The tradition continues at Sweetgrass Rods;
crafting fine bamboo fly fishing rods

Thanks for the wonderful craftsmanship. You guys are amazing.
Frank D.


a1sx2_Thumbnail1_carpediem1.jpgI learned many Junes ago when high, discolored runoff was peaking throughout Montana, a fishing trip back East always seemed like an alluring alternative. Although this plan meant missing out on Big Hole salmon flies or Henry’s Fork green drakes for the season, the conditions in the East were prime at that time of year for a variety of angling opportunities, and a long road trip always resulted in many exciting adventures. From New York to Maine to Newfoundland, the drive never seemed too far -until it was time to return. But often the most exciting fishing prospects were the ones close to my childhood home on Grand Island in Western New York. From trout in local streams to bass in the Niagara River, there was never a lack of places to go or fish to catch. And before life drastically changed for me a decade ago, even carp became a sought after prize. But now that the dust has settled a bit, including a move back East, the time seemed right to reconnect to those days I left behind.

Getting out of the truck in the parking area overlooking the Upper Niagara River a few weekends ago I realized that it had been nine years since I last stood in that very spot. Gazing at the river flowing serenely beneath a June-blue afternoon sky several miles before the vast volume of water makes a turbulent tumble over the world famous Falls, I appreciated that it was indeed rare to return to a place that looks very much the same as it did when I was a kid sixty years ago. Appearing more like a lake than a river, the Niagara’s current is deceptive, but these days the water is crystal clear as well as much cleaner and healthier than in my youth. Back then cousin Paul and I would catch the occasional smallmouth or northern carefully casting lures so as to avoid hooking dead fish floating by in varying stages of fungal rot. And in June we were always fascinated with the large numbers of huge carp flopping around the shoreline in a swill of stinky water and slimy algae. Although we tried to hook them on worm or lure, the effort was often thwarted by snagged dorsal fins resulting in the complete obliteration of our wimpy Zebco outfits as Volkswagon-size fish screamed straight toward Canada. Back then, we didn’t know much better.

For many Junes that followed I would wade the shoreline of the Niagara in search of smallmouth bass while disregarding the prodigious population of plump carp prowling the shallows in a frenzy of spawning and feeding activity that was quite the spectacle. Apparently these fish have been doing this ever since they were introduced from Europe and long before I was a kid in the 50s, but remained mostly ignored by anglers- as is often the case with carp. At one point, however, it occurred to me that since the knee-deep water along the shore no longer resembled a flowing cesspool, maybe fly-fishing for these behemoths would be a logical consideration. At the very least, I figured, the challenge should be good practice for my next bonefish trip. But it wasn’t until a dozen years ago that I finally made the leap into the kingdom of carp thanks to a local fly angler known to everyone in the area as “Coach.”

It seems that Coach is a Buffalo legend noted for his dedication to the pursuit of carp and his relentless effort to elevate this piscatorial porker to the well-deserved status of sportfish worthy of its porcine-like size. Until his retirement, Chris “Coach” Garcea was a physical education teacher and swim coach at a nearby high school, and on the nice guy scale, he is a ten. I met him about fifteen years ago at the Oak Orchard Fly Shop in Buffalo. Although Coach loves fishing for Lake Erie steelhead in the fall, he devotes six weeks every May and June to the sole purpose of stalking carp. And while many of the other local fly anglers are chasing Atlantic salmon in Quebec, striped bass in New England, smallmouth on the river and Lake Erie, or trout in area streams or even the Catskills, the Coach’s singular commitment to these Great Lake’s goliaths is unwavering. He has developed flies, tactics, and techniques based upon all the subtle nuances it takes to understand this particular species of fish. So when Coach offered to take me to his favorite spot on the Canadian shoreline of Lake Erie in 2003, I jumped at the opportunity. And after an entire day and an exhaustive effort of casting to a cadre of innumerable finicky carp, the lesson paid off with a few chunky fish. Coach is truly a guru. Thus, armed with that knowledge and a few of Coach’s flies, I finally caught my first ever carp in the Niagara River a week later, along with a few more the year after that. But unfortunately those days were short-lived as time then slipped away.

a1sx2_Thumbnail1_carpediem2.jpgStanding at the tailgate of my pickup while stringing up the rod amidst a barrage of random memories and solemn thoughts, I prepared for smallmouth bass, but listened for the familiar wallowing and splashing that would indicate the presence of my long lost quarry. Unlike so many other occasions in the past, however, this time I would be ready for any carp encounter. But just before heading to the water, a vehicle pulled into the lot and out stepped a familiar face.

“Is that Coach?” I yelled across the blacktop and added, “I can’t believe it!”

Shaking hands and laughing about the chance meeting, we then caught up on the many years that have passed much too quickly. After telling him I was just reflecting upon that day we spent on Lake Erie and how it barely seemed like yesterday, I thanked him again for sharing his enthusiasm for carp with me. In turn, he thanked me for alerting him to the carp fishing along the shore of Grand Island. In fact, he said, it saves him from going to Canada as often. I suppose telling the border guard that one is entering their country to go carp fishing could raise a cloud of suspicion in this heightened era of security, so why take the unnecessary chance. Coach then told me he was on a scouting mission that day to get ready for the annual Carp-O-Rama tournament that would be taking place the following morning.

Nick Pionessa, the manager of Oak Orchard Fly Shop, founded the Carp-O-Rama event ten years ago to promote the joy of carp fishing as inspired by Coach. It is an informal gathering that concludes a day of carp capers with beer, barbeque, and fish stories for all those who participate. A uniquely odd carp wind chime is first place prize for the longest fish of the day as measured and determined by the honor system. The winner then gets to hang the chime at his or her house house until the following year. My brother Rick usually takes part in the festivities and notes that a good time is always had by all. When Coach asked if we were going to be there, I told him that Rick and I had intended to go out for musky in a small lake an hour away the next day, but added that all plans could change due to the stormy weather system approaching the area. Before going our separate ways, though, Coach encouraged me to show up for Carp-O-Rama, and also invited me to join him and another mutual friend for a day or two of steelhead fishing in the fall. Hopefully we will make that happen. After his departure, by the way, the carp I eventually found that sunny afternoon never even looked at my fly.

Next day the weather was as crappy as predicted, so Rick and I weighed our options – Carp-O-Rama or musky? We concluded that the bad weather would likely have less of an impact if we stuck to the musky plans, but we couldn’t have been more wrong. While the toothy predators went AWOL during the storm, we were told that Carp-O-Rama was the best one ever. It seemed that the hulky critters liked taking flies in the rain and many were caught. In fitting tribute to the tenth anniversary of Carp-O-Rama Nick caught the longest one of the 2015 event.

As it turned out, Rick and I should have “seized the day” on the Niagara. But instead of carp-e diem, for us it was crap-e diem. The coincidental meeting with Coach the day before was the foretelling omen we should have heeded.

In the end we learned that trying to out think Mother Nature is one thing, but ignoring the Cosmos is another.

To make matters worse, according to Nick, this was likely the last year for Carp-O-Rama. So unfortunately for Rick and me, next year is not an option either.
Bridges of the Ruby River
A Cherished Day

Comments 1

Guest - steven summers on Saturday, 15 August 2015 16:08

The poor mans bone fish. Hope all is well with you Jerry, and tight lines.

The poor mans bone fish. Hope all is well with you Jerry, and tight lines.

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