We headed back out to the flats today, hoping to duplicate yesterday’s results, but the conditions had changed and the situation proved slightly different. It was overcast and windy and casting our flies was difficult without landing them square in the back of our heads. The fish were no longer in the shallows, the cold nighttime temperatures had sent them scurrying back into the deeper water. The carp, however, had laid claim to the shallows and wallowed in pairs in the shallow water, a pre-ritual of their mating. The normally gin clear water was dark and sedimented. Puffs of silt exploded like clouds as we spooked a few of the sedentary ones resting on the bottom. There were some real giants in here, fish that would easily go over thirty pounds. It always amazed me how very few people in this country bother to fish for them, although the sport is gaining in popularity and has legions of devoted fans, particularly across the Big Pond in the United Kingdom, where most fish over twenty pounds have been caught several times, have a known history, and even sport a nickname. One man’s garbage is always another one’s treasure. I am always amazed by the story of the common carp and how it was able to establish itself in virtually every corner of the country. What is even more mind-boggling is that all these carp finning about at my feet, including all the carp everywhere else in North America, are the original descendants of only six carp imported by a Californian farmer in the late 1800′s to use as fertilizer and pig feed. But the carp, who incidentally are really damn smart, had other ideas and escaped and quickly established themselves across the entire continent.
The gar, on the other hand, while just as vilified and misunderstood, also considered a trash fish, is not an invasive species and had been around for about 290 million year before monkeys descended from the treetops and evolved into men. The gar, owing to its menacing appearance, the stuff of horror flicks and phantasmagorial nightmares, is extremely misunderstood. Once in a while I will come across a dead carcass on shore, left intentionally to die by some other fisherman, usually in an advanced state of decomposition, and the ignorance of the act tends to really anger me, which really isn’t a good thing when one mostly fishes to relax. There are only two things that will frustrate me on water – unneccessary killing of the resource and pollution. It is all about respect, for both the fish and the environment first, which to me should always be the underlying ethos for all who enjoy the outdoors. All fish are both worthy and deserving of our respect, no matter where we place them on the hierarchy of sportfish.
Despite their being around for three million years, they had largely disappeared from the flats. It was incredible how the temperatures and winds had turned them off and sent them scampering into deeper water for cover. In an effort to keep myself busy, managed to hook into several carp but lost all of them before it got interesting. In retrospect, losing them was a bit of a blessing in disguise, a subconscious time-management technique, for when you get a good hook into some of these beasts, don’t expect to take any calls or appointments for at least a good half hour. What usually winds up happening is that when you are tied into them, the gar tend to suddenly appear all around you, almost mocking you as they realize you are not really in a position to deal with them. One of the hooked carp, entertaining illusions of being a salmon, jumped three times before spitting the fly. If anything, this brief exercise seemed to awaken the gar from their lethargy and ambivalence as soon after a few were spotted cruising into the shallows. My first fish, sight cast from just a few feet away, was a nice female that was loaded with eggs which began spitting out from her belly as we lifted her from the water and took a few photos. My waders were covered with sticky and gelatinous white eggs, unlike the roe of most fish, eggs that are extremely toxic to all mammals, including humans. Don’t confuse the eggs of a gar for caviar or you will definitely wind up in a hospital, or worse yet, a cemetery.
Despite the lack of fish, it was still pleasant, as are most days spent on water, away from the world of responsibility and the drudgery of most work. For a long time, as I sat on a rock and ate my lunch, simultaneously watching Mark casting across the bay, watching a pod of carp that swam a few feet from shore, a flock of seagulls that hovered like kites above the river, and reflected on the many years we had returned here and how much things had changed over the decades. Every year the conditions were slightly different and we had never had two seasons that were exactly the same. If anything, one of the lessons this place teaches you is that change is constant and a part of everything around us. Nothing ever remains the same.