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Saturday, January 21, 2012

A Tale of Three Farts

I published this magazine article about 5 years ago.  Katy and I have been married 34 years now.  In the article I reference having been married 29 years.  The first paragraph is possibly slightly exaggerated but not that much.  (if at all)  The rest happened exactly as I described it.

I am posting this article now in response to the comments and discussion in this post concerning noise and putting Carp "on alert" or just plain scaring them off.  

Rereading this and rereading my fishing journal entries from 6 to 8 years ago I am reminded how darn important it is to do everything I can to keep from putting Carp on alert.  

The Tale           

In order to tell this tale I must first make a disclosure.  You might feel sorry for me, you might be embarrassed for me, you might identify completely, or you might be envious.  Who knows?  Maybe it’s a confession, maybe I’m bragging, I don’t know.  Either way, it needs to be said, so here it is, I’m good at farting.  Actually, I’m quite good at it.    There it is; I said it.  I know you Good Ol’ Boys in the South know exactly what I’m talking about.  I know y'all do!  You boys in the Midwest are down with this skill also; yeah, you betcha.  All you boys out here in the West get the picture.  I’m a little concerned though about some of you blue bloods in the Northeast.  With your dignified little putt putts, I bet you’re wondering what it means to be good at farting and how one gets to be good at this skill.  Without going in to too much detail let’s just agree that in no particular order the measures of “good” are: duration, sound volume, and frequency.  Plain and simply I excel at all three measures.  I’m good at farting and I enjoy it.  I don’t know how other people get good at this but I know how I got good at it.  Practice, practice, practice, that’s the key.  I have years of enthusiastic and frequent practice behind me so to speak.  So with the fact that I am good at farting established let us proceed with our tale.
While stalking Carp I sometimes wade the flats and I sometimes fish from a small Zodiac.  The Zodiac is only 8 ½ feet long.  That measurement is for the external length.  The interior space is much less because of the diameter of the tubes and because the transom is over a foot from the end of the tubes.  The Zodiac is a marvelous platform from which to fish but it does have some noticeable limitations compared to wading.  The floor in the Zodiac is made of 3/8 inch plywood with aluminum grooves.  I am able to stand in the boat and stalk fish.  While standing to cast, one of my shins is often touching one of the tubes of the boat.  When I change positions from sitting to standing or visa versa the boards and PVC tubes creak.  The boat will even creak if I just shift my weight from one foot to another.  This can be very annoying.  Normally it wouldn’t seem like much to me, except that is, when I’m Carp fishing.  Those darn Carp seem to be hyper sensitive to the smallest little noise. 

On a warm, July day in 2004 I was fishing from my Zodiac.  The eastern Washington wind, which often howls, was almost non existent.  The water was clear, the sky was blue; amongst the sunbathing and cruising Carp there were feeding fish.  I had hooked and released some fish; it was shaping up to be a marvelous day.  By day’s end several more fish had been deceived by feathers and fur.  Lots of fish to cast to, some willing ones amongst my targets, and perfect conditions, all made for a peak experience.  For whatever reason there are days when my confidence in my own casting goes up or down.  Some days I’m sure I’m going to place the fly in the desired spot.  Other days I just don’t have it.  This particular day, my confidence was running high.  I had made some “money” casts and got some hookups.  There was an occasional breeze which sometimes helped move me into position to make a cast but sometimes it moved me out of position.  A nice fish moved in to the swim I was working.  He began tailing immediately.  I suppose foreshadowing; there was a gentle puff of wind which moved me slightly closer to my quarry.  I was false casting, picturing a perfect cast.  Even before I delivered the line I could see the subtle take in my mind’s eye and feel the first explosive run.  I was making my last back cast setting up for my perfect delivery when suddenly there was a noise.  This was no gentle puff of wind; alas, I had farted.  Keep in mind I’m quite good at it but also keep in mind please that those darn fish are spooked by even the slightest little noise.  The fish bolted immediately.  I have seen Carp bolt for some easy to explain reasons and at times for no apparent reason at all.  I assumed that it was only coincidence that this fish bolted just as I made some sound.  I mean, well, yes, I’m good at it, but while I thought it was funny, there was no way I could have made enough noise for that fish to hear.  Good grief he was 35-40 feet away.  I laughed to myself about it several times and laughed when I recounted the story to others, including my very patient wife.

A year later, almost to the day, I was back on the same water.  Again, I was in my Zodiac.  There were some wispy clouds overhead, the kind that look like someone found a few fat, puffy ones and tried to sweep them away leaving track marks in the sky.  There was some wind, enough that it made stalking more difficult, but not enough to make casting impossible.  The water was cloudy.  It was still clear enough for me to see tailing fish but because the surface was disturbed from the wind the fish were a good deal more challenging to spot from a distance.  Because the wind was moving the boat I got only one cast at an individual fish as I came into range unless I anchored.  I had fished three hours and had released only one fish.  I wasn’t getting many casts to good targets.  When I did cast, if I wasn’t anchored, I was fighting the drift of the boat.  The line would belly very quickly; if I mended it I spooked the fish.  If I was anchored, the boat was swinging on the anchor.  Again, certainly not impossible conditions, but not ideal either. 

I had moved upwind again and was beginning to drift down the lake.  There were some tailing fish but by the time I saw them I was usually too close.  The wind subsided as if it had been running up hill and needed to take a rest.  The surface of the lake calmed and just like that a tailing fish came into view.  He was off to my side so rather than move my feet and risk making noise I turned my upper body to make my cast.  Both the Carp and I were fully engrossed; he looking for hapless critters in the mud, me trying to trick him with my fake.  I had made just two false casts and was delivering the line.  Just as I let go of the line with my left hand I let go with something else.  And yes, it was a good one.  Just before the line landed on the water the fish bolted and left me staring at a cloud of mud.  I hadn’t moved my feet, the floor boards hadn’t creaked: it just had to be a coincidence; that fish just couldn’t have heard my rumblings.  Rested, the wind found its breath; with renewed energy it started blowing.  I dropped anchor and as I did so another cloud of mud appeared not far from me.  I had spooked yet another fish.  I sat down and grumbled.  It wasn’t shaping up to be a marvelous day at all.  In fact the single fish I had already released would end up being my only one for the day. 

The previous year I thought that it was funny when I farted and a fish bolted.  It was easier to make jokes about it because I had a great day and because I thought it was humorous coincidence.  Now I actually started to wonder.  Could those fish actually hear or sense a fart?  Surely they couldn’t.  Or could they?  I thought something else made those fish take off, possibly a signal from a shoal mate, maybe seeing my funny looking face as they looked up through the water, maybe the sight of the boat, and maybe the moving shadow made by the fly line just before it hit the water.  It just had to be one of these things. 

The boat is in obvious contact with the water so any sound from the boat is easily transmitted.  My feet are always touching the floor boards and my leg is often touching the side of the boat so any sound from me is easily transmitted to the boat and so on.  I started to take my own joke more seriously so I read and reread things I had studied the past few years.  In several sources I was reminded that Carp have elaborate sensory systems which enable them to hear better than most fish and to detect subtle changes in their environment.  They have the traditional lateral line along with internal Carp ears of sorts.  If that’s not enough, quoting from the Dictionary of Ichthyology, “The Weberian apparatus is four bones and associated tissues connecting the gas bladder to the inner ear and conveying pressure changes and sound.”  Now wait a minute, a lateral line and internal Carp ears seem fine but not this Weberian thing.  That’s just not fair.  I think it makes the darn Carp too smart for its own good.  The kidding aside I really was starting to believe a Carp could be scared by a good fart. 

I headed to the same lake about 10 days later. While driving over and while setting up my gear I had again been wondering about, and actually marveling at, just how sensitive Carp are to changes in any part of their environment, particularly to sound. It was a calm day, the sky was absolutely clear; the water was only slightly off color.  I could spot tailing fish from quite a distance.  My sense of anticipation was very high as I pulled out from shore.  I was planning to fish a new Carp pattern.  I had tied two dozen of them in couple different sizes.  After only a short time out on the water a slow cruising fish stopped for what looked like a serious breakfast.  He was about 35-40 feet from me. He was perpendicular to my line of sight.  I had loosely, coiled line hanging from my left hand, the fly was pinched between my left thumb and fore finger, rod in hand I was perfectly poised to make a money cast.  Suddenly I felt the urge, so to speak, to perform a piscatorial assessment.  I had to act decisively to make sure that no other variables intruded.  I had to decide if I was willing to forego casting to this wonderful fish in order to have my question answered.  I farted.  The answer to the assessment was immediate; the fish made a hurried escape. 

Please know that each of the three experiences actually happened just as I described.  The results were also just as I described.  Being serious, the experiences gave me cause to pay much closer attention to the noise I make when stalking Carp.  In so doing, I have observed in several different instances that accumulating noise is not nearly as frightening to Carp as a sudden noise from the same source and of the same volume.  For example, if I am motoring along with my small electric, I can literally go right over a feeding Carp before it will bolt.  If I start the motor up even 20 or 30 feet away, the sudden noise is enough to send the fish to deeper water.  If my buddy and I are talking as we approach a swim of tailing fish they aren’t as likely to spook as if we begin talking after we get there or after the fish get to us.  I know another Carp fly rodder who fishes from a larger boat and uses a gas motor to move from one area to another.  Again, the gradual accumulated noise isn’t nearly as bothersome to the fish as the sudden noise.  Just last summer he had his motor wide open.  Sadly, he hit a sunbathing Carp.  If he had been stopped within 60 feet of that same fish and then started the motor the fish would have run immediately.  Again, the Weberian apparatus makes Carp so alert and discerning.  I guess to achieve “World’s Greatest Sportfish” status a fish has to have some serious assets.  Indeed, Carp do.

At the end of 2006, as I do each year, I wrote out goals for myself covering several parts of my life.  Areas that I work on setting goals are: personal, professional, financial, spiritual, family, physical, and social Included of course were my fishing goals.  My fishing goals included among other things: new places to which I plan to go, numbers of fish I hope to catch, size of fish I hope to catch, number of days I plan to go fishing, people with whom I plan to fish, flies I intend to tie.  As I review my goals I realize that I need to ask myself what am planning to do to help myself achieve these goals. 

Based on the results of my piscatorial assessment I am seriously going to work at stalking fish more carefully.  Even if I don’t see a fish bolt that doesn’t mean I haven’t alerted or scared more than one with a careless movement or sound.  In fact I should assume that I have.  I realize from the tale above that I am probably scaring fish I never see.  I’m not just scaring them away I’m keeping them from coming anywhere near me since they hear me long before I see them.  This is a critical lesson for me and I need to adjust my tactics accordingly.  I made a list of things I need to stop doing.  In a huge way I need to avoid so many things like: the clippers dropping, the radio plopping, the anchor thumping, the boat bumping, me telling, my buddy yelling, my feet pounding, the motor sounding, my backcast splashing, the water thrashing, the boat bag sliding, the trout guys chiding, the gravel crunching, my sandwich munching, the floorboards creaking, and the boat seat squeaking.  All of that said, when stalking feeding Carp, this coming year I will do everything I can to minimize the noise I make, even if I enjoy making the noise. 

Epilogue:  My lovely wife of nearly three decades just finished reading this article.  She commented, “In social settings, in the car, at a movie, at the grocery store, shopping for furniture, and during the night when your wife is trying to sleep, none of these situations have ever got you to stop farting.  But now, finally, after 29 years, you’ll hold back for Carp fishing?  What does that tell you?  Hmmm…” 


  1. Mr.P.,

    Holy cow! Just how much tonque in cheek (pun intended) was that. Probably not much. Anything placed on the ground noisily, a net for example makes the uber carp aware that all is not as it should be. Unless you are not a fisherman. My favorite park is overun with disc golfers. Great sport, but not in MY waters. Those guys are always looking for discs and finally this year I saw a guy out there with 3 cruising carp coming his way, sure enough they simply went slightly wide around him. OK here they are to me, an errant cast and all 3 are gone. Jay Zimmerman called trout 3rd. graders. Carp? PHDs with an occasional human like lapse of judgement. Wonderful tale!


  2. I knew it!!! I fish from a canoe and have always believed a good blast against the plastic seat sent reverberations far and wide over the carp flats, spooking every fish in sight. My wife thinks I'm insane. Going to make her read this!

  3. Gregg, except for some slight exaggeration in the introduction it was all true. I published that article a few years ago. Since that I have tested my theory while standing in the river. It holds up in the river too. I had to put some effort into it but it still scared fish.

    Ty, oh swell, she thinks YOU are insane; if she reads the post what would she think of me?