fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)


in the middle of something

Because I’m writing this ahead of time, by the time you read this I won’t be here.

The there where I’ll be, and am as you read this, is roughly 18.5 miles east northeast of downtown Seattle. It’ll take a plane, a train and automobiles to get where I’m going.

We’re on day two of our visit with the folks who raised us and the brother who bothered us, and his family. Tomorrow starts at oh-dark-thirty to chase Oncorhynchus tshawy in Puget Sound with dad, bro and friends. It ain’t Alaska, but a beer budget limits the distance we can travel; but it should be fun.

Sunday is open to possibilities. One hope is that thanks to imposing on the generosity of former strangers, there might be some learning on local waters. Maybe some Snoqualmie trout.

Monday morning will find us on the way to unfamiliar waters with dad and fishing guide Derek, with hopes for a day made up of more than a few firsts. A first fly fishing float on the Yakima River for both of us. The first fly fishing at all for dad. Our first gourmet shore lunch. (No pressure, Derek.) If all goes well, a first Yakima River cutthroat for me; dad, too.

In between there are no great plans, more of a continuation of a previous visit with relations, young and old. (I’m beginning to believe that long-distance relatives you want to see should be seen at a frequency no less than three months and no greater than eight months.)

It’s pretty certain that beer and good food will figure into things.

Happy summertime, y’all.



here’s your sign*

Ridiculous hats and goofy waders are so yesterday. Not content to lurk in the shadows, only to emerge once in a while to demonstrate our fly fishing prowess through the actual act, it seems that public pronouncement of our affliction is the trend du jour.

Branding is “in.”

It used to be that it was the tools of the trade that identified fly fishermen — rods and all kinds of gear stacked in the back of the vehicle, maybe the driver sporting a logoed hat or jacket, an ash tray full of used-up flies and split shot, and a cooler of local hop juice. Now it’s decals, displaying one’s choice in rods, reels, fishing guides or philosophies.

Some might argue that the number of decals equates to experience and perhaps skill level. True or not, the fact that more than a few fly fishermen care enough to display their predilections on the back window of anything from a ’78 Chevy Stepside to the latest Range Rover offers an opportunity to decipher a sort of shorthand that can reveal a bit about the personalities you might meet the water.

My Tribal Decal-The DVFF

My Tribe

While fly fishing brands will forever be debated with great intensity, “tribal affiliation” decals announcing a favorite brand — usually Sage, Orvis, Ross, Abel, and the like — broadcast a general level of cash outlay for gear. Thankfully, there is no proven direct correlation between the expense of the gear and angling ability. (I did well enough with a $100 L.L. Bean rod/reel/line combo to be encouraged to continue down the path of financial ruin fly fishing enlightenment.)

Fly fishing decals make a declaration. “Zero Limit” is just such an oft-seen decal (also seen on t-shirts). This isn’t an argument; there is no discussion to be had. These pronunciamentos are designed to end, not start, conversations. (I, however, will gladly fish waters near a parking spot in which most of the vehicles sport this decal, subscribing to the thought that “The finest gift you can give to any fisherman is to put a good fish back…”)

There also are more benign messages signaled by decals announcing a favorite guide service or club.

A basic outline of what decals can mean:

  • More Expensive Brand Name** (Sage, Ross, Orvis, Simms, etc.): “Sure, I may not be catching as many fish as you, or even the biggest, but I look better doing it.”
  • More Affordable Brand Name (Redington, St. Croix, Cabela’s, White River, Etc.): “I don’t need no stinkin’ brand name, I got skills.”
  • Any Guide Service: Don’t make eye contact with these people. Seriously. They want you to ask about XYZ guide service, then will proceed to regale you and anyone within earshot with the 151st, hour-long retelling of their best day fishing ever.
  • Fly Fishing Club: Friendly people, who, when they don’t get out to fish often enough, live vicariously through others’ fishing reports.

**In all honesty, in response to economic conditions, most manufacturers now offer more affordable gear, but the premise remains sound.

Pride, Guide or Warning?

A better indicator of who you might meet on the water may well be found in the number of decals. In many cases, this simply may be a sign of the owner’s pride in being part of the sport. However, in some cases, the quantity of decals may serve as a warning.

A 2008 Colorado State University study concluded that drivers who place bumper stickers and other decorations — or “territory markers” — on their vehicles could be 16 percent more likely to engage in road rage. These decorations “…predicted road rage better than vehicle value, condition or any of the things that we normally associate with aggressive driving,” said researcher and psychologist William Szlemko in a Nature News interview.

So next time you’re wandering down to the river, take a look at he vehicles parked in the lot or alongside the road. Count the number of decals on each one.

You’ve been warned.

* Credit to Bill Engvall for this post title.

Want a second or third opinion on this fascinating subject? Check out today’s posts at The Unaccomplished Angler and Fly Fish the Yakima.

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inaugural m/c trip, part 2 (the good stuff)

The inaugural Konoske Boys Two-Wheel/Fly Fishing Road Trip 2010 is in the books. We’d talked about this trip for a couple of years, and almost on a whim, it became reality.

It began on a Saturday morning. The sun was rising, the air was just this side of chilly. It was time to mount up.

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Sean and me @Sonora Pass (State Route 108)

The first leg of our trip would wind up the central Sierra Nevada via Califorina State Route 108, finally peaking at the 9,624-foot high Sonora Pass, then descend with a good many twists and turns on the way to U.S. Highway 395 and our first stop near Bridgeport. It’s a scenic drive, but the open-air experience of a motorcycle brings nature just a shade closer. Especially the seemingly suicidal chipmunks and squirrels that would dash into the roadway, only to reverse direction inches from Sean’s wheels.

We knew I’d be comfy in my full-on riding gear. Any question regarding Sean’s comfort was quickly dismissed with references to youthful vigor and his machismo. He’d only have to tough it out a few times, when we passed through sheltered valleys kept cold by overshadowing mountains. That’d change at the pass. The sun is always brighter on the Eastern side of the Sierras, where high desert terrain takes hold. Via hand signals and the occasional tap on the horn, we’d coordinate stops here and there so I could describe to Sean the lay of the land. About 9:30 a.m. we pulled off the road to park alongside the East Walker River, our first of two fishing venues.

Blue skies and warming temperatures greeted us as we changed from riding gear to waders and assembled our rods. The river wasn’t so welcoming. It was a tad high for my tastes. I gave Sean a few suggestions regarding fly selection and possible fish locations.

The East Walker’s always been friendly to me, or at least the trout that live there have been willing to play during previous visits. This time there must have been a collective agreement to make me work for my first and only fish of the day. Sean wandered off and I moved upstream to some likely riffles.

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East Walker Brown

I switched flies, taking cues from the hatch of small mayflies to choose a size 20 WD40, and trailed behind it a size 18 Broken Back Tiger Midge. I’m no expert, but my experience on the East Walker suggested that the fish would be hugging the banks, calling for drifts on seams no more than 3 feet out. Sure enough, just before it was time to head back to meet Sean at the bikes, I was rewarded with a decent tug at the end of a nice drift. Without room for a net on the bike, landing this 11- to 12-inch brown trout required a little more play and care. It was a nice reward for a bit of harder fishing.

The ride from Bridgeport to Lee Vining is easy, with good pavement, multiple lanes much of the way and incredible views of Long Valley and Mono Lake. The back up plan for lunch was Whoa Nellie Deli in the Tioga Gas Mart, but Bodie Mike’s Barbeque caught our eye midway through town. Splitting a tasty sampler plate, we enjoyed an outdoor table and great weather for a spell.

After topping off the tanks at Tioga Gas Mart, we began the ride up Tioga Pass. We’d be rising 3,162 feet in less than 12 miles on State Route 120; from Lee Vining (elev. 6,781 feet/2,067 m.) to Tioga Pass (elevation 9,943 ft./3,031 m.). We’d stop just short of the pass to wet the lines again.

A favorite roadside “tailwater” of ours is a small section of Lee Vining Creek, just below Tioga Lake. This area takes on a wholly different flavor with the seasons of the year. Spring seems to offer the greatest challenge. The reeds are still bent, dead and brown from the killing cold of winter, offering little protection for the wild brookies and dramatically reducing an angler’s ability to camouflage an approach. Even though it’s controlled, the water is a bit high. The channels and pockets of this upper section had dissolved into wide flats extending across gravel bars.

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High Sierra Brook Trout

I tried to meet this challenge with a long leader of 13 to 14 feet and 6x tippet. My leader terminated with a size 18 red humpy trailed by a size 20 zebra midge — standard fare for the high Sierras. I paid the price for forgetting that the first cast is the best opportunity to hook a fish by missing a strike at the dry fly by a decent fish. That’d be my only strike in this stretch. Sean couldn’t get a rise either, so we decided to hike downstream a bit to a truly roadside section (one can stand on the edge of the asphalt and cast into the stream).

This is typical high Sierra freestone stream, with granite pebbles and larger rocks providing perfect concealment for trout, particularly brook trout. It requires reading the water and picking pockets. I found a few such pockets and was able to bring a few fish up to my flies but without hooking them. Sean tried a few other sections as we walked along.

Though this stream rarely offers channels deeper than 12 inches, I had put on my waders knowing that the meadows through which it flowed would still be more of a marsh. So I left Sean behind to continue further downstream, where the higher volume of water forced the creek into multiple braids. (Later in the season the creek would settle down into two main channels.) In customary high Sierra fashion, the creek would expand to a few feet in width to bubble over runs of granite stones, then shrink to less than a foot across, rushing through bends to create undercut banks.

I finally found more brook trout in the small tailouts at the end of those undercut banks. Thanks to the velocity of the water, they hooked themselves well enough that I landed three. Small, as one would expect at an altitude where the growing season is four months at best, but good wild fish. Soon we saddled up to head over Tioga Pass.

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@the Tioga Pass Entrance Station (Yosemite National Park)

For me, the entrance station at Tioga Pass has held grander significance that its small dimensions suggest. Many years ago, it was a welcome sign that the family camping destination for more than a few summers, Tuolumne Meadows Campground, was a only few minutes away. On this trip, it was evidence that three quarters of our route was behind us and that we were entering some of the prettiest high country you’ll find anywhere. It also meant that, with a good pace, we’d be dining on buffalo burgers in a few hours. The only question was Sean’s bike, which stalled out as we stopped to fish Lee Vining Creek.

The road through Tuolumne Meadows, in addition to passing the meadows and the Tuolumne River, passes Lembert Dome (there’s a family story about how not to descend it), Tenya Lake, Olmstead Point (overlooking Yosemite Valley), and the Tuolumne Grove of sequoias. Thankfully, we were able to bump start Sean’s bike the 3 times it was necessary. Nonetheless, we kept our stops to a minimum and made good progress. The ride took longer than expected as a motor home, which should be anticipated on these roads, kept our speed well below 40 mph.

It was probably a good thing we were operating at a reduced speed. Just short of Tuolumne Grove, out from a stand of spring-green trees shading a sharp turn bolted a buck with a decent rack of antlers, crossing the road directly in front of Sean. I never did ask Sean if he needed to stop and change his underwear.

The rest of the ride was relatively uneventful. We cleared the western entrance station, filled up at Big Oak Flat, where Sean declared a “butt break.” We enjoyed buffalo burgers at Diamondback Grill, and Sean treated me to some goodies at the Candy Vault. Then it was a short ride to The Cabin.

The stats:

    263 miles
    11.97 gallons of fuel
    43.94 mpg
    1 platoon of suicidal chipmunks
    3 daredevil gray squirrels
    2 stops to fish
    1 brown trout
    1 shared lunch of 4 ribs and 1 chicken breast
    3 brook trout
    1 crazy buck
    2 buffalo burgers

The dream is now a memory. Our arses may never be the same again.

The Trip in Pictures
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post-m/c trip deconstruction……in reverse… sort of

Chronological order be damned; the middle often is the best. Bread is the handy carrier for PB&J. It’s the cream filling that makes the Twinkie.

So, in this tale we’ll shove the more mundane stuff out of the way first.

The last Friday in June, Sean and I loaded up the motorcycles with more gear than each has ever been asked to carry. A quick review of the route, and we began the inaugural Konoske Boys Two-Wheel/Fly Fishing RoadTrip 2010. The fishing looked iffy. The weather looked good. We knew the scenery would be great.

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Two bikes, two fly rods, two reels and an extra gallon of gas.

Thanks largely to me, Sean was riding his ’82 Honda CB650SC (my first motorcycle), and I was riding my ’97 Honda CB750. Both shod with fresh rubber and recently inspected by the shop. Saddlebags hung from their haunches, fly rods balanced on their tails.

Our first multi-day m/c trip would push the total mileage into triple digits three days in a row. Call it a trial run.

The thing about a trial run — “a test or rehearsal of something new or untried to assess its effectiveness” — is the haunting expectation that something will be found to be ineffective. Skipping ahead to the end of our last day, that’s when the battery on Sean’s bike went kaput, thanks to a charging system known to be most effective above 5,000 rpm. A few attempts to bump start the engine ended as quickly as started. Thankfully, we weren’t so far from The Cabin that we…actually Sean, it’s his bike after all…couldn’t push it back.

So our fantastic weekend ended on a subdued note. Sean rode my bike home as he had to get to work and I awaited rescue. A few hours later The Wife delivered a battery tender.  Sean’s bike was charging and I was headed home.

Forty-five hours and 408 miles earlier Sean and I had only edged onto Hwy 780. Somewhere around Livermore any idea of membership in the Iron Butt Association was out the window. In the end, the biggest “trial” of this trial run was butt endurance. Actually, lack thereof. Our longest run without a stop was 62 miles. My butt went numb at mile 46. You can bet I’ll be researching custom seats during the coming months.

Luckily, short breaks were all it took to restore a semblance of normalness to our gait. And with a smaller tank on the CB650, we made up excuses and stopped often enough. Of course, there was the traditional A&W root beer stop in Oakdale.

Thankfully, the road just outside of Oakdale twists over rolling hills; a welcome change from the monotony of the highway slabs. We pulled into the driveway less than an hour later, unpacked and sat for a spell.

Sean's Stocked Rainbow

The decent stocked rainbow that surprised Sean at the canal.

Then Sean began to give me the eye. He’s so keen on fishing that, apparently, it was ill-mannered of me to take time to rest my weary rear when there’s trout to play with. A quick ride to the outskirts of town put us on the canal. Most of the time we’re hard pressed to entice anything but wild browns that live there to take a fly. I plucked about 5 out. Sean pulled out another of the wild brethren as well as a decent stocker rainbow estimated at 14 to 15 inches. Deeming that 2 hours or so was enough of a warm up for Saturday, we headed off to fill the tanks and grab dinner. We discovered, however, that the only gas station in town no longer dispenses fuel. We’d solve that dilemma later.

In hindsight, the 40 miles from Oakdale to The Cabin presaged the fun we’d find on Hwy 108, 395 and 120 the next day.

But that’s next week’s post.

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The where we were.


big lake, up high, big fish: part two

Five o’clock in the morning doesn’t seem to come as early when it heralds a day of late June fishing. A quick “good morning” call from The Wife, a hot shower, a slathering of sunscreen and the packing of lunch and gear took thirty minutes. I was ready for what would be the best Monday. Ever.

Eagle Lake Sunrise

Sunrise on Eagle Lake, June 22, 2010

Tom Loe, who owns the guide service, kindly allowed me to hitch a ride to the marina, while Darryl (guessing at the spelling here), another client, regaled me with claims of incredible fishing and trout of unparalleled quality.

Then it all came to a screeching halt.

I was asked if I had my license. I glanced at my chest. No lanyard, no license. Damn. Rookie mistake. A quick run back to camp. Frantic searching of the car, the bed, the cooler. Nothing. My license was in my backpack. Which was back at the dock. Lesson learned. I should trust in my preparations.

The sun creeping over the mountains signaled that the time had come to head out. Fifteen minutes later our guide, Doug Rodricks, was doing the “guide thing” — watching the Lowrance, peering into the crystal clear water, on the lookout for rock piles and drop offs. Soon enough, anchors were thrown, nymph depth checked, and Don, my fishing partner for this trip, and I cast out. We were fishing.

Don's First Hookup Monday Morning

Don's First Hookup Monday Morning

Helping temper our expectations was the knowledge, reinforced by comments from Tom and Doug, that calm water doesn’t make for good fishing on Eagle Lake. Especially with fish that seem to be a bit more photosensitive than most.

Managing expectations is a good thing; it makes that first takedown all the more sweet.

That sweetness came within the first thirty minutes.  Don’s rod went bendo, big time. Neither of us were prepared for the strength of these trout, nor the overall quality of every fish brought to the net. Soon came my first takedown.

My First Eagle Lake Rainbow-June 21, 2010

My First Eagle Lake Rainbow

One doesn’t simply horse these fish to the net. And each fish brings a distinct fighting style to the game. Head shaking was common. Some would sound for the bottom. Others “play possum” until the boat is in sight, then make a wild dash. A number of fish would take us on blistering runs as far as they could. A few would jump, often more than once.

I quickly learned to hate jumping fish. More than one trout successfully resorted to this tactic to throw my hook. Keep in mind, they threw the hook. I did nothing wrong.

Soon enough, the coolness of the early morning air went unnoticed as Don and I brought a second, third and fourth Eagle Lake trout to the net, slabs of fish rarely measuring less than eighteen inches. Photos were taken; photos much like many seen before, but now featuring these beauties in our hands.

Eagle Lake Goddard Caddis

One reason the bite was on, the Goddard Caddis.

The number and quality of the fish in Eagle Lake are astonishing. There’s no getting used to such strong, larger and exquisite trout. Whether hatchery raised or wild born, all display full fins, with particularly massive caudal fins, and incredible coloration. The main difference between the wild and hatchery fish is in the markings. The wild fish are almost leopard like, with a dense collection of black spots extending from the tip of the nose to the end of the tail fin and below the lateral line.

Doug called it a tough day of fishing. Probably because he had to haul the anchor and reposition the boat more than usual, adjusting to the faint winds. I, however, don’t think a ten-fish day is all that bad.

Don’t get me wrong, we weren’t getting takedowns on every cast. Stillwater nymphing is less about figuring where these trout are; it’s more about finding locations where one can intercept them. Without wind to create ripples, it’s up to the fisherman to impart some action to the flies. More often than this amateur fly fisherman might deserve, a twitch would elicit a strike. Even unintentional twitches, such as the result of a bad mend, would mean fish on.

Monday would end with a boat total of approximately 20 fish to the net. We probably took photos of at least 19. Flies for the day were pheasant tail nymphs, midge pupa and “Agent Orange.” The afternoon was dedicated to caring for sore wrists and forearms.

the big day

In retrospect, Day 1 was a warm up. Tuesday morning brought predictions of increasing winds and the promise of a better bite. The excitement was palpable as we pulled into “Shrimp,” so named because of nearby Shrimp Island. We would end up staying there all day.

Slanting early morning sun and a breeze wrinkling the water equated to a quick start to the catching. Multiple doubles throughout the day would bring twin trout to the net. Intermittent winds marked the first half of the day, and the catch rate was directly proportional to the wind.

Don's Big Fish

Don's awesome Big Fish of the Trip

Agent Orange was the name of the game. So strong was this fly’s power to entice a grab, Doug doubled up our rigs, using Agent Orange as both the top and bottom flies.

Once and a while Doug would reposition the boat, adjusting to a shift in the wind, and we’d glimpse large fish cruising the shallows.

After one repositioning, I let my flies dangle in the water while Doug adjusted the depth of Don’s rig. I wasn’t paying attention and soon felt a familiar, slow tug hinting that I had snagged bottom. Starting to flush with embarrassment and moving slowly as to not catch Doug’s eye, I carefully angled the rod to help free the fly.

Line began to peel off the reel. I ended up landing a nice, fat Eagle Lake rainbow. The slowest and the easiest hookup I’ve ever experienced fly fishing. I hope that Doug appreciated this hookset; he’d admonished me the entire trip to slow down in setting the hook.

My Best Looking Eagle Lake Rainbow

My Best Looking Eagle Lake Rainbow, a Wild Fish

Then a few funny things began to happen. I’d solidly hook a fish, only to have the reel scream as the trout ran, possibly jump, and eventually throw the hook. This happened five times. Doug swears he didn’t straighten my hooks.

Also, as the afternoon wore on, the wind would die, leaving Don and I to believe we’d get a respite from the wrist straining action. Not so. Contrary to expectations, the bite continued despite the mirror like surface and I, for one, ignored hunger pains so as to keep my flies below the surface as much as possible.

Eight hours later, and with over 50 fish between Don and I, Doug gave the 15-minute warning. Both Don and I made good use of the time…both landing one more Eagle Lake Rainbow. The wind was picking up just as we headed back to the marina, but that good feeling fatigue that comes with a day of hard fishing guaranteed only a half-hearted lament.

Crazy fishing.

The Evidence:
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