Thursday, February 2, 2023

Belly Crawlers

 The drone of late summer cicadas and crickets pierced the hot summer air as I crept around the periphery of a grimy looking pond in Rhode Island. This was the sort of water that might make many fly anglers cringe or scoff. It was trash filled, murky, and heavily impacted by a couple centuries of human encroachment, industry, and neglect. In fact the fish I was after in this pond, Cyprinus carpio, had been introduced by Europeans and hadn't exactly helped the natural landscape. Lightly put, this place was a mess. But it was a mess among which I'd found very enjoyable sport. The carp in this pond varied from wonderfully ornate mirrors with a variety of scale patterns to large, chestnut colored commons. When the conditions were right these carp came into the shallows to feed and there I could stalk and cast to them with light fly tackle. Along one particular stretch of this pond, the fish would regularly come up so shallow that their backs would be out of the water as they fed. Belly crawlers, I call them, borrowed from the redfish world. These fish would be keenly aware of disturbances in their periphery. Carp seem to know how vulnerable they are in extremely shallow water, as most fish do. Though their field of vision outside the water is restricted to a tiny window because their eyes are so near the water's surface, sounds and vibrations could quickly send them scurrying into the safety of deep water. 

I slowly approached point around which I could expect to encounter belly crawlers. It was actually just a shallow gravel bar that emerged as a dry, vegetated point during low water conditions. Its gradual slope created a flat of sorts on either side. Though I could never figure out why, the fish favored the eastern side. It was about a 5/1 ratio; fish I'd see on the east side to fish I'd see on the west side. Even from 40 yards away, now, I could see three carp on the east side of the point. Two small ones, one sizable. Each wallowed in the muddy, weedy flat rooting for macro invertebrates, dead things, anything they might be able to eat. This was the picture perfect scenario, a fly-carper's dream. Though none of the fish, even the largest, was a particularly large individual, this was the ideal set-up to get fantastic visuals and present a fly to a carp in water just inches deep. I crept into position, careful not to step on anything that might make a loud crack. I used the low brush of the island to conceal my own silhouette, rather than standing plainly visible against open sky. I knew this would be a one fish deal, so I focused on the largest while trying not to spook the other two. I knew I could get very close to these fish without spooking them as long as I was slow and extremely quiet. I remained low and edged closer bit by bit as the fish continued to feed. Once in a good position, I watched and waited for a clear shot. almost like a hunter waiting for a buck to make its way out of thick brush, I needed my target common to move out of the weeds and into an open spot. It would eventually, and a clear shot could be had. Cast too soon and I'd risk hanging the fly up in the weeds and potentially spooking the fish. So I waited, patient but slightly on edge, for the fish to move into a gap in the weeds. Eventually it did. I raised the rod and made a short and gentle cast, landing the fly a few feet beyond the fish. I then lifted the rod and drew the fly to the fish before letting it fall just inches in front of the carp's mouth- a drag and drop presentation. The carp confidently moved forward and flared its rubbery lips, taking in my hybrid fly. I set the hook sharply and the battle was on. The fish never preformed a long run but dogged hard in the weeds, thrashing at the surface than diving down and into the brownish vegetation. It was a relatively short battle, but the belly crawler soon came to net. 

That was far from the only carp I cast at that day, nor was it the only one I caught. Each presented its own challenges and was a memorable catch in its own right. That's one of the wonderful things about sight fishing. You take in so much information, so many visuals, and it can really cement an experience in an angler's memory. Even in a dirty, trash filled New England pond. 

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1 comment:

  1. I have never caught a carp on a fly rod. Maybe this is the year to give it a try.