It’s funny how, as soon as we came over all optimistic about the prospects for some early spring carping, Mother Nature took a high altitude dump all over our plans by planting a couple of weeks of late winter weather on us. Temperatures that had hit 20C in March tumbled back to freezing at the start of April accompanied by a blanket of the white, wet stuff.
We did get out once during the warmer spell, a trip down to our traditional season opening water, the Local River. This river, a river at this point in its journey to the sea in name only as we fish a wide section of water slowed by a decrepit dam a mile or so downstream, holds a large head of carp. Simon claims to have seen a twenty in it. Once. A few years ago. Benny Hill knows how many fish we have caught from this water since but the largest remains nothing more than a mid-double. Still, being local we use it as a test water to see if the carp are on the move after their long winter under ice. They weren’t. Five alarms remained obstinately silent. The sixth briefly spluttered into life resulting in a Fall fish, a species very like a chub (large mouth, eclectic tastes). The one impaled on the hook was barely heavier than the lead that towed it to shore. It started our season though perhaps not in the way we might have liked.
Bright, sunny and carpless. Early season on the Local River
By mid-April conditions had become more Spring like. Simon returned to the Local River, caught the obligatory handful of single figure carp and our season was up and running. Time to look for some bigger fish. A recce to the Record River was called for. At the parking spot two locals were passing the time of day, one leaning out of his truck cabin, the other standing next to him chewing on a dry grass stem. Both sported the inevitable camo baseball cap emblazoned with the badge of one of the main outdoor clothing companies (Realtea, Mossybloke or some such), a clothing company responsible for initiating the revolution in vanish-into—the-vegetation kit. No doubt a crucial factor when fishing at 100 yards, at night, or when you want your bait bucket to disappear among the rhododendrons.
As Simon passed the young fellow in the truck called out with the first of the usual questions.
“What yer fishin’ fer?”
It’s a usual question for us but not for the rest of the American angling rank and file because the rest of the American rank and file fish for bass. With short rods. From a boat. It may well be a capital offence to fish for anything else. Traipsing past locals with 12 foot rods, capacious reels, large landing nets while also laden down with bait buckets and all the other paraphernalia of carp fishing is somewhat out of the norm - hence the first of the inevitable questions. And the trouble with the question is that it is never easy to answer. Oh yes, on the face of it we could just smile knowingly, reply “carp” and have done with it all. But no, it isn’t that we have trouble identifying the fish we are after, it’s that we have trouble speaking its name. Our two nations may both be part of Winston Churchill’s “English speaking peoples” but the more apt description is George Bernard Shaw’s: “England and America are two countries separated by a common language”. Simon had a go anyway.
“Carp,” he said pronouncing the word like ‘car’ with a ‘p’ on the end.
Blank looks all round.
So Simon goes through the litany of pronunciation attempts.
“Carp,…no? .. er,…carp? …Still blank incomprehension, well how about carp?”
A nice early season fish from the Record River.
Eventually the winning formula turns out to be “care” with a ‘p’ on the end.
“Oh, carep” one of them says and then follows with the second inevitable question.
“Is they good to eat?”
At this point it is always tempting to reply that since global production of the common carp, Cyprinus carpio, reached almost four million tonnes a couple of years ago and the fish is consistently in the top five species in aquaculture it may well be time to consider the animal a common culinary item, on a par with, say, pork. Such responses do flit through our minds but our better selves eventually realise that expostulating on the wider geopolitical issues of fish farming, sustainable use, debates about the taste and nutritional value of intensively reared animals versus their wild congeners and the effect of the dubious water quality on the life expectancy of anyone sampling a carp from this river, are all best left to another, very distant, time. And anyway such an answer would seriously cut into the fishing. So Simon simply said,
“The Poles think they’re tasty,” and shuffled on down the path.
The fish were obliging, a couple of good doubles topped by a nineteen pound fish that wouldn’t, however much the weighing scales were jiggled (accidentally-on-purpose-like), become the first twenty of the season. More to the point, the fish ate a bright pink Northern Special pop-up, a first for Simon and most likely for that particular carp. Perhaps there is something to these psychedelic baits after all. They certainly warrant further testing.
Simon went on to visit the Little Lake, a water of great promise that we didn’t fish enough last year, saw carp, caught none. From there he went to the Great Lake and investigated three likely looking spots, saw lots of carp, caught none in all three. And finally he returned to The Lake scene of so much action last season. The water still retained a frigid air and he saw no carp activity and, as was becoming the frustrating norm, caught no carp.
The first fish. A good fish. Just the wrong type of fish.
So Simon’s carping month fizzled out. Andy meanwhile, desk bound for much of April, had finally found time to get away for a couple of days and grabbing Mrs Andy disappeared in the direction of General Pinochet lake (don’t ask). We had been told about this lake last season (“if you really want to catch some thirties this is the place to go”) and had determined to give it a visit as soon as weather allowed.
Weather did allow and Andy, spurred on by the fact that he might miss a great chunk of fishing in May due to knee surgery grabbed Mrs Andy, carp tackle and camping kit and made a beeline for this new lake. Unlike many of the State’s National Parks that are home to lakes inhabited by carp, General Pinochet has many tent pitches that abut the water. A quick recce revealed a number with promising swims attached - reasonable water depths, generous but not overly intrusive weed beds and likely looking patrol routes. Unfortunately the lake is also popular with non-carp-targeting campers and many of the tent pitches had long since been booked. Nevertheless, one promising site wasn’t on the Thursday Mr and Mrs Andy rolled up and a day’s fishing would be possible before they had to move to a new pitch.
Depths plumbed and bottoms felt a marker float was sent out followed by a bed of particles and corn, our standard mix from last year. A mismatched assembly of rods and creaking reels were armed with their default rigs. Lead clips anchored quick change swivels onto which ten inches of coated braid, the last three inches stripped back, were attached to a line-aligned size 5 Arma Points with its hair bearing four alternating slivers of yellow foam and plump corn kernels, the pop-up tethered an inch off the lake bed care of a good old-fashioned split-shot
The wait was brief. The resulting fish disappointing. Though eleven pounds of sinuous channel catfish is not to be sniffed at it is still the wrong type of fish. Three hours and three faltering runs later a further trio of unwanted felines had been banked and released. An alternative strategy was urgently required.
Andy was also in possession of a tub of Northern Specials’ bright pink floating balls. More than this he had a jar of Mainline’s Hi-Visual white pop-ups in a milky toffee flavour. The pink, being so outrageously coloured, was chosen in the expectation that any self-respecting catfish would know to steer clear. Minutes after casting out the pop-up rod was away. And soon after that another catfish lay grunting in the net its barbels tangled possessively around the pink treat.
First carp of Andy’s season. Not bad.
As dusk approached and Mrs Andy readied a fire, a continuous screech from the alarm signalled something far more promising. Once the initial run had been turned the weed dampened any more dramatic theatrics and finally the first carp of Andy’s season was banked. At just over twenty-two pounds it was quite a start. On that note Andy rebaited and then retired for the night.
Up again at the crack of sparrows fart he found carp crashing around left and right. First cast yielded a double. Three more followed in quick succession caped by a miniature chap of about four pounds. Mrs Andy emerged, conjured breakfast in her usual magical way and a rejuvenated Andy’s next run felt far heavier. Eventually tired the fish flashed a great vee of caudal orange as it rolled into the net. The scales told a very happy tale of a portly carp one pound short of thirty. Andy reached for the camera only to find the batteries were dead. Looking up he saw Mrs Andy disappearing into the mist to return minutes later with a certain Claire Kleinenacht newly arrived in a neighbouring pitch. She held a camera and yes, of course, she’d happily take and email some photos. The lady’s bright red baseball cap sported the almost infamous slogan “Make America Grate Again” suggesting either a culinary revolution, a wicked sense of the absurd or that she had got hold of a job lot of reject caps and hadn’t noticed. Or hadn’t cared. It was confusing and didn’t fill Andy with any confidence that she would come through on her electronic promise. Still, he and the fish posed anyway and following the exchange of addresses (Andy’s, not the carp’s) the fish was slipped back and Andy returned to his fishing very happy that such a carp had fallen to his rods so early in the season.
A big twenty is a nice way to start the season.
Now, thus far all the fish had fallen to corn. The bright pink pop-up, apart from its dalliance with the wrong type of fish, had caught nothing. Time for a change and the pink one was swapped for the milky toffee. Very shortly afterwards Andy was celebrating a personal first U.S. of A. carp on a manufactured boilie. At thirteen pounds it wasn’t leviathan but it was instant success.
The afternoon remained warm and calm and a couple more doubles were banked. But it couldn’t last and time was up in this pitch. So the Andys moved all their gear down the bank to their new spot. This one didn’t gird the loins. It was further into the arm of the lake, its only feature - and a limiting one at that - was a dense weed bed running parallel with and some twenty yards out from the bank. With little expectation each rig was placed along the weed margin, two of them now armed with the magic milky toffees. Activity was minimal. A small snake cruised past, its periscopic head unwavering, its oscillating body a languid meander, its … (that’s enough Norgate style prose. Ed). A couple of singles came along and in the face of an oncoming rainstorm Andy retired for the night.
Pre-dawn in this new pitch was far less inviting. Chill, damp and drizzly. Even the kettle took an age to boil. Movement on the weed bed suggested some activity though and soon one rod was away to a slow, steady run caused by the third twenty of the session. A small fish soon followed and then another twenty just before packing in time. All had fallen to the marvellous milky toffee and though a more robust test is obviously required these captures may have persuaded Andy to enter the manufactured bait marketplace.
A cracking couple of days for Andy then. Four twenties topped but a big ‘un and a hatful of other fish has certainly opened our carp season in style. Next month we’ll return to General Pinochet Lake. Will we fill our boots? Will we catch? Anything at all? Find out in next month’s Carp Letter from America.