Muck, Sewers, and a Beautiful Fly Fishing Experience
Updated: Oct 25, 2020
The rusty water treatment pipe that emptied into the river gurgled and then erupted downstream of where I was fly fishing. I had just waded through the spot where stained water was now gushing into the current. Things like that happened, so I turned back around and continued scanning the river for carp feeding in the shallows. It was not like it was raw sewage anyways.
Winding its way through Columbus, Ohio the Olentangy River skirts besides the Ohio State football stadium, under walking paths, and around old quarries filled in with water and re-purposed as public parks. Yet, even though it sits squarely in the center of the city I have rarely crossed paths with other anglers wading through the river, and never another fly fisher. I cannot blame people for walking past and dismissively looking down at the 'Tangy with its brown off-colored water and littered banks. Living within a ten-minute walk it still took me well over a year to finally go down to the banks and wet a line. What convinced me to change my mind? Carp. And more specifically the carp society that had sprouted up around the LA River.
Before I ever fished the Olentangy, I was in LA visiting my brother and had brought my fly rod along. There were a few mornings I had time to explore the city while he worked so I dug around online for any local fishing knowledge. Again and again, I kept coming across the LA River with fly anglers raving about pursuing carp along its concrete banks. Intrigued I decided to venture down to the "river" and see if I was being played. Arriving at the river I stood atop the hot concrete and looked across at trees and bushes patch-worked with homeless tents and tarps. For a moment I felt like a moron. But on the far bank something streamed in the air above the tarps, it was a fly line. All I could think was "You have to be shitting me."
Before the morning was over I had landed my first carp ever. My first cutthroat trout caught on a fly was in a mountain stream in the Cascades, my first bonefish in Belize, and first brook trout was on the fabled waters of the AuSable. I caught my first carp on a hybrid squirmy wormy fly pattern in the LA River. Two other fly anglers had arrived upstream by that point and pumped their fists in the air in a congratulatory gesture towards me. The whole experience broke every notion of what fly fishing was supposed to portray, and it was fun.
One week later I was kneeling in the muck of the Olentangy eyeing a flat that held numerous feeding carp. A couple of mothers pushing strollers glanced over at me and I am convinced they could not make heads or tails of a what they were staring at. The carp were recklessly rummaging through the shallow bottom sending mud clouds through the current as I inched closer on my knees. Dropping the excess line at my legs, I gave two quick false casts and then dropped the fly right on the dinner plate of the nearest carp. I landed three that day, two took me into my backing. Now it was time to start exploring more urban rivers, like the Scioto River.