fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)


why I blog (or, what’s in it for me?)

This post brought to you by the writing prompt
Why We Blog about our Outdoor Life
from the Outdoor Blogger Network (OBN)

blog: (n) web log, a shared on-line journal where people can post diary entries about their personal experiences and hobbies, with postings usually in chronological order.

For me, writing is work. Blogging is for fun.

I began my career in writing 25 years ago, long before the words “web” and “log” merged to create the everyday term. My livelihood revolves around news and analysis, and I still enjoy it after all these years. My blog is a personal extension of what I do.

It seems that I began to flirt with the idea of writing during my middle school years. The lack of social interaction that comes with being a nerd left plenty of time for other things. So, I spent time in front of an IBM Selectric typewriter, pounding out stories based on the fictional futures of classmates. The choice of a journalism class as an elective during my sophomore year in college brought me to the attention of the school newspaper advisor and, without thought to the dismal pay that comes with trying to make a living writing, I soon declared my major to be journalism.

Since my college education included a few elective computer science classes mixed in with Journalism 101 and Mass Media Law, within a few years I had become the go-to guy in our small office for software installation (Remember DOS?) or computer repair. Soon I was tapped to design and launch our first website.

[singlepic id=20 w=277 h=360 float=center]

The boys, August 1997, Eagle Lake

My web log grew out of HTML knowledge gained on the job. That first personal website wasn’t in a format that today would be recognized as a blog; nor was it easy to use. It consisted of hand-coded HTML. Any new “posting” required new code, whether it was a simple trip report, a photo gallery or even a link. (Though I launched this website in 1995 — hosted on AOL — the earliest post included on this blog is from August 1997.)

Perhaps it started with a preoccupation as to whether or not I could produce and maintain a personal website, but the struggle to determine content led to the idea of a virtual logbook through which I could share my adventures — the most exciting of which were out of doors — with family and friends.

Laziness also may have been a factor motivating the creation of this website. Back then, sending out an email to a number of recipients wasn’t difficult but email applications wouldn’t allow photos to be inserted in the email body. Everything was an attachment. Without captions or associated text, there was no context for photos. There was also the little matter of Internet dial-up service topping out 14.4Kbps. A website partially solved these problems. My first entry described one of the first camping trips with my kids in the Lake Tahoe area. Flash forward a few years and you’ve got blogging applications that allow everyone into the pool.

The reason I blog, however, has grown beyond a simple recounting of experiences. It’s taken on a more personal aspect. I still write to share experiences, thoughts and photos with family and friends, but after so many years writing and editing dry analytical niche newsletters, my blog has become an outlet.

Here I can experiment with attempts at humor and storytelling. Here I can fail in a most public manner and just as easily deliver the goods in anonymity. At times I curse writer’s block (or the fact that I apparently don’t fly fish enough to provide blog fodder during the lean winter months). Other times prose flows easily.

There’s a vanity inherent in the act of writing, and blogging is much the same. But it offers rewards. Comments, positive or negative, suggest that people other than my parents, siblings and spouse actually read what I write and that my words occasionally spark thoughts. It’s also been a catalyst for friendship and camaraderie, both virtually and in person.

Has my bog changed what I do besides devoting time to its care and feeding? Yes, in many ways. Perhaps most important, it’s knowing that I may blog about an experience that constantly reminds me to truly live in and savor those moments spent doing what I enjoy, so that later I can share the details.

It’s said that secretly all writers want to live forever. Barring that, they hope that their words will live forever. Seems we all got our wish with this little thing called the Internet…and the blogs that live within it.



how bad do you want to meet mr. whitefish? — a few guides’ thoughts on clients bringing gps receivers along for the ride

Guides & GPS

One mid July day my guide both admonished me to maintain a straight line to the indicator and cheered good hook sets even though I missed more strikes than I should have. New to fly fishing then, I remember having a novice’s fascination with the almost magical wisdom guides showed and shared.

More important that day was my education. It’s a simple truism of fly fishing that one day on the water with a good guide can offer a learning experience equal to many trips alone.

But is there a limit to how much a guide might be willing to share beyond techniques, flies and presentation? This question bubbled up in my mind a few weeks ago, when an online poll conducted by Blood Knot Magazine asked fly fishermen for their opinion regarding bringing a handheld GPS receiver on a guided fishing trip. Of 100 random readers asked if it’s “okay” to do so, 41% answered “Hell yeah!” while 40% answered “Hell no!” The remaining 19% had no idea guides might care…

Flipping the question around in an admittedly unscientific and limited survey, I asked the same question of a few fly fishing guides, and the results offer interesting insight into what is a genuine desire among guides to share with clients. As a public service to both sides of the argument, I present in this space what I learned in informal conversations with a guides up and down the West Coast.

Fly fishing guides, of course, understand that they’re in a business that often requires catering to clients, but do so in a sport that’s long recognized as one of the more genteel pursuits. One can attribute the fact that half of the respondents with an opinion in the Blood Knot Magazine poll declared a GPS receiver verboten on a guided trip to this gentleman’s code. Guides’ expectations fall in line with this mind-set, hoping that clients will ask before slipping out a GPS receiver. And, if asked, most guides don’t have a problem with a client using a GPS receiver.

The Fly Shop Director of Outfitters Michael Caranci spent the time to carefully sum up his thoughts, many of which were echoed by other guides…

As a guide, I’ve never had a problem with people bringing a GPS along. As an outfitter, I know there are some guides who wouldn’t mind, and that there are surely some guides who would find it offensive. The way I see it, if you’re hiring a guide just to find out where to go, you’re missing the boat. A good guide has so much more to offer than that. And, at the same time, just knowing where to go isn’t all that much help sometime; the real knowledge and experience of guides is knowing how to approach a spot at the different times of year, times of day, flows, seasons, types of techniques, species, etc. One could GPS a spot they had great fishing one day with the guide, and return another time to the same spot and find it seemingly void of life.”

The reason behind the use of a GPS receiver also plays into a guide’s willingness to allow its use. Emerging Rivers Guide Services owner Derek Young shares that he’d be okay with a GPS receiver used for personal reasons, such as “…safety…or to better remember the experience.” But don’t pull out a GPS receiver if its use involves commercial or financial gain. “If a paying client is going to make a commercial financial gain off of my services, they can find someone else to do it with,” wrote Derek.

Mutual respect is a resounding theme with guides. Chris O’Donnell of River Runner Outfitters underscores this, expanding upon the idea by writing…

Personally, I feel that it is the client’s right to use a GPS to record fishing spots, just like gleaning other information about rigging, reading water, and catching fish. I do feel that using a GPS without asking displays a complete lack of respect for the guide. Just ask. I’ll tell you yes, and I will feel much better about it.”

These thoughts were shared by nearly every guide, though a few are less concerned about the use of GPS receivers, if for no other reason than they fish in plain sight on lakes. Tom Loe and Doug Rodricks of Sierra Drifters Fly Fishing Guide Service often ply the waters of Crowley Lake, Bridgeport Reseroir and Eagle Lake, and as Doug explains,

I wouldn’t mind if clients brought a GPS on their trips. Most people on the boats see us catching fish and will gravitate to that spot the following day. Conditions change and one day differs from the next so we don’t worry about it too much. There are always other spots on the lake to go catch fish.”

Tom gets down to brass tacks, clarifying his feeling that, “Trout migrate and conditions change so often in the areas I guide that it is foolish to get upset or worry about someone being on your numbers!”

Another guide fishing open water, and author of “Fly Fishing the California Delta,” Mike Costello, reiterates the idea of trust and discretion between guide and client, and how the development of a relationship opens the door…

I have had clients bring a GPS on my boat but they have asked me ahead of time and I trusted them that they would be discreet and not try to abuse the guide/client relationship. I am fortunate that the majority of my anglers have been fishing with me for a very long time and I am usually very open and helpful with my guiding information.”

For many guides, the idea and expectation of respect extends beyond the guided trip. Michael C. spells out this view on using knowledge gained with a guide…

…I think it’s important to realize that if you do learn some great spots by fishing with a guide, there should be a courtesy about it in the future. If you return to that place, and the guide is there working, it’s best to let them have it. If guides consistently find their favorite places taken up by past guests, they’ll quickly learn to be careful not to share those secret spots. Respect the information, and the countless hours and days of exploration that it often takes to discover those locations in the first place.”

Mountain Whitefish

If you see too many of these guys while targeting trout, you might have crossed the line with your guide...

Inversely, disrespect will get you nowhere; and maybe no fish. If you break out a GPS receiver without asking, let’s just say that a guide might be inclined to take you only to spots to which he/she wants you to return. Slide Inn owner and Fly Fish TV host Kelly Galloup succinctly spells it out:

We all learn water the same way. We go fish and then we watch other guides set up in the runs and see how they do. It is a time tested, earn-your-right-to-be-there system… If I found them using it [a GPS receiver] with out me having been told, I would instantly…either row out or start fishing in the more whitefishy water and see how few fish I could catch the rest of the day.”

In Chris O’Donnell’s view, a client’s use of a GPS receiver suggests the trip is a one-night stand…

I would not take action, other than possibly taking them to fishing spots that I want them to return to…busting out a GPS on a guided trip pretty much tells the guide it’s just a one time deal.”

Generally, these guides haven’t had too many bad experiences with clients using GPS receivers, perhaps because the majority of their fly fisherman clients subscribe to the same code of behavior and the idea of an “earn-your-right-to-be-there system.” Shasta Trout owner/operator Craig Nielsen has had several folks bring their GPS units but hasn’t had an issue with their use as he was asked beforehand in every case. Chris O’Donnell did have “…one client GPS my fishing spots…he didn’t ask, just started plugging away.” Using your imagination, you might guess as to the fish count on that trip.

At least one guide is considering employing GPS to enhance the guided experience. Derek Young mentions embracing the technology, considering the use of a GPS receiver to tag “…client photos so that they could revisit the experience with both a photo and location.”

With the above in mind and other tidbits I’ve left unshared for lack of room or other reasons, it’s a roll of the dice when you break out a GPS receiver on a guided trip.

But before you do, ask.

Or risk fishing that whitefishy water.


a blog exclusive you won’t find on my wall

This post brought to you by the photo prompt
Most Un-Frame Worthy Outdoor Photo You Got
from the Outdoor Blogger Network (OBN)

Let’s be clear. Fishing small high-country streams means the trophies taken home are usually limited to skinned knees, a sore back or scratches inflicted by any one or multiple species of vegetation.

Those who ask how the fishing was probably won’t understand that the trip is more than just fishing. It’s fishing that entails a walk that, longer than expected, become a hike; the stalking of trout so skittish its remarkable they aren’t afraid of the bugs they eat; and the creation of memories that draw a fisherman back time after time.

Where I fish, at elevations of 6,000-plus feet in the Sierra Nevadas and often above 8,000 feet, there are incredible opportunities to sink back into forests most notable for the lack of human visitation. In the small creeks and rivers found under lodgepole and western white pines, red firs, mountain hemlock and aspens, wild trout live a hardscrabble life during a summer that rarely lasts more then eight weeks. The small size of these trout truly belies their spirit.

But that’s not why they don’t end up in a framed photo on my wall. These trout are so darn small that holding a fish in one handle while using the other to fiddle with camera’s macro setting invariably results in a photo that’s too fuzzy to be called “arty” of a fish that would be a snack for what’s traditionally deemed a trophy trout.

But since so many of these high-country trout to obligingly rise to any of the customary trout flies, seemingly regardless of size, the outcome of a photo op can be a bit unpredictable.

Unframeable Fish Photo

the photo that shall not be framed

However, the one photo that will never be framed I also hesitate to share in the blogosphere. Because the fish is so small? Because the photo is so blurry? Yes to both questions.

…but mostly because I don’t know what the heck it might be it’s not a trout.


From the South Fork of the Tuolumne River: Pikeminnow? Squawfish? Hardhead? Your guess?

P.S. I’ve since upgraded to a better and waterproof camera to compensate for my lack of photographic skill.


on finding what’s not there a little too late

This post brought to you by the writing prompt “Damaged Goods
from the Outdoor Blogger Network (OBN)

There seems to be a general consensus in the fly fishing community that if you haven’t broken a rod, smashed a reel or torn your waders, you aren’t fishing hard enough or often enough. There may be some truth to this idea. If so, I have to make up for lost time.

Speaking of lost…

It was one of those warm spring days that finally pushed the long, hard, fishless winter to the back of my mind and encouraged thoughts of the season ahead. I’d started early, as usually, setting up a personal roadside staging area behind my Honda, where I pieced together a 5 wt rod, strung line through the guides and tied on those nondescript nymphs that suggest food to fish in the twilight before dawn. I stood on the old rug to slip on waders and boots. Throwing on the vest, I was ready for the short walk from the road down to the creek.

There’s nothing I like better than mornings alone on the creek, when the lack of sunshine renders polarized lenses useless and tilts the odds in favor of the trout. I waded to the opposite shore, from where I could cast towards cut banks and larger fish holding there.

The sun rose. The fishing was good. So was the catching. By noon the body count was well into double digits. Nymphs had been replaced with dry flies.

As usual, things began to slow down during the middle of the afternoon. One last cast led to one more last cast. Then another. And another. Almost without thinking, I’d cast, watch a fish rise, wait a second, then set the hook and bring it to the net. That’s why I nearly fell over when that last fish peeled line off my reel as it raced upstream. This was one of the big ‘uns I thought.

We danced for a good fifteen minutes. Upstream and downstream; into weeds and around boulders. I don’t know whether this particular trout was finally too tired, graciously decided reward me with a close up look, or wanted a closer look at his adversary, but soon we were at arm’s length.

I reached toward my back and grabbed…nothing. Apparently, and unknowingly, I lost my net — formerly attached to a magnetic net holder — sometime during the late afternoon.

No net and a big fish can be bad news. I never saw that fish and I won’t even estimate its length. Let’s just say he’s now referred to as the one of many that got away; an energetic fish that gave me the fin just when I thought the fight was over.

The only thing damaged that day was my pride.

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what we see… (03/16/2011)

  • Write up over at Eat More Brook Trout about a ‘small gesture’ tied to fly fishing that will go towards relief efforts in Japan:
  • Wine, fly fishing flicks, demos and gear not too far away from me at the Grand opening of the Leland fly fishing ranch. Best of all, it’s free (except for the films):
  • Take a gander at Eastern Sierra guide Tom Loe’s winter ride…it’ll get you to the Upper Owens River in style, with lunch and cold drinks:
Sierra Drifters War Wagon

The "War Wagon"


my style, or lack of…

It hit me shortly after convincing my wife that the latest issue of Fly Fisherman magazine did not include a centerfold of cover fly gal April Vokey. While I sheepishly adamantly pointed out that I subscribe for the articles…my proof being an article by Greg Vinci about Hot Creek, where I wet line nearly every summer…I couldn’t help but wonder if I should try to look half as good one tenth as good on the water as Ms. Vokey.

April Vokey, FF Mag. April-May 2011

Fly Fishing Magazine, April-May 2011 Issue

Dismissing my inevitable hat hair and rather ordinary face, it occurred to me that maybe, to paraphrase Mark Twain: “Clothes make the man. Naked people look silly fly fishing, and don’t catch much.” Goaded by ads from Simms, patagonia and Orvis peppering the pages of Fly Fisherman, out of that initial notion surfaced the thought that beyond basic fishing equipment such as rod, reel, line, flies, etc., and waders and boots that afford some comfort and safety, stylish apparel not only looks better, it’s necessary.

Back when I used to chuck spinners it used to be okay to throw on an old t-shirt (maybe spring for a spiffier look with a collared polo), slip on old shorts that couldn’t look any worse with another hole, and jump into sneakers so worn that water easily drains away. It certainly was fishing apparel on a budget. Not long ago I spent a few hundred dollars on my first big-name rod and reel, but couldn’t crack the wallet to pull out eighty more dollars for a super-light, all-recycled polyester/organic cotton blend long-sleeve shirt with UPF 30 sun protection. Granted, this shirt also offers rod holder loops, vents for air circulation and pockets for fly boxes, but long-held priorities are hard to shake. After all, I built my wading staff with a dowel, a bicycle grip and cane foot for a grand total of six dollars. (Tom Chandler over at The Trout Underground recommends other just as cheap military-style accessories.)

For me, apparel has always been about comfort because I started fishing during camping trips in the Sierra Nevada high country, and much of the fishing back then took place during long hikes. Cool mornings would give way to searing sunshine until afternoon thunderstorms clouded the skies. Layering was a necessity.

If I weren’t such a cheap son of a gun believed everything fly fishing apparel retailers have to say, a simple cool weather “layering system” — composed of a long-sleeve crewneck undershirt, the aforementioned long-sleeve shirt, base layer bottoms, fleece-lined underwader pants and quarter-zip fleece jacket — would set me back over four hundred dollars.

But, for the most part, my fly fishing apparel has been all about alternatives and the belief that trout really don’t care that much. Once I learned that I was supposed to wear something underneath my waders, I found that inexpensive fleece lounge pants from my local Costco fit the bill. Being made of synthetic fibers they wick away perspiration and remain breathable and comfortable all day. Hiking socks work just as well. A shabby Old Navy fleece pullover offers warmth on cooler days and, again because it’s synthetic, the sleeves dry quickly after a dip into the water to release fish.

I have grudgingly made some concessions. I did pick up a wading jacket for rain protection, but it also serves well to block those late afternoon downslope winds in the Eastern Sierra, or during those early morning boat runs when fishing lakes. I will admit that the few fly fishing-specific shirts in my collection were worth the investment (though all were on sale or gifts), offering a bit more room for my often inelegant casting.

In the end, I made a few decisions related my fly fishing garb.

“Grip and grin” photos will only be taken when the fish is large enough or colorful enough to draw attention away from me and my attire. Otherwise, it’ll be only close ups of hand-held fish or their unapproving eye.

Or, perhaps, I’ll just have to hire better-looking guides to hold my fish.

Don’t tell the wife.

Update: Get another, more realistic take on on-stream style over at the Unaccomplished Angler…

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what we see… (03/09/2011)

  • Something worth celebrating…the one-year anniversary of year-round artificial lures and barbless regulations on Putah Creek, and its connection to Creedence Clearwater Revival: (And cool video on
  • The Naturalist’s Angle comes up with a must-have (and very cool) fly if you’re chasing salamander-eating fish:
  • An obsession with a certain facial feature at Singlebarbed and Trout Underground?:;;
  • Not just because I’d love to say my car employs torque vectoring, but because it offers all-wheel drive for those Forest Service roads, a long hatch that’ll fit assembled fly rods, the speed that’ll allow more time on the water, and, most importantly, because it didn’t make the Unaccomplished Angler’s list of Top Six Stupidest Fly Fishing Cars:


off-the-water rewards

I just finished counting the days until Opening Day in this neck of the woods, and realized that April will mark the fifth anniversary of my quick descent assimilation into the fly fishing community. The years have flown by as this hobby uniformly crept into the fabric my existence, without any warning of how rewarding and frustrating it could be, and how much richer it would make my life.

While I’ll likely forever argue with those who say fly fishing is about being on the water, in beautiful places, striving for the prefect cast (Would you really be there if the fish weren’t?), I was reminded last weekend that it can be similarly gratifying to pass along the joy of the sport.

When club casting instructor Willy called me and asked if I could fill in as an assistant at the Fly Fishing Show, I felt some relief that my father was on the other line, lending legitimacy to delaying my answer. Perhaps it’s a lack of confidence or a high level of self-criticism, but despite assisting with the club’s novice fly fishing seminar for these five years and acquitting myself well enough on the water to present flies in a manner suitable enough to fool fish, I’ve never thought of myself capable of offering worthwhile advice on casting. But I’d been kept onboard as the “hooking and landing” instructor for nine consecutive seminars over those five years. Besides, when a Federation of Fly Fishers-Certified Casting Instructor calls you, it suggests a level of faith.

The weather leading up to Sunday was cold and wet. The next system was predicted to lay a thin layer of snow on the local hills, but it moved quickly; the skies and sun would shine upon us all day.

Olive at the Fly Fishing Show

Kirk Werner's series of children's book showed up at the Fly Fishing Show.

I’d never been to the Fly Fishing Show for no other reason than lack of planning. Aisles were crowded with the requisite rod and reels in shiny colors that offered no additional functionality except to attract the eyes of anglers. One long row was inhabited by fly tiers doing what they do best. In between these booths, and others displaying gear, where thousands of flies for sale and lodges all touting trips of a lifetime.

Greeting me at the Federation booth were a few familiar faces, giving lessons in fly tying, offering casting lessons and talking up the Trout in the Classroom program. The job was simple. Meet and greet folks and offer free casting instruction. During the afternoon, Willy, Gary (who teaches the novice seminar with Willy) and I would do just that with a number of people. After all, free is a very good price.

I’ll admit to some trepidation at offering advice after a checkered short five-year career in fly fishing. Sticking to the basics seemed good enough, particularly for folks who’d never casted a fly rod. The results were surprising. The nearly adult boy who wanted to fly fish with his dad was soon able to cast well enough to place the yarn fly close to, if not in, the target ring. The girlfriend of the guy who wisely understood his attempts to teach her to cast might make him single again, learned that making a backcast as if she were picking up the phone* allowed for nice loops and a great presentation.

We kept offering and giving lessons. My confidence rose. While Gary instructed a wife, I worked with the husband to successfully relearn the casting of a smaller 5 wt trout rod after years of chasing Dorado with a 9 wt. We swapped stories and techniques all the while.

The kids were the best. My day ended spending time with a girl who was probably all of 11 years old, who wanted to learn to cast so that she and her dad could take advantage of an offer from an aunt in Montana to get them out on some of the local rivers. This little girl’s focus, willingness to learn and lack of bad habits allowed for fast learning, only delayed by a break now and then to rest. By the end of our time together, she was casting to a target with deadly accuracy.

At the end of the day, it was clear that I did something to help these folks learn fly casting or improve their casting. Perhaps it was as simple as standing outside on a sunny day and offering small words of encouragement. Perhaps there’s more to it than that. Regardless of what it was that I had to offer, the thank yous, appreciation and smiles after each lesson were genuine. Despite being a volunteer, I was paid well.

*Think of picking up the receiver of a wall-mounted phone and stopping at your ear.

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what we see… (03/02/2011)

  • Fly fishing folks can be pretty generous (Scroll down to “53. Fly Fishing Fantasy). (Of course, the winning $70,000 bid gets two days of fishing for you and seven friends at Brigadoon Lodge in the deal):
  • If we taught a club’s fly tying classes, we’d be on doorstep of‘s shed headquarters:
  • While lucky enough to spend many a summer in Tuolumne Meadows, I’d had loved to earn college credit for traipsing around Yosemite’s high country oh-so-many-years-ago, in my youth:
  • From the All Too Personal Observation Department: While we thoroughly enjoyed our volunteer time with Northern California Council Federation of Fly Fishers at the Pleasanton Fly Fishing Show last weekend, the experience suggests that I am able to help people learn to cast better than my own ability to do so.