Fear of the Dark
by, John Finney
No, not the Iron Maiden song; rather my first experiences of night fishing for carp.
This has been a crazy year for weather in Colorado. First with the never ending freezing winter followed by boiling hot days, cold nights and record rainfall, dust storms and electrical storms, high wind; sometimes all in the same day. The volatile conditions have made this year’s fishing a real challenge. After many a day session blanking this summer, burning up in the heat, without hide nor hair signs of a carp, it was time for a change – for me that would be, night fishing!
For many carp anglers, overnight sessions are the norm, rather than the exception. Yes, I have fished into the hours of dusk before, nothing remarkable there. However I have only fished once through night, but a few years ago, to test out some tackle and lighting options.
You may ask yourself, why?
Well, there were many reasons, safety being the primary concern. Many of the more urban Colorado venues are not the most hospitable as twilight descends, that’s the polite way of putting it. Many other urban lakes have limitations on the hours you are permitted to fish, no night fishing, or dawn to dusk angling only. Once out of the city there are then other factors to consider, the obvious one for us here is, the wildlife. I am fortunate enough to live in a state that has mountain lions, black bears and coyotes, to name but a few. This is not to say you are animal food the minute you set foot outside the city limits, but you do need to be more aware of your surroundings and appreciative that we are living in a wilderness.
Here was a picture I took a few years ago from my driveway, black bears in our garden!
None of these things were a consideration when I fished, back in my homeland of England as a youth. The only wildlife to be wary of there was a stray dog, or an annoyed mother goose, if you setup too close to her nest! Was I being paranoid? Hopefully not, though I do acknowledge I was being overly cautious.
Given the safety issues I decided it was important to team up with another angler in the upcoming night fishing operation. With my variable work hours this was a difficult proposition. I was fortunate, a passionate angler new to carp fishing. He was eager for the challenge and happily offered to join me for an evening session that worked with my hectic schedule – btw, thanks Ron Altman!
In advance of the trip we discussed what changes in our preparation and gear would be required. From lighting, to shelter, devices to heat up drinks, camcorder lighting, head lights and warmer clothing. Fortunately we were both very familiar with the venue and swim. If we had not this knowledge then certainly we would have scouted the venue and swim in advance during the daylight hours, or arrived at the location much earlier. I can imagine nothing worse than turning up at a new venue in the dark, no clue of the layout, swims, parking or even rest areas. With the date set, we readied our gear and finally descended upon Chatfield Reservoir, CO – armed for battle!
We arrived at the venue a few hours before dusk and were greeted by the usual Colorado early evening thunderstorm. Thankfully the storm was moving out of the area and we were able to safely head down to the shore after a short wait. In light rain we setup the shelter, ground sheet, rod pods, prepared our rods and finally the baits were cast out. All our necessary gear was setup within reach, the carp mats and cradle, a pair of landing nets (in the event of a double run), camera tripods, lanterns, everything we thought we would need. It would be fair to say we had gone a wee bit overboard in our preparation and gear – better to over engineer than not be ready!
Feet up, we watched the sun setting against the mountains and waited for the highly anticipated carp action.
Ron had brought with him an underwater camera. He bravely waded out into the reservoir and setup the device in 4 feet of water; dropping his bait down so we might catch a glimpse of any fish that came to investigate. I do admit to misjudging just how deep the water was. As Ron waded out into the reservoir he almost vanished beneath the surface as it got deeper, and deeper, the surface edging ever closer to the top of his waders! A good lesson in just how well I actually “knew” the depth and layout of our swim – which I had plumbed before, with a marker float. I was very supportive from the bankside in offering encouragement, “just a few feet further”, I would call out, through the fits of laughter.
A cable ran back to the shore from the camera to a monitor, we called it, our “Carp TV”. I must say, it worked remarkably well, with a good field of view and resolution. As dusk fell, and the light diminished, we saw bass, perch, crappie and, we think, a carp that swam high overhead. Sadly we had no way of recording the footage from the monitor – something for us to consider for the future trip.
We both fished with two rods. Ron setup his first line with sweetcorn on the hair, popped up with some plastic corn, panko/oats flavored pack bait. His second with a pair of 15mm Nash Instant Action Coconut Crème boilies, again with the panko/oats pack as an attractant. I fished one rod the same as Ron, popped up sweetcorn and the other with pair of NGT 16mm squid and octopus boilies, both with panko/oats pack.
Most nearby shore anglers and park visitors departed as the light faded away, though a few stayed, their bonfires blazing upon the shoreline and casting a red glow into the night. We both thought it was against the State Park regulations to have open fires upon the shore. This was soon confirmed as a pair of State Park Rangers stopped by to talk to us briefly then headed on to cite the enthusiastic fire makers. With all the dry weather we have in Colorado, the terrible wildfires of the past few years, it was sheer madness to build a fire on the narrow shore with trees limbs dangling overhead! The camp fires were soon extinguished. A few hours passed and neither of us saw, or heard, any carp action before us.
We decided to wind in our lines, check the baits and cast them out again. I went again with one rod on the popped up sweetcorn but switched the other from the squid and octopus to a pair of NGT white chocolate 16 mm boilies topped with a 12 mm fluro pink pop-up – a real mouthful for the local carp. My logic being “bigger baits = bigger fish” – which certainly has not often proven to be the case.
It was just after 9pm.
The white chocolate had barely been in the water for five minutes when the Delkim bite alarm screamed with a fast take, run lights flickering brightly into the dark. The battle was on! Line peeled off against the drag and the fish took a good fifty yards before slowing from that initial powerful run. In the darkness I found it difficult to see the angle of the line to water which made bringing it back in harder than I had expected. Only in the dark do you appreciate how many visual clues you rely upon when playing a fish.
Early into the fight I could tell this was a good sized fish for Chatfield, though I was not 100% certain it was actually a carp; in the back of my mind I was thinking, it’s a channel catfish. The run was straight out from the bank with very little sideways action. Carp at this venue are notorious for kiting to the side and then straight into the bank, the shallows, gravel and rocks.
After about five minutes I had the fish in close and Ron waded out with a net. We could finally see those welcoming carpy scales glittering in the torch light – moments later the fish was in the net. We placed the carp in the cradle and could at last see this was a good common carp capture for Chatfield. The average carp from this venue runs around 10 to 11 pounds with both commons and mirrors. There are many nice mid to upper doubles and more rarely a 20. This was a very long, slender, healthy looking male. He weighed in at 24 lbs, 8 oz on the Heaton scales and was an impressive 36” in length.
This was one angry fish. I am not certain if it was just annoyed at being brought form the darkness into the light of our lanterns, or was simply having a bad carp day. It took quite a while to finally calm down in the cradle. A few other anglers and beach goers stopped by to admire our capture, many had not seen a carp before, let alone, a 20+ lb fish. I took the opportunity to talk to them about carp and carp fishing. I use every opportunity I can to showcase the species to others in a positive light. Carp have a bad reputation in Colorado, deemed responsible for every and all ill that befall any body of water. Attitudes towards them are changing slowly though, in their favor. For me the past few years have been a project of one angler educated at a time, and in turn, one more potential catch & release carp fisherman for the future!
With some video footage taken we returned the fish to the water in a retainer sling. We continued to fish into the early hours of the morning but no more carp were to grace our nets. Tired, a little damp and cold, we called it a night around 2am and packed up, heading back to the car park for the long drive home.
We had learned much from our first night of fishing. We were well organized in advance of darkness falling. We had a plan on what to do when we hooked into a fish and knew where we were going to land them. The cradle setup, nets and sling were ready, bucket for water nearby. The swim was kept clear of obstructions with nothing underfoot to be tripped over – given we also had a gas lantern, last thing we wanted was to step atop it and start a fire.
I learned that though we had lanterns galore I still did not have enough, or appropriate, light for filming. I also totally forgot to take any still photos of my capture, in the all elation of the seeing that 20 in the net. This had been my first carp capture at night. To say I was a very happy man, is an understatement. The memory of my first carp, landed in the darkness, will stay with me for many years to come.
As I think about it now, a few weeks later, it had not simply been the safety issues that had discouraged me from fishing into the night, or an irrational “Fear of the Dark”. It was the lack of experience, or more importantly, confidence, in adapting to the new conditions and challenges the darkness would bring. In the end, everything worked out well. It was a good session, a fine carp was banked and I once again got to spend time on the bankside with a friend.
Will I fish again at night? For sure, I am already planning the next trip … this time, with more lighting, and hopefully, more fish!
I highly recommend, if you haven’t tried night fishing, give it a try …