It’s mid-Fall and I find myself stepping outside to the first chilly air of the fall. Overnight, temperatures plunged into the thirties signaling the end of warmth and the heart of autumn. Leaves are rustling in the woods and being swept out over the yard and clear skies reveal a canopy of stars. It is 5 a.m. and the sun isn’t rising for another hour and a half. I am on my way to go carping for the last time of the year at one of my favorite haunts: the local canal.
The local canal is bi-polar. Despite zeroing in on early mornings, certain moon phases, and patterns of weather as the best times to fish, it still produces the most bizarre extremes of fish activity. One morning can produce regular shots at feeding submarines, while the very next day, in the exact same conditions, it can produce nothing. Not even a remnant of activity. This produces a conundrum for the local angler and a pretty serious love/hate affair. I can honestly say that of the ten times I was fortunate enough to fish the canal since the Spring, I did not see a fish during half of those outings. I effectively spent over a days worth of time staring at absolutely nothing.
This is basically what canal carping boils down to. Can you spot a fish? If you are lucky enough to spot a fish, can you get a cast off without it seeing you? If you can get a cast off, will your presentation be soft enough to not send it back to the dark abyss? If your presentation is on point, will your fly get to the zone in time without succumbing to a sunfish or snag? If it reaches the zone, will a twenty pound carp, mere feet away and in full view, suck it in? Finally, will you actually be able to land the guy in a small waterway full of snags on 3x? Not only do we stare at nothing most of the time, we are crazy enough to endure this, repeatedly. We might have even gone a little crazy sometimes.
On particularly bad outings, we have been known to hallucinate. We end up seeing what we want to see, rather than what is actually in front of us. Low light, fog, deep water, and a rising sun play tricks with your mind. Did you really see the outline of a carp cruising into the shallows? Is that a mud plume or simply the fog rolling over the placid water? Are those bubbles from a turtle or a monster carp delicately sipping something off the bottom? It gets to the point where everything seen is named and referenced on subsequent outings. Names emerge for for the degree and likelihood that the rate of bubble trails correspond to sizes of carp. Mud plumes are named based on formations, direction, and length of time since a carp was in the area. A catalog of different kinds of carp blocks is kept that ranges from barking dogs and trains to old ladies and homeless men.
These hallucinations keep you walking down the path. Somewhere along that journey you will find what you are looking for. Eventually, you will finally see the image that all carp aficionados crave. It is often unmistakeable and your knees will begin to shake. It forces you to realize that the previous few hours, you basically stared at nothing. All those things you thought you saw, weren’t what you thought they were. The real thing is five feet away from you. It is huge, beautiful, and actively feeding. It is the “perfect” shot that you have been waiting for. An opening emerges and you decide to go for it.
Don’t mess it up.
You might just spend several more hours staring at nothing.