fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)


is toasted missing blogger toast?

A main virtue of blogging is that there’s no demand it be taken seriously. Unlike news reporting, there’s no accountability. Unlike writing a novel, paperback or children’s book, one doesn’t have to worry about sales. That’s not to say it can’t or won’t be taken seriously. Like everything else on the Internet, blogs can contain gems of knowledge, humor or insight.

The only pressure behind a blog is that applied by the writer him/herself. Often this self-applied pressure gets to be too much, and a blog is formally retired or slowly slides into oblivion.

One blogger I’ve come to know fell off the radar so fast that the good folks at Outdoor Blogger Network are a bit elated worried and would still like to know where he might be. There’s speculation that he’s retired. I only know that wherever Mr. Unaccomplished Angler, aka Kirk Werner, might be, he’d better not be fishing.

As one who’s also spent a career throwing together words that might mean something to someone, admittedly not as creatively as Kirk’s series of Olive, The Little Wooly Bugger books or his blog, writing means you’ll never be able to afford retirement. So I disagree slightly with Jay over at The Naturalist’s Angle blog. (And I’ll admit to intially wondering if Jay was writing about fly fishing au naturel.)

Recent rumors regarding Kirk swirl like a back eddy around design work for a suspiciously unnamed client and a fourth Olive book. There are other, unsubstantiated reports of both Mr. & Mrs. UA involved in an outdoor activity that smacks of a New Year resolution and taking in a movie. I’d suggest that Kirk has set aside the trappings of fly fishing and has “retired” to his home office to focus on bring home the bacon.

So I think the folks at OBN can rest easy; there’s no need to call on the services of local NBC King 5 reporter “Danger” Jim Forman.

Some say he's a fly fishing machine, others call him Unaccomplished.

From where I sit, based on the sparse evidence so far collected, Kirk is paying the price, as most of us working stiffs do, for spending a wee bit too much time fly fishing. (If there can be such a thing.) Yes, bills need to be paid, and just as important, the family and wife deserve a share of his time.

Once his dog Eddie begins to recognize him again without the aid of four or five Milk-Bones, I’ve no doubt that Kirk, ratty River Guide hat on his head, will leave for his next misadventure.

With more blog fodder, he’ll be back.



part four of building a rod: wrapping up a few things

Last week I mentioned patience as one virtue required of rod building. This week patience has been required in spades.

Wrapping fly rod guides reminds me of trying to thread a size 22 fly with 8x tippet. You hope to be lucky and get it right the first time. In my limited experience, when it comes to wrapping guides, hope and luck aren’t enough. Preparation and practice pay dividends; and I got most of my practice in with one guide that required wrapping, unwrapping and rewrapping at least six times.

The goal is to wrap thread up against itself, then up onto the foot of a guide until the guide is sufficiently held in place. Securing the guide in place requires aligning each wrap of the thread, sometimes burnishing it into place with a toothpick, skewer or other often improvised tool.

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Beginning the wrapping process with the thread locked in place.

Starting the wrap is one of the few times that being all thumbs can be of benefit. The idea is to lay down a wrap and while holding the thread in place with a thumb, bring the tag end to the inside of the wrap and, continuing to hold the thread in place with that thumb, use that thumb to gently roll the rod blank so that subsequent wraps lock the tag end in place. Three or four wraps later the tag end can be cut and the wrapping begins in earnest.

Until one gets to the foot of the guide.

Wrapping up the guide foot is easily understood. As threads wrap against each other, they should begin to climb the foot of the guide. Execution is another thing all together. The thread didn’t always act as expected, and too often the first wrap popped off the guide foot with a telltale ping. Thus, I grew proficient at reversing the wrapping process with a few reverse turns of the thread spool.

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Starting to wrap up the guide foot; easier said than done consistently.

Locking the thread into place was another challenge in trusting in my proficiency and the behavior of my materials…a bit like tying flies. I was instructed to secure a loop of thread, preferably a different color, underneath the wrapping thread.

Once the wrapping thread reaches its endpoint — where the guide angled away from the rod blank — it would be cut (again using a thumb to hold the wrapped thread in place) and the tag end inserted in the loop. Pulling the loop would bring the tag end under the wrapping thread to secure it.

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The loop of thread that will pull the tag end through secured with a wrap. Time to trust in the force...

Then, cutting the tag end cut short enough would ensure that it wouldn’t be pulled out from under the wraps. This is also the point at which practice makes perfect. Pulling the looped thread too slowly would allow the tag end to slip next to the guide foot, where a gap between the thread and the rod blank would prevent the tag end from locking into place. I did that a few times before realizing that cutting the tag end as short as possible and throwing caution to the wind and a quick yank would lock the thread into place.

With a bit of luck I’ll finish up wrapping the rod tonight. I finished all but one of the guides last night, and tonight will be devoted to that last guide and wraps on the butt section. I’ll also have to decide whether to throw on a few decorative wraps of metallic thread, but I don’t think the fish will notice one way or the other.

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A finished guide. Pretty nice. (The color of the thread will become darker after epoxy is applied.)

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part three of building a rod: getting our butts in place

I just gently set down the butt end of my new rod, with grip and reel seat in place, for the umpteenth time this week, and I still haven’t grasped the notion that some day I’ll use it to land on trout on some unknown river or stream.

I’ll chalk it up to never having built a rod before (though I do tie some of my own flies), and the fact that the upper sections of the rod blank are still a bit naked.

Construction is a bigger part of fly fishing than most people realize. Building rods and tying flies are the most cost-effective approaches, if your calculations include materials, tools and your time, but I don’t know too fly fishermen who are great mathematicians. Most of them, however, would say that given the choice, they’d rather catch a small wild trout on a fly and rod put together with their own two hands.

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Getting ahead of ourselves.

That’s what had me, on a foggy morning last week, arrive early at a workshop just across the Carquinez Strait for free doughnuts, to kill a bit of time and, somewhere along the line, install the grip and reel seat on the butt section of what would become my latest fly rod. It was cold day; the air was still, the fog heavy, dense and unmoving — a day when it makes sense to build something for the days ahead.

Slider, who owns the workshop, opened the door and Phil, enlisted to assist the students, pulled a rod case and other paraphernalia from the back of his truck and joined me in the still chilly shop. Soon coffee was brewing and small doughnuts were consumed, one after another. We talked about new grip designs, rod blanks and the fog before other students and mentors crowded into the shop. (It’s hard to believe by the number of students that the sport needs a celebrity cheerleader.)

It wasn’t long before tables were covered with the bits and pieces required to build a fly rod. Like men tend to do, I caught myself comparing my grip with those of others; some of more intricate designs, others made wood or composites. It’s true that there’s a certain level of art ascribed to fly rods, so while my grip might not have a spit-shine gloss or woven pattern, it’s my first; made by me with a bit of assistance.

Reel seats and inserts were as varied as the students, with hardware colors varying from nickel and titanium to blued nickel and black aluminum. It was the same with the guides and winding checks.

Being a somewhat self-centered crowd, it was a sight to see a room full of fly fishermen stop talking about their latest escapade to devote attention to the class leader and club master rod builder, Wayne. Quiet but intense might describe Wayne’s approach to instruction, as he walked us through — with the necessary visual aids — dry assembly of the grip and reel seat, reaming the grip, again testing everything with a dry fitting, adjusting the diameter of the blank with tape to properly fit the reel seat, application of epoxy and the final assembly.

Then we were set free but not left entirely to our own, with a 2-to-1 ratio of students to mentors.

The process isn’t one of great difficulty. The biggest requirements are patience and thought. Pictures best tell the story.

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The surprising small amount of hardware that would be used on our fly rods.

All considered, a fly rod requires very little hardware. It’s the work building the blank, grip and reel seat that require time. Once we confirmed all the parts were delivered as promised, the next hour or so was devoted to dry fitting, taping the butt section to create a suitable diameter where the reel seat would go into place, and reaming the center of the grip.

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Master rod builder Wayne demonstrating how to measure and mark of the butt section that will be covered in epoxy before installation of the reel seat and grip.

Much like carpentry, the key was to measure twice and cut (or ream, tape and apply epoxy) once. One important aspect of this measurement is to determine how far up the rod butt one will slather epoxy, since, because of the taper, the grip will be pushed down towards the bottom of the blank – passing the upper section where epoxy would make for a pretty ugly rod – before reaching the proper position.

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Taping the grip to protect it from epoxy – which will get on your hands – and the butt section to build up a proper diameter for the reel seat and insert.

It’s amazing, but if you were to disassemble a well-known brand of fly rod, you’d find a similar method and material used to properly seat the reel seat. What’s not pictured here is the copious amount of epoxy pushed into the gaps between the tape and directly securing the reel seat to the rod blank.

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Reaming the inner diameter of grips to properly fit the rod.

With the variety of sizes in rod blanks, there’s no way to ensure a perfect fit between everything, requiring a bit of work and continuous testing of the fit. The hole drilled out in the cork grip, or rings in my case, is often about .25”, but since the rod blank is tapered, the best fit requires tapering his hole. Cork is easily reamed, but the dozen times I stopped to check the fit mandated slow and methodical work.

With the grip, reel seat and the reel seat cap in place, a little pressure brings it all together while the 10-minute epoxy dries.

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The completed butt assembly of what will become a 7’6” 4-piece 4 wt. fly rod built by my hands.

With time to spare, we stuffed glue into the tip top guide and seated it on the top section. Some builders use a heat-sensitive glue, but Wayne’s done just as well with five-minute epoxy. There was more epoxy stuffed into those little tip top guides than I thought possible, before we slid it on the top of the rod blank. (I should note that during this process a good supply of solvent was used to ensure that epoxy didn’t end up where it wasn’t wanted.)

With our butts in place, we will move on to wrapping guides this week.

Though not fishing, this is one winter that I’ll have my hands a fly rod nearly every week. Stay tuned, more to come.

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thanks to dad, we were lucky to simply survive experience the great outdoors

This post brought to you by a writing prompt from the Outdoor Blogger Network

I’ve been a dad for more years than you’d think and with that has come amazement that the number of candles on my birthday cakes made it to double digits.

Sure, everyone my age grew up without seat belts, car seats, and medications without child-proof lids. Many of my contemporaries rode bikes without helmets, ate sandwiches made with white bread and drank drinks made with real sugar.

Personally, I’m more amazed that I and my siblings survived family vacations in the great outdoors.

I can’t figure out if dad was fearless, just wasn’t being smart or placed such importance on exposing his kids to the outdoors that the risks outweighed the rewards. Maybe it was the fact that we didn’t have innumerable television documentaries underscoring man’s inability to win in a one-on-one battle with nature. Whatever the reason, we were lucky.

There are photos that I won’t share here of me in diapers, in the wilds of Yosemite Valley. That might have been where it all began, but the memories are foggy.

Tuolumne Meadows Campsite

Where we camped for many years, long ago...

What I do remember are the multiple summers we spent in Tuolumne Meadows. At 8,600 feet elevation the weather was changeable. This made day hikes, already an adventure thanks to steep elevation gains and decomposing granite, unpredictable.

While there’s debate among my family as to the name of the lake that was the destination on one ill-fated hike, it’s clear that dad had pushed the limits on that cold and overcast day. With the distance of the hike limited by the length of my youngest brother’s legs, I’m guessing the hike in took no more than a couple of hours. Much of the trail wound in and around trees before rising and emerging onto a wide meadow. Crossing the meadow put us on the shore of a lake nestled up against granite peaks. Back then we carried spin fishing gear, and it wasn’t more than a few casts before a trout made one of the most dramatic, leaping strikes to swallow dad’s Mepps Agila. Small as the fish was, dad stumbled back in his surprise at the strike.

Just about then or shortly thereafter (my memory was muddled by the excitement), the gray of the sky gave way to small granules of something best described as light hail or heavy snow. Not being as keen on fishing, my sister and brother were huddle with mom near what little shelter was offered by a wind-stunted tree. “Jerry,” my mom said, “I think it’s time to go.” Nearly 40 years later I can understand that when fishing, time flies by but those same minutes are painfully slow to pass when you’re shivering in the high country and miles from the remotest fingers of civilization. Grudgingly, dad decided it was better to leave the fish for the sake of his children and, perhaps, his marriage.

The first time we pitched a tent at the Tuolumne Meadows Campground, where, by the way, there are no public showers; my dad’s solution was to take advantage of what nature had to offer. He proudly explained to us that we’d be using biodegradable soap. (It was a novelty back in the 1970s.) Our water source would be the oh-so convenient Tuolumne River. A river that originates from two forks — the Dana Fork and the Lyell Fork — both of which originate from the huge snowpack in the high peaks of the Sierra Nevada. There’s something about bathing in water that only 24 hours ago was in its frozen form. Yet another time we dodged hypothermia.

Then there were the bears. We knew they were there. We saw them occasionally during the day. It’s the times we didn’t see them that still give me chills. There were mornings we’d wake up and dad would show us the bear tracks through our camp; tracks that weren’t there yesterday and must have been made during the night, when I stepped out of the tent for a trip to the bathroom and could have become a tasty midnight snack for one of Yogi’s cousins.

Sierra Cup

The fateful faithful Sierra cup.

Those mornings dad would tempt fate yet again by preparing breakfast on the flattop griddles that years ago were standard equipment in every national and state park campsite. These griddles were nothing more than flat plates of steel welded to a grill, on top of a three-sided steel box, and naturally were exposed to the elements all year long, accumulating sap, rust and the occasional animal or bird dropping. Dad’s ritual involved stoking the wood underneath the grill with the idea of sterilizing it, then throw on bacon to lube it up before tossing on eggs and toast. While it’s entirely possible he did manage to sterilize the griddle, I can help but wonder if some of the “seasoning” entailed small bits of rust and other things.

In that vein, I also remember being so proud of our Sierra cups. My brother and I would loop them under our belts, and like little men, dip them into the clear streams to quench our thirst. Try that nowadays without worrying.

These are only snapshots of my childhood adventures in the wilderness, and there are other, less dangerous memories of other hikes, more fishing and just being a kid in the great outdoors. Those I’ll save for another time.

I was lucky to spend so much time in the great outdoors. All of these adventures never fail to bring a smile to my face.


finding fish, but not fishing, close to home

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Fern Silhouette

Muir Woods National Monument in the hills just north of San Francisco could be like someplace near you. That place that’s relatively well-known and frequented by out-of-town visitors, one that you always mean to visit but never set aside the time to do so. The trees of Muir Woods quietly stand in a valley accessed by roads that progressively shrink from a highway to a local boulevard and, finally, a small two-lane country road that twists down the hillsides without the comfort of guard rails. It’s a drive that requires patience. It’s worth finding, however, because this 560-acre national monument encompasses one of last groves of old-growth coast redwoods on the planet, and the only one in the San Francisco Bay area.

It was a gray morning last week when The Wife and I left the rolling hills of home and headed west across the San Pablo Bay Tidal Wetlands and into the hills of the Coast Ranges. The air was cold, the sky hidden by fog, dense and unmoving. The kind of day that suggests you’d be better off nestled by the fireplace with a hot beverage.

Most of the drive was familiar and thus unremarkable, but soon enough we were rising into the hills and the fog. An all-encompassing grayness took the place of what otherwise would have been a sweeping view toward the coast. The fog, but not the chill it lent to the day, was left behind as we descended a number of switchbacks.

The getting there was easy; the parking was problematic. Even on a day like today, parked vehicles were overflowing onto the roadway. Maybe it was karma, or simply superior situational awareness, that opened our eyes to a slot unobserved by half a dozen other drivers at the end of one row.

On a short hike to the park the oak woodlands typical of California’s hills give way to a coniferous forest, dominated by towering Sequoia sempervirens. The paved trail parallels the babbling Redwood Creek, feeding guests toward the obligatory exhibits and gift shop, then the entrance.

Though there’s no escaping the noise of the crowds ignoring scattered signs asking “Quiet, Please,” the silent presence of these redwoods, many seedlings before World War II, can impress. Light filtered first though fog then the thick forest canopy lends a deep blue cast, deepening the greens of California bay laurel, Douglas firs, bigleaf maples, dogwoods, tanoaks, redwood sorrel and countless ferns; horsetail lady, sword, maiden hair, and gold back to name a few. It’s a wonder that such a place exists so close to San Francisco.

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Near Cathedral Grove

A quiet and easy walk took us deeper into the dense grove; wander first closer to then farther away from the creek. Soon I’m getting kink in my neck gazing at the massive trees in aptly named Cathedral Grove. These trees average 800 years old and taper from a thick base to a top that can’t be seen. They have survived fires, storms and man.

The trail leading back out of the grove crosses the clear waters of Redwood Creek, one of the southernmost streams in which coho salmon spawn. This time of year it’s the coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch) that will make their way upstream, to be followed by steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss). It’d be dishonest to state that I wasn’t hoping we might be blessed to see fish in the creek.

We were blessed. The trail that would return us to our starting point crosses then parallels the creek four or five feet away from its bank. As we neared a small bend the bed of the creek moved. A coho, at least a good 18 or 20 inches, hovered in a couple feet of water. We watched, shushing the less courteous, as the salmon rested in a small eddy below fallen tree branches. Shortly, it was joined by another, similarly sized fish. After seemingly communicating via body language, the two cohos continued upstream. After a two-year absence, two more coho happened returned to Redwood Creek during our visit.

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Evidence that the Redwood Creek coho salmon may have a future...

Perhaps it was fell-good aspect of being outdoors and seeing nature at work (often despite humans), but lunch at the Muir Woods Trading Co. Café was particularly good. While Karen enjoyed a hot dog of grass-fed beef, I dove into a house special, the “Marin Melt,” which is built on a foundation of some of the most rustic bread I’ve ever met and two smooth locally produced cheeses. Add a bowl of fresh tomato soup, and it’s a lunch made for a cold morning near the coast.

Though there were no fishing rods involved in this trip, the fish were a welcome surprise.

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anticipation: the early edition

For a few weeks now it’s either been raining like cats and dogs or bitter cold. At least for this neck of the woods, where anything below 40 degrees is uncommon. A day ago it was -18 degrees in the in the Sierra Nevada’s Long Valley Caldera, a little volcanic crater of roughly 200 square miles that I’m not likely to fish at such temperatures. If I do, it’ll be via snowmobile and with a supply of Glen Morangie.

It’s good weather to mark on the new year’s calendar the days that’ll be dedicated to fishing. They’re adding up nicely.

It’s not that I’ll be sitting on my hands until the general trout season reopens. There’s a fly rod to be built and flies to be tied. We’ll finish the rod by early February during a series of Saturday sessions. Fly tying will include giving guidance to a son who wants to learn. Then there are trips to plan.

I think it was about three years ago that the realization set in that there was pleasure to be found in the planning of fishing trips. Planning can be a pain in the arse, sometimes literally, because the Internet has opened the doors to a crushing abundance of information; then it took a while to learn to let go of the niggling worries about the actual outcome of a trip.

So, rather than wantonly throw out New Year’s resolutions that are likely to remain unachieved, my inclination is to etch things in wet cement as soon as possible. Things were set in motion this year by that preference and petitions for early planning from some of the folks who’ve participated in the club-sanctioned trip I lead in the Eastern Sierra.

Lest anyone think that there’s an inherent selflessness in these acts, the record should be set straight. Part of my willingness to teach Sean to tie flies is rooted in the self-serving belief it’s high time that he lose his own flies. It’s with as much resignation as can be mustered that I’ll inform The Wife that I must again act as ‘fishmaster’ for the club’s Eastern Sierra trip, quietly omitting the multitude of benefits it offers.

Most fly fishermen will ascribe good fishing and great scenery to favorite fishing venues. The Eastern Sierra excellently fits that bill and hopes are high that this year it will be even better. The snowpack is in great shape and water levels are good; both point to fantastic things in the fall. For those who’ve never been, the attraction of the Eastern Sierra can be modestly measured by the six folks who’ve already committed to a trip that doesn’t take place for another nine months. Those benefits that need not worry my wife: good food, home-brewed beer and great fishing far away from clocks and everyday concerns.

This year my volunteerism will extend to kindly offering to aid a fellow fly fisherman to get acquainted with Crowley Lake.  We’ll spend our first day on the lake with a guide I’ve employed a few times each of the last several years, as an introduction to Crowley for my friend and an opportunity to update my knowledge of current conditions. During the subsequent days there might just be an occasion or two to spend more time on the lake fishing from my friend’s boat. As you know by now, in no way did this influence my desire to help.