“Gloria, want to go carp fishing?” This was the third invitation I had received from Lukas. There was nothing attractive about carp to me—not their reputed smell, nor their puckered mouth, nor the locations where they hang out. But my Florida flats trip was canceled due to Covid, and I had heard something about carp being the poor (wo)man’s bonefish. This time I said yes. I was hesitant to even bring my camera. Would there be anything picture-worthy? Just in case I decided to pack my 35mm film camera and a couple of rolls of film.
With Lukas’s pin and Google Map’s instructions, I arrived at a large lake in the middle of central Washington. There was nothing particularly inviting about this lake; it was hot, dusty, and barren. When I rolled into the campsite there was no one there except for an old “cruiser” in his 1980’s RV and Lukas in his Toyota Yaris.
Lukas greeted me with overwhelming excitement. I, however, wasn’t convinced. I had dreamed of the flats of Belize, Florida, and when I was feeling a little extra, the Seychelles. I never thought my next flats trip would be in the middle of Washington. But I forced a smile on my sunburning face, and Lukas pretended to buy it.
Within the first few minutes of walking the lake’s flat, we spotted a few plumes of dirt in the water, evidence of carp feeding. “Cast out this fly.” Lukas handed me a cluster of feathers on a hook. “You have a plate-sized margin of error.” I gave it my best shot, and it landed in the center of the plume. A huge fish slowly swam away; must have spooked him.
We circumnavigated the lake next to the highway for a while longer, climbing onto the guard rails to achieve a better angle. We timed our cast appropriately in order to avoid hooking a car. This was not my idea of a pristine fly fishing trip. When Lukas noticed my apathy, he suggested we find another spot on the lake.
We drove a few minutes to another pullout where we had some shelter from the busy highway but not from the wind. A breeze had picked up, so I orientated myself for the wind to (hopefully) aid my cast. We began wading the lake looking for plumes of dirt or shadows. I was casting toward a few fish, oops rocks when I heard some action to my left. Lukas hooked a carp, and I painstakingly netted the giant. I snapped a few photos, and we released that quirky creature back into the lake.
Being up close and personal with one of these fish, even though I had not caught it myself, I found some beauty in its scales, coloring, tail, and even a bit of cuteness in its mouths. I wasn’t disgusted like I had expected; I felt a drop of the same affection I feel for my dog, Berto.
The wind picked up and spotting fish became harder with white caps forming on the lake’s surface. When a shadow approached me, I made a precise cast. The shadow moved slightly. Lukas signaled for me to take. I expected a fish on the other end, but I had missed it. This happened multiple times and was the most challenging part of carp fishing. You don’t feel the take as you do with other saltwater fish. You aren’t stripping to mimic a baitfish. With carp you just drop the fly in front of their faces, let it sink and sit, and try to spot when they eat. It is a challenging task, and I felt a growing appeal and maybe even an addiction associated with this style of fishing.
Over our two days of fishing I failed to catch a carp. But the trip was no failure. This was not the New Zealand Browns or Montana Cutthroat I have become accustomed to. Just because at first glance it doesn’t belong on the cover of a fly fishing magazine or in an adventure documentary, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t beautiful.
A fish is a fish, and that tug will always be some sort of drug for me. I will always find my best self on the river, the ocean, and even on the side of a highway on a barren lake in central Washington. I have yet to catch a permit, a giant trevally, or even a bonefish. My days of travel and exotic fish will come, but for now, you will find me on the lake chucking clusters of feathers into the water for a giant goldfish to swallow.
Covid 19 has challenged everyone in unique ways. The hardest part for me, and an obvious clue of my privilege, has been the lack of travel. A lesson learned: there is value in enjoying what you have, where you are, and the people who surround you. I had big plans for summer 2020, mostly including tropical fish and crystal clear flats. Those plans changed. I learned to look at my home with wonder and excitement as I would a tourist in a foreign country. I didn’t get to cast my fly out for tarpon or false albacore, and one day I surely will. But I discovered a new type of fish that requires fewer funds or fuel—the carp. And if you don’t look too closely or focus too hard on the details, you could say these carp look something like a bonefish.
Article by Gloria Goñi, a content creator based in Bozeman, Montana. Check her out on Instagram at @lapescadora.