the move that prompted a road trip that led to a short vacation

If you think you missed that New Year’s post in which I promise to start afresh — writing more, fishing more and worrying less — don’t bother looking for it because you won’t find it. Any intent to write was muddled by events that ensured there was no distinct end to last year or clear beginning of this year.

Our trip to Washington State wasn’t technically last minute but certainly hasty. A son accepted a position in Seattle and the cheapest option was to rent a second vehicle and haul him and all his worldly possessions up Hwy 5 in a single day. My parents graciously offered a bit of storage space in their garage. Plans were set in motion.

The day before our departure we expected to drop by the boy’s place and load up. His things would be packed, we were told. They were not. It took more than a few hours and 14,000 steps, according to my pedometer, to pack things in our two vehicles. It was a good thing we had upgraded to a rental vehicle one size larger.

Believing that I’m immune to the march of time, I still cling to the idea that the 800-mile drive from home to Seattle’s Eastside could be accomplished in a single day. All it takes a reliable vehicle, about 14 hours and a co-driver willing to quickly empty the bladder. My brother and I did just that some 20 years ago.

We were out the door that first Saturday of the new year as hoped, at 5 a.m. The three of us would rotate between the two vehicles, with more stops at Starbucks than gas stations. (I can’t help but think part of Starbucks’ marketing strategy is to offer clean bathrooms that lure travelers, who buy beverages, requiring a stop at the next Starbucks, where the cycle is repeated.)

Hwy 5 Sunrise

Sunrise somewhere along Hwy 5 in far Northern California.

An experienced traveler knows that the most boring sections of Hwy 5 are from Vacaville to Redding (California), Roseburg to Portland (Oregon), and Castle Rock nearly to Seattle (Washington). Traveling through at least one of those stretches during the dark early morning hours helps, and we didn’t see the sun rise until well past the puddle that is Shasta Lake. The miles droned by but, surprising, we all seemed none worse for the wear when we pulled into Eugene, with a longer-than-expected detour to Papa’s Soul Food Kitchen & BBQ.

As I have noted before, we will drive for food, and when travelling we will make time for food. (Rarely is a conversation among our family members not peppered with food references.) This is a place Karen and I had seen on Diners, Drive-In and Dives and thought to give it a try. We were met there before the 2:00 p.m. opening time by Karen’s friend Michelle and her husband Nik, who made the trip from Portland to join us.

I loved the Louisiana vibe of the place and friendliness of the staff. The food was good, but not worth-a-return great. The hushpuppies were the highlight. The red beans and rice were close to what I recall being served in the French Quarter. The brisket was tender, with a nice smoke ring, but relied on a sauce I found too sweet for flavor. The fried chicken was crispy but lacked zing. We lingered a bit longer than expected amid enjoyable conversation. Maybe it was the pint of Oakshire Brewing’s Original Amber Ale or simply not being on the road. Refreshed, we zipped through Portland with an unusual lack of traffic, even though it was midafternoon.

With the increasing latitude north, darkness came earlier, conflicting with our internal clocks. I’m not certain, but it seems that every trip north I end up stopping, in darkness, at the Toutle River Safety Rest Area 5 miles north of Castle Rock. As rest stops go, I think it’s one of the best and my earliest memory is from 1985. Dad and I were moving to Issaquah in the hope of finding jobs and stopped there, pleasantly surprised to find hot coffee and cocoa thanks to WSDOT’s Free Coffee Program.

Quickly calculating that we could skip the last planned stop for gas, I was soon in the familiar territory of Bellevue and Redmond, followed by the dark rural road that would take us across the Snoqualmie River and into Duvall. The short two-lane segment of N.E. Novelty Hill Road that descends toward the Snoqualmie River floodplain is slow. It twists almost back underneath itself along a steep grade, with no street lights. N.E. 124 Street crosses the river and in my mind Novelty Bridge marks the beginning of something a bit more wild. Perhaps it’s the wide expanses of undisturbed land. Or the seemingly uncontrollable volume of water flowing in nearby rivers. Or the smallness of Duvall’s downtown. It’s been a fleeting but persistent feeling during every visit.

But downtown Duvall was welcoming, with Christmas lights adorning street lamps and brightening our way. We pulled into the parents’ driveway a bit later than planned but not tired enough that we didn’t stay up and visit with Mom and Dad and my brother for at least an hour.

The next day we’d face the reality of being strangers in strange land unpacking the son’s stuff and dropping off the rental vehicle, and then, finally, take time to relax. We’d also learn that flooding is apparently no way to measure the water-wealth of a state.

it’s wet all over but not enough

It was a dark and stormy night…more accurately, a morning.

Remember a few weeks ago when California was drier than a cork leg? That ain’t so true anymore, though The Drought is not over by a long stretch.

My drive to work at 0545 yesterday was dark and slow, musically accompanied by pounding rain. Traffic moved at about 40 mph in a 65 mph stretch of highway. Lakes and ponds formed where none had existed for 10 or more years. Later, flooding closed my route home by early afternoon. Flooding also removed the option of a more northerly alternate route.

Arizmendi  Bakery's fruitcake, called the drunk uncle of fruitcakes. (Definitely a bounty of brandy.)

Arizmendi Bakery’s fruitcake, called the drunk uncle of fruitcakes. (Definitely made with a bounty of brandy.)

I instead decided to play chauffeur for the afternoon, heading to San Francisco to pick up Karen and meet our son. It took a bit longer than expected as half the signalized intersections along my route were dark, a result of storm-induced flooding. An underground PG&E substation at Post and Stockton streets exploded that morning as a result. Union Square and surrounding neighborhoods were without power well into the evening. Those dark signalized intersections offered abundant evidence that too many of today’s drivers don’t know how to react to a flashing red signal or in-operational traffic signals.

We snacked leisurely, watching waves of rain wash the streets. We also found the Christmas fruitcake I was looking for, then dropped the son at his place and picked up some casual carpoolers. These people had been waiting in the dark, in pouring rain, for 50 minutes. We picked ‘em up thinking that it would make for a more rapid trip home in the HOV lane. Based on the lack of traffic — some folks had left work early and others didn’t go to work at all — it was unnecessary. Call it a mitzvah

This morning wasn’t bad except that Hwy 37 WB was closed and the detour through Novato added 20 minutes to my commute. The rain has let up so far today, but we clearly got enough rain to soak the ground and the temporary lakes and ponds are only slowly disappearing.

Through all this, my attention is on the weather radar, hoping to see snow accumulating in the Sierra Nevadas. It’s said we need at least five more storms of this magnitude to remove the specter of another drought year.

I say bring it on.

exploring before it’s all over

As if it hasn’t been a figuratively dry trout season for me, a long trip last weekend over three passes, along rivers and over two reservoirs showed that things are literally drying up…

This was my last and only second trip to the Sierras during the general trout season. It was happenstance that kept me off the water and only sheer determination — and a desperate desire for a break from every-day life — that crammed a 400-plus mile drive and not enough fishing into a single day.

Firsthand reports dashed any hope of great fishing. Small streams were trickles, meaning wild fish were off limits. State-stocked waters that normally received a few buckets of fish before the end of the season didn’t.

Another view of the sunrise from Sonora Pass.

Another view of the sunrise from Sonora Pass.

Optimism being the most overused tool in a fly fisherman’s arsenal, I still hit the road over Sonora Pass before sunup. If there were few fish to be had, at least a sunrise at 9,000 feet doesn’t disappoint. This late in the year, a sunrise seems to last longer.

Looking a bit southwest from Sonora Pass.

Looking a bit southwest from Sonora Pass.

There was unexpected company on the West Walker River, a couple planning to soak bait. They went their way, I went mine. I’d have pocket water all to myself, whitefish on the mind, and the sound of reveille arising (a bit too late in the morning this time?) from the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center.

My "office" for the morning. (West Walker River)

My “office” for the morning. (West Walker River)

Just like that “confidence fly” most fly fishermen keep tucked away, there are pieces of water one comes to expect to hold fish. My expectation held true this morning. It didn’t take long before a fish was fooled with my favorite red-butt zebra midge pattern. While not large, white tips on smooth fins suggested it was a more educated trout. Even if was a hatchery fish, it had spent enough time in the wild to learn a few things while it’s pectoral and caudal fins healed. There would be no whitefish this year and nothing big, but all of the trout I found were feisty.

This isn’t the time of year that these trout rise to dry flies, but the water level requires stealth, a dry-dropper setup, light casts to small seams and short drifts. It’s hard to disagree that this type of rig might be a reflection of my middle-of-the-road nature, mixing the oft-look’d-down-upon tactic of nymphing with the loftier technique of dry fly fishing. Deep down I hoped for a rise to the dry fly, but ice crunching underfoot suggested it was not to be.

My plans called for crossing Monitor Pass on the way to the East Carson River, then over Ebbetts Pass, and finally completing a twisting and oblong course over the man-made New Melones Lake. Unfamiliar with the route and wary of unpredictable delays, I was on the road again before noon.

Many times I’ve enjoyed driving — whether a car or motorcycle — over Tioga and Sonora passes many times, during the spring, summer and fall. Any threat of snow brings about closures, but during this trip Tioga and Sonora pass, as well as Ebbetts and Monitor pass had reopened after brief snow closures earlier in the week.

Looking west from near Monitor Pass.

Looking west from near Monitor Pass.

The landscape and vegetation of each pass is unique, with stark changes as one gains elevation. Over Monitor Pass, Highway 89 twists between and over numerous peaks, alternating between barren high desert to east and the fir and pine forests on the western slopes. Once over the summit, the road quickly descends to meet Highway 4, then crosses the East Carson River.

This was first visit to the East Carson River. The wild trout section was low and slow, and out of the shadows of the high canyon walls. Sunlight reflected off nearly every eddy, riffle and pool, and, as might be expected, the fishing was great but the catching not. It was suggested after the fact that I should have fished upstream, where a summer of stocking might mean a few stupid willing fish would remain. I chalked this visit up to exploration. Since it wasn’t too far away, I drove to Markleeville. I had to drive through town a second time; I blinked and missed it the first time through.

Colors along Highway 89, just south of the East Carson River.

Colors along Highway 89, just south of the East Carson River.

The route over Ebbetts Pass is more adventurous than the comparatively high-speed Highway 108 over Sonora Pass and Highway 120, which winds through Yosemite and over Tioga Pass.

Driving over Ebbetts Pass is not for the faint of heart. Sandwiched between a full-width, two-lane state highway is a section reminiscent of the descriptions our parents and grandparents might offer of roads built only wide enough that two Model Ts could squeeze by each other. This middle section, from Lake Alpine to Silver Creek, is a barely two-lane road. There is no center line or fog lines. Shoulders are a rarity. Steep curvy portions, precipitous drop-offs and vistas of pristine landscapes are plentiful. If the narrowness of this road isn’t enough to reduce one’s speed, the beauty was. Lack of planning meant I couldn’t linger. Plans are already afoot to return with a greater abundance of time.

Ebbetts Pass tarn.

Ebbetts Pass tarn.

The rest of my drive was in relatively civilized areas. I’d pick up apple cider outside of Arnold, then wine and special spices in Murphys. I crossed New Melones Lake, which looked more a river at flood stage (it was formed by the damming of the Stanislaus River). Back in Twain Harte early, I cleaned up and planned to attend to a few items on the to-do list, figuring I’d walk to the local Ace store for a halogen bulb and any other necessary item. During the walk I began an exploration of a different variety. More on that next time my fingers are willing to dance on the keyboard…

Leavitt Falls, late in the fall.

Leavitt Falls, late in the fall.

All of the photos, and some more:

no fishing, but a good catch

Summer’s gone and dribbles of rain have wet the ground a few times. It’s been an almost fish-less year for me. That may change with an end-of-the-season trip after the first of November, but in the meantime I’ll remain a bit cranky.

That’s not to say I haven’t been busy with tangential fishing endeavors. By the end of this month the move of two fly fishing club websites to new online platforms should be finished, and my involvement will taper off from full-time developer/designer to part-time consultant. I’ve also busied myself with experiments in online learning, recreational shooting and a personal goal of walking 5 miles daily. It’s become difficult to remember how fishing could fit into my schedule.

Last weekend it was creepy neighborly curiosity that had Karen and me traipsing through a home across the street and a houses up. The residents weren’t people with whom we had wanted to acquaint ourselves. The house was now vacant and an estate sale planned for Saturday.

In the world of estate and garage sales, every minute counts; but we had things to do and arrived about an hour late. There weren’t too many items of interest, though a nice rolling tool cabinet and couple decent pieces of furniture were tagged as sold.

I’m not a picker by any stretch of the imagination and generally won’t dig through a pile of junk hoping for a gem. But walking through the garage my attention was drawn to a few rods tucked into a corner.

It was the usual collection of rods bought on the spur of the moment: a mix of spinning and bait casting rods and nothing remarkable. The same could be said of the reels, with one exception tucked behind the others. A fly reel attached to a medium saltwater spinning rod.

Two years ago I purchased an unbranded bamboo rod at the club auction for minimal money and since had been looking for a reel that might match the rod’s patina and pedigree. At first glance, this reel would fit the bill. I offered $5, mumbling that it was the reel I was interested in, but that I’d do them a favor by taking the rod off their hands as well. The deal was sealed and money changed hands.

The Catch

The Catch

The rod cleaned up well enough to keep for the occasional misstep outside of fly fishing. The reel was in decent shape and only required wiping some dust and cobwebs away, which revealed it was a Pflueger Medalist 1495, a solid reel that I suspected might work well enough on the so-far-unused bamboo rod. But it was set up for left-hand retrieve, and I don’t do left-hand retrieve.

The Internets quickly offered up enough knowledge to indicate that I could set it up for right-hand retrieve. With a few tools and decent instructions the reel was soon in pieces. Maybe it’s nostalgia, but I admired its construction and relatively simple design — a more elegant reel from a more civilized age.

After a simple inversion of the drag plate was all it should take, but the right-hand retrieve side of the drag plate was missing a bezel that would allow the drag bearing, which fits inside the drag plate, to nestle into the drag plate. Test fitting revealed that would prevent the spool from seating properly. I scratched my head for a bit then sent off a few emails to guys who know better than I.

Apparently I had found a left-hand retrieve only Medalist 1495, likely manufactured in the late 1950s or 1960s before Pflueger changed the drag plate to allow folks to reel with the “wrong hand,” apparently a “quite collectible” version of the Medalist.

You’ll find me looking for another $5 reel for that no-name bamboo rod.

on the progeny of planted parents (or, can a wild trout be a good substitute for its native cousin?)

There’s something wonderfully satisfying about the surprising fight-per-ounce ratio of a wild trout that is followed by a revelation of coloration more vivid than man might create. That’s doubly true when the wild fish is native.

There are purists who would dismiss the progeny of planted parents, but earlier this week, Mark Kautz raised an interesting thought about a possible decline of opportunities to catch wild trout on his Northern California Trout blog as the California Department of Fish & Wildlife’s stocking program shifts to triploid trout.

Shelving the wild vs. native fish discussion for a bit, if I can’t chase native trouts, I’m just as happy stalking their wild brethren. Wild trout are the reason I took up fly fishing. There comes a point in every fishing career that you develop an affinity for a style of fishing, or a species, and often both. It can happen unexpectedly and unconsciously.

With me it began on a little creek in the Walker River watershed, with a spinning rod and a size one spotted Panther Martin teardrop. The cookie-cutter planter rainbows are the standard fare downstream, but my recent rediscovery of the benefits of hiking a bit farther than most weekend warriors had convinced me that whacking through dense stands of cottonwood could be worth the effort.

Trout are one species that adhere to the adage that “life will find a way,” and there’s no better example that the wild fish that often can be found upstream of the ruts created by the DFW’s live-haul stocking trucks. That day it was a cast to riffles in the shade of streamside willows that introduced me to a sizeable wild trout, at least by my standards. Until then, my familiarity of trout with parr marks had been limited to fish measuring less than six inches; this one was about twelve inches long. That wild trout was my gateway fish to appreciation of native populations.

As Mark observed, it’s likely that many folks expect to stock their freezers with trout poundage with a value equal to the cost of a fishing license; perhaps by any means necessary and without knowledge of or concern about the toll on wild and/or native trout. Perhaps it’s fed by the illusion of self-sustenance, even if for only a few days each year. It’s just as likely those fish won’t be replaced as the DFW’s triploid trout — chosen in response to a legal action challenging its hatchery and stocking operations — can’t reproduce. In the long-run, this should be a good thing for California’s native fishes. (It should be noted that the California DFW hatchery system has been gearing up production of native fish for selected waters.)

Still, it’s hard not to wonder if meat fishing, especially in a state as populous as California, would decimate populations of wild fish that have gained a foothold where native fish don’t exist. Also, with California’s now minimal sustainable populations of native fish, it could eventually impact native fish without stronger enforcement of regulations. That, or we have to hope, as Mark alluded, that meat fisherman will be more inclined to drive a few miles to grab some steaks than clamber over rocks, descend into a canyon or even walk a few thousand feet upstream.

Thank you, Mark, for the thought-provoking discourse.