fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)


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thinking ahead, and behind

As the days between fishing trips grow more numerous, my thoughts wander. Thoughts coalesce into an inexact catalog of flies that need to be tied and new patterns to be attempted, the fuzzy details of the rod to be built during midwinter, and a rough outline of next year’s fishing trips, mostly of the multi-day variety to out-of-the-way or unfamiliar water.

Then there are the memories. Recent thoughts floating to the surface center on How It All Began.

Flying fishing came later in my life. Prior to that, my limited exposure to the sport was the occasional, distant fly fisher who seemed less fisherman and more of an aerial artist using fly line as his brush. Having more than once employed the fly-and-bubble technique with my spinning rod, I knew that this technique mysteriously allowed the casting of impossibly small flies.

Fly fishing snuck up on me. It was a conspiracy of the fishing gods to bring together opportunity and motive.

My son and I had made an impromptu late August trip to a small stream in the Eastern Sierras. Still an hour or so away from our destination, as can happen in the high mountains, a torrential rainstorm obscured the view of Mono Lake. The spirit of youth overcame the concern of age, and we found ourselves seeking a campsite at least moderately protected by aspens.

I was left to lash a tarp between the trees and the minivan while Christopher bounded though the rain towards the somewhat swollen creek. He’d later tell of how folks he met along the way dismissed his chances of finding any willing fish.

He proved them wrong. Casting a now unknown fly and allowing it to drift below overhanging bushes, he found his first trout with his new fly rod. It was a decent brown, a trout that neither of us had the pleasure of meeting face to face. He returned with a contagious joy. The campsite didn’t seem so damp after all.

Again, as can happen in the Sierras, the next day dawned bright and cloudless. The storm had passed, leaving behind a freshness. Vivid green aspen leaves sparkled with water droplets. From the damp ground wafted a pleasant earthiness. The creek ran clear.

A couple of miles along a graded dirt road, among yet more aspens quaking in a light breeze, is a bend in this stream; upstream, where it emerges from tangled braids of nearly impenetrable brambles. It’s one of those typical Sierra streams, small enough to wade across in three or four strides without getting your knees wet, peppered with small, rounded granite rocks and flowing with gin-clear water under dappled sunlight filtering through pines and aspens. This day, trout were stacked up in riffles near the opposite bank.

Small, lightweight Panther Martin spinners got their attention. In a relatively short period I had landed more than my share by tossing a spinner on the opposite bank, gently pulling it into the water, and letting it drift almost haphazardly downstream to the pod of rainbows. Despite using an ultra-light, 5’6” Fenwick rod the thrill of fooling these trout abated after an hour and half of non-stop catching.

The Compleat Angler or the Contemplative Man's Recreation

The Compleat Angler or the Contemplative Man's Recreation

It was time for something a bit more challenging. I asked and borrowed my son’s L.L. Bean fly rod with God-knows-what fly attached to a leader that was probably too short. Though it was more akin to lifting and dropping a wet noodle than a real cast, I got the fly onto the water and floating downstream into promising riffles. I cast again. And again.

A quick splash was the first indication of a decent cast. A few more casts. The fly drifted further into the riffles and nearly out of sight. Another splash and I hooked my first trout on a fly rod. It wasn’t big, maybe six inches. It was one of the most beautiful brown trout — and the first — I have held in my hand.

Thinking back, it wasn’t so much the landing of the fish that first sparked my interest in The Contemplative Man’s Recreation. (For the antithesis of meditative fishing, see Unaccomplished Angler’s “Sturgeon on a dry fly.”) Despite the numbers and statistics thrown around by yours truly, it was the contest between me and the fish — the act of attempting to fool a fish with what it thought might be real food — that hooked me.

As many trout as I’ve been lucky enough to land, each time I’m on the water it becomes clearer that I won’t live long enough to truly understand these fish. They remind me of this with their unpredictable reactions to my best presentations, and baffle me with their willingness to take a poorly presented fly. In that lies the challenge that lures me back.

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feeding that full-blown addiction

There’s a sinister side to fly fishing. One’s entrance into the sport is often innocent enough. Like many before me, it’s nothing more than the next step in the evolution of a fisherman who’s looking for a way to catch more fish or perhaps find a greater challenge in doing so.

But if fly fishing were a living and breathing thing, it’d be the Borg.

Slowly, you find that you’d rather fish than eat — I’ve lost more weight when fishing. (Only to regain it later with the unsound rationalization that I somehow can calorically afford a huge steak. And beer.) Sleep becomes an inconvenience to arriving streamside at sunrise. Work serves to only fund the acquisition of new gear, flies and too many lines, rods and reels.

They say the first signs of an addiction go unnoticed. That second rod, then a third, are justified as “back ups.” Another reel, ‘cause you need it for those back up rods. One more rod in a different weight; either to gain an advantage over bigger fish or to offer a fair chance to smaller ones. Thankfully, this accumulated paraphernalia can hide in the garage.

Then, if you’re really unlucky not paying attention, the Wife will find that first fly tying vise attached to the dinner table. Around it may be scattered thread, feathers, and perhaps a few hairs from the dog and cat. Not to mention surgically sharp hooks lost in the carpet. Over time, an allowance is made for a TV tray to be left in the corner of the den, overflowing with materials amassed from fly shops, craft stores and the irresistible treasure troves offered up free by fellow fly fishermen who’ve been told volunteered to clear out years of collected fly tying provisions.

Try as I might, it seems there’s no turning back. So I’ve given in.

Just before Thanksgiving, hidden in a darkened garage and goaded on guided by a fellow addict, I will choose a fly rod blank, a grip, a reel seat and guides.

Come January, I will begin to build a fly rod. Resistance is futile.


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best laid plans ruined by success

This whole fly fishing thing is becoming a bit problematic. I prefer to work in the shadows. Or at least with some anonymity.

Maybe my problem lies in the admonishment from the folks who raised us to ‘do your best.’ Mediocrity inherently affords secrecy, and people can’t seek advice from someone who’s unknown. But, apparently, the aforementioned parental advice stuck.

I like praise just as much as the next person, but earlier this summer the realization snuck up on me that I’d become a bit too recognizable and possibly had gained a reputation well above my level of competence when I uncomfortably overheard a fly fishing club member tell another that I was an ‘expert’ on fly fishing in the Eastern Sierras. He claimed to have seen me in action. (I doubt that. Anyone who’s seen my cast would quickly seek another ‘authority.’)

The start of this can be traced back to my failed attempt to become the man behind the curtain in giving something back. The thought was that my modest HTML skills could help craft a website that better represented the club that put me on the path to addictionfly fishing. That snowballed into being asked to become club secretary. I rationalized my acceptance with the thinking that everyone knows an organization’s president and probably the vice president. But secretary? I’d just attend board meeting, write the minutes and no one would be the wiser.

A few months later, flattery overwhelmed the desire to plod along unknown when I was asked to help out with the novice fly fishing seminar, the same class that gave me a broad but solid education on fly fishing. Certainly no one would remember the guy who helped teach basic hooking and landing tactics. Against all reasoning, some do.

Then there was the quiet appeal that ended with my acceptance to become the ‘fishmaster’ for the club’s Eastern Sierra trip. My responsibilities would simply entail keeping track of the folks who sign up, arrange lodging and assign responsibility for meals. All while I was blindly acknowledging these duties, my focus was on the selfish benefit of being able to tell The Wife, with a straight face and with honesty, that another fishing trip to one of my favorite places was a necessity. Again I was certain that they’d be a different group of folks every year. But, for some unfathomable reason more that half of the folks on this trip have gone with me every time. Maybe it’s the excellent fishing, the often great weather, the fantastic scenery, the homemade beer or the witnessesfriendship.

Compounding my problem is Google. Yeah, I blame Google too. During the last 12 months I’ve received a handful of inquiries from folks either asking or thanking me for information about a river, stream or lake mentioned here. I know these folks are digging deep for information. fishing for words ranks as number 12,133,256 in popularity by Alexa Traffic Rank. That said, Google also seems to lend instant credibility. Though the conventional wisdom is that people don’t believe everything they read online, showing up anywhere in Google search results suggests you must know what you’re writing about.

Oh, it doesn’t help that I’ve also made a guide’s fishing report now and again.  And there’s that pesky member of the year award.

Success, of course, is the real problem here. I like to fish. I like to solve problems. So I often fool fish, hook some and even land a fair share. Afterwards, I share fishy stories. And people find me believable.

I’m not complaining, mind you, and I’m certainly not asking for a skunking.  It is ironic, however, that doing well would mean failure at being just another face in the crowd.

I’m not a fly fishing expert, but maybe I could play one on TV.


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a fly fisherman’s distraction…and the upside to becoming an older parent…

Over the last few years, I’ve burned quite a few bytes in this blogspace glorifying my fishing exploits and motorcycling adventures. Not so this time.

The fishing gear was left behind last weekend despite my Pavlovian response to throw a fly rod in the trunk whenever a trip takes me more than 100 miles from home and toward the Sierra Nevada mountains. Yes, our destination was in the foothills of the Sierras; we’d even be near the South Fork of the American River.

However, there is one way to distract this fly fishermen from fishing. Food.

Grapes at Wofford Acres Vineyards

Apple Hill has been a favorite tradition of mine (and the kid’s) for many years. Near as I can figure, I’ve made the 100-mile trek to the hills just near Placerville, Calif., for at least 15 years. This time, however, we’d be without kids; the upside of becoming an older parent. This called for something I’ve thought about many times. An overnight visit.

The Wife and I left home a bit later in the day than expected, driving east on Hwy 80 through Sacramento. Though the early apple season can bring with it unpredictable weather, it also offers fewer people and a more relaxed pace. A clear sky, warm sunshine and winery visits can reinforce that relaxed feeling.

The first stop was the surprising Fenton Herriott Vineyards. They make an interesting semi-sweet/dry Gewurztraminer (not your father’s Gewurztraminer). We were also impressed with the Barbera and Syrah. The next stop was Lava Cap Winery, which didn’t quite tickle our taste buds. Subtle and slight would be my description.

Unknowingly saving the best for last, we followed a single-lane gravel road that when filmed in black and white might otherwise signal one’s pending arrival at out-of-the-way lodging in an Alfred Hitchcock film. (The road is appropriately named Hidden Valley Lane.) In our case we ended up at Wofford Acres Vineyards. This small winery produces some very good wines, including one of the few Sauvignon Blancs I like, a nice “Dulcinea” (Viognier/Rousanne blend), and a Rhone-style red named Iowa Hill and a Pinotage/Petite Sirah blend labeled Redbird Canyon, both of which we liked quite a bit.

And it was only by honest mistake (and thanks to a clue in the way of trout lithographs hanging by the door) that I learned from the wife/owner that the husband/owner enjoys fishing, downhill and just a few miles away on the South Fork of the American River. Because the actual fisherman wasn’t presentLike the good husband, I quickly dismissed any further discussion about fishing in the area.

(When it comes to wineries, the fun factor can play a big part in an enjoyable visit. During our visit to Wofford, they were supporting a breast cancer awareness campaign with barrel tasting for the charity and by wearing supportive t-shirts. The winery supports a good many other causes, including prostate cancer awareness in the spring, when they wear “Go Nads” t-shirts.)

Winter Fishing Food?

I’ve found that there’s no middle ground when it comes to unsolicited dining suggestions. The “suggestor” often doesn’t have a clue as to the taste preferences of the “suggestee.” However, a suggestor’s sheer enthusiasm can often overcome any hesitation.

In a conversation with one of the wine tasting room staff, it was revealed that we were out-of-town interlopers visitors without a clue as to the better dining establishments in town. She nearly jumped up and down to tell us that we must have dinner at Z Pie. The Wife didn’t hear anything after “gourmet pot pies.” It was settled without a word between us.

So it was that we checked into the supposedly haunted Cary House, walked most of downtown Placerville, and ended up at Z Pie. Tucked in an alley, it’s a rather unassuming restaurant. While the tables have white linen tablecloths, brown butcher paper is laid down over the tablecloth, lending the place a decidedly informal atmosphere.

Z Pie's yummy Italian Sausage Pot Pie

The menu surprises with much more than beef or turkey pot pie. Choices include Southwest Chicken, Spicy Black Bean Chili and Steak Cabernet. The Wife jumped for the Lamb with Rosemary while I, apprehensive about a bland dinner, choose the Italian Sausage pie. Both were excellent choices. A gloriously crust, no doubt helped by large amounts of lard, flaky away to reveal wonderfully tasty fillings, with plenty of meat throughout. All in a package that’s just the right size. I couldn’t help think how one of these homey, stick-to-your-ribs pies would make a wonderful lunch on the shore of a favorite fly fishing stream.

Feeling good and not quite too full, I enjoyed an after-dinner gelato while The Wife picked out a glass of wine at The Synapse tasting room. It was nice to simply enjoy time being away from the every day, though I suffered a bit a through a musician unsuccessfully attempting to bring his own style to Beatles songs. He did a much better job with his own music and lyrics.

A plate of comfort

The next morning brought a nice drizzle, as if to make sure we knew fall had begun. That made our next stop that much better. We rolled up to Creek View Ranch, our favorite pastry place and the reason we skipped breakfast, just in time to see the sign flipped to “open,” allowing us to grab a couple of apple cider doughnuts (aka the breakfast of choice for fly fishermen on the road everywhere) and an apple fritter, each full of more apple goodness than should be possible. And those cider doughnuts…the best! A thin crispy crust gives way to a light, soft dough. We sat down on the patio of the old house that now serves as the bakery/gift shop, and enjoyed noshing on warm, gooey goodness, watching a light mist of rain swirl through the trees.

Our weekend finished with the usual stops for juice (Bolster’s Hilltop), a walk through craft booths (High Hill Ranch), and to pick up our traditional Christmas ornament and a lunch of corn dogs and a shared tri-tip sandwich (Boa Vista Orchards). Not once did I push to visit the local fly shop, even as we swung by Z Pie to pick up a frozen pie. We’ll soon see how well it bakes up at home. And no matter the outcome, we’ll be back. Maybe marking a first — our second trip to apple country during a single season.

Yes, we will drive for food.


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best Eastern Sierra trip…ever

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Eastern Sierra Color

Every time I load up to chase trout with a fly rod, it’s struggle to not read every possible fishing report. Anticipation is part of fishing. Anglers also dread hearing “You should have been here yesterday.” But reports the day before I would head into Sierra Nevada hinted that the timing of this trip couldn’t be better.

My ultimate destination would be Tom’s Place, a bump on Hwy 395 where I and 10 club members, when not fishing, would eat, drink copious amounts of homemade beer and sleep. When I scheduled this trip more than eight months ago, the date was adjusted so that I could commit to helping out with the club’s novice seminar. Which is why this year’s trip was a bit later than usual. Turns out that was a very good thing.

Hoping to avoid the throngs of early afternoon commuters, I was on the road by noon Thursday. It was unusually nice to travel quickly at my own pace down the highway with plenty of time to stop for lunch and visit Bass Pro Shops. So it was that I arrived at The Family Cabin with time for a preemptive attempt to prevent a skunking from even starting. Not too far away is Lyons Canal, really an irrigation ditch, where one can cast at suspicious water. It didn’t take long before I landed both wild browns and stocked rainbows. Trusting this was a small indication of what to expect during the next four days, I made tracks for a Mexican eatery in town. I couldn’t help but smile. I do like Twain Harte between the winter and summer, when the skiers and the tourists are long gone and the fish seem a tad more hungry.

The official plan was for club members to meet up early Friday afternoon at the rustic Tom’s Place Resort, but my intention was to beat the sun over Sonora Pass and arrive at Hot Creek by 8:00 a.m. My strategy was a hopeful one — beat the crowds that might force me on to less-than-prime water at this immensely popular fly fishing only/barbless hook/zero limit creek. I crested the final turn and neared my destination to glimpse a beautiful sight: an empty parking lot. I’d end up having the upper half of Hot Creek to myself for three hours under an deep and endless blue sky. I highly recommend it.

In the weeks prior I’d poured over past fishing reports, including my own, and tied flies I thought I’d need. Thanks to recent reports from a few DVFF club members, I knew that small would be the name of the game. However, with the creek still in the shade of the canyon and no visible insects hatching, it took a size 22 tiger midge nymph to dredge up my first fish; a fish that promptly reminded me that one does not trifle with Hot Creek trout. I lost it after only one jump. With that warning, I coaxed the next fish, a Loch Leven brown, to the net. I took it as a sign that this was going to be a good day.

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Hot Creek Brownie

Before continuing, let me describe Hot Creek to the uninitiated. It’s been called by many a fly fisher the most exciting and frustrating water they’ve ever fished. It’s relatively shallow and much of the year may be heavy with weeds. Sometimes it can be an accomplishment to get a drag-free drift of more than two feet. In between those weeds are the fish. Good-sized fish, and a lot of them. You can see them and they you. If you hook one, it’s not uncommon for it to be longer than 14 inches.

It didn’t take long after the sun touched the water for the hatches began. After ten o’clock, blanket hatches of caddis came in waves. They were many in number but thin little things. Not being the best dry fly fisherman, I trailed a size 22 blue winged olive dry (I later used a pale morning dun dry) behind a size 20 caddis, and used the caddis as a reference point as the smaller fly was often lost in bubbles on the surface. It worked well. Four hours later and after nine trout hooked and five guided to the net, I grudgingly headed back to the car. The crisp morning had given way to a beautiful afternoon, with the kiss of cool breeze to keep the heat from the sun at bay. It was fall in the Sierra Nevadas and the aspen leaves were becoming a brilliant yellow.

After stowing gear in the cabins and getting reports about good fishing on waters such as Rock Creek and the West Walker and Carson rivers, small groups headed out to various waters, some with the gift of size 22 dries for Hot Creek. Others headed up Rock Creek, while a few folks simply enjoyed the great weather and adult beverages back at the cabins. (One consistent lure for this trip is one member’s home-brewed beer.) While I played with the brook trout in Rock Creek, one of my gift flies was lost to a hot Hot Creek fish by the recipient. As the sun set, we sat down for man food: barbecue beef sandwiches and potato salad, washing it down with that first-rate homemade beer, and sprinkling our meal with tales of the day’s fishing.

Saturday dawned cold and sunny, with myself and an unsuspecting companion arriving at Crowley Lake marina to find the guide boat coated with ice. One of our group headed to Hot Creek for redemption after a scoreless visit the day before, to be joined by two other club cohorts. Five of our troupe were off to the Upper Owens River. Redemption was found on Hot Creek with a few of those 16” trout. The Upper Owens crew would later estimate walking 10 or more miles, but found fish along the way.

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Fish On @ Crowley Lake

As for myself and my fishing buddy, the powerful trout in Crowley Lake provided steady action throughout the day. (My friend Jay was quite surprised at the strength of even the smaller Crowley trout. Sore arms are common after a hote bite.) Highlights of the day for me were a 20-inch cutthroat and 20-inch rainbow among the many trout brought to the net. Another highlight was my first experience being taken into my backing.

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Big Crowley Cutthroat

Big Crowley trout tend to simply suck a fly into their mouth and keep moving. The ‘take’ can be deceptively gentle. Once the hook was set, however, this fish was off to the races. In short order it was at least 120 feet away. It jumped, and so did I and the guide when we got a look at a fish that we could only estimate to be ‘huge.’ But big fish don’t get big by being stupid. There was a lot of give and take during our battle. It seemed like 15 minutes but more likely 10 before the fight was again near the boat. To give the fish more credit than it’s probably due, that’s when it seemed to make a beeline for the anchor lines. During my effort to convince this fish to turnaround, I lost it. But what a day…

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20-inch Crowley Rainbow

Our evening was again a time for swapping tales, enjoying an awesome meat sauce and spaghetti, laying plans for fishing during our return home the next day, and trying to make sure our brewer would take only empties home. Morning seems to come early, but reluctance to leave stalled our departure. In my three years acting as ‘fishmaster’ for this outing (and yes, it’s only an act), this was the best. A perfect storm of great weather and great fishing (and catching).

Sunday, with an invite to join the Mom-in-Law for an excellent pizza margherita, I would have to head over Sonora Pass by two o’clock. That left plenty of time to fish. Loving the Tioga Pass area as I do, it was time to try my hand on Saddlebag Creek. Near 10,000 feet, it’s a small creek that emerges from a rock-filled dam that holds back Saddlebag Lake. The creek ambles through a small canyon before meandering into open meadows. Most folks fish it downstream near the highway. A short drive up a dirt road, however, gets one away from the crowds and into small brook trout country. Again it took small flies, dry midges this time, to entice these beautiful little trout.

Wanting to be closer to the pass when the time came to leave, I drove north with the intention of visiting the West Walker River. I’d heard it was fishing well.

But it seems that it’s difficult for me to drive past the East Walker River. Most spots on the upper section (above the bridge) were occupied. One, which I had fished before, was available. I’d have about two hours to fish. I ‘wadered up’ and wandered down to the river. Bugs were hatching. Fish were rising. Hopes were high. After observing rising fish for a few minutes, I quietly entered the water. Casts were made. An hour and forty minutes later, I could take credit for only two strikes. It wasn’t looking good for my unskunked record at the East Walker.

I subscribe to the idea that when in doubt move to new water. I edged downstream to find a nice if somewhat fast pool with a promising run above it and nice boulders below it. With nymphs set relatively deep, I began exploring the nearest seem. It took only three casts before a very nice brown volunteered to keep my record intact. In the next 10 to 15 minutes, I landed my first East Walker rainbow and two more browns.

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The East Walker Brown, aka Skunk Remover

The previous days’ fishing made the two-hour drive west over Sonora Pass a not-so-unpleasant affair. The Mom-in-Law, two family friends and I enjoyed an excellent dinner (and dessert) that evening.

Having a full day to make the drive home, there was no reason not to squeeze in a bit more fishing. After chasing wild fish for three days it’s somewhat of a guilty pleasure to drop by Moccasin Creek, but it’s sort of on the way home, and this time of year wild browns from the lake downstream mingle with the stocked rainbows. Best of all, on a week day you can have the entire creek, more of a small river, to yourself.

Indeed, I was the only one fishing. Yes, hatchery rainbows were stacked up where you’d expect them. There’d be no browns today. Nevertheless, this visit would be unique.

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Moccasin Rainbow

The first rainbow I hooked, not a big fish, maybe 11”, jumped at least five times before settling down. Most of the others did much of the same. Others screamed toward the weeds. These fish were crazy. It was silly fishing. Then they went insane. I’ve not experienced prolific hatches on Moccasin Creek. Today was different. Watch the video below, and you’ll see what I mean. They were going nuts.

That, my friends, sums up one heck of a long fly fishing weekend.

Oh, if you want evidence, here’s the pictures…
(Use “Compatibility View” in Internet Explorer if pictures overlap.)

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