Last week I finally got to realize a goal. In addition to an addiction to steelhead, I have to get a fix of throwing flies at carp every summer. My brother and I took off from Seattle in a pouring-down rain for the drive east to meet our friend Darc Knobel in Ephrata, Wa, for three days of chasing scales on the flats of Banks Lake in Eastern Washington. The type of fly fishing for carp we have been following for 20 years is sight fishing only, in shallow water that is fished by a poled boat or by wading. This year we added a new twist (more later). For those of you who have done some flats fishing, you know that a clear sky is a 99% necessity. Maybe one percent of the time, under very specific conditions, carp can be spotted and cast to with overhead clouds. But nearly all of the time, if cloudy skies are looking down on you, they might as well see you back at camp having a beer, playing dominoes, tying flies, catching a nap; anything but fishing. We got to the campground, launched the boat, tied it up to the dock and set up camp. By the time Boyd (my brother) and I got the tent set up and Darc got his trailer situated, the clouds had set in thick and stretched from where the sun came up a few hours ago to the western horizon. A solid impenetrable sheen on the lake’s surface that the best polarized glasses on earth couldn’t cut through.
We sat around camp for a couple of hours with our gaze skyward. From a seemingly impossible situation, we began seeing chinks in the armor of the shrouds of grey/black above. Some blue started showing through. I could see the blue fighting and clawing its way through and eventually getting a foothold. I mentioned to Darc that we ought to boat out to the flats and then to hang out just in case we got lucky with clear skies. We did and we did. Soon we could see through the water surface to the bottom. It was pretty late in the afternoon by the time we could start fishing, but we had a couple of hours of fishing, but the carp did not want what we offered them. But we had a great time fishing in the sun-filled skies, warm air and calm waters. We made an adjustment to my leader and changed to another fly just in time to get back to camp and fix dinner. My outfit was ready for tomorrow.
Camp that evening was so delightful, with a tasty dinner, good wine, beautiful sunset and comfortable air temps to enjoy some camp talk to way past sunset. But later that night. Much to our surprise everything changed. Let me try to describe to you what 2 inches of rain, with lightning and thunder and wind is like while trying to sleep in a tent. When we crashed for the night, the skies were clear, the wind was calm and we all had visions of that perfect day greeting us tomorrow. It was at 1:00 AM when those thoughts were crushed in a clap of thunder and lightning that almost threw me off of my cot. Then the wind and rain started. Great test for my tent. The rain on our tent almost drowned out the sound of the thunder marching its way toward us. Our fiberglass tent poles were bending into impossible shapes, but they always returned to their original shape. The lightning, first, would light up our tent like a camera flash, seeing everything within like daylight. But it was just running interference for the thunder crashing through our defense. It was like trying to sleep inside a drum with Gene Krupa on the sticks. At first, there was a decent pause before the roar of the thunder filled our tent after the lightning, expending its energy, returned darkness to us. This continued for almost 45 minutes; constant – light, darkness, then the hammer of Thor. I would look in the direction of my brother and when the tent would fill with light, I got the strobe-light-look of a guy staring straight at me with his eyes wide open asking “Are we done for?”. The tent is bending and swaying and doing its job – we did not get wet. As I said, this went on for quite a while with the thunder sounding off closer and closer to the lightning flash, until, as we both knew would happen (but dreaded), the lightning blinded our eyes and thunder filled our tent and ear-drums at the same time. We both were convinced the tree we were camped under had been hit. But, we heard no tree, nor limbs falling. It was close but not on us. What a storm!
The next day was the same as the first, but the carp were feeding in the afternoon after the clouds parted and we had some awesome fishing. Part of what made it so fun and interesting was the method we used to fish for them. It is a “stalk and drop” technique with a cane pole (the bamboo was cut last fall and aged over the winter and spring) and a fixed line. Sort of an Oklahoma tenkara. This is really the way-back roots of fly fishing. The pole is 13.5 feet long and the line (and leader) is 20 feet long past the tip of the pole. We had to heron-step our way to the feeding fish. In the boat, the one poling must crawl toward the fish with pain-taking slowness with no pole noise or wave slap against the boat. When wading, it is the same procedure; slow-stepping toward the fish and keeping low. The idea is to present the fly without a splash and as close to the fish as possible. So, we generally had to get within 13 to 17 feet of the fish without it being aware of us. The fixed line on the bamboo pole provided more fun than I’ve had fishing in a long time. What a blast: Fastened to an 8 – 12 pound fish going bonkers at the end of your line tightly connected to my pole. Dig your toes in! Let it tow the boat around until it could be strong-armed close enough to net.
Later, back in camp, I tried to figure out why this is as much fun to me as steelheading. They are such different fish. But the fishing is the thing. Both fishes demand skill, patience, fish knowledge and a love of the sport. They both provide me with so much satisfaction. I have to admit I get just as much fun carping as I do steelheading. They are so different, but so much the same.