An angler away from water is like a fish out of it, and he will do pitiable things to ease the pangs.
Such as fish for carp with a fly rod on the C&O Canal at high noon in Georgetown, wearing a business suit and suffering the surliness of joggers and the smart remarks of small boys.
There are compensations. The setting is beautiful, icy martinis are just a step away across the towpath, and the great fat carp in the greasy-green canal put up a hell of a fight when they are inclined. But you have to be into urban ambience.
"I don't mind the stares, and I don't mind the giggles, and I don't mind the silly questions, and I don't mind the towpath mule," said Fish and Wildlife Service publicist Phil Million, who was flailing the canal with a mulberry fly one lunch hour this week. "What I mind is standing here and watching Jay Sheppard catch one carp after another."
Sheppard, an F&W biologist, took the measure of Million, co-worker Mike Smith and freelance writer Sam Iker, who were reduced to disparaging the 2 1/2 carp Sheppard landed with a 10 1/2-foot graphite rod more suited to one of the chalk streams of England.
Also skunked was Forrest Cromwell, a dapper gentleman from Dupont Circle who is credited with inventing the mulberry fly that Barry Serviente of Angeles Art supplies to the small but growing band of brothers devoted to the pursuit of the wily carp.
It took Cromwell only a few minutes to satisfy himself that the fish were too spooked to fool with that afternoon, what with the joggers and bikers and the canal barge, not to mention the clumsy efforts of his rivals to cast to the far bank without snagging either the trees or the passersby. He quietly packed his kit and left the arena to the amateurs.
"The carp is underrated as a game fish," Serviente said later. "They're smart and wary, and with such a sensitive mouth they'll detect the fly quicker than a trout."
Serviente had suggested that the lunch-hour anglers do their fishing a little farther west than the stand they chose. "My highly developed instincts tell me that this is the place," Million said. "Notice the overhanging mulberry trees, dropping fruit, as it were, from a chum bag. Notice the collecting barrier of the canal lock, and the bottom-scouring surge it affords. Notice the Port o' Georgetown's bar, there."
Sheppard modestly attributed his success to equipment. The long and powerful graphite rod had more reach with the modified roll casts necessary under the circumstances (the circumstances being that any back-cast at all was likely to snag a lawyer). Before all the hubbub put the fish down for good he had taken a 8 1/2-pounder, an 8-pounder before it lost its tail somehow. All were released, because the carp-smoking device Million ordered hasn't been delivered yet.
As the action waned Officer George McCann came along, possibly at the behest of an uptight biker whose progress had beend elayed by the forst of rods. "Here now," he said, noticing the juice-stained fingers of a wretch who had been reduced to doping his fly with crushed mulberries. "I'm going to tell Barry I caught you cheating."