Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Brownlining in the River des Peres

Back in 1876 the river des Peres was a gently flowing tributary of the Mississippi river brimming with wildlife. In the early days of urban development, the city of St. Louis commandeered the river as a channel for human waste.  After realizing that dumping raw sewage into a river is a bad idea, attempts were made to separate the flow of sewage from the flow of "natural" runoff and the river is now a channelized ditch that during dry weather carries runoff and in wet weather carries a mixture of storm water and raw sewage out to the Mississippi river.

Naturally this sounds like a great place to fish, so this past weekend, Justin and I suited up and headed to south city in the hopes of finding carp.  After parking the car in a park between Gravios Avenue and Morgan Ford Road, as we were setting up our rods we overheard two kids that were watching us, debate as to whether we were actually going down into that "ditch" to fish. Their parents probably warned them the only thing you will catch in that water is dysentery or an occasional corpse.  Yes, this is urban angling at its finest.

As we made our descent, we could see signs of aquatic activity with swirls and splashes decorating the turbid water. Something was clearly thriving down there. As we got closer to the water we noticed a definite carp presence with several cruising and tailing fish.  We sight casted to the carp and within 15 minutes Justin had already hooked into his first fish, a nice grass carp.  We worked our way down the river and near an inlet, we spotted a pool full of gar chasing smaller minnows.  One gar even had a bluegill locked in its jaws that it couldn't possibly swallow whole, but clearly he wasn't letting go of his prize for a moment with the competition cruising around him.

We casted to these gar for a while hooking several.  Justin was using a carp carrot and I was using a #12 black Wooly Bugger with a bead head.  We were catching the gar best by making a leading cast to gar cruising near the surface and then retrieving the fly with a continuous jigging motion at a medium speed. After several gar my bugger was badly shredded.

Next, I made a cast out into the pool and let the fly sink deep before making a slow hand twist retrieve. I got a solid pull and had my first carp of the day hooked up.  Luckily, Justin was close by with his net to help me land this grass carp.  I am not good at lipping them with the bogas as history has proven.

After Justin netted the fish, chaos ensued: I pulled my bogas out of my pocket to hold the fish for a photo op and my phone fell out onto the bank and slid into the river.  Instinctively I went after it into the dirty water in the hopes of saving it. 

We fished the river until the sun started to set, catching several more grass carp having one of the best outings yet and adding a new spot to our list of urban carp fisheries.  Who would have guessed this neglected and abused river would hold such a thriving carp population.  Hope to see more brownliners out there some day soon. Don't be scared, the water is waiting, just give your fly line a good cleaning after your done and use barbless (its easier to unhook unmentionables that way).

P.S. I checked my phone the next day and amazingly, it still works!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Carped between the legs

This past Sunday I had a chance to go out to some secret carp flats with my buddy Justin.  The water level had dropped about two feet since my last trip out there, and this might be our last trip to these flats for the year unless there is a good rain.  The most productive section of the flats that we found was right next to a small channel that connects the flats to a deeper slough.  Within the first 30 minutes, Justin had his first fish hooked, and after a good long fight on his 5 wt. he netted a 4 lb common.

We were both wet wading and shortly after his catch, Justin's sandal came apart, so he went back to the car to get his hip waders.  Meanwhile, I stood heron-like still in the knee deep water, my eyes fixed toward the slough as three fat tails swaggered through the channel towards me.  As they entered the flats they separated and cruised the opening of the channel.  I made a leading cast to one fish with no acknowledgement.  Then another fish started cruising directly at me.  There was no way I would have time to set up for another cast to this fish, and my fly was about 6 feet behind the fish at that time, so I slowly swept the rod tip out to my side as if setting up for a roll cast.  As the fly drifted past the fish I let it settle and the fish casually turned its head down and toward the fly telegraphing the take.  I then made the roll cast to set the hook and the water churned about 4 feet in front of me as the fish bolted, fly in mouth.

The fish made several good runs before tiring within an arm's reach. Not having a net on me, I reached out precariously with my bogas to catch the lip and that's when it got a second wind and took off through my legs, brutally jerking my rod tip down into the mud as I stood peering between my legs as the fish made wake behind me.  In that split second I thought the fish has broken off, or worse, broken my rod.  After an awkward leg over the line maneuver I discovered that the fish was still connected and so was my rod.  The next time it was close enough to lip, I kept my legs close together and pulled this beautiful golden bone out of the water (my first common carp, 2.5 lb, caught on a #6 olive backstabber).

After Justin got back from getting his waders, I told him about my misadventure to much amusement.  The rest of the day was spent sight casting to the carp as they cruised all around us.  I had a nice follow from one other cruiser, but didn't catch any more fish that day.  As the sun set, we trudged back to the car, covered in slime and mud, fly rods in hand and memories of time on the water etched in our minds.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Dog days and catfish

Lately it has been hot, almost too hot to fish if such a time could ever exist.  The bass have hunkered down, the bluegill are nowhere to be found (at least the larger ones), and the carp, well the carp are just plain outsmarting me.  Spring fed trout laden streams are over an hour's drive from where I live, making them out of reach for the casual fishing jaunt.

These dog days of summer leave the fly fisherman debating whether to take cover in some climate controlled environment and tie flies until the heat dome passes, or fish after dark. 

Fishing after dusk presents its own unique challenges most of which involve some form of bumbling around in the dark either tying knots, untying unintended knots, blindly casting or flailing at the incessant onslaught of mosquitoes.

Even at night the bass bite has been slow with only a few takers, usually small fish. One night I was fishing the water's surface using a cicada pattern (Lucky #13), with an occasional bite.  Standing far back from the shoreline I cast just 4' off the bank, instantly something hungry slammed the fly.  I could tell it was a decent sized fish just from the water it pushed during the take.  After a good fight and to my surprise, I pulled a catfish out of the water, yes a top-water catfish.
Later in the week I was back at it, fishing in the pitch black.  Fishing in the dark really teaches one to feel the cast and listen to the loop as it whistles overhead. The surface action was completely dead, so I went with a subsurface presentation ( #10 black wooly bugger).  I was fishing it deep with a slow and continuous retrieve.  I snagged a log or something ( great another lost fly ).  Then I felt a strong tug and my fly rod bent willingly as line was ripped off the reel.  Slowly I tired the fish and landed a nice 16" blue catfish.  After the fight I realized I had used a barbless hook to bring this one in, what a great fight.  Here's to catfish on the fly in the dog days of summer.