steelhead weather, mountain trout, and a strong chance of no more opening days

It soon became clear that I had fooled myself.

My fly rod rested, unmoving; my head shook in disgust as discouragement took root.

Being a high-country angler at heart, solace is found in solitude. While this opening day morning was marked by lonely weather, with steel gray clouds and drizzling misery on all below, it was snowing above 5,000 feet. That prevented everyone who had hoped to cross Sonora Pass to fish the eastern Sierras – myself included – stuck to fishing limited waters on the west slope.

My early arrival allowed seclusion for only so long. And if trout had eyelids, I would have argued all but a few had shut their eyes to my flies. But it was nice. All sound was dampened by wet pine needles. Low-hanging clouds induced a preternatural calmness. Drops of rain filtered through the overhanging branches of dogwoods and cedars to finally gather together in larger drops before falling and pockmarking the stream with miniature geysers.

The crunch of tires on gravel sliced through the trees, tearing me from my musing. A first, second, then third vehicle pulled up. Camouflage-clad fishermen, with rods almost as long as the stream is wide, hauled out tackle boxes that could double as streamside seating, and each tipped their hat to me and lined up a few feet away. Hooks were buried into bright red salmon eggs and lines were cast.

I remained stationary. It’s not uncommon to see bait or hardware fisherman travel in packs, but this had caught me off guard. In this spot, however, I am usually alone with a rare visit by one other fisherman.

The small pools I knew were upstream were, despite the drought, rendered temporary inaccessible. Getting to those pools required clambering over a rocky outcropping, and the rainfall during the night – downpours woke me more than once – raised the stream just high enough to make it too dangerous for one who’s not so young anymore. Downstream was a canyon that wasn’t much safer for the same reason.

Snow dictated I head downslope, where there were few options.

Though opening day may nowadays be more routine than tradition, I was on a mission to shake off the rust of winter, to prove that I could still cast and was still fast enough to set a hook (and correspondingly adjust my hook set, whether it was my dry fly or nymph that fooled the fish). And so it was that I was committed to spending the day attempting to reassure myself that given the opportunity during the coming summer and fall, I wouldn’t look like an idiot swinging a stick on a river, creek, stream or lake.

There are a number of waters along Hwys 108 and 120. It would have been preferable to head away from the opening day crowds, likely as far as Goodwin Dam, where its 4-mile stretch of tailwater forms the Lower Stanislaus River. But that would require a steelhead report card that I didn’t think I’d need this year. I wasn’t driving something that could go off road, eliminating a large percentage of other waters. Other possibilities were still closed off by season gates.

There are never-ending debates about the differences between hatchery and wild trout, but wanting fish to fool meant wading into a put-and-take fishery.

By the time I arrived, sunlight was peeking through parting clouds. This is one of those west slope year-round creeks around which is created an oasis of vegetation despite the surrounding dry hills, on which this year the grass is already gold. It’s frequented by meat fishermen who I always hope paid their license fees just as I did.

Opening Day Trout, 2015

Opening Day Trout, 2015

Until the heat of summer, most folks fish the south side of this creek. Waders allow me to access the north side, dropping my flies into seams on the edges of pools and riffles. Fish were there and, hatchery-born or not, seemed to have an appetite for something that looked a bit natural. My catch rate vs. everyone – while not always the case, but often repeated – was about three to one. I have to admit a look of bemusement might cross my face now and again when other anglers scramble to try to duplicate my style or squint at my size 16 and 16 flies, which they likely can’t see from where they are.

More important to me than the numbers was the ratio of fish hooked and those landed. Better than most opening days, I hooked fish on about eighty percent of the takes I saw and of those landed most. A fellow across the way lamented that he didn’t bring his fly rod, but spin casting was the best way to keep his son engaged. That brought back memories in me and a gratefulness that I tried over the years to acquaint my kids with a sport that can bring a lifetime of good times.

This was the first opening day for me in quite a few years. Previous years I spent opening day weekend helping to teach aspiring fly fishers.

My thoughts now have shifted to thinking it would have been better to teach this year’s opening day weekend and instead of waiting for a single day each year, get off my duff and avail myself of the growing number of year-round moving trout waters in the Sierras, both on the west and east slopes.

Lesson learned.

karmic payoff (or, one degree of separation from the original physical fitness badass)

I stopped at Costco on the way home last Friday to pick up a few items, as if anyone can pick up just a few items and not walk out of Costco with a kayak or some such thing.

It was Good Friday. The line to the gas station was long, the parking lot nearly full and the crowd of shoppers thick. But I wasn’t in a hurry; it was one of those clear, sunny spring days with a blanket of astonishingly blue sky that can’t be appreciated if you don’t slow down and look around. The shopping list wasn’t long and soon I was loading more than expected into the car. And while it’s not unusual for other shoppers to wander by, an uncomfortably close, slow-moving shopping cart caught my eye.

Who is this?

Do you recognize this guy?
Circa 1950s, photo by Russ Warner.

Pushing it was an elderly gentleman, appropriately grizzly for his age but dressed in pressed khakis, a button-down shirt and sweater, as you might imagine would have been the standard about 50 years ago, when publicly wearing pajamas would attract attention and perhaps include a visit to the funny farm. He walked slowly but without shuffling, slowly looking left, then right. The corners of his green sweater flapped in the breeze while the set of his face showed he was expending more than a little effort on thinking.

There’s no telling whether it was my Boy Scout mindset or overly hopeful belief in karma, but I slipped out of the car. As I stepped toward the man, he eyed me through thick glasses with a level of caution that’s unfortunately appropriate these days. His posture relaxed after I asked if he might need some assistance.

His eyes were clear and sharp under tussled salt-and-pepper hair as he described a growing distrust of his memory, a worry reinforced today by his inability to find his car. His habit was to fill up at the Costco gas station and park near the gas station exit. Today, because he couldn’t find an open spot in that section, he cruised around the lot to find a spot.

Knowing cars a little bit more than the average person and figuring I might help, I asked what type of car he was driving. It was Honda, that he was sure of; but of the model he wasn’t. The color was gray, but maybe lighter. Perhaps silver. It had four doors and was more than five years old. Rubbing the whiskers on his chin, he told me that it was bigger than a Civic. The easiest solution, pressing a button on his key fob, wasn’t an option; the remote integrated with the key was held together by masking tape and hadn’t worked for years.

My offer of assistance accepted, I began walking the 15 or so aisles of the parking lot, scanning for a four-door, gray or silver, Honda sedan. I was hunting for an Accord, but didn’t dismiss the possibility it could be a Civic. As might be expected in any parking lot in America, there was no scarcity of matching vehicles. (Silver – the color of indecision – and gray, were two of the top five most popular car colors during the last decade.) Wandering the closest three aisles, I took cell phone photos of a few suspect cars and returned to my lost friend. No, the car didn’t have a sun roof. The color was more of a light gray. The tail lights were different.

I searched a few more aisles, then returned to find the gentleman in conversation with the gas station attendant. This Costco gas station attendant is a good ol’ boy, always wearing a cowboy hat and quick to tell seemingly deaf patrons to turn down their stereos. He told me that he knew the older gentlemen I was assisting. His name is Clay. The attendant radioed the store’s cart crew for help, but no one was available. I tried to get a better description of the car but only got confirmation that it was indeed silver and had four doors. Clay wondered out loud if his car was on the far side of the lot.

Knowing I could cover ground about three times faster, I walked the rest of the parking lot, ending up as far away as possible from my starting point. Clay, who had walked in a straight line rather than up and down each aisle, caught up with me.

Not wanting to leave Clay on his own, I again prodded him for any identifying features of his car. Was it dirty? Was anything hanging from the mirror? Did it have special wheels? A light seemed to flicker behind his eyes; yes, there was something. The number five and “UES” had come to mind, though Clay was uncertain why. Hoping the number suggested the beginning of a license place – sequential 5-series plates were issued in California about five to seven years ago, fitting the possible age of a vehicle that had so far eluded us.

I began scanning plates and less than ten steps away, there is was; on a silver CR-V. Not quite the sedan I was looking for. Clay’s key fit the front door. An offer to help load his groceries was declined, so I wished Clay good luck and we parted company.

I was a few steps away when Clay called out to offer fruit snacks and thanks. I declined, again began to walk away, Clay drew me back with another comment about how he appreciated the help. My acknowledgement ended with an observation that we’d both gotten in some exercise by walking, never a bad thing. Clay replied, “You know, that was part of my training.”

I’m sure that I cocked my head to one side, wondering what that might mean. Bewilderment got the best of me and I asked, “What do you mean?” His story began with being stationed at Naval Air Station Alameda as a young man. (A quick calculation told me that this was likely in the mid 1930s.)

Then Clay asked, “Have you ever heard of Jack LaLanne?”

A response that I did seemed to release a flood of memories. Clay hung out with Jack, performing feats of strength. Occasionally he stepped in to watch over Jack’s exercise studio in Oakland*. He and Jack would impress the “girls” with their muscles, and eventually shared a lifelong friendship.

The photo strip that Clay gave me.

The photo strip that Clay gave me.

Clay illustrated his story with a strip of glossy photo paper upon which were printed digitized photos showing Jack and Clay through the years. One photo shows Clay lying on the ground, with his hands skyward while Jack uses Clay’s hands as a foundation for a handstand. Others show Clay, Jack and their wives at dinner. In one photo they are celebrating Jack’s 90th birthday.

Clay shared that he had to take care of himself for at least five more years. Jack LaLanne died in 2011 at age 96, and Jack wouldn’t like it if Clay didn’t live to the same age or longer.

I only spent about an hour helping Clay. His memory may be fading, but I hope his enthusiasm for life and appreciation of his past allows him to reach that goal.

♫♫Oh, who are the people in your neighborhood?
In your neighborhood?
In your neighborhood?
Say, who are the people in your neighborhood?
The people that you meet each day.♫♫

*For those who don’t know, Bally Total Fitness grew out of licensing LaLanne’s European Health Spas, which numbered more than 200 by the 1980s.

more on the move: biscuits, rain and what bothers me about Washington’s pseudo state highways

I’ve always found it a bit curious that the bridges and roadways around Duvall are not designed to deal with the amount of rain that can always be expected to fall every year in Washington.

The rain began to fall in earnest that Monday and during the night. By Tuesday, texts and emails were filled with recommendations that we expect long delays or take an even longer detour. But we were on vacation. We didn’t have time to worry about such things.

After a reluctant departure from the Alexis Hotel, we headed east and, since it’s somewhat of a tradition with my brother to always show up with a beer or two in hand, sought what we hoped might be a purveyor of less common brews. With a bit of luck and help from Yelp we stumbled upon Malt & Vine, a nondescript store tucked into the corner of a Redmond shopping center, but boasting probably one of the more extensive and sometimes eclectic selections of different craft beers, ciders, meads, ports, sakes and wines. Twenty taps can dispense a sample of many beers, a few wines and sometimes mead. The bottle count likely nears 1,000.

It was overwhelming in a good way. The free sample of Guinness 1759 Amber Ale in no way swayed our opinion of this place, but sipping beer while perusing beer is nice. So much time was spent just gawking at the variety of adult beverages that we consulted the staff and a local guy, who apparently organizes a local beer fest, for advice. With a few bottles tucked away, there was still time to stop at a nearby Fred Meyer; the superstore above all superstores. One can’t help but admire a place that sells clothing, groceries, guns and heavy gardening equipment under one huge roof.

If you’ve spent time driving around Washington, you’ve learned that many of the four- or even two-lane roads are treated more like state highways. This is particularly true the farther you are from urban areas. Because flooding on the Snoqualmie River had closed NE 124th St. before the Novelty Bridge, our best option to get from Redmond to Duvall was to take Avondale Road NE, then make a left on NE Woodinville-Duvall Road.

Much of the Woodinville-Duvall Road, which crosses the valley through which the Snoqualmie River meanders, is high enough to prevent it from being closed by most flooding. That day it seemed that every one of Duvall’s 7,464 residents was trying to get home via this two-lane road. It might normally take about 10 minutes to get across the valley and into Duvall; this day it took more than an hour, offering a prolonged opportunity to admire the lush greenery that lines nearly every road in Washington State.

(Sadly, floodwaters are no measure a state’s water-wealth. Washington is facing its own drought and, like California and everywhere else, rain runs to the ocean and the issue is snowpack.)

A long drive and long day, but there would be a reward at the end of it all.

more on the move, road trip and short vay-kay

You fail only if you stop writing.
— Ray Bradbury

…and I have failed now for almost a month.

This stuff just doesn’t write itself.

There’s also the small matter of math. My figuring says every week there’s less than 50 hours not dedicated to sleeping, work, commuting, eating, shopping, housekeeping, etc. A new project, a good thing (more on that later), will further diminish time available for personal projects.

Hopefully this will wind up what was started with the last post. After that, maybe a new schedule or new focus to get this blog thing back on track and minimize lapses of radio silence.

I’ve never lost sight of the truth that this is more of a diary or personal history than anything else, and I appreciate those who have stuck around or dropped in once and a while.

Now, where was I?…

It was a longish drive from mid California to the wet-side of Washington but not exhausting as predicted, thankfully so. Being one with an internal alarm clock that doesn’t easily reset, I was up before the sun. Which really isn’t too hard when there’s a nearly 10° or so northerly difference between the latitude of your origin and destination.

Not one to sit, or lay, too still for too long once awake, I was soon unloading the son’s stuff and playing Jenga with boxes, furniture pieces and miscellaneous asymmetrical items. With help from the wife and son, soon enough we had a relatively compact pile in a corner of the garage.

The agenda for the day meant a circuitous route to drop off the rental vehicle (which made the wife sad) at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and abandon the son in Bellevue with a friend with whom he’d stay for a temporary but indeterminate period of time. Being a Sunday, traffic wasn’t bad.

This was a trip without a real itinerary, but we did have goals. So that afternoon we met the brother, his wife and the two nephews for lunch, followed by a long visit at his house. My wife will tell you that such visits are marked by silliness. The nephews are at that age. My brother and I never outgrew it.

It was a good time, with casual, wandering conversation, unconstrained by a specific time. Until dad called, asking if we’d be home for dinner. Guess some things never change.

With the exception of earning a salary, the wife and I have probably benefited more from the son’s job than he has. His employee discount has allowed us to spend a few nights in the type of boutique hotels we’d usually deem a bit out of our price range. We spent some of Monday out and about, but the night at the Alexis Hotel in downtown Seattle.

Pleasantly, we were upgraded to a suite; a suite nearly the size of our house. It was a bit extravagant–we were only planning to sleep there–but still amazing.

Pike Place Market on a quiet night.

Pike Place Market on a quiet night.

Without much of a plan and needing dinner, we started walking up 1st Street, winding our way toward Pike Place. It didn’t dawn on me for a while, but there’s an almost indiscernible difference between Seattle and San Francisco on a Monday evening. There were very few people on the streets that evening. In a later discussion it was decided that San Francisco is more of a year-round tourist destination; Seattle not so much.

After enjoying the manager’s wine hour, we hit the streets in search of food. A number of restaurants were closed, and perhaps we weren’t that hungry, but it was difficult to find an eatery that we found appealing. Our search took us all the way past Pike Place Market, by Gum Wall (more of Gum Alley), through Post Alley, and about three miles later, my wife grabbed my arm and told me where we were going to eat: Kastoori Grill.

Karen’s become a good sport at more adventurous eating, and Kastoori Grill is a good example. Kastoori Grill is in an unassuming space and easy to miss, or dismiss. The dated décor belied the attention to the food and service that night. Though we don’t always stick to the plan, this evening we planned to split a plate and ordered the aloo chaat appetizer (because fried mashed potatoes), the lamb biryani entrée, and, of course, naan. It’s hard to judge a cuisine which one hasn’t sampled in the country of origin but judging by my taste buds, it was all good. The aloo chaat was good but I liked its garbanzo bean “salsa” topping best. The lamb in the biryani was tender and the least lamby tasting lamb I’ve ever eaten. More than satiated, we walked out satisfied. We slept well that night.

As we ended the night before, so began the next day at Biscuit Bitch. She really isn’t tough, and the guys and gals who work there were welcoming and quick to offer advice to new patrons. It was already decided we’d split the Easy Bitch (biscuits and sausage gravy with two eggs over-easy topped with crumbled bacon). Wanting to better judge the biscuit itself, I also ordered a biscuit with blackberry jam. It was almost too much goodness. Almost. The Easy Bitch was rich and the fresh-cooked crumbled bacon pushed it over the top. The separate, butter-slathered biscuit revealed the namesake product’s flakiness. This is the kind of place that’s quickly labeled “cute,” with a slightly hippy vibe and limited seating requiring a willingness to cozy up with a stranger.

The morning was interrupted by a few phone calls and debate over how to best deal with the son’s need to retrieve items left only 20 miles away, but without a car and in a rural area, a lifetime away by public transit. Resolved, our morning was freed up for wandering through Pike Place Market and more than a few blocks up to the Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room.

A more descriptive term for Starbucks’ first Reserve Roastery might be Willy Starbucks’ Coffee Factory. A lot of gleaming copper and stainless steel are contrasted with warm wood surfaces. Not a coffee drinker, it was something to see but much of the experience was probably lost on me.

Later we’d end up finding one of my beverages of choice, on a winding trip back to the bro in Monroe.