Imagine a quiet, uncrowded place where big fish cruise the shoreline slurping insects on the surface, a place where flyrodders can spot their quarry feeding, land a bug big enough to see from 50 feet out, watch their prey move in on it, observe the crashing strike and do battle with a six- to ten-pound bruiser that fights like a bull.
If that sounds like a $5,000 trip you can't afford for peacock bass in Venezuela or bonefish in Belize, take heart, brothers and sisters, because this trip is almost free and a mere half-hour's drive from downtown.
The downside is that it only happens once every 17 years. Yes, we're talking about those noisy, annoying cicadas and the happy beneficiaries of their current abundance, carp.
Cicadas are hatching like something from a horror movie up and down the East Coast. It's weird. Some places they're thick, others they're absent. Last weekend the air conditioner blew out on our old Buick so we drove to Philadelphia with the windows down. The ebb and flow of cicada buzz from the woods along I-95 was nothing short of amazing; in some places the noise was deafening, in others, nothing.
One place cicadas are thick these days is Triadelphia Reservoir in Howard County. A handful of flyrodders in the last few weeks have been making merry with the cicada hatch there, cruising along the forested banks with salmon-type fishing gear and dropping cicada imitations under the tree limbs, where hungry carp wait to gobble them.
My man Larry Coburn got the heads-up on the carp bonanza from folks dropping in to the Bass Pro Shop in Hanover, where he runs the flyfishing department. He immediately set to work tying his own version of a cicada fly. He didn't have far to go for a model, the apple tree behind his house in Laurel being aswarm with them.
He had to tie his own flies, he said, because the 30 dozen he ordered for the store were gone almost as soon as they got there. Many anglers apparently are using cicada flies for smallmouth bass on the Potomac and Shenandoah.
But Coburn is just back from a resort in Mexico where in a week he caught 150 bonefish up to six pounds. Somehow the prospect of 12-inch smallmouths on a fly didn't move him, but 10-pound carp? That was another matter.
Triadelphia and its sister lake, Rocky Gorge, are water supplies for the Washington area so gasoline-powered motors are not allowed. No problem. I threw my aluminum canoe on top of the car and picked up Coburn after work. We stopped by the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission's office on Brighton Dam Road to buy required $3 day-use permits, then launched down the road at the Green Bridge ramp.
The lake was all but deserted. One old fellow was bait-fishing from shore, but he was really just cooling his feet in the water. A flyrodder, Walt Sheppard, cast cicada flies off the dock and said he'd caught a half-dozen carp from his boat, cruising the shoreline all day. "There's too many cicadas out there," he said. "There's so much natural food, it's hard to get the carp to hit."
He directed us two miles or so up the lake to a pair of coves he said were crawling with cicadas and carp. We set off paddling and I was immediately struck anew by the beauty of Triadelphia with its rich, green forested banks, bright, clear water and absence of people. We fished till dusk and saw only four other boats.
The fishing was challenging at first. We found the prescribed coves and fish were there, roaming along shore like torpedoes, sinister forms against the tan mud of the bottom. Spent cicadas fluttered on the surface and occasionally you'd hear a slurp as a fish took one, but the carp were tough to fool. If your fly landed five feet in front of one, it would just sniff it and move on.
"With this much natural food," said Coburn, "you have to practically hit them on the head with the fly so they'll strike it on instinct. If they have time to look it over, they're not going to take it."
We picked away, missing more strikes than we should. Coburn expertly hooked and worked an eight-pounder to the boat and I landed a six-pounder. The fish fought so hard, sometimes they towed the canoe along behind them. "Look at this," said Coburn as the eight-pounder pulled 90 feet of fly line off his reel and kept going. "He's got me down to the backing! They're like the bonefish of Maryland."
As afternoon gave way to evening, the roar of cicadas in the trees began to moderate and fewer and fewer of the bugs fluttered down onto the water. The later it got, the less competition we had from the real thing and the better the fishing got until we were getting strikes on almost every cast.
Coburn landed the biggest one (he usually does) -- a 10-pounder, and I got one about the same size to the boat before foolishly grabbing the leader, at which point the carp made a run and snapped the line, taking one of our three remaining cicada flies with it.
Another big carp broke Coburn's fly off and we were down to one, and when another carp managed to charge into a pile of brush and tangle that one irretrievably, it was time to call it a day. A good thing, too. We had the boat back on the roof rack 10 minutes before a great bank of murderous clouds moved in and the sky turned mean with thunder, lightning and a deluge of rain.
"We have to do this again," I said on the ride home.
"It's a date," said Coburn. "Seventeen years from now, same time, same place."
I can hardly wait.
Fishing for carp and bass with cicada flies should be good for at least three weeks. Coburn ties his on a No. 6 hook using deer body hair for flotation and an orange hackle. It helps to grease the fly with flotant to keep it from sinking.