fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)

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…and eventually they’ll plant banana trees next to former trout waters

Us fly fishers can safely assume trout will be where we left them last season, but the clock ticked a minute closer to the Outdoor Apocalypse with the new version of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “Plant Hardiness Zone Map.” Welcome news for gardeners at more northerly latitudes, to be sure, but I for one am not looking forward to roses and magnolias crowding the banks of Sierra streams any time soon.

And though the USDA website notes…

Climate changes are usually based on trends in overall average temperatures recorded over 50-100 years. Because the (new map) represents 30-year averages of what are essentially extreme weather events (the coldest temperature of the year), changes in zones are not reliable evidence of whether there has been global warming.

– via USDA Agricultural Research website

…the new hardiness map shows a decided shift north nationwide.

And while these warmth loving plants won’t give triffids any competition, by the time they show up next to my favorite trout waters, it’s likely the trout will be gone and the water rendered unfishable by an invasion of members of the Centrarchidae family.

The USDA interactive map can be seen here.



fly fishing: a great equalizer

Be honest. This is often the way we imagine it could have happened. Standing in a river in early May, maybe June, the fish are still eager and maybe still a bit stupid. The spot you’ve chosen offers a clear cast to riffles only half a dozen yards long. The weather is cool enough to encourage the wearing of that old, long-sleeve flannel shirt. The bright sun is blocked by a classic wool walking hat; the one that lends the wearer a certain swagger. The patches of aspen, peaking out between the Jeffery and piñon pines, are once again covered with bright green leaves.

It wouldn’t be too difficult to cast from here, and you consider it, but you are new to the sport and the desire to properly and softly present the fly requires a few more steps. The trout slowly and quietly slurp Baetis duns. You check your leader, eyeing its length and looking for any nicks or knots that would give away your fly as a fake.

You cast the fly into a seam you think will carry it past the closest edge of the feeding fish. The fly slips around one rock, then another. To keep the drift realistic, you lift your rod tip to keep as much line off the water as possible. Everything looks and feels right. The fly disappears, and without thinking, and an imperceptible pause, you set the hook. If time allowed, there’d be a debate as to who was more surprised, you or the fish.

All of this positioning and decision-making doesn’t take as long as it seems, except that it takes great effort to ensure that everything is perfect for the woman watching from the bank. She sits on a checkerboard blanket, the remnants of a picnic scattered about. Her classic beauty competes with the trout for your attention. She smiles, impressed, as the rainbow trout glistens in the sunlight, before you carefully return it to the water.

However, unless you’re luckier than the rest of us, reality is much different…even for better-looking people, particularly those who’ve just learned to cast a fly.

Ewan McGregor took Hollywood actress Emily Blunt fly fishing – and she ended up catching his dog.

The Crieff-born actor was in Scotland last year filming Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, about a fisheries scientist who tries to bring the sport to the Middle East.

Ewan was showing off his newly acquired casting skills to Emily…

He said: “All the actors stayed in this beautiful little house. They had a pond down at the bottom of the garden and some rods and both Amr Waked, who is also in the movie, and I had learnt to fly fish.

“We were showing off because we were trying to impress Emily with our fly fishing skills – ‘Look, you do it like this, don’t bendy our wrist, no, that’s right…’

“And she caught my dog who was running around behind. She hooked him. She didn’t catch any fish but she did catch my dog.”

– via

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what we saw last week… (2012-01-25)

  • Photo showing the magnitude of the rock slide on Big Oak Flat Road, one road into #Yosemite It'll be closed a while… #
  • Sure sign of the #declineofcivilization Grooming standards change; #Disney park workers can now grow beards, goatees. #
  • Re the sci-fi premise that government would install tracking devices in citizens; no need. We're doing it, "checking in" via social media… #
  • Good use for 3-D: More accurate modeling of Yuba River to study effects of gravel injections on #salmon run restoration…. #
  • Alaska #salmon industry out of Marine Stewardship Council certification; worries over line between hatchery/wild salmon?… #
  • Known for fly fishing gear, better known for boots, L.L. Bean kicks off its 100th anniversary with the Bootmobile. #
  • Good debate re paid format for online magazine. …could tablet delivery bridge gap with easier/more portable access? #
  • Nice, continuing tale of building a bamboo rod. #
  • Tioga Road closing: Latest closing date ever? (Closest date since 1933: Jan 1, 2000) #

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gear that won’t be bought, trips that won’t be taken

I’ll be on the road to the Sacramento edition of the International Sportsmen’s Exposition this morning and, according to forecasts, should be slogging through welcome but heavy rain. Don’t get too excited for me: it’s going to be a bit more like torture.

I’m leaving the checkbook and credit cards at home, carrying only enough cash for lunch.

I’m taking a cheaper simpler approach to the coming year that will be reflected in my fly fishing, though stopping short of tenkara. Last year didn’t go well, fishing wise, and changes on the job this year will bring incessant deadlines and blank pages in need of words. Anyone with a job today should be grateful, and I am, but it’s going to be tough to string together more than a few days off without risking some kind of pre- or post-vacation penalty. Big hopes for 2013 require planning. The fiscal reality is that dollars can stretch only so far. (Yes, I do feel some guilt that I won’t be helping a great deal to lift the fly fishing industry out of its apparent struggles, so it’ll be up to the rest of you this year.)

Much of the change this year can be blamed on my brother. Our conversations of late reminded me that what sticks with us most are the experiences of our life: riding our bikes as kids to the five ‘n dime or hiking the Sierra Nevada high country during family vacations. I don’t think we truly appreciated it at the time. The considerable value we now place on these experiences seemed to swell as our own children grew up.

So my visit to the ISE will be maddening, comprised of gear I won’t buy and guide trips I won’t take. There will be a visit with Derek Young, who I got to know as an unassuming and friendly guy before he was named 2011 Orvis Guide of the Year, some milling about various seminars, and likely encounters with other folks I’ve fished with.

My plans entail simplifying and diversifying. Much of my fishing will be refocused to waters near and not-too-far-from the family cabin in the Sierra foothills, something that’s long overdue. I’ll “make do” with gear I have and spend at least two long weekends there each month of the trout season. (My budget may allow for a very nice net handcrafted by a fly fishing club member and up for auction in April.)

It’ll be more about an exploration; a more mature approach in which satisfaction doesn’t hinge on numbers worth bragging about. There’s too much ground to cover in a single year, but the goal will be to cast flies to waters along the Highway 4 corridor, further up Highway 108, and on new stretches of the various forks of the Stanislaus River. All of those weekends should provide plenty of opportunity to spend more than a few days in the Walker River Basin; it’s only two hours away. There’s only one guide trip on the books (with Derek), and that may be the only one this year.

Dates have also been cleared on the cabin calendar for visits by my brother’s and sister’s families. And it’ll be darn nice if the wife — who recently rediscovered the detachment and contentment that can be found in the foothills — joins me more than a few times.

Diversification will mean revisiting diversions that aren’t enjoyed enough. Acting like tourists in our backyard, something started with our visit to Alcatraz last month. I’ll send the motorcycle seat out for a custom fitting more suited to longer rides. Rides that may or may not include fishing, and some that may include the wife.

You can chalk all of this up to wisdom gained with age, or — like me — simply decide to make the most with what you’ve got while you can.

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what we saw last week… (2012-01-18)

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hopefulness of fly fishing reflected on celluloid

I have a confession. I didn’t see “The River Why,” despite the claim that fly fishermen would flock to see Amber Heard’s décolletage the movie and that I can be a bit distracted by most things that entail fly fishing.

Sometimes it’s all about presentation. Doing everything, just so, being subtle, to sneak up on your quarry. Too many false casts or slapping the water will draw initial interest, but soon desensitize those who you most want interested in your offering. The same can be said of the latest and greatest fly fishing film; long before it’s screening in my neighborhood, I reach saturation through trailers and highlight reels, and articles and blog posts.

Liam Neeson Fly Fishing

Obi-Wan Kenobi’s mentor Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) fly fishes in real life; Ewan McGregor does so in “Salmon Fishing in The Yemen.”

Subtly is lost in the clamoring for attention. There a lack of attention to presentation; something done well will have the fish audience wanting what you have to offer. Regardless of the effort, it can all boil down to that presentation.

There’s the stumbling through the muddled, pre-dawn darkness and the tentative stride, the missteps on mossy rocks. Stooped in a half effort to conceal my profile, I’ll select a fly. The selection is a combination of a modest understanding of entomology and gut feeling. And not every cast, particularly that first cast of the day, will offer the perfect presentation of the fly du jour. It takes me some time to work up to even a decent cast.

My first cast, tinged with too much expectation, sets the fly down too far away. I judge subsequent casts unacceptable or unworkable long before my line falls to the water. Often, it’s too long since I last wet a fly; but slowly, and with effort, a rhythm is rediscovered and precision returns. (Admittedly, my version of “precision” is plus or minus eight or nine inches or so.) Once again, a renewed focus on my cast displaces all that comes with everyday life.

That (almost) perfect always seems to sneak up on me; perhaps the result of not thinking about what’s being attempted. Simply, it feels right. The fly settles on that one current seam suspected to be a conveyer belt delivering bugs to an as-yet unseen trout.

The fly slips downstream, held steady by hope. A nose emerges. The fly disappears. Often, I’m more surprised than the trout.

That’s a bit how I feel about the trailer for “Salmon Fishing in The Yemen,” a movie based on the book by Paul Torday. It snuck up and surprised me with its upbeat hopefulness. Unlike “The River Why,” it was bandied about as the next version of “A River Runs Through It.”

“Salmon Fishing in The Yemen” has some star power and apparently some respect on the independent film tour, and seemingly is without the focus-group formulation that sucks the soul out of anything. There’ll be no admission to somewhat of a man crush on Ewan McGregor. See “Long Way Round” and you’ll understand — he comes across as a guy who’d saddle up the adventure bike for a day of fly fishing, followed by a friendly evening at the local pub.

Though always risky, judging by the trailer, the plot of “Salmon Fishing in The Yemen” echoes the hopefulness that’s all too often required of fly fishing without directly being a film about fly fishing. It’s got Mr. McGregor (as the fisheries biologist hired by a fly fishing-obsessed Yemeni sheikh to bring salmon to the wadis of the Yemen), Emily Blunt (as the Sheikh’s representative), Kristin Scott Thomas (as a British government spokesperson promoting the project to draw attention away from the government’s latest blunder), salmon, English charm and wit, and fly fishing. While it might benefit from a more mainstream title, I like the title; it’s likely to keep the riffraff out of the showing you know I’ll attend.

It’s nice to have a fly fishing flick to look forward to while waiting for Ms. Olive (the Woolly Bugger) to make it to the big screen.

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what we saw last week… (2012-01-11)

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when asking questions becomes so over rated

Wi-Spi Helicopter

When you really, really want to avoid conversation...

The secrecy of our choice in flies will be a thing of the past as binoculars are replaced with high-tech toys.

Every grumpy (and not always old) fly fisherman holds something back when asked, “What fly you catchin’ em with?”

The younger more tech savvy fly fisher won’t even ask. …and that won’t be the drone of mosquitoes in your ears.

Sick and tired of spying on the neighbors the old-fashioned way? Good news, all. Interactive Toy Designs showed off two new products in its not-so-subtly named Wi-Spi line of remote control vehicles. Really driving the notion home is the Intruder, the name given to the little red sports car. The helicopter, on the other hand, is called just that, though we’re sure you can intrude upon people with the thing, if you really put your mind to it. Both vehicles have built-in cameras that beam live feeds to your iPhone or Android devices. You can also record the video and upload it instantly…

~ via

Given that technology has done wonders for the art of conversation, letter writing and maybe all social interaction, makes one wonder how long it’ll take before anglers’ once-well-respected, on-stream and on-the-spot ability to spin yarns of half truths begins to atrophy and die.


not my New Year’s resolutions

From my perspective as someone who has made plenty of New Year’s resolutions to little affect on my life, this year I instead offer a public service in the form of resolutions for others, hoping that my 11 readers will pass them along under the presumption that adherence to any one of these resolutions by other outdoorsmen will make my fly fishing life a bit easier.

  • The Resolution for Fisherman Who May Be Too Friendly: If you’re not my guide or I don’t know you and haven’t asked, don’t net my fish. In my personal experience, it rarely ends well for anyone involved.
  • A Resolution for Those with (Untrained) Kids & Dogs: The water down around the bend is just as wet as the water I’m fishing.
  • The Shy Fly Fisherman Resolution (This comes from personal experience.): Don’t be afraid to ask a successful fly fisherman for help. If you ask while on the water, be courteous and remember what Andre Puyans was reputed to have said, “Move only close enough to communicate and observe, but never close enough to interfere.” Do so and you’ll likely start a new friendship, regardless of its duration; though you should expect that answers to any questions won’t always be totally truthful.
  • Resolve to Understand Fishing Doesn’t Always Mean One’s Fishing: Experienced fishermen often study a piece of water before fishing, and often before even entering the water. It’s only good manners to respect this and gently wake up a fellow angler quietly ask permission to fish the water being observed.
  • A Resolution for Those Filling Stringers: If you see me landing more fish than you, don’t ask if I’ll give you one for your stringer. Catch it on your own; only then have you earned the right to make a decision to let it go or keep it. (The fact that it may be a stocked fish doesn’t negate the premise of this resolution.)
  • Resolve to Look for Fish Elsewhere (Part 1): Even if I’m landing more fish than you, my spot is not where all the fish are. Respect the fact that I get up before the sun and fall over rocks in the dark to get a particular spot; or get up earlier than I do.
  • Resolve to Look for Fish Elsewhere (Part 2): Please, please don’t cast your lure, bait or even fly 15 or 20 feet to place it in the seam less than 5 feet in front of me. It’s also bad form to cross my line with yours. Be warned: I’ve been working on the accuracy of my retaliatory long-distance casting.