fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)


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marking fall with dry fly fishing

This humble writer should be stumbling hiking down to Hot Creek about this time these words are automatically posted. The expectation is that I will be on the road as of 5:00 a.m., clearing Sonora Pass shortly after sunrise, and three hours later parking the car about 100 feet above the creek. With any luck, I’ll be on the water before any big hatches direct the eyes of the many resident trout (estimated at 3,000 educated fish per mile as of 2008) to surface. 

Is rising early and all this driving worth it?

About the time you’re safely sipping coffee in your cozy breakfast nook and reading this, I’ll have the answer.

I’ve fished Hot Creek before, but only after a recent glance at the calendar did I realize this year the club fishing trip, led by yours truly for a third time as “fishmaster,” would begin the day after the official start of fall. To be clear, trout don’t care about dates on a calendar. However, first-hand reports from fly fishing friends hint that I could be in for some fun dry fly action. Crazy, trout slurping the surface kind of stuff. One of the signs of fall in the Sierra Nevadas.

Only this time I’ll be going small. Word is that size 20 flies might be just this side of too big. For perspective, those pesky mosquitoes everyone knows are roughly a size 18.

Beyond the fishing, it’ll be a new experience hiking down to the creek later in the season. Hot Creek — more so than other streams and creeks in the Eastern Sierra’s Long Valley — has always stood out as a beautiful green gem in an otherwise dusty brown high desert. This time around some frost, and perhaps a bit of ice, may gild the lily.

If all goes well, I’ll be on Hot Creek long enough to feel the sun’s warming rays, and hoping to not leave until sometime after midday.

I’ll then meet up with the rest of the club members to stow gear in our rustic digs. Later it’ll be up the canyon to play with small wild brook trout somewhere near 10,000 feet. These are the guys, or descendants of the guys, who showed me how much fun fly fishing can be. Willing to take a fly and just as willing to show off brilliant colors, it seemed as if each released fish jokingly told it’s companions, “Dude, you gotta try this bug that’s drifting toward us. And don’t worry about that green line floating behind it.” It was so silly that my son finally had to point out it was getting too dark to fish.

I’ve set aside Saturday to spend time on Crowley Lake with a guide. Guide trips can be addicting and relaxing…often all you have to do is show up.  My only responsiblity will be casting, hooking and landing fish.

The rest of my time on the “East Side” will be left to spur-of-the-moment decisions. Saturday afternoon could mean a visit to the Upper Owens, a hike along mid-canyon sections of Rock Creek or chasing down companions’ reports of willing fish in other waters. Sunday will mean finding my way back to the cabin, stopping to fish along the way, of course. Likely this will mean a welfare check on some wild brookies near Tioga Pass, perhaps a first attempt to fish Saddlebag Creek, then a swing by the East, West or Little Walker rivers. Monday morning I’ll wake up at the Family Cabin, with the only necessary decisions being whether to get in a few more hours fishing before descending from the foothills and where to eat lunch.

When it is all over, chances are good it’ll be a day few weeks before I’ll feel the itch to fish. If all goes well, I’ll make all five of my readers envious with a report next week.

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fishing and fun at the cabin

As pledged, I took a 10-year-old boy fishing during our Labor Day visit to the family cabin knowing that it necessitated adapting the use of flies to his abilities. These abilities didn’t include the use of a fly rod.

A later-than-usual departure put us on the water after meat fishermen had occupied most of the best spots. But, predictably, a long, fast run was left wide open.

Connor Labor Day 2010

Connor showing his style...follow those flies...

After reaching this run by making our way through shallow water, I rigged up a fly ‘n bubble on the spinning rod, and rather than the typical dry fly, dropped two weighted nymphs off the end of the bubble. With Connor standing next to me, the demonstration began. I showed him, with a few false casts, how to cast/lob this rig without tangling it. I pointed to the upstream location that would offer the best presentation, then cast to it. I talked about how the bubble and flies should travel to where fish might be positioned. I cautioned him to always stop briefly at the end of every drift, and to slightly lift the rod. I demonstrated this technique. And the bubble disappeared and we got my child-like surprise — a fish on the first cast.

I was excited, so was Connor. After releasing the decent-sized rainbow trout, I handed the spinning rod to Connor, who did a great job of listening, so was able to cast and position the bubble ‘n flies for decent drifts. There was constant urging to take a step or two forward to get a bit more distance, and a few tangles that required my assistance, but he did well.

Well enough to entice half a dozen strikes, and hook most of those. However, there would be no landing of these trout. The fast-moving water, the suddenness of the strikes and perhaps simply a young boy’s excitement might have been a bit too much. I seem to recall that it was tough at that age to remember to keep the rod tip up.

I don’t know if it was this lack of landing fish or just the distractedness that comes with being 10 years old, but after about and hour and a half, Connor was ready to move on to something else. I quick hiked up to a higher position allowed for a cell phone signal and a call to the cabin for taxi service. I did get some additional and somewhat silly fishing in after Connor left. The bite was on through noon and I was able to fool a good number of fish.

I also was able to fool a few wild brown trout during a walk with The Wife and I took along a nearby canal. This is where the family schnauzer, Nevada, got his first face-to-face meeting with trout. I don’t think he liked the fact that I put his newfound friends back in the water.

The rest of our weekend was filled with wine tasting, swimming in the lake, eating good food and generally enjoying time being away from the everyday.

In the end, I’d call Connor’s fishing experience a good one. The proof of success will be in whether he again asks to be taken fishing.

Labor Day Rainbow 2010

A nice 'bow on an Ice Cream Cone Chironomid.


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the best lesson

While I’ll be attending my son’s graduation ceremony in a few hours, in my mind Christopher has already gone through a “graduation” of sorts. Over the past few years he’s taken many small steps, and some big steps, towards gradually becoming a young man anyone might be proud to know.

It’s not been an easy path. But that’s a story for him to tell.

What truly matters is that he’s been considering and examining the next steps in his life, long before his ceremonial graduation on the Sacramento campus of Universal Technical Institute. The ability to look ahead — and appropriately move forward — seems too often shoved aside by young people’s thoughts dwelling on life’s unfairness, a sense of entitlement, laziness, or any combination of these and other excuses factors. This ability to forge ahead is an essential life skill, one of the most important talents one can hope to have in his or her arsenal and one equally applicable to a person’s professional and personal lives. As a parent, it’s a skill that I’ve always hoped would come easily and early to all of my kids.

An education of sorts, for me, coincided with Christopher’s growth during these years. It’s easy, common and sometimes important for a parent to judge a child’s behavior by their own standards. It can be just as valuable, albeit difficult, to consider how a child is viewed by the outside world. Once parents do, they can find pride in knowing that an employer calls upon their son or daughter to fill in when other employees don’t show up. There’s pride in knowing that a son gets up, works a four- or five-hour shift, then drives the 63 miles to campus for a day’s worth of learning, all on his own. Not to mention that he’s one of the top five students in his current course.

In a few hours we will set aside some time to appreciate Christopher’s accomplishments. Greater than those accomplishments, however, will be the (hopefully always) present ability and the wherewithal to move forward, reaching for that better future.  Without looking forward, into many possible futures, it’s likely that my son wouldn’t graduating today.

Good job, and congratulations, Christopher.


Graduation day is tough for adults. They go to the ceremony as parents. They come home as contemporaries. After twenty-two years of child-raising, they are unemployed.” ~ Erma Bombeck


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it’s not a sure thing and I like it that way

I’ve decided that the decision to fly fish has heaped an almost unhealthy dose of uncertainty upon me. I write “almost” because it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Unless it’s 2:32 a.m. and sleep is stalled by seemingly ceaseless questions anticipating this weekend’s attempt to put a family friend’s 10-year-old son on to some trout.

Some will say that it’s confidence that keeps a fly fisherman on a piece of water long enough to call the day a success in terms of catching. Not so here. It’s this same uncertainty that propels my return to familiar waters and expeditions to new waters.

For the five or so years I’ve been fly fishing, I’ve occasionally wondered how it might feel to be one of those “confident” fly fishermen. You might know him. The guy who walks up to a river, points out what he believes is the fishiest spot, then with a perfect loop sets up a perfect, drag-free drift. It might take a second cast, or even third, but in short order he’s hooked up to a trout worth of a magazine cover.

The reverse works for me. Uncertain that I’ll hit every fishy spot, any spot that hints at the remotest chance of holding a fish will get two or three casts. When it comes to flies, I may start with the local recommendation, but have no qualms switching to my “confidence” flies, even if the only similarity between these and the local favorites is a hook. The beauty of this method (I wouldn’t call it a strategy) is that it inevitability sets me up for a child-like surprise when a decent fish takes my fly.

The trout I’ve met have fooled me enough to foster this uncertainty. I’ve “matched the hatch” with the most realistic patterns, with decent drifts to boot, only to be ignored. A switch to something that looks “buggy” but not like any insect in the western hemisphere will then lead to strike after strike.

As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t consider myself to be a great caster. Guides no longer feel the need to grab my rod and cast for me, but there’s vast room for improvement. This room for improvement feeds the internal questioning of whether my last cast and drift were good enough is my personal justification of that “just one more cast” attitude when it’s time to move on or nearing the end of the day. I’ll finally know I got it right, and finally drop that uncertainty, when that last trout rises, turns and bends the rod.

Anyway, I’ve certainly got some thinking to do for this weekend. It’s a foregone conclusion that the boy is likely to use a “fly ‘n bubble” setup on a spinning rod. The question is the venue. One small stream may require too long and bumpy of a drive down a forest service road. A nearby stretch of water will offer willing hatchery trout, but easy access may mean a crowd. The better creek isn’t too far away, but may mandate wet wading during cooler morning hours. Guess we’ll see how much this young man wants to fish.

Whatever the choice, at least one morning we’ll rise early enough to say hi to Mr. Sun while near or standing in clear, cold trout water.

Here’s to hoping this weekend will be one of many child-like surprises. For me and the kid.