Even her sunglasses couldn’t hide the look of amusement in her eyes. “Poor thing. You must be desperate.”
Through no fault of their own, carp don’t enjoy the best reputation. Understandable when you’re the cellar dweller, the janitor of your domain, picking over everyone else’s left-overs. Yet the last few years have seen a change in attitude to carp among fly fisherman – some even openly admit to deliberately targeting them. They grow big and strong, and if you close your eyes and imagine real hard, you can almost tell yourself you’re bonefishing.
When Pinky suggested we go carping, I thought what the hell. He, Caveman and Bill had been down to the lakes a few days previous, enjoying great success. It’d been a month since I’d had a rod in my hand, and with snowmelt and runoff everywhere I wasn’t about to turn down an opportunity to fish.
Crossing over Poncha Pass, you enter a different world. The San Luis Valley, the largest alpine valley in the world, opens out before you, the highway running south straight as an arrow, through Old Mexico. People here still scratch a living out of the earth as they have done for centuries, Utes, Hispanics and Anglos. It is a place where for less than the price of a new pick-up, a person can buy a big square of land to get away from it all. You just need to make peace with the wind, dust, heat and cold, and have an affinity for miles of greasewood and rabbitbrush.
Rigging our rods lakeside, I took in the view. The Sangres stretched north to south as far as the eye could see. Drought has dropped the lake level to where you can wade from one side to the other, a half mile or more, without getting in over your hips. The mud on the shoreline has been baked to a parched crust, the lake’s waters a milky brown, tinged blue under the cloudless sky. There is something serene, something other worldly, about the place. It has juju, a presence. It’s one of the few places in the world where you stand an equal chance of catching a fish, or getting abducted by an alien.
Subsurface, the lake’s inhabitants dwell in a world of murky twilight to pitch black. Visibility is little more than six inches. Stepping out into the water takes faith – it’s like stepping out into a cloud. There is no measure for depth, the smooth, muddy lake bed reassuring you to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
With no structure to cast to, no current save that generated by the fickleness of the wind, you look for “nervous water” to betray the possibility of a fish – somewhere your gut tells you there is activity – bubbles on the surface, a dark splotch or swirl in the milky gloom, a shadow near the surface, perhaps real, perhaps a trick of wind and light. If ever a setting typifies the optimism of fly fishing, this is it. Cast retrieve, cast retrieve, move a little, scan the water, cast retrieve. You fall into a kind of self hypnosis. There’s plenty of time to let your mind wander.
Random thoughts flit through your head: what happened to that girl you had your first crush on in middle school? What is it about politicians and their penises? Why is part of the lake’s surface is rippled by wind, but not moving closer? Then a tug on the end of your line wakes you from your reverie. You feel your fly come loose from whatever it was chewing on it, and let out an expletive heard across the other side of the lake. Spanked again, dammit. Concentrate.
By the end of the day, gorgeous and cloudless, I’d walked about two miles back and forth across the lake, on my feet for six hours, all for four strikes and no hook ups. Pinky fared about the same, while Caveman carried the banner with a fish landed and several more broken off. With a couple of hours of video footage of me staring around and casting to nothing, I had to pirate these photos of the previous trip from Pinky. Despite the lack of success, I’d go back in a heartbeat.