THE STALKER As a stalker I am obsessed, studious, patient, my movements light and fluid; QUIET and I’m determined, relentless, stealthy, aggressive, and confident. Now that I’m retired I will have more time to develop and fine tune, even finesse my stalking capabilities. And it is my good fortune that there are so many targets to stalk. My quarry, my prey - is the common carp (Cyprinus carpio); I started stalking carp 15 years ago and in that time my methodology for stalking has undergone a lot of change. One thing, however, that hasn’t changed is “stealth”, stealth is the stalker’s best friend. My primary approach when I started fishing for carp was from a boat being poled as if fishing a bonefish flat in The Keys. Standing on the bow of a boat as it is slowly poled along a flat or the shallow edge of an island is a great way to locate fish. Poling a boat requires great stealth. Friends in a boat quickly learn to use hand signals between the guy on the push pole and the angler as talking out loud can spook wary carp. Lifting the pole out of the water with mud on the end that “plops” back into the water can spook wary carp. An electric motor instead of the pole: spooks wary carp. In recent years I have spent more time wet wading for carp along the shores of Central Washington’s inland reservoir for the Columbia Basin Irrigation Project. It is here that I’ve been refining my stalking skills. Stalking carp along the shoreline not only requires stealth and patience but clear, blue sky and a minimum of wind. When fish are present in good numbers it may take an hour to move 100 yards. What are the stalkers worst enemies? Clouds, smoke from forest fires and wind rank right up there, so does a carp guide who boats in his clients to Blind Point; but it’s a free country and he does have that right. Clouds obscure the bottom of the lake, even with the best of polarized sunglasses, clouds destroy the stalker’s vision of the lake bottom. Smoke from the forest fires is almost as bad. And wind that creates a surf and white caps moves the fish out into deeper water. My theory on the wind is that the waves make so much noise crashing onto the beach that the fish lose their ability to hear predators such as stalkers like me so they flee the shallows seeking refuge in deeper water. On Labor Day, I woke up early and fixed coffee and breakfast and later in the morning decided it was time to go stalking. I grabbed my Lefty’s “professional series” TFO 05 10 4, my Choco’s and headed for Road J NE. I was determined to locate and the stalk the wary carp. I’d been disappointed the last two outings, unsure of why I couldn’t find any fish but, like all good carp stalkers, I was determined to find my prey and stalk it to where I could present my crayfish fly and fool my target. The weather was picture perfect for stalking fish; not a cloud in the sky and only a light breeze. A little breeze is the stalker’s friend, unlike heavy wind, a light breeze dampens waves and ripples made by the stalker. I was looking for nervous water or mud plumes from active “rooters”. A rooter is a carp that is aggressively digging into the lake bottom looking for food. The lake bottom where I fish is made up mostly of silty gravels, mud flats or solid basalt littered with basalt cobbles. A rooter in the silty gravel or mud flat is often invisible in the silt plume he’s made while rooting but that silt plume is also camouflage for the approaching stalker. Below is an example of a large bowl rooted out by a carp. Without sounding too arrogant, I have a habit of naming stretches of stream bank or lakefront. There’s a point on this reservoir that I’ve come to appreciate so I’ve nicknamed it “Buzz Point” and the bay it forms “Buzz Bay”. On Labor Day, with the “tide out” so far, Buzz Bay had changed dramatically, in fact there was a new “island” formed and naturally I coined it “Buzz Island”. Conceited? Hope not. The bay behind the island and the water surrounding the island covered perhaps an acre; gradual slope to the bottom and the deepest section about two-feet. I cautiously waded out and quickly spotted a feeding carp, rooting away perhaps 20 feet from me. I lobbed the fly halting the cast so the fly landed quietly about five feet in front of the fish. I let the fly sink and slowly stripped it in towards the fish. I saw him lift his head and swim forward; a pretty good sign he was on my fly. I lifted and the fish was on, he came to the surface, rolled once and took off for deep water. A few seconds later my backing knot zipped out the guides and the fish kept going. I was palming the reel spool to assist the drag and finally managed to get the fish stopped and started cranking him in. You have to love large arbor reels when you have a lot of line to retrieve. As the fish came towards the beach, he decided to take off again but not quite into backing. Then it was this back and forth fight and in the end I slid the carp onto a mat of rotting vegetation on the shoreline and removed the barbless fly. I laid my rod down, lifted the fish and let him swim out of my hands. He was so grateful that his tail thrashed and splashed my face and glasses. I managed to hook three more fish and land two of them before the bite was over. To date, I still hadn’t landed a smallmouth bass. I needed one so that meant more trips to Road J NE. I woke up the first Sunday of September to a perfect carp day; bright blue sky and nearly no wind. Of course, trying to judge “W” at the house in Ephrata and relating it to the reservoir is foolhardy; I know it but I do it anyway. Certainly if it is really windy in town, I likely won’t waste my time driving up to the lake. But this time the relationship of nearly no wind in town to the lake worked out okay. At least it wasn’t white capping at the lake and the sky was bright blue. I was determined to cover a lot of shoreline so I’d brought along a lunch for a break midday. I didn’t see but one fish on the half mile hike to Buzz Point and I managed to thoroughly spook that fish. At the point, I slowly, cautiously and quietly waded out. I could see a shadow in the riffled water, I studied it carefully trying to determine which end was the head and which end was the tail. The fish moved so I guessed correctly and cast in front of the fish and he immediately swam forward and ate. It was a smallmouth! I love fishing and catching carp, and I also love hooking and landing nice smallmouth. They’re such hard fighting fish and this fish was no exception. I finally got the fish to me and without picking him up, removed the barbless fly and let him go (with a slight pause for a picture). The past couple of trips had been somewhat frustrating as the crayfish pattern I’d been using seemed to cause panic when the fish would see it or they’d flat refuse the offering. I looked through the three fly boxes of carp flies that I carry when I’m fishing and picked out a funny looking wooly worm with peacock breast feathers tied on as a tail. It looks like nothing that I know of that would be in the lake but I suppose it could be mistaken as a dragon fly nymph. Regardless, the effect on the fish was immediate. The smallmouth had taken it hard and so did two carp in quick succession. PEACOCK BREAST WOOLYWORM Peacock breast feathers are interesting, they’re a beautiful shade of blue when on the bird and tied onto a fly but as they get wet, the blue tends to become almost neon green. Peacock breast feathers are another material in my stalker’s collection (you will also find them on some of my steelhead flies). Stalking carp begins in early spring, certainly no wet wading in the icy waters, instead its wader time. One spring morning I was at Blind Point when I noticed nervous water; I studied the water and could see a small school of suckers cruising along when all of a sudden several carp quickly swam into the back of the school. What I think I witnessed was female suckers broadcasting spawn and the carp keying into this and feeding on their spawn. Of course my fly boxes have a few patterns called “sucker spawn”. As the waters begin to warm, carp lose all interest in feeding and turn to spawning. At times the spawning ritual is pretty comical to watch. Hens will cruise along the shoreline with four or five bucks following her, you can sometimes see her roll on her side and the males following suit. Sometimes they broadcast their spawn in and amongst the tules and cattails which makes for a lot of thrashing and splashing. Carp are broadcast spawners and in spawn mode: lock jawed. But after spawn, the fish can be pretty aggressive. It’s at this time when I begin stalking in earnest. STALKER’S SUCCESS THE STALKER’S REWARD SHADOW OF THE STALKER As autumn approaches, the sun is lower and lower on the horizon and more filtered; not as direct, not as bright and shadows get longer and longer. And the water gets colder and this old stalker beings to think of late season trout and of steelhead while never quite forgetting the joy of stalking. A few more thoughts on stalking: CRAYFISH PATTERN – ONE OF MY FAVORITE STALKING PATTERNS FOOTWEAR Over the years Randy and I have used multiple forms of footwear for wet wading and invariably we end up with sand or gravel inside the shoe. Sand is fine, sort of exfoliates the feet. Gravel is another story, not only uncomfortable but can lead to open wounds. I often wear Choco’s; more recently I’ve switched to old running shoes with a pair of athletic socks. It’s important to keep your footwear snug and secure; it helps the stalker capture his prey!