fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)

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opening day 2010 – new wild places

Each Opening Day Weekend — with or without company — I charge into the Sierra Foothills in pursuit of the first trout of the season. This year Older Son Sean accompanied me.

Sean left earlier than I could Opening Day — I had a commitment — and he had some luck flogging a few spots before my arrival. We met up at The Cabin late in the afternoon. Sean brimmed with confidence that this would be the year he outfishes dad. The refrigerator was stocked with beer and the pantry with basic staples and, with daylight waning, we opted to warm up on the surprisingly trout-friendly irrigation canal behind town.

Opening Day brings nearly half the town to the canal, knowing that sometime during the prior week, days or hours, that the state DFG hatchery truck will have dropped a load of pan-sized rainbows into the water. I’ve seen everything brought to bear on the canal — the ubiquitous baits of questionable manmade formulations, bass lures, even 10 foot saltwater rods — with the results being full stringers, as well as the seemingly inevitable string of injured, dead, or dying stocked rainbows. (Wild or not, wasteful in my book.)

Snow along the way, in late April.

Snow along the way, in late April.

The first full day began with a five a.m. departure. This year it meant driving east on Hwy 108 during at dawn. Not surprisingly, remnants of dirty snow appeared at approximately 4,500 feet and drifts defined the snowplow’s reach after 5,000 feet. Most summers I will end up driving this route at least six times. Sometimes to destinations before the summit; other times to traverse Sonora Pass as I make tracks for the East Slope of the Sierras. So, knowing full well (and happily) that Old Man Winter laid down a healthy snowpack, we set out Sunday morning to reach the Promised Water, the Clarks Fork of the Stanislaus River, which is littered with boulders and sprinkled with wild trout and their domesticated brethren.

Outside the car windows the air was crisp and cold, and snow began to dominate the landscape. That should have been our warning. Apparently the road to Clarks Fork doesn’t warrant the same attention as the highway when it comes to snow removal. Disappointment was tamed somewhat by the acknowledgement that we were taking risk this time around by checking on waters never before visited this early in the season.

The next attempt to reach unvisited water— Sand Bar Flat and Spring Gap on the Middle Fork of the Stanislaus River — was prevented by (1) lack of signage and (2) lack of a Stanislaus National Forest map. Fishing near Spring Gap can legitimately be called epic: a few years ago Christopher and I stumbled upon it late in the afternoon; late enough that we had about two hours of fishing, but those two hours yielded some beautiful wild rainbows. But Sean and I weren’t getting there this year.

Apparently gluttons for the punishment doled out by Forest Service roads, we threw caution to the wind to set the GPS for Wild Trout Stream X. It’s been mentioned here before as a location revealed in confidence by two old and grizzled fishermen who appreciated the fact that Sean and I were fly fishing and practicing catch and release. We had visited the stream in the off season, when flows were about half of what we’d find, and saw a good number of dark shadows that presaged good times. It’s about ten miles from pavement, on roads littered with potholes (and mud at this time of year) winding through dry pine forests, by meadows and over one river and a few creeks. Sean claims that no matter which direction we were headed that the potholes seems to line up on his side. It certainly wasn’t my driving.

Was the long, 20-miles-per-hour drive worth it? You betchya.

Smaller streams are always a great excuse to get out my smaller 3 wt. rod, so while I was getting that ready Sean nearly ran to a pool downstream of an old-school stone bridge. You’d have to ask him, but I would swear that it wasn’t more than one drift before I heard an exclamation affirming a hook up. Sure enough, a small wild rainbow was the first of many rewards for the torturous ride in.

What I call a Trophy – a wild rainbow in Stream X.

I’m always amazed to find trout in streams like this one. It was rarely more than six feet across and more than two feet deep. Its crystal-clear water danced over the rocks, creating riffles and small plunge pools. Short stretches offered a riffle-pool-tailout configuration in miniature.

This small stream made the day. There’s nothing like wild fish. Particularly in light of The Unaccomplished Angler‘s “Adages as Pertaining to Smallish (Wild) Fish”:

  • What they lack in size, they make up for in beauty.
  • A size 22 fly in the mouth of a 2-inch fish is equivalent to a size 2 fly in the mouth of a 22-inch fish. Or something like that.
  • It’s not about the size of the fish in the fight, but the size of the fight in the fish. And little fish are scrappers.
  • There’s more fishing than catching big fish.
  • Small fish, in the hands of those with small hands, look relatively large.

While I hear that Mr. Unaccomplished is good in the small hands department, it’s not so true for me. We’re in agreement on everything else.

Sean on Stream X.

Sean on a fish.

And the wild fish at Stream X were h-u-n-g-r-y. We were casting a dry/dropper rig (a dry fly with a dropper, i.e. a subsurface nymph imitation) and these little guys chased both flies with abandon. Even the dry fly, despite it being a size 12 stimulator in my case. (The dropper was a size 18/20 Copper John.) As a relatively new fly fisherman who cut his teeth on nymphing as a nearly surefire way to dredge up trout, the last two years I’ve gained a greater understanding for the pure joy of presenting a dry fly in a manner adequate enough to elicit a strike.

Rubber-legged stimulatior doing the job.

Rubber-legged stimulatior doing the job.

Steam X also offered plenty of dry fly fun. Sean spent much of his time at the downstream pool, while employed my shorter rod in dappling various riffles and plunge pools as I made my way upstream. Disappointment was rare. Fish would rise out of bubbles of plunging water to inhale the rubber-legged stimulator. Others in riffles would pounce on the dropper at the last minute, just as it began to drift toward the water’s surface on the swing. Nearly four hours flew by. We capped the day with a great buffalo burger at the well-known Diamondback Grill in downtown Sonora.

Monday would mark Sean’s last day of the trip and a responsible but unfortunate decision to leave a bit early to make it to class. His original plan was to skip class to spend a bit more time on what I’ll call Hatchery Creek. (More on why later.) We were on the water just after sunrise, but with the water temperature at 50°F, there was no love that morning. Two hours or so later, Sean made his fateful decision. As for me, perhaps I’m too stubborn. Sometimes stubbornness pays off.

First fish of Opening Day 2010.

Hatchery fish, Opening Day 2010.

Mid morning, with sun dappling the water and the air temperature rising enough so that I could no longer see my breath, bugs began to hatch. A few small mayflies darted here and there. Then the bite was on. During the next two hours I would hook fourteen fish and bring ten to the net. (I’ll attribute the hooked/landed ratio to the fact that size matter that morning…nothing larger than size 18 got their attention.) Every fish was a cookie cutter stocker, ranging from ten to twelve inches. I’ll give ‘em credit, every single one of these fish put on a good show, either jumping multiple times or offering me a challenge by sounding for the bottom. I stuck around through the afternoon, trying to land that last fish. It never came. The evening entailed cleaning The Cabin and packing most of the gear.

The last bit of fishing for this trip came when the last load of laundry was in the dryer. I made the short drive to The Canal and casually walked upstream with drifting a couple of nymphs through likely locations, particularly the undercut bank just underfoot. Things looked good after the second case, when a colorful, ten-inch brown absolutely nailed the lower fly, a Copper John. During the 30-minute walk up to flume I picked up two more trout, both brownies. Below the flume, where the force of the water create a pool full of eddies, another five fish came to hand. (I missed two hooksets as well.)

Overall it was a great Opening Day trip. The catching wasn’t red hot as it’s been during previous Opening Days. Stream X, however, offered the highlight of the trip, the kind of fishing memory that will grow grander with each telling. But don’t ask for the GPS coordinates. You’ll only get there if I take you there. Blindfolded. Probably in the trunk.



manly fishing and food

By now you know that the Older Son and I are likely having a heck of a time. We’re headquartered at the cabin, fishing a few rivers and small streams for trout. Maybe even tainting our lines to chase bluegill and bass in a nearby pond.

During the fishing there will be manly bonding that can only come over fierce friendly competition; competition that likely will be won by guile and cunning rather than youth and strength. In between fishing there will be a visit to our favorite hamburger place. Thankfully, forecasts portend fantastic spring weather. Yeah, a heck of a time.

I can feel your sympathy.

Without a decent laptop, much less a reliable connection to the interwebs, any updates will erratic or nonexistent. In the debate of fishing vs. blogging, well, you can guess the loser.

More words — and taunting — to come. Just can’t say when.

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the starting line

Stepping up to the plate to help educate novice fly fishers tomorrow morning in the basic skills needed to play and land a fish means shoving aside the desire to fling a fly at oh-dark-thirty on Opening Day of Trout Season 2010. (The offer of a free lunch had something nothing to do with volunteering.)

Unfortunately, there’s 125 miles between the classroom and suitable trout water, which means — without too much traffic — I won’t put a fly in or on the water until sometime after 4:00 p.m. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. That magical twilight hour can mean good times on a few of the rivers and streams on my list.

The plan’s a bit in flux until Saturday morning, when older son Sean will decide on his departure hour and whether he’ll stop at the Bass Pro Shops store in Manteca…and how much time and money he might spend there. (Thankfully, he doesn’t have to worry about a wife discovering that Bass Pro offers something for everyone.) His timing will determine on which water will begin his annual attempt to out fish the old man.

A portion of our arsenal.

It’s certain that we’ll mix it up a bit this year. Water flows will dictate whether of not we visit the Clark Fork of the Stanislaus River. The regular, local spots are also on our list. So is Brook Trout Stream X, a small trickle of a creek discovered last year thanks to two local retiree/fishermen, who gave specific instructions to ‘…go down that there road ten miles and you’ll find it.’ No mention that nine of the ten miles would be Forest Service road. We’re hoping that after a long winter that these wild brookies might be a tad hungry enough to be fooled by adequately presented dry flies.

We’ll have the new waterproof camera with us, hoping it’ll be baptized photographing some decent fish.

Our days are about to flash by at a more frenzied pace, but there are fish in our future and more than a few waters — a well-known lake in Northern California, a Washington river, and untold Sierra rivers and streams — in which we’ll wet our fly lines for the first time. We’ll reacquaint ourselves with familiar waters along the way. Then there’s the long-planned Tioga-to-Sonora Pass Motorcycle Fly Fishing Tour.

We’re packed and ready to go.

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money we’ll never see

It’s no wonder we don’t see many c-notes around the homestead.

‘We estimate that as many as two-thirds of all $100 notes circulate outside the United States,’ said Bernanke, who stressed that the 6.5 billion in $100 bills now in circulation will remain legal tender.” …more

So it’s unlikely we’ll get up close and personal with the new $100 bill when it goes into circulation Feb. 10, 2011.

Nice and purty, ain’t it?

I’d be misguiding you, kind reader, to say that debit and credit cards have absolutely supplanted my need for cold hard cash.

There still are times when cash is king. Particularly at the general store closest to the best wild trout streams and manned by a local militia member. Inevitability that same store will display a sign ‘No Bills Larger Than $20 Accepted.’

I’ll leave the c-notes at home.

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radio silence

Yesterday The Wife nonchalantly observed that I haven’t been writing recently. I looked up and mumbled something related to lack of inspiration.

That’s not entirely true, but the truth is somewhere in a middle ground.

Right now the hustle is on in preparation for Opening Day, five days hence. At this time of year it seems like most everything requires marching double time. Stretching Opening Day weekend into a four-day trip means taking two days off at work. In turn, this requires a doubling up of the workload to avoid an inevitable avalanche of paperwork when I return; something guaranteed to quickly kill any post-fishing afterglow. It also cuts into time needed to regale co-workers with feats of fly fishing excellence.

Preparation requires the collection and inspection of gear more than once as I can’t won’t trust a mental checklist to ensure that all’s ready to go.

My overwhelmed mind hourly sorts through the various fishing options, trying to decide which river or stream to fish first or the order in which to fish them; an important decision that factors in variables such as likely catch rate, water flow, species, the payoff of trying an unfamiliar venue, and the desire for solitude.

Trips to the gym bring about physical agony and mental anguish. There’s an understanding of the long-term benefit — the ability to keep up on the river with the sons — but it takes time away from preparation. More energy’s wasted shoving aside thoughts of yard work.

All the while, anticipation slows time to a crawl.

This is the storm behind the calm.

Thank goodness I tied what I think will be enough flies last month.

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zero-to-fishing-spot fast

Now the boy racer in me can plan on dream of racing between fly fishing venues and bring some buddies along. I’d translate the ability of the luggage compartment to accommodate three golf bags to mean four sets of waders, wading boots, vests, and at least eight rods.

The wing will double nicely as a picnic table for streamside lunches.

Read more at the New York Times Wheels Blog and AutoBlog.