The Cataract Story – by Christine Stout

What does a closed lake, getting thrown out on your ear by DNR for “camping” in a “no camping zone”, cliff descending, hanging and climbing, flat tires and auto mobile rescue missions have in common??  Christine Stout’s weekend of carp fishing that’s what!

It started out as a normal trip, key word STARTED of course.  Gathering and packing for a weekend adventure of big carp pursuits!  I found a few die hard fella’s to join in on my adventure come what may be and we are off to visit the long anticipated big fish venue of Lazy L Lake in Terre Haute, Indiana.  It was an hour drive of chattering and talking about the winter blues and how we were all going to absolutely tear up the fish in this lake and give the lake owner something to remember.

So, we arrived at Lazy L to discover that the lake was not yet open to the public for insurance reasons and no matter how much begging, whining or good ole California girl talking I was prepared to do, the answer was still a resounding “NO”.

Okay, so there must be somewhere else to fish around this neck of the woods…let’s go find it!  HEY!  I think we passed a river on the way in here…let’s go check that out!  So off we go, only to discover that the river was moving fast and none of us had brought any really heavy weights since we had planned to fish a lake.  Hmmmm, what to do???  My genius is starting to set in again (which usually spells trouble) and I say let’s go fish that park we went to last weekend.  The fish are small, but with all of us ready to go and in the groove of getting it done we better find somewhere because now it is getting dark.

So we arrive at this no name park on the edge of Terre Haute and who the heck knows what else, we determine that this looks like a fine spot to fish and set up for a couple of days.  It’s clean, isn’t crowded and as a bonus, fish are rolling.  Problem is, the spot we want to fish is bout a half mile around the park and no one has a barrow either.  I point to the newly poured concrete path going round the park and say “I bet we could just hop over this little curb here (pointing at the one that is SUPPOSED to keep you from driving along this newly poured concrete) and drive our stuff back, drop it off and no one would be the wiser”.  Like good little lambs everyone hops in their carp mobiles and follows the sheep herder to their selected fishing spots.

A bit of grunting and shuffling later, stuff is off loaded, camp is set up, carp mobiles are back in the parking lot, rods are in the water, carpers are carping and all is well.

During the night we dined on grilled pork chops with peach applesauce, mac n cheese and fresh fruit (yes I bring a grill everywhere I go).  Everyone was jovial and a few fish were caught making this seem like a really good choice of fishing spots.

After a decent nights slumber in a well heated bivvy, I awake with visions of bacon and eggs running thru my head.  After a good yawn and stretch I unzip the bivvy door to come face to face with what could be the angriest DNR officer I have yet to meet (and for some ungodly reason they all seem a bit grumpy to start with).  This one in particular bypassed surly and went straight to irate when I cheerfully greeting him with a “Good Morning Officer”!  I can assure you the cheerful expression I previously was wearing on my sleepy mug when I greeted the guy was quickly replaced with a look of utter surprise when he spouted off with “WHAT the (bleep) are you doing here and WHAT the (bleep) made you think you could camp here?  He proceeded to tell all of us to pack our (bleep) and get the (bleep) out.

What I didn’t know was that sometime during the night, one of the guys got too cold in his bivvy, so he drove his car back down the path and parked it amongst the newly planted trees so that he could sleep in it to keep warm.   One of the other guys who had already talked to this grumpy man had spent a few minutes trying to convince him that his OBVIOUS tent was not a tent, it was a “shelter” which is not camping at all, just a place to keep warm.

What I found out was the DNR officer was smarter than he looked.   He was wise enough to notice the frost on the tent and the bivvys which obviously meant we had been there all night.  He also had good eyesight because he was able to spot the vehicle illegally parked in the trees.  He was also acutely aware that someone (points at herself) drove along the path to unload stuff because there were tire marks along the newly poured concrete that had the nice little curb that was supposed to keep people from doing that.  Also noted was he did not have a problem walking me like a two year old to a sign that CLEARLY read “no camping”.  I wanted to say something clever like “oh, that applies to me, too” but thought I would likely see the guy bust a vein in his forehead or steam come from his ears or something.  I did however have the nerve to ask if I could drive back there again to pick up all our stuff…..he was not amused.

Somehow, we managed to get everything packed up in RECORD SETTING time, after being searched for any Trout we may have stashed and got back into our carp mobiles to figure out what was next.  I piped up with “let’s go to Cataract Lake”!  Heads started to bob in agreement and off we went.  Now you would think after the morning we just had I would try to make sure I guided everyone to a place where we could drive right down to a swim where it was easy to get to and more importantly LEGAL to be at…..NOT!!

After driving around the lake for a bit I settled on a road ( well not really a road, a dirt path with a couple of tire marks on it) that ran down the side of a very tall bridge down to a ravine where there was a part of the lake that looked like a great fishing spot since there was no one down there and great bank space.  I can tell you this, there was a terrific reason no one was down there.  A few of them in fact, the first one probably being the most important really.  It was a  death defying act to get down there.  The angle of the path itself was pretty much straight down, bout the width that a golf cart could comfortably stretch across, wet, sandy and very very badly rutted from the snow melt.    Now, what I was driving is considerably larger than a golf cart, it’s a ¾ ton 2 wheel drive full size utility van.  I did mention it was 2 wheel drive right?  This come into play on the getting back up the hill part…  My husband was in the passenger seat, hanging on to the “oh (bleep) bar” above the passenger door with white knuckles and furiously slamming on the invisible brakes he believes are on the floorboard on the passenger side to no avail.  If you have ever seen the cartoons where their eyes bulge out of their heads on springs, yah he looked JUST like that.  We pretty much slid down this steep embankment to the bottom of the ravine after teetering on two tires once or twice.  Once we made it down there I cheerily said “what the heck were you worried about, I had it the whole time”.  My husband was rendered speechless for the next few hours.

Nothing like a near death experience to get your rear in gear for some good carp fishing, right?  So we get set up AGAIN,  only to discover that this wonderful place I have taken us to is just 2 foot of water!!    Can’t give up hope now, if we bait up real well, we may be able to see them coming in this shallow of water!!  So, bait up we did, 4 anglers down there, everyone had a great area to pitch camp, plenty of bank space and water in front of them and we did what we do best, we catch carp!

Each of us caught 12 or so fish, all very small in the 1 to 7 pound range but after the last 24 hours we had, any carp was pure joy to us.  Somehow I managed to sneak in a lovely 16.15 lb beauty, which is unheard of at Cataract falls. This fish definitely broke the “Hoosier Carpers” records for fish caught there and still waiting to see if it is an actual lake record or not.

Possible lake record carp at just under 17lbs.
Possible lake record carp at just under 17lbs.

All good things must come to an end, time to pack up and drive my chariot back up this treacherous hill.  I did discover that there was another path on the other side of the bridge that looked marginally wider, but just a bit steeper.  I opted for this route since I just about demolished the other path on my way down.  Our buddies that came with us decided to go up it first in their 4×4 to show me how easy it was.  It sure did look easy….but easy it was not.  I gave it a roaring go, making it bout half way up the hill before starting to lose traction, eased back down the hill and gave myself a moment to gather my thoughts and plan my next go.  I dropped it into first gear and headed up only to discover that on first gear I could not pick up enough momentum to get this bulky carp tackle filled beast up this steep hill.  Back down I go for a few more moments of silence.  Tires scream, dirt and rocks are flying as I tear up the hill at the fastest I could manage without soiling myself and just as I get to where I can see the light, to where I know I am going get over the crest of it I hear this horrific noise.  It is a noise that we all know EXACTLY what it is when you hear it.  It is the sound of all of the air WHOOSHING out of a tire in the snap of a fingers time.    Yes, rolling back down the hill I go, on 3 tires and a rim this time.

Oh Dear!
Oh Dear!

An hour later AAA shows up with some heavy equipment and chains and various other things that rattle, yank and pull you out of whatever idiotic situation you may have gotten into.  Now during the time of us being stuck down there, a pair of local sheriffs decided to see what all the ruckus was about.  They were friendly chaps who aside from laughing at me driving down there in the first place didn’t have a whole lot to say.  The DNR officer that was right behind them was a different story entirely though.  I am fairly sure he was either related to or friends with the previous one I encountered because they sounded an awful lot alike.  “WHAT the (bleep) are you doing here and WHO the (bleep) drove THAT (pointing at my crippled carp mobile) down there?  I meekly raised my hand in utter shame and thought, here we go again.

This brings about the OTHER reason people do not drive down there, it happens to be part of the state park, no vehicle or camping allowed.   This DNR officer, although very annoyed, DID see the humor in the situation and found me very amusing.  In a few minutes time of carp chat and such we were like old friends and he was helping the tow drivers (yes I said tow driver(S), it took more than one) to get the van out.

All in all, was a great experience with friends, caught fish, learned some new laws and such and just for the small cost of a new tire…can’t beat that!  Oh yah, forgot to mention….I also found out I am NOT immune to poison ivy as I previously had thought……Must have brushed my face up against a little in one of the trips to the “woods”…..