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The Big C

John Bartlett grew up in Whitefish, Montana.
His Dad bought him his first fly rod in Missoula and it was there, in the middle of town on the Clark Fork River, that he caught his first trout. Montana’s rivers were his first muse. He’s since had a thing for angling. Work required him to move west to Portland, OR about 14 years ago. He fished for salmon and steelhead in the surrounding rivers, but quickly grew weary of the crowds.

“Fishing shoulder to shoulder in some meat hole on the Clackamas wasn’t exactly doing it for me,” says John.

Instead he started exploring the banks of the Columbia River, looking for carp. It took a minute, but he figured it out and, in time, fired up the Carp on the Fly blogspot and his avatar John Montana. He’s quick to admit that he didn’t have any real intention of becoming a quote-unquote blogger, but rather he was simply looking for a way to swap carp stories with some friends. That is, the few who were actually interested in this non-native bottom-feeding species.

ABOVE John Bartlett doing the carp creep.

Here is John’s blog bio: ‘I used to be a respectable angler…now I fish for carp.’

That said, John is a respectable carp angler. Dude can really get ’em. He’s spent the better part of 14 years stalking these fish. He’s caught carp across the country and he considers the Columbia river carp the trickiest to catch. As he’s come to discover, the fish in the Columbia won’t move for a fly.  Maybe, they inch a little to the left or right, but to get them to eat, you have to put your fly about six inches from their mouth. These carp don’t come easy, especially the ones John is targeting.

“We’re after 20-pounders and mirror carp,” says John. “That’s all that really matters to us.”

ABOVE John getting bent by a Big C beauty.

Mirror carp are rare. John figures there are about 1 for every 50 common carp. A quick primer on the fish: Same species, but different variety. Common carp have an even, regular scale pattern and are more long and lean. Mirror carp have irregular and patchy scaling, which is sometimes thought to resembles mirrors. Mirror carp are typically rounder too. You’ll see a couple in the film. Copi Vojta landed the mirror of the day. That’s the ender fish in the film.

John was kind enough show Copi and I around the Columbia, to a stretch that was thick with carp. He even showed us the flies he uses. He rigged up a two-fly combo with his signature John Montana hybrid carp fly and a trailing San Juan worm. His technique was to cast, then drag the fly into place and drop the rig over the carp’s head, landing one fly on either side of the fish. Then he’d wait for a sudden movement, a slight flash of color or the subtle turn of the carp’s mouth. See that and he’d set the hook.

ABOVE Columbia gold.

After a slow morning with spooky fish, we were into them all afternoon, at one point wading up to a small bay that had to be holding thousands of fish. We fished until the 15-pounders and the 100-degree heat had us fully-zorched and retreating for coldies and shade. We saw one other person all day and countless fish. Most were in the 10-to-15 pound range. One weighed in at 19.5 pounds.

John was a little disappointed. See, he’s caught a lot of carp. More than his fair share. He’s got it pretty well figured out. But, the big ones and those Mirrors, that’s what keeps him casting. So yeah, he makes remarks about it when he doesn’t hit his mark, that self-imposed poundage quota. He’s bummed, but, not really. He still brought more than a dozen carp to hand, fished in near-solitude all day and made it home at a reasonable hour.

That’s carp fishing on The Big C.

ABOVE Columbia river hydrodynamics on display.

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