fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)

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a milestone and 10,000 miles wiser

By the time you read this it’ll be official. I’ll have ridden 10,000 miles on two wheels.

There are those who’ll say I was getting in front of a possible midlife crisis with the purchase of my first motorcycle just about four and a half years ago. I’d disagree. The idea of riding has bounced around my brain since riding a friend’s off-road bike, so long ago as a kid.

Like fly fishing, riding was one of those things that looked fun, but something I never truly could envision myself doing. And like fly fishing, choosing to ride any particular day influences planning, gear and even the pace.

To be clear, in both cases I favor a slower pace.

This pace was reflected in the process that led me to motorcycling, starting with a Motorcycle Safety Foundation class, just to see if I might possess the skills to ride and to determine — taking into account the possibility of dropping someone else’s motorcycle — whether it still offered the enjoyment I remembered from years ago.

I’d be remiss to not give credit to my wife, who works in the healthcare field and often used the term “donor-cycle,” for supporting my desire to at least try motorcycling. Even knowing that my dad had a decidedly unpleasant motorcycling accident that led to his not riding, I went ahead with registration for the class — with my oldest son joining me — with no particular plan to purchase a motorcycle. That’s not to say I didn’t have thoughts about something in the Honda CB series… Sean and I both passed the class with flying colors and by early December 2007 our driver’s licenses carried an M1 endorsement.

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The first bike.

Though I had no immediate plan buy a motorcycle, the universe had something else in mind. Only four weeks after getting my M1 endorsement I became the owner of a venerable 1982 Honda CB650SC with about 8,000 miles on it. Now owned by my son, this vintage Nighthawk gently taught me the basics. It was a great starter bike; easy and fun to ride. It also taught me that two-wheeled transportation, while giving one a true appreciation for highway speeds, can make one feel more connected to the world. Maybe it’s the safety-conscious swiveling of my head, but I seem to see more when riding.

I definitely feel more when riding. My commute is about 30 miles one way on a state highway that passes through reclaimed marshland of the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge, farmland and by a cattle ranch, all the time skirting the upper edge of San Francisco Bay. (Technically it’s San Pablo Bay.) Despite protective riding gear, the microclimates are readily apparent. When the weather’s warmer, the water of the marshes retain enough heat to create a “banana belt” that makes my early morning ride more comfortable. But once I drop over a small ridge, heading closer to the coast, the air temperature invariably drops 5 to 10 degrees.

Over a year and a half with the 650, I learned basic repairs, added a vintage luggage rack, overcame a fear of riding in the rain and took a good number of local trips.

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Two bikes, two fly rods, two reels and an extra gallon of gas.

It was sad to see that first bike go, but nice to know it’d still be in the family. Even more exciting was the fact that on July 24, 2009, I took possession of a motorcycle that through its production years (1992-2003) had been my favorite: the Honda CB750F/Nighthawk 750. Mine’s from ’97 and had less than 4,000 miles on it when purchased. It’s now fitted with a windscreen, luggage and risers. I like it and its average of nearly 50 mpg.

Sean and I took our first long motorcycle trip after I bought the 750, heading over familiar roads and fly fishing along the way.

So here I am, 10,000 miles later. Yes, there have been two close calls, both due to inattentive drivers. (And yes, my wife knows about them.) I’m thankful that whomever is watching over me is doing so and I’ve learned to ride within my limits. I’ve come to grudgingly accept that the buffer I put between myself and the car in front of me is often instead seen by “cagers” (car drivers) as an opportunity.

Those who know me know I take care of my vehicles. But the motorcycle is unlike the cars. Once and a while I find myself simply staring at the motorcycle, an old-school symbol of freedom, still not fully believing I own and regularly ride one.


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what we see this Wednesday (2011-07-27)

  • Cool Job: If I knew back when that there was a job titled “trout bombardier,” I’d have pursued it. #
  • How’d they teach ’em to only take out-of-town flies? Dunsmuir plants trophy trout in Sacramento River. #flyfishing #trout #
  • Cop-car nerd nirvana on the Dallas Police Department’s Facebook page; 85 years worth: #
  • Use of spotting scope leads to best #smartphone photo ever? (And who says parents can’t rock modern tech?) #
  • Not convinced that the wife/girlfriend won’t outfish you if you take her fishing? Then read about this 335-lb. halibut: #
  • Always nice when someone who violates #fishandgame laws helps make the case against himself! #

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fantastic images of wonderful places to fish

It’s certainly better to be there in person, but these time-lapse images of great places illustrate why one can love the Sierra Nevadas…

Eastern Sierra Time Lapse HD from Jeff Chen Kuo Chih on Vimeo.

Eastern Sierra Time Lapse 2 from Jeff Chen Kuo Chih on Vimeo.

Eastern Sierra Time Lapse 3 | Milky Way | Via Lactea from Jeff Chen Kuo Chih on Vimeo.

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what we see this Wednesday (2011-07-20)

  • Positive sign of growing interest in restoration of native trout? Only trout native to Lake Tahoe to make a reappearance. #
  • Genetically modified Atlantic #salmon may need help but new study shows they can breed and pass genes into the wild. #
  • Decline of king #salmon stocks moving up West Coast? First California, now limits on subsistence fishing in Yukon River? #
  • More good news for native trout: Gila trout introduced to Frye Creek (Arizona) #


summer sickness (and justification for a dark man cave)

Take it from me; teaching kids to share will come around to bite you in the arse.

Thanks to this lesson — perhaps too well learned? — I was sick this last week. (That’s an optimistic “was.” I’m not quite out of the woods, yet.) I’d never heard a death rattle before and I’m not so certain that I didn’t this week.

Stooping over a fly-tying vise would only exacerbate the wheezing, so that was out of the question. I got what work done that I could then filled the days with reading, sniffles, television, coughing, and video games peppered with vacant stares into space. It’s been 10-plus years since I’ve suffered through a summer cold and this go-around has got me thinking that there’s a need for a well-stocked man cave/fly tying room into which I can draw the curtains and sink into darkness until my physical and mental outlook brightens.

With all that time on my hands, you’d think I could’ve devoted time to writing a long and winding piece full of interesting or entertaining words. The desire was there. The mind wasn’t. Like most marauding viruses, this one mysteriously turns one’s thoughts inward, alternately focusing on the suffering and possible relief, with the question “Why me?” creeping forward once and a while.

And slowly I began to detest the technology that allowed me to remain recumbent with the whole of the World Wide Web and all of its blogs in my hands.

Negative thoughts weren’t helped by learning that The Unaccomplished Angler’s apparently less unaccomplished son Schpanky not only gets paid when work is slow at the Carnation Golf Course, he can whip out a rod and pull some beastly bass out of the course ponds. Many young adults entirely dismiss their fathers’ advice, but there’s something almost acceptable about doing so to fish on company time.

The Trout Underground threw up seven posts in five days, reminding the rest of us that the self-employed can ignore work sneak away whenever they want, whether to Maine via Bass Pro or small streams so crazily beautiful they earn a triple-X rating. Over at we’re told that there may be no stopping invasive species, so the gov’nment might as well contract with Gorton’s to make ‘em edible. Reinforcing the idea that I’m slacker, even a writing prompt from the always prolific Outdoor Blogger Network couldn’t get my mind in gear. At least I could get away virtually for a while, living vicariously through Owl Jones journey out west… And it was nice to see Mark at Northern California Trout, who fishes some familiar foothill waters, back in the saddle after futilely thinking he could walk away from this whole addiction blogging thing.

There were rewards found in having a lack of mental focus too much time on my hands. I stumbled across a fun blog written by a female fish cop who entertains with tales of life as a mom, outdoor lover and state game warden at Fish-Cop Out of Water, especially things you don’t want to hear. From there it was on to discover Mysteries Internal, with its lyrical writing about fly fishing, fixing up a home and discovery.

It wasn’t a pleasant week. But, thankfully, no fishing trips were cancelled due to this illness.


the younger brother’s first fly fishing experience (and when “it’s not all about the fishing” becomes a truism)

Teaching fly fishing requires enthusiasm. Teaching it well requires a bit more. A little curiosity helps.

It was my brother who provided the curiosity. Not openly, but in that tone of voice we’ve all heard before.

We were discussing ideas for his first visit to California in eight years and our trip to, up and over the Sierra Nevadas. “I’d be willing to try fly fishing if you have some gear I could use,” he said over the phone.

I’d thought plenty about offering such an opportunity but hadn’t mentioned it. Everyone has a story about how they were introduced to the sport. Mine surely isn’t unique, but it did imbue me with a belief that a curious mind opens the door to the best first fly fishing experience.

Along with the gear, I’d bring considerable enthusiasm. (It’d help to understand that my sister’s family has given me the nickname of “The Herring Merchant.”*)

That’s how Mark, Sean and I found ourselves on “Hatchery Creek,” not too far away from the cabin, just as sunlight touched the top of the hills. With borrowed waders, boots and a wading staff but minus an overloaded vest, Mark looked just about as silly as I. (It’s a tenant of fly fishing that fish don’t care how one looks.)

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Mark on a fish.

This creek tucks against a hillside and, controlled by a powerhouse, is nearly always fishable regardless of spring runoff. Though near a main highway, it’s sheltered by heavily treed banks, and — except for the occasional burps of a Jake brake — the outside world is easily left behind. Though the outcome of our day had yet to be determined, the absence of other fisherman was a welcome sign.

After gearing up and giving a primer on the creek, I led Mark toward one of my favorite runs. It’s the same piece of water on which I educated both sons as to the nuances of hydrology. On the surface it looks fast, and most would call it too fast for fish. The most obvious (and dependable) spot for trout here is near the far bank, where the water’s velocity is slowed by friction. Perhaps because of constant shadows and the lack of light, it’s difficult to see the nearer telltale seams that suggest hidden trout. As both sons learned years ago, a little bit of patience and a passable drift in the proper location will surprise you. It’s also a great spot to swing a fly at the end of the drift.

We were rigged up with nymphs under an indicator. It was too early for dry flies, and to my knowledge this creek is devoid of any real insect hatches, with only occasional dry fly takes in the afternoon.

There’s nothing more conducive to learning than doing, and my strategy was simple: talk, walk, fish and hope that Mark would get into at least one fish while doing so. I would take on the role of guide. I’d assemble leaders, tie knots and select flies. It would be Mark’s “job” to focus on hooking and landing a fish.

It Ain’t Pretty, But Works

For those who haven’t fly fished, casting nymphs (often heavier, underwater flies) with an indicator (yeah, like a bobber) is an inelegant affair. In this case it was more of a lobbing action. After a bit of discussion about this technique and a quick demonstration, Mark made his first casts. Occasionally I’d offer a bit of advice. The suggestion of a casting target that’d offer a better drift into a good trout lie. A recommendation to keep a tight line between the rod to the indicator, then a gentle admonishment to keep an eye on the indictor for any movement that didn’t seem “normal.” A description of the slight lift the rod should be given at the end of every drift.

It was that last piece of advice that gave Mark his first surprise. He’d made a good drift with no takers. Toward the end of the run, the rod tip was raised, the movement of the indicator slowed, and the flies below rose toward the water’s surface, as an emerging insect might do.

That’s how Mark hooked his first trout on a fly rod. Just as quickly as it was on, it was off.

It didn’t matter that we didn’t land that fish. It’s the confidence and faith that washed over Mark’s face that mattered. His big brother wasn’t just blowing smoke. An unseen fish had risen to take a fly presented just as he had advised. Without any encouragement from me, the training wheels were off.

Heading upstream, Mark stopped at a suspect pool while I ventured toward a stretch where riffles tumbled into a long, deep run that abutted a boulder, which in turn created a pool that offered a long tailout. Sean had fished the area earlier, but had since headed downstream.

When Mark moved to the pool behind that boulder, just below me, I futilely tried to keep an eye on my indicator as well as Mark’s. I needn’t have. Before I knew it Mark had set the hook. Encouraging him to keep the rod tip up, a bend in the rod and to allow the fish to tired ever so slightly, I dropped set aside my rod, grabbed my net, and headed downstream.

Mark was broadly smiling as the rod tipped danced. Not an acrobatic fish, it splashed enough to put on a bit of a show. Soon Mark turned its head and we had a decent trout in the net.

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Mark and his first fly rod fish.

Mark waded over for the obligatory fish photo. Excitement shifted to quiet contemplation. We talked of wetting hands before handing trout, the ease of removing a barbless hook, and keeping the fish in the water until all were ready for the photo. Photo taken, we let it rest in the net. It was a remarkably clean, deep bellied and heavily dotted hatchery rainbow trout measuring an honest 13 inches; a admirable first fly rod fish.

It quickly recovered and, as discussed, Mark softly cradled the trout as I lowered the lip of the net. Often, it seems to me that time slows in the minute or so before a trout finally swings its tail and darts for the familiar safety of deeper water. I never asked Mark if he felt that same sensation, but the look on his face confirmed that he had discovered the magic of catch and release fishing.

The Lesson Learned

At that moment I got it. A curtain parted ever so slightly, giving me privileged insight into why fly fishing guides, those who truly enjoy what they do, do what they do.

More could be written about that day. About the other fish that Mark stalked, hooked and landed, and his amazement that he could do so while hardware and bait fishermen struggled for even a single fish. About Mark’s discovery of trout in places he previously might have dismissed as holding fish. About a simple enjoyment in finding that sharing of one’s love of fly fishing can spark the beginnings of such a passion in another.

But looking above, there’s not much else to worth writing about Mark’s first fly fishing experience and how it rekindled in me renewed appreciation for the little things, beyond the fishing, that bring such joy to the sport.

* From “the Valve: A Literary Organ” blog —

[In the movie “Love and Death”] Boris is in love with Sonja, but she is unhappily married to Voskovec the Herring Merchant (“his mentality,” she complains, “has reduced all the beauty of the world to a small pickled fish“). She takes lovers. (“She takes uppers?” Boris repeats, incredulous, when he hears this news). Voskovec, preparing his pistols to fight a duel in defence of his wife’s honour, accidentally shoots himself. Sonja goes to his deathbed in the company of a couple of doctors. In what is, I think, my favourite exchange in all film, Sonja talks to the expiring man…Here’s the tender deathbed scene:

SONJA: You were a kind and loving husband. Generous and always considerate. (To doctors) What’s he got? About eight minutes?

DOCTOR: (consulting his watch) I think I’m slow. He’s got about three.

VOSKOVEC: Swimming out! Swimming out to the open sea like the great … wild … herring! [Dies]

(You can find more photos here under “The Brother’s Visit – Tuolumne Meadows, Eastern Sierra, First Time Fly Fishing”.)


making man time and acting like boys

I’ve no way of checking, but I’m pretty sure hell’s frozen over.

After eight years since his last appearance in the Golden State, my brother showed up with no specific plans. That’s where I stepped in as travel agent, outfitter and guide; apparently a role that suits me better than might be expected.

Lembert Dome

Lembert Dome viewed from the Tuolumne Meadows Campground, and where we'd be going.

A visit to the cabin is akin to establishing a base camp. In our case, a base camp stocked with beef jerky, beer and an XBox. One might be inclined to think it was something like a “man cave,” but there’s an irony to my brother and I spending quality man time together. Those who’ve been in the proximity when we get together know that we quickly prove the adage that you can’t take the boy out of the man.

Mark lives in the Evergraygreen state and while he said he’d enjoy seeing California family members, it became clear that he perhaps more happy to see the sun. I swung by the airport to him pick up Wednesday evening and we met up with my oldest son, Sean, at the Bass Pro Shop in Manteca. We secured a two-day nonresident fishing license, grabbed dinner and headed up the hill.

Weather-wise, we’d hit it right. Temperatures had peaked that day and would be still warm but slightly lower the next few days, meaning it would cool off at night; something important for a good night’s sleep in a cabin that has no insulation and no air conditioning.

Before Mark or Sean posts a comment below, I will admit that I was adamant that I would I had expected to wake up and hit the road for Tuolumne Meadows early the next morning. I did wake up at 5:00 a.m. But I rolled over and caught a few more winks.

Mark had asked if we might be able to hike up Lembert Dome. He and I had done so back when we were boys, with my sister and dad. It’s a pretty easy drive from the cabin to Tuolumne Meadows, just about 2½ hours. Since Tioga Pass had opened the week before, we would circle our way back over Sonora Pass.

Olmstead Point Marmot

Mark's friend, the Marmot, at Olmstead Point.

It’s been said many times before, but the blue of the sky is remarkable at higher altitudes, and we weren’t disappointed. With only a few clouds in the sky, we passed through the entrance station and soon arrived at Olmstead Point. Reinforcing that he boy stills lives within the man, Mark was all about seeing and getting photos of the marmots of our childhood at Olmstead. A few marmots obliged.

We next stopped at the Tuolumne Meadows Campground, where we spent many a family vacation camping. Sure, some things have changed — mostly manmade things — but nearly everything was recognizable and Mark and I soon agreed upon the location of “our” campsite, partially based on its position relative to the Tuolumne River, which itself was nearly unrecognizably high. I’m sure Sean was somewhat amused by our reminiscing.

Just down the road we pulled into the parking lot at the Lembert Dome trailhead and loaded up. The trail begins with a modest incline, but starting at about 8,600 feet and rising another 800 feet to the dome’s summit, it was soon clear that our lungs would get the kind of workout not seen in years. The gradient seemed to increase every 100 feet, and even if we were on the trail (we weren’t), it would be covered by extensive snow fields that made the hiking more difficult. At one point, Mark fell through the snow into a waist-high air pocket. Undaunted but pausing more often that we’d care to admit to catch our breath, we pressed on. I’m sure it took a lot of patience for Sean to not charge ahead. (I don’t think he broke a sweat or even breathed hard.)

It’s said that the memory grows hazy over time and Mark and I didn’t remember the last stretch up the back of Lembert Dome being so steep or requiring so much climbing. But climb we did, reaching the top. The view was made a tad more incredible by the fact that we had it to ourselves.

At the Top of Lembert Dome

Me, Mark & Sean a the top of Lembert Dome. (After Mark and I rested for half an hour just a few minutes.)

It was hoped that we’d also find some water to fish. Without much browbeating Mark had asked if he might get a chance to try fly fishing, and I had plenty of gear he could use. We rigged up and flogged the no-so-high-but-higher-than-usual Lee Vining Creek. It was tough going. I was the only one to get two strikes, but missed both fish.

We refueled our egos with some good barbecue at Bodie Mike’s, then headed north to Bridgeport, and I pointed out all of the water that we might have fished. Every single river was the color Yoo-Hoo.

Traveling creates memories, and traversing the Sierra Nevada Mountains can make for some of the most vivid memories. Then there are other things that one doesn’t soon forget.

Our return to the cabin meant a few preparations for the next day, when we’d get out on “Hatchery Creek,” hoping to get Mark into his first trout on a fly rod. Mark looked to verify that his fish license was in his wallet. It was. His driver’s license wasn’t. He searched through my car. Sean looked through his car. I looked around the cabin. Mark began to go through his suitcase. After thinking about it a bit, I called Bass Pro Shop. The customer service rep went through the lost and found, looking for a Washington license with the appropriate name and a goofy looking photo.

Soon we were making the 1½-hour drive back to Manteca. Only a few miles went by without Sean or I reminding Mark of his snafu.

There was an upside to this. We enjoyed a manly dinner at the House of Beef.

Back at the cabin, assurances were made that I’d not linger in bed the next morning as there’d be fish to catch. And I did not.

But Mark’s First Fly Fishing Experience is a story unto itself, and for next week.

(You can find more photos here under “The Brother’s Visit – Tuolumne Meadows, Eastern Sierra, First Time Fly Fishing”.)