Saturday, April 7, 2012

Washita Gold - A Short Essay

My wife and decided that a little time off from work and the city was in order, so we quickly began planning our "spring break". Our destination wasn't tropical in nature, nor did it involve endless hours spent driving in the car. We weren't off to any popular tourist location. Instead, we agreed that spending a few days with friends and family in my hometown would be just the ticket for soothing our weary minds and bodies. So we loaded the car, pointed it towards far Western Oklahoma, and were on our way.

The first afternoon of our arrival found us catching up with my family and enjoying the unusually warm weather outside on the deck. After a few beers with Dad, we both agreed that we MUST go fishing the next day. So what exactly would be fly fishing for in Western Oklahoma you might ask? Well, let me just tell you. The area surrounding my hometown holds an abundance of farm ponds, creeks, and rivers with a variety of game and non-game fish, including largemouth bass, bluegill, channel catfish, crappie, and carp, to name a few. The river by far holds the most variety, and being a fly fisherman in this area of the state requires that you take on the opportunist's mentality. Out here, anything that swims is fair game. And all of them are welcome on the end of the line.

The next morning we awoke to cloudy skies, with the threat of rain. In addition to that, we were also facing very windy conditions. I'm talking sustained 20 mph, gusting to 30 or 40! Normally a 20 mph wind is not an issue, but in a place where trees are few and far between and wheat fields are the dominant feature of the landscape, it only seems to gain momentum. Nonetheless we loaded up our gear and proceeded to the one of the local ponds to try our luck for bass.

After talking it over with my guide, i.e. my Dad, it was decided that weighted clouser variants attached to 3 ft of fluorocarbon on a full sinking or sink tip line was the order of the day. My Dad instructed me that we would be casting from the bank, letting the fly fully sink to the bottom, then sloooowly retrieving it back to us with long, smooth strips. Never having fished for bass this time of year, much less with fly fishing gear, I followed my Dad's instructions to the letter. To say that things started off slow is an understatement. To make matters worse, it quickly became apparent that every piece of scrap wood and/or vegetation lining the bank was out to get me. I have never spent more time untangling running line than I did that morning.

After about the 50th cast and 3rd fly change it happened. At first I thought I was hung up on the bottom (again) but slowly my line began to move sideways. In my excitement I set the hook like Bill Dance and nearly launched the 1lb bass over my head into the brush behind me!! At that point, it was game on. We spent the next hour or so slowly dredging the bottom and bringing a fair amount of fish to hand.

Sadly though, the running line tangle problem persisted. So, I casually mentioned to my Dad that we should try fishing the river, and reminded him that at least it would be out of the wind. He quickly responded that he didn't know why we didn't just go there to begin with?! So, we headed for the truck and pointed it towards the Washita River.

We arrived at our destination with hopes of connecting with a few channel cats or anything else that decided to bite. Having somewhat become an authority on catching channel catfish on the fly in the local creeks and rivers, I let my Dad lead the way. The first few holes we came to didn't produce any strikes, so we headed for high ground to make walking to the next hole easier.

The Mighty Wind-Swept Washita!

We were meandering along, when we both saw it. The telltale v-wake of a moving fish in shallow water. First glimpses were leaning towards catfish, but on closer examination we changed our opinion. You could hear the excitement in our voices as we both spoke the word out loud....CARP! And not just any carp, but the best kind....a feeding carp. At that moment, it was clear what our mission would be.

We watched as this fish methodically worked his way upstream along the bank, regularly stopping to prod the vegetation. Suddenly, the fish turned and headed back down stream. "Spooked," I asked? "I hope not," replied my Dad. As anyone who fishes for carp knows, a spooked carp, is a bad carp!! We watched as the fish made it to the area where we originally spotted him, and turned back up stream. He instantly returned to patrolling the bank for food as he made his way back upstream. Good, not spooked. We launched into full "sneak" mode as I prepared to take the first crack at the fish. Dad made his way upstream from my position in order to increase our odds should the fish get out of range from me. Needless to say, neither one of us could convince that fish to eat. So, after accepting defeat we continued upstream with our eyes glued to the banks ahead.

The next pool we came to held a good number of fish....all carp...most of them feeding. After getting into position, I launched the damsel fly nymph pattern (an awesome pattern created by the guys over at This River Is Wild.) ahead of one of the larger fish rooting around near the bank. As the fly hit the water, I could barely make it out as it slowly began to sink. I held my breath as I watched the fish slowly turn and drift towards the general area of my fly. The fish paused for a second, then turned around and headed back towards the bank. My line never twitched. Damn, I thought. Slowly I raised my rod to draw the slack out. To my amazement, my fly line was pointing directly at the fish, who was now feeding back at the water's edge. I set the hook...felt the resistance....YES!! The fish paused, shook his head, and raced down stream directly towards a sunken tree. I scrambled down the bank after the fish trying to maintain pressure on him with my glass rod. The rod was bent down to the handle, but was nevertheless doing an outstanding job of keeping the fish free from submerged branches. Dad showed up to help corral the fish towards the bank. One last ditch run a freedom, then it was over. As I released the fish back into the water, I turned to Dad and said, "That was awesome, let's do it again!" And we did, two more times. slime

The next fish I hooked into was once again pilfering the bank. My fly landed about 4 inches from his face and he mauled it like a pit bull. The fight didn't last long in the shallow water, and I quickly landed the released him to fight another day. 

Puttin a bend in the glass!

A fine indeed!

By that time, Dad had worked quite a ways upstream from me. As I slowly came around a bend, I saw him standing calmly near the river's edge, bent rod in hand. At first I thought he was hung up, and then I saw the telltale gold flash as the fish rolled in the current in front of him. I helped him land his catch, snapped a few pics, and we called it a day.

Open your eyes!!!

Having pursued carp before, I know how spooky they can get. However, on this day things were different. Both fish I caught were less than 10 yards from me. At first, I thought maybe my stalking/ninja skills were improving, but quickly dismissed that idea. As you can see from the the first fish picture, I was wearing one of the brightest fishing shirts I own, yet the fish acted like we weren't even there, unless we were literally on top of them. I don't know if the overcast conditions combined with the wind created a sense of security, or what. But I do know that it allowed me to get closer to fish that normally would have been in the next county.

In all, the day was a success. We managed to land three very nice Western Oklahoma carp, and make some memories in the process. I can't wait to do it again.

Until next time...