I fished with Carl from ~10:30am-11pm on the 14th. The initial plan was to hit a series of beaver ponds for larger browns then during the hottest part of the day find brookies hopefully hitting dry flies. The last time we fished this water it became apparent that it would fish well in the height of the summer and it’s rapidly getting there. We figured after we fished the section up we would double back to the truck, re-fuel and hit the ponds again at night. As we drove out I remembered a spot I had seen carp on a previous trip years ago and was curious if anything was around. Carl seemed game for a bit of exploration and we had plenty of time to stop and so the plan evolved. Be water, be malleable, have an idea of what you want to happen but be prepared for and be willing to alter that plan for whatever may come your way be it muddy water, other anglers or a different opportunity.
We pull up to find calm, brown water under cloudy skies. I had my rod rigged for trout with a streamer thinking of the ponds and brown trout. I wasn’t expecting to see much but I figured if I spotted signs of carp that it would reinforce my memory and give me more reason to return. Initially things looked bleak, the water was so turbid you couldn’t see more than six inches down and the sun was no where to be found. The only glimmer of hope came from carp leaping from the deeper parts of the water.
We decided to walk a bit of shoreline to see if maybe I could spot a tail. Ten minutes later I’m staring down bubble trails, lots of them but not the same bubble trail image I’ve come to expect with sustained bubbles, almost frothy small bubbles and sometimes moving on a trajectory. This time I was seeing bubbles then they would disappear and reappear five or more feet away within a minute or so. I suspected carp but couldn’t be sure. This situation appeared nearly impossible, unknown depth, unknown target, just a hunch and then Carl asks “Do you have any carp flies?” And I paused, no, no I did not. I tried my streamer on one spot but it felt wrong. I pulled out my boxes and found three flies I tied on huge hooks with a heavy bead and lots of weight, a depth charge. You couldn’t fish this fly in a typical carp setting without spooking the hell out of everything but I thought in the turbid deep water it might work. I took a few steps in and it became quickly apparent that it was more than waist deep. I wasn’t willing to go any further until I had proof in hand. I searched until I found a consistent trail. Cast, wait, wait, wait, wait some more… Set the hook. Nothing. Repeat. This continued for maybe 10-15 minutes on multiple trails before I worked out how deep the water was, probably close to 6 ft which required a significant amount of time before setting the hook. When I finally worked out the depth and found another bubble trail to cast at I got lucky and hooked into a smaller carp. As soon as it ran and it became clear that my 3wt trout rod with a click paw reel was going to get a workout despite the small size of this fish. Oh, and no net to land it, totally unprepared. I am not a good enough writer to express both how difficult (near impossible) this situation was or how elated I was to find my fly squarely in this carp’s mouth.
I didn’t want to quit after that fish. Confirmation the bubbles were carp. Lots of bubbles around if you looked carefully, lots of carp. At this point the desire to see these fish got the best of me and I started wading out into the water a bit. Mud bottom and I’m sinking maybe a foot but no more. I’m knee deep and thinking this is do-able. Carl’s watching me from the bank and not following me, totally brown water with no indication of what lay ahead, this was out of my comfort zone but I could see bubble trails and lots of them out maybe 25ft further so I inched forward until I was standing in waist deep water with carp all around me. I put my fly on every bubble trail I spotted, most were unsuccessful but I managed one more fair hooked fish and two that were close but popped off. I can’t see a thing and I’m trying to cast out 10-20ft and anticipate the trajectory of my fly and the depth to get it in a 6inch window and hoping for a solid eat, this is a big ask of the universe. When I was fighting the few fish I managed to hook (again with my 3wt and no net), it felt glorious despite the smaller sized fish. This continued for a few hours and while I’m slowly wading further and further out into the middle of this brown water Carl is watching me and trying to cast at bubbles from shore. My verbal harassment finally convinced him to start wading in but by this point the opportunities had lessened and I feared my wading was spooking fish I couldn’t see. The choice to pack up and head for trout was made.
Fast forward a bit and on a trout stream with my initial set up of a #6 Blue and White Dirty Mop and Carl rigged with a dry fly. The summer jungle is in full swing with burning nettles almost head high in some places and stream side grasses equally as tall. We approached each spot with Carl getting first crack, the dry fly was likely to be more successful on undisturbed fish. Carl and his buddy have been working on a crane fly pattern that looks just phenomenal and today was his opportunity to test it out. Within the first few casts he knew it was going to be successful. I swung in after he landed one or two from each spot and the Blue and White Mop worked as I expected, a few aggressive fish came out and after those the others weren’t having it and we would move on. The deeper parts of the stream were off colored owning to the recent heavy rains that hit southeastern Minnesota. The shallowest areas were very clear but the deeper holes were stained making for ideal conditions. I tried out Carl’s crane fly pattern which when stripped in like a streamer would produce explosive rising as fish chased it down on the strip, this will be a fly I work on and fish in the future. We stopped and sat on a hole for a while, drank a beer under the sun which had finally decided to show up. The overcast morning made for a very comfortable day to wet wade and as we sat there I took note of the time, mid-afternoon with more sun. I was thinking of those carp and if the sun would present a better situation. As I would find out the sun may have come out but with it came wind.