“We are Fisherman. We do this.”
After scrolling through the hourly forecast for the next two days while mom and I ventured from Indiana to Ohio, I assumed our trip was doomed. The radar showed a massive front colored green, yellow, and red crawling north from Tennessee, destined to hit late that night and blanket us in thunderstorms. Having planned for only a single day of fishing in Ohio, I figured our chances to get on the water were shot. We would have to make a return trip. I hate lightning, especially when standing on an aluminum boat with a lightning rod my hand. I have always been the first to suggest we get off the water when thunderheads start rolling in, so I easily conceded to the idea that we would not be fishing then next day. So, I called our guide, Andy Jensen, to gather his thoughts, fully prepared to assure him that it would be no problem to take a raincheck, and that we would look forward to seeing him in the future. But no, much to my surprise, he was not going to give in so easily. HE was ready to take on the challenge of finding our fish and that even if we only got to go out for an hour or so, we would give it everything we’ve got between storms. He remarked, “we are fishermen. We do this.” I am thankful he did.
The next morning, mom and I woke up and hopped into her white Subaru to drive to our meeting spot with Andy, a gravel pond near Columbus, Ohio. There are big pits scattered throughout the area that were old gravel mines, some which are filled with water and hold fish. It was a grey day as forecasted with thunderstorms rumbling in the distance. A few smaller storms had already rolled through earlier that morning. I had watched them through the hotel room window, wondering if we would get a long enough gap to make some magic happen on the water. Andy was leaning up again the “Fly-n-Carp,” a tricked-out john boat designed for flats poling, when we pulled up to our destination, fitted in his rainsuit and determined to give fishing a shot. He greeted me with a smile and asked if I was ready to go. His attitude was exactly what we needed given the conditions. We got our gear together and hit the pond.
Despite having to immediately return to shore and wait in the cars for another 45 minutes because of a series of lightning strikes at uncomfortably close range, we found our window. Thankfully, that was the last of the nasty weather on the radar, so we felt confident we could get at least a couple of hours in uninterrupted. Andy began pushing the skiff along the pond’s edge with me on the bow, armed with a 9 wt and mulberry fly pattern. Mulberry trees are scattered along the edge of the pond and drop their fruit during the summer months. Carp, which reside in the lake, have a knack for eating the berries after they fall from overhanging branches and sink to the bottom. I had never fished for carp before but had always wanted to give them a try. Described by some as a “freshwater bonefish,” common carp are notoriously spooky and challenging to feed with a fly. I went into the trip with hopes to land maybe two fish on the day, though these expectations were furthere dampened by the weather. I was certain they would be all messed up by the storms, even if we could get a few shots. Put simply, I was wrong.
As we poled up to the first mulberry tree, I spotted four or five dark shadows lurking around under its protection. Andy pointed out which of these fish was the largest and instructed me to take a shot at putting the fly about 2 feet in front of its face. 2 feet is a small window to cast a fly into. I missed it. My first few attempts landed 6 or 8 feet short, then off to the side. The fish vanished. Though they were tough, I was excited to see fish.
We began pushing toward a second mulberry tree. This time I could see two fish sitting beneath it, waiting for a berry to fall onto their plate. I provided. I made a cast up under the branch and pretty close to one’s face. Without hesitation, it propelled itself forward, opened its mouth, and my fly vanished. I strip set and came tight to my first carp. I was a bit shocked—to be dealing with the weather and get a fish that quickly? I had no idea it would work out so seamlessly. After a bulldog of a fight and a few pictures, my day was made. We pushed on. Under the next tree we found a single fish, and I made a cast a few feet out in front of it. The cast laid out and the loop came unraveled to slap the mulberry into the water with a slight “PLUNK,” perfectly imitating a berry dropping into the water (though it was not purpose). The fish responded instantly! Another fight and another one in the boat! I was astounded. I had been told this was going to be one of the harder fish to fool of my journey, but thus far it was proving otherwise. After releasing him, I looked up to see a few more fish under the same tree. It did not take too many more casts before I received a similar reaction. It was amazing!
The entire day turned out to be this way—the fish were on strange behavior, but in my favor. I had fish chase down the fly when I made casts 10 feet in front of them, and even spin around and eat the fly after it landed behind them. The louder I smacked it down, the more surely they reacted. It was baffling. I was not the only one surprised. Andy was just as taken aback. He said he had never seen them do anything like this. My mom hopped on the bow and started feeding them just as well, letting out a big “WOOOHOOO” after shooting a cast deep under the trees and watching her target smoke the fly. We were having a blast! One fish even ate the fly 3 times. After missing the strip the first time, the fly moved through the water and the fish missed it, I stripped it again, and connected on the third eat. I have never seen a berry of any kind move on its own accord, nor have I known them to flee from predators, but this carp seemed not to be bothered in the slightest by the fly’s movement through the water. It was epic!
All in, mom and I landed 19 fish on the day, a record for that spot. To think we almost canceled our day…