Out of Bounds

Goals and Discovery Outdoors

I love fly fishing for trout, but I needed something different. Carp were just that.

By Rob Breeding

Most humans set goals. What’s life without them but a pointless meander toward that meeting with our maker?

Goal setting motivates us. I recently set a goal to learn to double haul, a cast that’s a fly fisher’s best friend with heavy saltwater gear or when the wind kicks up.

Business types have systems for goal setting with smart-sounding acronyms such as SMART, which means specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely. But you don’t have to be a project manager to benefit from the clear objectives SMART helps define.

I inadvertently used SMART in my most recent outdoor challenge — catching a carp on a fly. The goal was specific, measurable and attainable. It was relevant, as I’m a fly fisher after all, and since it was my summer break project, it was timely.

It took three weeks before I caught my first, and only carp on a fly. I’ve been ribbed by friends about how long it took, or that my carp tally remains stuck on one, but that’s more a referendum on my fly-fishing skills than the benefits of goal setting.

The value of this goal seemed obvious. I caught a dang carp on a fly rod, which is no small feat. Carp are highly visible in most waters as they’re often the largest fish in the pond and they favor shoreline habitat. But it wasn’t until I tried to catch one that I realized these fish are deceptively skittish.

An alarmed carp doesn’t appear all that different from one that’s feeding. When spooked, carp barely pick up their pace as they fin off to the depths. If you’re fishing for them, however, you soon discern the difference between tailing and fleeing fish.

Once you get it, the difference is as obvious as Vincent Vega contemplating God’s hand in miracles while sipping diner coffee with Jules, versus Vincent twisting to “You Never Can Tell,” with Mia.

Same incompetent hitman, doing decidedly different things.

Fly fishing taught me those subtle carp cues. I’m not trying to pull rank on dough dunkers, but in the case of carp, fly anglers must know their target species more intimately than those dudes’ fishing bait. 

Fly fishers must find tailing fish. Then sneak within casting distance. Place the perfect cast. Strip, though delicately. Think Vincent sipping coffee. And finally, we brace ourselves for rejection since even when we do it right, nine out of 10 carp can’t be bothered by our fly.

These are the immutable rules of fly fishing for carp.

Besides learning all about carp, my goal taught me something about myself. I realized fly fishing might have grown a little stale for me. I love fly fishing for trout, but I needed something different. Carp were just that.

Now I’m back to shopping the websites of fly rod makers. I’ve got another 8-weight carp rod in my future, as well as either a 6- or 7-weight for bass. I can throw a popper with my 5-weight, even without a double haul, but it tests the limits of a trout rod.

New challenges. New skills. New destinations. What’s to dislike about goals? Well, there is a dark side. If goals become an obsession that obsession can cloud judgment. Once, chasing mountain quail to meet my goal of hunting all six quails found in the U.S., one ran out of the scrub and crossed the two-track we walked.

My hunting buddy and I laughed. Then he looked at me and said “We’re hunting mountain quail. Ground sluicing is allowed.”

He was kidding, but only sort of. What he meant was “These birds are harder than you may realize.”

I never drew a bead on a running mountain quail, though the thought occurred to me when opportunities arose. Years later, I killed one the right way.

Goal attained, though my smarts remain in question.

Rob Breeding’s website is www.mthookandbullet.com.