Urgency overshadowed an otherwise beautiful fall day. Knowing this could very well be the last outing of the season, I pushed hard and over-pressured the few fish remaining within casting distance. This was not effective. I rushed almost every drift, trying to force the fish to take. They just weren't having it.
I covered a bunch of different water today, but just couldn't find the fish. They had moved on, even from spots they were holding in the other day. I have to believe that a majority of the carp have moved on to the wintering spots, wherever that may be. A mission for another day. I fished a stretch of skinny water that held relatively few fish compared to the other day. I tried to make it count. I had a couple hookups, several were foul, but I had one big fish on that had my drag screaming as it took line downstream and across. I overzealously tightened my drag to keep from losing the fish downstream. Ironically, this lead to my eventual undoing, as my non-slip loop knot pulled free as I got the fish near shore, leaving the hook firmly planted in the beast. The fish returned to the depths with nary a look.
I tied on several different patterns before a carp finally settled on my offering, a rubber legged hare's ear nymph.
I ventured upstream, in the chance that fish were congregating in the spillway. Some were. Unfortunately, they weren't interested in my flies, and one poor victim fell prey to a ridiculous excuse of an angler. This fish easily went 20 lbs.
a murdered buffalo
The redeeming factor to the day would come hours later. After searching water and cycling though patterns, I finally ended up with a plain old beadhead hares ear nymph. I settled back on a stretch of water that has held quillback all year long. A few false hook-ups got my hopes up, only to result in disappointment. I drifted my nymph along a current seam and watched my fly line just barely quiver. I strip checked my fly and felt resistance. I set the hook. As I lifted my rod, I saw a flash of silver and the broadside of a silhouette that is unmistakable. Quillback!
As I played the fiesty devil to the net, I was careful to keep tension on my line, yet watched the angle of my rod and line to avoid breakage. As I landed the fish, I raised the net for the telltale inspection. This is where the catch makes or breaks you, finding where the hook was set. The subterminal mouth and large fleshy lips of the quillback make hooking this fish inside the mouth, very challenging. Often times, the fly is spat out before the hook can be set, or a line strike occurs, resulting in a fish being foul-hooked on the outside of the lips. The soft nature of their lip tissue also come in to play. Fighting a fish too hard can have the tendency for the hook to pull free.
Half the time I land these fish, the hook pulls free while in the net making confirmation of a fair catch difficult. As I reached for the fish in the net, I went to unhook my fly, only to find it lodged on the outside bottom of the fish's lip. I was disappointed. Another foul-hooked quillback I thought to myself as I pulled the hook free. Only then did I notice that the fly and my tippet did not come completely free. When I pulled the fly loose and tried to unwrap the tippet from around the fish, I found that is wasn't wrapped around the fish, but rather it was caught in the fish's mouth. Closer inspection revealed that the fly line was threaded through the quillback's lip, and what I had earlier identified as a foul-hooked fish was to the contrary. When landing the fish, the fly must have caught in the netting and pulled through the fish's lip, from the inside. The brief sense of disappointment quickly turned to excitement and jubilation. My heart was pumping. You gotta love adrenaline. This was a fair caught fish. I pushed the fly back through the fish's lip and pulled the tippet and fly out though the mouth, and released the fish. Now I can be done.
Another solid way to end the day. A quillback caught to both start and end the season. More than I had ever expected or hoped for. My expectations for the season were simply to get a handle on the bigmouth buffalo and finally land one on a fly. Mission accomplished. An unexpected result of that mission was the opportunity to catch some redhorse and quillbacks. It was unheralded not just to catch one, but several. A perfect bookend to the 2008 season.