fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)

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

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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
(Use “Compatibility View” in Internet Explorer if pictures overlap.)
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