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That Guy Fly Fishing on the National Mall

by Jonathan Wright   |  June 11th, 2018 0

(DISCLAIMER / TRIGGER WARNING: The following story contains references to both politics and fly fishing for a specific invasive species.  Any opinions expressed do not constitute the positions of the publisher, and no implied or expressed responsibility for outcomes resulting from reading or participating in subsequent social media dialogues are to be assumed — Jw.)

It’s time we had a national conversation about fly fishing.  Not regarding the mental and physical health benefits of outdoor recreation, or youth outreach, or even conservation and environmental concerns.  While all of these are valid and important issues within the context of the sport, what has suddenly and jarringly been thrust into the consciousness of the republic is a fundamental question: What does fly fishing mean for Americans?

As reported in the Washington Post this week, a fly fisherman was spotted angling on the National Mall in Washington D.C. Not only fishing, but actually catching fish on the lawn in the flooded margins of the Tidal Basin adjacent to the Potomac River.  Recent heavy rains on the east coast have swollen the Potomac to record levels, with an incoming tide compounding the problem to the point that flood waters breached the low barriers protecting the capitol grounds.

©-Loic-Pritchett--Washington-Post

Photo by Loic Pritchett/Washington Post

Guides in Pennsylvania have recently been posting online complaints about high water putting off early season fishing in that state, and conditions in general back east currently stand in stark contrast to the drought being endured out west, with float guides there facing the possibility of now having to offer wading trips at reduced pricing for the rest of the season.  While the two situations couldn’t be more more different, this brings us to the topic at hand.

Let’s not get off-track and start in on the question of what might be causing such unusual weather conditions, as that is a contentious subject in it’s own right that would probably derail discussion.  What is the more urgent issue is to find out exactly what kind of fish are now being taken on fly gear almost within sight of the White House, and who the heck has been doing this?

One would presume that any fish that are being allowed to reside on the capitol grounds would be representatives of the best that America has to offer — species of unquestioned pedigree and significance to the sport and our country. Native Brook Trout would be an obvious choice, with a historic position as the first fish in America to be taken on the fly. Smallmouth Bass — the “gamest fish that swims” — would also be a strong contender for representing the values we’re talking about.  Even the Striped Bass, an ocean going species that would not be unusual to find making forays into the brackish waters of the lower Potomac could find argument for inclusion into the exclusive registry.

But this was not to be the case.  The fish in question that had breached the perimeter our nation’s most revered monument was an invader, a fish so persistently rejected in the lexicon of angling literature that the very notion of it being able to just traipse unnoticed into the Reflecting Pool would provoke a sense of outrage among many.

That fish was a Carp.

Oh, I know what you’re thinking, and I can hear it now:  “Uggh — this guy again? Going on about Carp?  Really? AGAIN???”

Listen, I can’t help what lands in my inbox on any given week, and seriously, it’s hard enough to find things to write about without rehashing one of my old war stories or some color variation on a fly pattern or whatever. This is a news piece.

The point is that a Carp just sauntered unescorted into a secured federal district during a flood disaster, and began helping himself to a liberal portion of whatever bugs had washed up out of hallowed ground. I’m not trying to be deliberately inflammatory or to imply a sense of entitlement on the part of this carp here.  The fish was just trying to survive, and resources were available. I get it.  But do we have a responsibility to provide for the well-being of an invasive species when so many of our native fish are struggling? Conservative estimates put the population of Carp in the U.S. now at several hundred Bazillion, and that doesnt include the uncatchable vegetarian ones that are stampeding up the Mississippi. Hard questions.

©-Rob-Snowhite--Washington-Post

Photo by Rob Snowhite/Washington Post

The other thing about this deal is that the fly fisherman in question — a Mr. Arwel Evans — isn’t even an American Citizen. The guy was a Brit here on vacation. Seriously? Without question, the English invented the game, and are largely responsible for the genteel aesthetics of it, starting when Isaak Walton first tied a feather on a hook.  There’s also no debate about the role that the Brits and other Europeans are having in pushing Carping as a new frontier, and kudos to Mr. Evans for his initiative.  But that some foreign agent would see fit to take advantage of a situation where unprecedented weather events could provide for his amusement is beyond the pale.

During the Revolutionary War, George Washington famously threw a silver dollar across the Potomac,  showing his troops that the goal of the opposite bank was within reach if they could just apply themselves. While the example of an elected official flinging money around to prove a point doesn’t really help my overall exposition, it does lend a sense of gravitas and closure, however irrelevant, which is what I’m looking for in trying to get out of here.

Like it or not, Carp are now part of this country’s identity as as a nation of fly fishers, and the question is, do we embrace this, or continue to ignore it? The Carp now on Capitol Hill don’t really care, they’re just looking for something to eat.

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