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Monday, April 29, 2013

When the Alder Leaves are One Inch Across

September 5, 1973 was my first day as a teacher.  Could it have been that long ago?  As excited as I was to start my career I had no idea how much I would come to love what I did.  I told kids every Friday what a privilege it was to be their teacher.  And it was.  My life revolved around the school schedule and to a certain extent it still does.  The school schedule is prescriptive and regimented.  Even though I have now been out of the classroom for 4 years I still think of time in terms of the school year calendar; I probably always will.  I know this is 2013 but for me the year “started” in September of 2012 and will end in the summer of 2013.  Summer Carp fishing occurs at the “end” of the year. 

In the early 70’s, before I was married, I would  fish during spring break which was always in the beginning of April.  For several years a friend and I went to Vancouver Island to fish for trout during that time.  My friend knew a family on the island.  Norm and Billie were their names and they were always kind enough to let us sleep at their home and to feed us.  After breakfast Norm would drive us to a different lake each day.  From one year to the next and from one day to the next conditions varied; we had some good days of fishing, and we had some blah days of fishing. 

All of the water we fished with Norm was open year round.  Not having an opening day was, at the time, quite strange to me.  I wondered when there isn't an opening day how do you know when to start fishing.  Howard and I went to Vancouver Island during spring break because that was when we had the time to go and because the water was open.  The opening day for lowland lake trout fishing in Washington was usually two or three weeks after spring break. 

The second year Howard and I fished with Norm, the fishing was a lot better than the first year.  I felt very clever as if somehow I had learned a lot from the previous year and become more skilled.  Billie packed big lunches for us every day.  During lunch that second year I was visiting with Norm about his water being open year round.  I said that we came during spring break because that was when we had time.   I said to him, “Since you can take time off whenever you want, how do you decide when to start fishing when there is no opening day?”  He said to me simply, “When the alder leaves are one inch across.”   

That simple sentence has stuck with me these forty years.  I think of it in terms of when to start fishing for different species but also in terms of life.  In part it is a reminder to me to not rush things; as anxious as I can be to do certain things and to make some things happen, sometimes it is just best to wait until the alder leaves are one inch across. 

That second year the alder leaves were all pretty much ¾ of an inch to a full inch across.  Maybe I hadn't really become so clever after all compared to that first year.  It was just warmer.  Bugs were hatching, fish were feeding. 

When we arrived at Norm and Billie’s home the third year the first thing I did after saying hello was look at the alder leaves.  I was so disappointed to see that they were all ½ inch across.  I desperately wanted to find some, even one, which was a full inch across as if finding even one wide leaf would make the fishing better in the morning.  I couldn't  find a single one inch leaf.  We caught fish but the fishing wasn't nearly as good as the year before. 

So how does a person know when to start Carp fishing?  When is Carp season?   How do Carp know when to start showing up in the flats that I love to fish?  Carp don’t know when opening day is; heck here in Washington and Oregon there is no opening day for Carp fishing.  And plus, what do I know about the calendar anyway?  Heck I still think the year starts in September.  

And so it is with Carp fishing now as it was with trout fishing on Vancouver Island 40 years ago.  The beginning of the season has nothing to do with laws or regulations.  It has to do with nature.  It has to do with me being attuned to the weather, the water temperature, and  the river level; it has to do with me giving  mother nature her due respect.   

Carp are my favorite quarry but for me the enjoyment is diminished if I rush the beginning of the season.  I applaud all the anglers across the country who are willing to fish in so many kinds of weather and settings.  I believe I could have caught some Carp last month.  I chose not to even look for Carp let alone fish for them.  I was catching trout and patiently waiting for the “alder leaves of Carp fishing” to be one inch across.  

I hadn't really planned to Carp fish until May this season.  Recently we have had some unseasonably warm days in central Washington.  The ice was off the lakes two to three weeks sooner this year than the previous two years. 

One might think that because I am 62 and my days of wading the river for Carp are numbered, I would press the start of the season each year to get in as many days of fishing as I can while my legs still allow me to.  Actually the opposite is true.  Because I am 62 I am more willing and able to wait for the "alder leaves of Carp fishing" to be one inch across.  

This past week was Katy’s spring break; she and I came to the Carp Lodge on Wednesday.  A month ago I thought I would trout fish a day or two while we were there.  Since it had been warm, late Wednesday I drove to a spot on the river near the Carp Lodge to do some scouting.  I have caught many Carp there.  The spot is only available for a few weeks a year when the water is high.  When I drove up there was no water at all which meant there was no need to hope or even pretend that I might catch a fish.  There are years when the water never comes into this spot; this may be one of those years.   Heading back to the Carp Lodge was an easy decision. 

The weather forecast for Thursday was for mostly clear sky, light wind, and temperatures in the 80’s.  That is not normal for April.  Thursday morning, thinking the “Carp alder leaves” just might be an inch across, I headed to another spot on the river. 

I have been trout fishing a fair amount these past two months and have caught some wonderful fish. 

Even on the very good days of trout fishing this year, the fishing doesn't require, or allow, for the kind of riveted attention needed to visually detect a subtle take by a Carp.  Having been months since I last Carp fished I wondered if it would take me awhile to remember what that simple movement to the fly looks like and when to set the hook.  The first three fish I cast to, didn't want my fly.  Possibly they didn't like the sound of my cleats, the splash of the Carrot, the shadow of the line, or maybe they didn't like my hat.  Maybe they didn't like me talking (quietly) to them and telling them to pick up the fly. 

It appeared that the fourth fish couldn't hear my cleats, couldn't see the line, didn't mind splashes, and really liked my hat.  When he made a slight move to his right I set the hook.  While I was extremely happy that he took the fly I was every bit as happy, possibly even happier, to know I hadn't forgotten what a take looks like.  There was no hesitation or wondering; I just stuck him.   An eleven pound Common was a great way to start the season.

In addition to a good number of Commons, to my pleasant surprise, two Mirrors ate the Carrot during day. 

I thought this linear Mirror was particularly picturesque.  Actually, I thought he was beautiful.


I netted this common and unbuttoned the Carrot.  I tipped the net slightly and he swam away.  I so appreciated him showing me my backing.  

The alder leaves of Carp fishing are one inch across.  Carp season has begun.               


  1. Nice story Mr.P!

    Some of my best fishing is in winter so I am not used to, as a Rocky Mountain fly fisher, used to anytime off.

    Phrenolgy, I think the term, of matching vegatative events with fly fishing is an ancient art. However that is with trout, and, normally I believe in it. But with carp, it is as it is when it is, and for some of us we stubburnly try to make it last more than it should. Your patience sure paid off in gold! I am pleased for you!


    1. Thanks Gregg. I have come to enjoy the anticipation more than rushing things.

  2. Great story and some excellent fish, Mr. P.

  3. One of the best posts I've read on any blog in a long time Mr. P. And you're right. That mirror is beautiful.

    1. Thanks a lot Ty. While I was playing that Mirror he sloshed on the surface several times. His scales in the sunlight were very cool.

  4. I like to use tulips blooming. It is a terrible marker. Always too early, but I am always so anxious that I would find some stupid excuse to be too early anyways.

    1. Heck Trevor, maybe you could find something that is happening all year long and use that as a marker. Then it would always be time to go Carp fishing. :))

  5. Fantastic write up Jim. I always enjoy hearing your thoughts, thanks for sharing. And those look like some great fish. That mirror was gorgeous.