Those far exotic destinations in the world teaming with record book fish will not be a part of my "life list" of angling destinations. So alas, my urban quest for species such as carp will always be a pursuit of mine. Angling is and always will be my biggest passion. Most of the angling trips in recent times are geared towards challenging my abilities and broadening my horizons. This keeps my fishing adventures exciting and demanding which is in it's own way refreshing. Please allow me to share one of my most exciting adventures with you.
Innocently enough this project became an idea while doing research and writing other articles dealing with the history of fly fishing. The types of fly patterns, making bamboo rods, and the evolution of the horse hair line were all studied. A friend and I mulled the possibility of trying to catch a carp using an outfit that was hand made. Not just any fly equipment, but the fishing outfits that were used during the period of time when carp were first introduced to the United States. That event occurred in 1877. The job would not be an easy task to undertake as little is known about this type of equipment. So the challenge was set for me to hook and land a carp with this antiquated gear.
In the beginning of spearheading this project there were many questions that needed to be answered. Obtaining the materials was the first major hurdle that needed to be overcome. Where would horse hair be available for making the fly line? Where could a person get a nice piece of bamboo for using as the fishing rod? There was one question I already had an answer for. The question was, "Where was I going to catch a small carp with gear that was designed to catch trout?" A nearby industrial park housing 4 ponds was always good to me so I hoped that this time would be no different. Carp are definitely a more powerful fish than their trout counterpart. So did I bite off more than I could chew?
Making the fishing rod was the first order of business that needed to be addressed. What type is the bamboo that should be used? How does one select the right piece of material to accomplish the task of making the fishing rod? Again, it seems that there are more questions than answers. So it was back to putting on my research cap. This is definitely a labor of love when it comes to researching anything that deals with fishing. Worldwide there are over 1,000 different species of bamboo with canebrake being the only type that is native to the United States. Calcutta bamboo is the species primarily used in the making of split bamboo fly rods. The rod that I was fashioning was going to be made from a single piece of bamboo. It would resemble a pole more than a fishing rod.
There is a County Park located about 4 miles from where I reside. A big stand of the Bamboo plants needed for making the fishing rod is located within the park boundaries. Some of the plants are 15 feet or longer and very straight. I am quite certain from the pictures that I have seen that this is canebrake bamboo. So after obtaining the proper permission a stalk of this bamboo was cut in order to construct the fly rod. The section of bamboo was then hung in a horizontal position to air dry for a 3 month period. The drying process had to be done off the ground in order to keep mold and decay from developing on the bamboo.
Next on the list of tasks to accomplish was that of making the fly line. Lady luck was with me and obtaining the material was much easier than anticipated. With me being employed by a public school and music a subject taught there two and two were put together to come up with a source for the horse hair. Bows are used to play violins. The strings on the bow are horse hair. The elementary children are a little rough on these bows and the strings break from time to time. The bows are sent out to be restrung. So I asked the music teacher if the remaining hair on the bows had to be sent along with the bow to be restrung. To my amazement he said no. I asked if it would be possible to purchase the horse hair strings. He told me that I could just cut them off the bow and take them. I was elated. He then informed me that the horse hair used to make these bows is a high quality Belgian hair with a consistent diameter. Two items for the project were obtained and it did not cost me a single penny. That is what I refer to as well within my budget.
Braiding this horse hair was the next job in this process. How many strands of hair should be used to fashion a line strong enough to land a small carp? Time for more research. This new research taught me that talented anglers could use lines tapered down to one horse hair to land a trout in the late 1800's. It is estimated that a properly cured horse hair has the same breaking strength as 4 pound test fishing line. After conducting a few tests my Belgian hairs were breaking between 2.9 and 3.1 pounds. My decision was then to braid 3 horse hairs together. This would make the breaking strength in this section of line between 8.7 and 9.3 pounds. Five of these pieces of braided horse hair were tied together to replicate that section of line. Then five sections of two hairs woven together were added to simulate the taper that was used in making the fly lines of that era. This was as far down as I was prepared to go with the taper. The 5.8 to 6.2 pound breaking strength was scary enough for me.
Three months and one week had passed since the bamboo was hung up to dry. It certainly appeared to be dry as it was now golden in colon and not green. Next a light sanding of the bamboo was in order to prepare it's surface for a clear finish to be applied. Three coats of the finish were applied. I deemed that my chore of building the rod was complete. This entire project was coming along quite nicely at this point in time.
Line was then attached to the rod. A small piece of 17 pound test fishing line was attached to the top end of the fishing rod. After that section of line was attached the horse hair fly line was tied. Then at the end a short section of 6 pound test line was affixed to the last segment of the hair. A bread fly made of wool was to be my choice of offerings for the carp.
Would the rod serve it's intended purpose? Would the knots joining the sections of line prove to be worthy? Would the horse hair hold under the pressures a small carp would place upon it? All of these questions and many more were viciously traveling through my mind as if they were taunting me. "Now is not the time to be second-guessing yourself" is what I kept telling myself. "You have done your research and applied it to the very best of your ability." My mind kept thinking about all of the things that could go wrong instead of succeeding with this project.
Okay now it was time to make my inaugural trip with the antique-like fishing equipment. A trip to the industrial park ponds was made. The first stop was at a small foot bridge where many people gather to feed the ducks bread. The resident carp population takes full advantage of the bread scraps not eaten by the ducks and geese. Nobody else was around so I had the whole pond to myself. I threw a few small pieces of bread into the water to test it's richness. Nothing came to my free offerings. Spraying the horse hair section of my line was in order at this point in time. This was done so when the opportunity came I would be prepared. Was this entire project to be doomed and a waste of time? Quickly a plan B location was initiated. A big tree that produced a large amount of shade was going to be my plan B spot.
Upon arriving at this location I immediately tossed some bread into the water in hopes of finding my quarry. Ten minutes pass and there is not even a ripple on the water by the bread. Then just as a plan C was being formulated in my mind a swirl in the water occurred. Experience has taught me that these swirls mean that a fish is taking the bread floating on the water. Was it a carp or just some bluegill cashing in on this free feast? Two more swirls in the water and it was plain to see that there were some small carp actively feeding on the morsels of bread. One of these carp appears too big for the equipment being used for the day. The last thing needed at this point is to have the line break and the entire project become a wash when I set the hook on too large a fish.
My hands begin trembling as the fly is gingerly placed in the feeding zone of the smaller carp. Almost immediately without hesitation there is a swirl in the water where the fly has been carefully placed. The carp actually misses the fly and devours a small bread chunk within an inch of the intended offering. My tension builds as the fly is left floating on the surface of the water awaiting an eager taker. Then out of nowhere a fish engulfs the fly. Instinctively my reflexes take over and the hook is set. The carp was on! WOW! Can someone pinch me to see if this is a dream? Water is actually splashing and I can feel the fish on the end of my line. So what I'm experiencing has to be real.
"Now what is my next move suppose to be since there is no reel on this contraption. There is a fish on the end of the line only a pole length away. There's an angler on the other end of that pole who is standing on the bank and looking like an idiot. Hey! That idiot is me and boy I'm excited. Using the landing net might be helpful in this situation. However the handle of the net is too short to reach the fish. Work the pole toward you to bring the fish closer to the net." Once I finished telling myself all of this my nerves started to calm down. Just a few more feet and this little gem would be within reach of the net. Would my plan come full circle? Would the excitement make all the hard work leading up to this moment worth all the effort? As the net was slipped under my prize as an astounding YES mutters from my lips.
Pictures are taken, the fish is unhooked and released. Next my favorite part of fishing takes place. Watching that fish swim away brought tears to this grown man's eye. This carp was only a few moments older, but wiser from the encounter he just witnessed. The angler was just a bit wiser too.
This project entailed much work, from planning through landing the fish and taking pictures. This thrill will last a lifetime. More endeavors await but for now let me challenge each and every angler reading this to try something just a little different in your approach to angling. It may just add more excitement to your fishing sessions. A big THANK YOU to all who read and enjoy this article.