It’s leaf peeping time. October. The maple trees, turning from their deep summer greens to the bright yellows and reds of autumn, have visitors from all over converging on the vast deciduous forests of the American north-east to oggle the colours. Lovely.
More importantly the carp are preparing for winter too, packing on the weight at this harvest time of year. Gone is their lean look left over from spawning and the heat of summer. Now they are tubby, corpulent animals like former athletes running to seed, the first roll of belly fat folding over their belts. They’ve been feeding hard to allay the oncoming winter, a winter that here will see the waters they live in buried under feet of ice.
We too realise there’s a change icumin in (Lhude sing Goddamm) but it isn’t here quite yet. Not in all its deepest brass monkeys at any rate. We could fish on through this month, all the way across November and likely into December. But we’re buggered if we are going to do that. Winter carping may now be normal behaviour since the pioneers of the early seventies showed it was feasible. But here, as the Fall transgresses into winter proper, temperatures start to reach freezing on the later October nights and the shortening days become decidedly chilly too. October then marks the last of our carp fishing and so the end of these dispatches that are “Carp Letter from America”.
But before the departure we naturally had to get in one more session. Andy’s exploits on The Other Lake last month had opened our eyes to its potential even further. We had considered it to be a prolific doubles water with a number of low to mid-twenties on offer. His banking of a thirty and a big twenty suggested the place had potential for more poundage than we had previously thought. So we scrabbled to rebook a cabin and have a final three-day assault on the place.
Andy arrived first and found the lake level had dropped even further than our last visit just three weeks ago. As the lake is several hundred acres such a loss represents a considerable volume of water. The water was also decidedly cooler. Not cold yet, but down from the balmy swim-in-as-long-as-you-want temperature it had been on previous visits. Would it affect the carp? How much did we really know about their activity? Not a lot really other than this seemed to be an arm of the lake they regularly frequent.
But not now it seemed. Andy spent the first day blanking. What’s more there was very little general activity. These fish don’t mind showing themselves, leaping and crashing about both in the arm we fished and out in the main body of the lake. Andy saw nothing. In response to this absence we’d usually move to find the fish. But on a very big lake with limited bank access it is not an easy task. So Andy stayed in place dribbling in the bait as he waited.
A cracker to get the ball rolling.
Things had improved some when Simon arrived the following morning. Andy appeared much too happy to have spent the night as far away from carp as he had spent the previous day. Sure enough he’d had a large fish at twenty-six pounds just after dark. Four hours later in the middle of the night he lassoed another, a fine twenty-two pounder.
Andy’s report on subsequent activity was less enthusiastic. “I’ve seen and caught f*ck all since then.” Forewarned, Simon put only one rod on the swims that had produced last time and spread the other two out. His third, right-hand rod was placed on a point swim where the bank suddenly turned almost at right angles to run into the arm we were fishing. Eventually this would prove to be a prescient decision. But for a number of hours nothing much happened. The lake had returned to its somnambulant state, no beeps from the buzzers, no fish moving. It was slightly uncanny given the level of activity we had seen on the last trip.
Entertainment was provided by a couple of anglers who moved into a swim down the bank. They assembled longer rods than is usually seen and attached sensible sized reels to them. Could they possibly be that most rare of species – the American carp angler? Any burgeoning filial feeling was lost though when one of them cast perilously close to Andy’s left hand position. Andy was out of his chair like a scalded cat and summoning the voice of his Barnet youth, dripping with all the close menace of the north circular, he roared “Oi, you’ve cast over me f*cking lines.”
It’s at this point that Simon begins to hold his breath. We’ve been told – doesn’t really matter whether it’s true – that many fishermen carry their weapons when on the water. And we’re not talking sharp pointy sticks here but metal things with barrels and triggers. Why doesn’t really matter either: to deep six the boat after a bad day, to practice Robert de Niro lines away from the rank and file, to make sure any fish caught are really, really dead. Whatever the reason, Simon was ready to dive for cover and let Andy take the full force of the leaded response but all that filtered down the bank was a gentle “oh, sorry’” as the transgressor rapidly reeled in. Later he came down to make introductions and further apologies. Turns out he was a pike angler and champion bullshitter. We got on well.
During all this the point swim signaled it was going to be a key contributor by providing Simon with his first fish, a chubby double. With this rod still on the bank the middle rod rigged with a large feeder then snagged a tubbier fish that just scrapped the twenty pound mark by a couple of ounces.
A tubby twenty.
As dark settled around us the point rod was away again to an eighteen and then away again shortly after. The result was a strange misshapen fish with the head and shoulders of a much larger carp but, after a kink in the body about halfway down, the tail of something considerably smaller.
Quasimodo returned we sat on over our rods, occasionally stepping back to the fire to stir the ever-bubbling cauldron of birdseed. Quiet descended again. It wasn’t until two in the morning that Andy picked up a seventeen. Completely out of the blue, no indication that activity might pick-up. A little later a carp did start to leap. Just one but it sounded a huge fish, the splash it made resonating as if someone had pushed a cow out of a helicopter hovering over the water. Not one of those small, skinny Jersey versions either but a great big f*ck-off Charolais bugger. The fish initiated its performance over against the far bank, travelled down to the narrow end of the arm, delivered a series of deep resounding sploshes, before coming back to the mouth of the bay to make two final, valedictory crashes. Our buzzers remained obstinately silent. After this bovine fish had departed Simon held out until a few hours before dawn and then headed for the sack. Andy maintained his vigil and was rewarded with an almost identical seventeen pounder an hour and a bit before dawn.
Morning arrived, dull and sullen. Andy who had climbed into bed at five snored on oblivious to the lightening day. There was no sign of the cow-carp and no more indication that the fish were going to favour us with a visit. Despite the intermittent action we had been regularly baiting our swims knowing (or possibly imagining) that a number of hungry carp might move in at any moment. Now we were getting low on carp food and Simon was volunteered to go off and find some more. Easy enough. Just seek out the closest Walmart. Simon asked the deeply crappy map app on his phone. It told him that the nearest store was 20 minutes away. He followed the electronic lead and the smug bastard of a hand-held communication device deposited him at the local State penitentiary. Walmart may well have several similarities with a correctional institute, many of the customers are certainly criminal, but jails don’t generally sell sweetcorn, breadcrumb and birdseed. Not the ones Simon’s been in anyway. He resorted to the trusted old method of finding the nearest town and asking a local. Which got him to said superstore in a further twenty minutes.
Parked back at the cabin Simon saw Andy manhandling a very full net. Sure enough he’d pinched another fish from the point swim, his third large one at twenty-three pounds. Not only that, he’d bagged another smaller fish within ten minutes of Simon leaving.
The point swim delivers again - Andy’s third large one.
Simon, pleased that there were some fish around but slightly miffed that he’d missed the action, didn’t have long to wait. The point rod was away again less than an hour later and, after a somewhat fraught tussle involving much weed and a marker float and its associated line, a good fish was in the net. On the mat it was a bull-shouldered carp with small, porcine eyes and chain-mail scales that seemed to go on and on.
“That’s a thirty,” said Andy. Simon, as is usual with us, underplayed the weight while mentally hoping it might make the magic mark. Twenty-eight it went in the end, fat, already well fed for its winter rest. Just as Andy began to take a few pictures Simon’s feeder rod went, a fish was played, was landed, was unhooked and returned. Too little ceremony for a carp that only just missed twenty pounds.
A bull carp.
Photos of the bull taken and order restored to our pitches we sat back to wait once more. We waited. And we waited. We moved our rods to bracket the point swim and we waited there instead. By the evening with no runs and barely a beep we’d migrated back to our original swims. Both tired we decided on an early bed and early start - ten o’clock would see us done for the night. At exactly that hour Andy’s buzzer let out its call for attention and he was into a fish that turned out to be short and very stocky mid-double. We gave it another half hour afterwards, just for form’s sake. The cow-carp returned crashing where it had left off the previous night. The display was short lived this time though and we packed in for the night.
The following morning was again quiet. No fish moving, no obvious bubblers. But at eight the point swim again produced a run that turned into another cracking fish four ounces under twenty-six pounds.
A cool morning and another chunky fish.
We had to start packing up. They kick you out of these places at ten and as we bent to our task the next run came. Again to the same rod on the point swim. An eighteen. We returned to packing up hauling out the cooking and sleeping kit from the cabin and piling up the sundry gear we’d brought for a three-day stay. Always too much gear. And then with half an hour to go the point rods alarm sounded once more and Andy’s shout overlapped Simon’s thumping run down the grassy bank. Another strong fish this one almost getting to the other side of the boating buoy many yards away. Safely in the net Simon bit the line and carried the fish to the mat. This one was just shy of twenty-five pounds, but not by much.
A final fish.
Andy hurriedly put a rod on the productive point swim and managed to find a snag that had been invisible for three days. He pulled for a break, dumped the rod and went and got another. He found the snag again but got his end rig back and fished the swim hard, mind bent to willing a fish to pick up his bait. Time slipped away. We had to leave.
An odd session. Long periods of nothing, no runs, no alarm bleeps, no fish showing. But when the fish did come many of them were large. We finished with seven twenties, three of them over twenty-five pounds. And this from a total of seventeen fish caught. These fish, along with those from the other lakes and rivers made this a very special season. Two thirties and nearly fifty twenties is some catching and much of this with us being novices on these waters.
Next season feels a long way away as we look down the barrel of winter. But we’re already planning. A campaign on the Little Lake, thus far almost untouched; a boat to get into those places that look enticing but are barred from bank huggers; a proper investigation of the Big River; plus another lake venue suggested to us by Brian Wingard, Pennsylvania's resident carp expert. And probably more. There is no doubt we’ll catch. This is, after all, American carping. What is intriguing is just how big those caught might be. Our imaginations are already alive with the thought of the fish to come, these great big, wild and largely untouched carp of the United States of America.