My most challenging fishing

People might ask, “Why would anyone want to climb Mount Everest? Why would anyone want to white-water raft a class 10 rapid? Why would anyone want to jump out of a perfectly good airplane?”  Most of these questions could be answered, “Because it’s not an easy thing to do.” So why would I drive five hours to Arkansas to sight-fish for a fish that’s arguably much more intelligent than bass or redfish? Because it’s not an easy thing to do. I would learn that lesson though, the hard way when I joined a fellow kayak fisherman and friend, Drew Ross, near his home waters in Arkansas this past Tuesday. Drew is fortunate enough to live near water that holds a “target-rich” environment of very large grass carp and acres and acres of shallow flats in which to sight fish for them with dry flies! 65967758_2537927943092798_7904278775846666240_o.jpg

So here are some of the reasons why I am so intrigued by these fish.

  • They are big. Some of these bruisers can sometimes weigh between 15 – 20 pounds and will straighten or break hooks and tippet at the snap of a finger.
  • They are smart. Smarter than bass or redfish.
  • They aren’t aggressive eaters and will not track down prey or flies. While they must eat to grow to the enormous sizes you see, they do not readily attack flies and lures like most other gamefish.
  • They are easily spooked, which means in order to be a successful fisherman, one must be very stealthy.
  • They aren’t considered to be good table fare, which means very few fishermen target them.
  • They will eat a dry fly
  • They will eat a dry fly
  • Oh, did I mention, they will eat a dry fly? 🙂

So, spoiler alert..you aren’t going to see any photos of me holding a massive carp in this blog post. I can tell you I never worked so hard to get “skunked” in my life but I had a blast and I look forward to getting a chance to go again.

First of all, Drew is a super nice guy and was probably more disappointed than me that I didn’t land a carp. Because we were going to be sight-fishing, we had to first pick a day that was forecast to be mostly sunny, with very little wind. The good news was, I didn’t have to leave my house at 2 in the morning to get out there at the crack of dawn. I left at 6 AM and made it to his house a little before 11. The bad news was, it was going to be very hot! No problem there, because my mom didn’t raise a wimp!

For the first hour or so, Drew pointed out fish to me. I quickly began spotting fish on my own and was tossing a small dry fly to cruising fish. I soon learned the importance of being very accurate with my casts. That’s when you realize just how intelligent this fish is. As a fly fisherman who frequently sight-fishes redfish in shallow water, I thought I would be able to cast a foot or two in front of a fish and “intercept” it. I would make a “perfect” cast and watch the fish swim right under the fly without even budging. Sometimes they would swim around it like they wanted to avoid it all together. When I practice my casting, I try to land my fly in a 14 inch circle (actually and old drum head from school). It became apparent to me that I was going to have to present my fly to a moving fish, with a slight breeze to contend with, in a circle about the size of a pancake. What a humbling experience!! I struggled! All this time, Drew had not even made a cast. I told him, one of us had catch a fish so I eventually talked him into casting to a few fish for himself. I just wanted to see if it could be done.

Well after about 15 minutes, I heard a loud commotion and saw that Drew was indeed hooked up. It, however, only lasted a couple seconds because the fish straightened his hook out. Meanwhile, my presentations were getting better but twice I missed opportunities because an aggressive bream ate my fly just when I thought I was getting a carp to rise.

Drew and I kept push-poling our way through the flats and I probably cast to over 50 carp in about 5 hours before I got my first fish to eat. I saw a loner heading toward me very slowly and I put a legitimate “perfect” cast out about 6 inches in front of its nose. I watched it rise and its “kissers” opened up and sucked my fly in. I set the hook and….I missed!!! (Insert explicative of your choice here). I was distraught, but I was encouraged that I got and eat. Then I watched Drew get another eat (another straightened hook) and another… this time landing the pretty fish:GOPR0197.jpeg

We were running out of time when I got my second eat. I let the fish actually take the fly down before I set the hook and again, I came up empty. I actually got a third fish to eat my fly and this time I actually felt some weight when I set the hook. Drew heard the commotion and thought I had actually hooked one, but I missed again. Oh well, these are times when I just have to chalk things up to Cormier’s Rule #1 of Fly Fishing: Fish make the rules; not the fisherman.

So, as I sit here waiting out this tropical storm, I am tying a few dry flies of my own to target these beautiful fish the next chance I get and although it was a very humbling experience, I know I learned a lot and will use what I’ve learned to be better prepared the next time I give it a shot.

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Putting the “Fat” into Fat Tuesday, part 1

Each year, I make one or two trips to central Louisiana to fish with my buddy, Glen “Catch” Cormier. I met Catch around 13 years ago when he showed up after band practice to pick up his daughter and I noticed two kayaks strapped to the top of his vehicle. I asked him, “What do you plan to do with those?” He replied, “I fish out of them.” I asked “Where?” His reply has stuck with me to this day, “Anywhere I can.” Not long after that, I sold my bay boat and purchased my first kayak. The rest is history.

Anyway, we made plans for me to visit during my Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) break from school and do some fishing. First of all, the area where Catch lives now is in the Kisatchie National Forest area, the only National Forest in Louisiana. It is a somewhat hilly area (remember, I’m from flat, swampy South Louisiana) with several great fishing lakes and reservoirs all within a 15-30 minute car ride. So when I drive up there, there are always many options for us to choose from to do our fishing. We planned to do some bass fishing so I could A) test out some of my crease flies on some CENLA bass and B) catch a bass worthy of being entered into Massey’s Catch, Photo, and Release tournament that goes on all year for members of the Bayou Coast Kayak Fishing Club. Monday, know down here as Lundi Gras, we planned to fish Lake Valentine.IMG_0700.JPG
My view from the top of the lake.

The morning started off cloudy and very overcast with very little wind. Except for a couple of bank fishermen, we had the whole lake to ourselves all day. I began fishing with my crease fly popper and Catch was using a frog popper. We noticed the water was crystal clear, so we would definitely have to proceed stealthily. My first blowup was exactly that. A huge fish gulped my popper and proceeded to bury itself into the thick vegetation. I ended up with ten pounds of salad and no fish 😦

Meanwhile, Catch started doing his thing. They don’t call him “Catch” for nothing. He promptly started landing some pretty nice bass and he caught one that was 16 and a half inches that was going to bump him up in first place in the CPR tournament. GOPR3522.jpg

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I promptly hung a pig of a bass, set the hook too hard, and watched in utter frustration as it snapped my tippet.

I was using a large popper (I’m thinking larger fly = larger fish) while Glen was using a tiny frog popper. His choice for poppers was an easy one for a guy who fishes these lakes all year long and knows about the large populations of frogs in the estuary. So, I tied on a small popper. I immediately started catching bream, which was fun, but it was not my target species so I put the crease fly back on. Then I started catching a few fish. I caught a small 8-inch bass, then a 12-inch little chunk of a fish. Then, things stated picking up for me as we found some fish hiding in heavy grass around dormant lotus (huge water lilies). You can see the stickups in the background in this picture. GOPR3525.JPG

You can also see in that picture just how calm the wind was. The water was absolutely gorgeous and flat. So you can guess how much racket a big bass can make as it explodes in fury over a bass popper. That’s what happened on my next fish. Right away, I knew I had a quality fish and Glen began paddle over to get some pictures. I landed one heck of a bass (my largest of the year) and it was in public water! Hey, now I have a bass to enter into the CPR tournament. GOPR3529.jpg

She was just a tad bit over 16.75 inches and I think (we will have to see pictures of Catch’s fish on the ruler) she will bump him down for the time being 🙂

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How cool will it be if the first and second place fly-rod bass were caught on the same morning from the same lake? Honestly, there’s a lot more time left until the tournament is over but it’s nice to get a bass entered. Even though I caught over 150 bass last year, I wasn’t able to enter any fish into the tournament because nearly all of them were caught in private water. The one good fish I could have entered I wasn’t able to get a picture of. The good news was, this fat girl was full of eggs and was released to go do her thing. 🙂

Of course,  Catch wasn’t through for the morning. He changed tactics and caught several sacalait (crappie), including this pretty fish.GOPR3539.jpg

So much for our day in Lake Valentine. Our tally was 7 bass each and four sacalait for Catch.

Carpe Diem!

I recently spent 5 days in Texas doing some house painting for my daughter and her husband as we prepare to move her from Kansas to Texas at the end of the month. You know how they say “all work and no play…” Well, I was able to do some bank fishing at her neighborhood pond one morning. As I approached the water’s edge, I heard a strange popping sound. As the sun begin its slow rise on a beautiful, dry (for a change) morning in south Texas, I saw that the culprit was some type of carp. I had gone out there with two rods, a 5 wt. and a 3 wt. One was loaded with a frog popper, in hopes of dueling with a bass, and the other was tipped with a hare’s ear nymph and a VOSI (for bream or whatever else wanted to come out to play). I dangled the hare’s ear by the fish and it didn’t seem interested at all, so I began pounding the banks with the popper. After 10 minutes or so, I switched from a popper to something that I thought I could fool the carp with, Catch Cormier’s SR72 Wooly Bugger (olive color). There were several carp making a ruckus near the concrete bulk head so I tried every kind of presentation to try to fool one of them to slipping my fly into its mouth. My first taker was a nice chunky crappie (sacalait) that I quickly released. Then the fun really began as I hooked into my very first carp. It was very angry, so say the least, and it took me all around the bank for about 13 minutes. The problem was, I had never dreamed I would be hooked up on something that large and I had no net or boga grip with me. I eased the fish close to the bank and tried to grip its tail to land it. Boy was that a mistake! It didn’t like that at all and took off with a big splash as it broke my tippet.

Lesson learned, I walked back to my car, grabbed my boga grip, and returned to where there were at least another half dozen fish working the algae on the bulkhead. Ten minutes later I was doing battle with another big carp. This time I was able to get the fish to the boga grip and land it. Oh, I forgot to mention that when I went back to the car, I picked up my gopro camera and a tripod. I was able to snap a quick picture before I released the fish.

I later found out from a buddy of mine that it really wasn’t a carp…or was it. Technically it is a smallmouth buffalo. But further research shows that it is in the carp family. So carpe diem!

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Oh, on a side note. Both carp were actually foul-hooked. The first was hooked on its dorsal fin. The second one (the one I actually landed) was hooked under the mouth on the fleshy underbelly. Hey! It still counts! 🙂