuous twist those same winds also brought the big fish shallow and created many awe inspiring but heart rending shots of P.H.D. difficulty to
truly gigantic fish. Time after time John gave me the shots. Time after time I failed to connect. With a half hour of good light and 20 feet of prime flat remaining I was extremely dis-heartened when a large dark shape that could have been a weed but was actually an 18lb carp calmly shifted 6" to the right to inhale my perfectly presented Trouser Worm. After all the repeated failures of the day all it took was one great take to save my day!
|John sticking it to a 22lber!|
|Rain and Carpin do not mix|
Friday was prime again and we went back to the "Option D" waters looking for something a little easier. Unfortunately I was bone tired and my confidence was shot. You have to set the hook with authority at the slightest indication of a take on the Columbia and that requires a significant amount of faith. Faith was not with me and for much of the day I was setting a fraction of a second too late. Although I touched several fish and lost a few others all I came away with was the smallest carp in the history of Columbia Carpin. Seriously. One and a half pounds (scaled) of carp fury was not exactly what I had in mind for this trip. I had to do the super-duper extended grip just to save a little pride.
There is nothing easy about how John catches so many big
carp on flies in the Columbia River.
While Columbia carp are large, numerous and typically more willing to
eat an extremely well presented fly than I am used to, the intangible
challenges are significant. The unpredictability
of the conditions and the scope and in-accessibility of the fishery are
overwhelming and exhausting. The extremely
precise and controlled presentations the carp prefer are demanding and
unforgiving. The takes are so subtle as
to seem imaginary.
Detecting them and timing them at range seems to be as much art as
skill. It all combines to make this the
most challenging,, intriguing and rewarding fishery I have ever
|Yeah baby! One and a half pounds of carp fury!|