fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)


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say hi on Opening Day, but with my cast it’s unwise to approach from the rear

The general trout season opens tomorrow here in California and though I’ll likely be awake before sunup, it won’t be to beat the freezer-filling crowd to streamside.

Work’s got to get done if there’s any hope of having time to wet the line on any unfamiliar waters, and I’ll be helping a new group of students learn some of the ins and outs of fly fishing before heading for the hills in the afternoon. Perhaps more accurately, my casting will be an example of what not to do for these novice fly fishermen.

This is the fourth year that Opening Day has been more of a casual affair. Admittedly, I am itching to get out there with the fly rod; but it’s become a ritual not to be rushed, knowing that my son and I will likely be the only people on a small stream just far enough out a Forest Service road that most folks will give up and turn around about a mile short. Google Maps shows another creek a couple of miles further that just might be worth a try.

The maximization of our fishing time will include a few roadside spots as well, and on Monday, after the weekend warriors have left, we’ll slink down to some stocked waters trusting that we’ll be able to hook the dumb smart fish that didn’t fall victim to power bait or shiny objects.

If you’re out in the Sierra foothills this weekend, look for the guy with the funny cast. That’ll be me.


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what we saw last week… (2012-04-25)

  • THE trailer of the Outdoor Apocalypse (or #flyfishing : running hot/cold water, heater, shower, A/C, toilet, generator. http://t.co/bajbp07D #
  • When you aboslutely, positively have to find better #beer Craft Beer App. http://t.co/fHEuIpsK #
  • Felt the dawn breaking this morning, during the motorcycle ride to work. #

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it’s amazing I don’t have a big head, and what does ‘technical’ mean when applied to fly fishing water?

Actually, I do. I wear a size 7¾ hat.

But that’s not the point this week.

When I decided to step into the light and embrace fly fishing a few years ago, certain waters came to my attention. Many were governed by regulations limiting fishing to un-baited, single-hook, artificial lures. Others were specifically deemed zero-limit barbless hook fisheries. It was exciting.

A relatively short section of a certain Sierra Nevada creek was particularly alluring. Tales abounded of big browns and hefty rainbows. Most important to a novice fly fisher, only a few fly-eating trees follow its course. All this was gleaned from photos.

Then I read the associated article, and shuddered. It took only one word, an adjective often casually thrown around by old timers, to stop me in my tracks: ‘technical.’ I immediately visualized streamside judges waving numbers in the air, giving low-digit scores to my casting.

My discouragement mounted as the research piled up. There was no consolation to be found in other articles, books or discussions with more experienced fly fishermen. Much of the season this creek requires accurate sight casting, with presentation made difficult by heavy weeds that limited the ‘natural’ drift of your fly. In a nutshell, I was told, it was a creek only to be fished by those who had paid their dues.

But there I was, still in my first year of fly fishing, standing on its banks. I was asked by a more seasoned fly fishing club member to join him on this creek. He was one of the guys who had taken me under his wing, and it seemed to me that a refusal of the invite would have been rude at the very least, and would call into question my ability to absorb the knowledge he had thus far imparted.

The creek wasn’t as wide or as deep and I had envisioned. Most places one could cross in three or four strides without the water rising much above the knees. The water clarity fit that timeworn description ‘gin clear.’ We’d set out for his favorite spot, and I was upstream a few yards.

On the trail we had discussed flies. He told me he’d be using dries but that I’d be fine with a dry-dropper combination and lowering his voice, added that a lot of guys might have a fancier cast, but this fishery often rewarded the spirit and stick-to-itiveness of an angler, not the casting. Fish don’t judge casting.

It wasn’t until I landed that first brilliant rainbow that my fear fell away. Sure, it took more than a few casts to find the lane, but the abundance of trout ensured that any adequate presentation wouldn’t be ignored.

Rainbow on That Creek

That first rainbow that rewarded this fly fisherman with a strong fight and great colors.

In the end, both my dry fly and nymph elicited strikes. I had taken on this Creek of Fear and won. Recently, one guide went so far as to say this creek is a good place for novices, a place that demands hard work but quickly rewards. I’ve since fished this creek half a dozen times. I netted nice brown and rainbow trout each time, but only after putting in the work, even if just sitting, watching and learning the day’s lesson before the first cast.

I’m still a bit intimidated when good casting or technical prowess is mentioned as necessary to success in any fishery. But perhaps I am not as unaccomplished ( [uhn-uhkom-plisht] adj 1. not accomplished, incomplete; 2. certain angler of the Pacific Northwest*.) as I think, though there will be lot of learning before I too can “snicker at the new guys.


* Kirk’s Kickstarter campaign is funded! He and Olive must feel so accomplished! Now the real work begins. To help Kirk feel less unaccomplished, join in the Kickstarter campaign that could launch his book character Olive, the Woolly Bugger and friends into the digital world with an iPad app. There’s only three days left. (In full disclosure, I’ve contributed in the hope of getting my complimentary copy of the app, so I’d also appreciate any contribution that would get me something out of this deal.)


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Sportsmen Descend on DC to Save Bristol Bay (guest post)

Though I’m taking the offer lazy way out and throwing up this guest post by Trout Unlimited on the Outdoor Blogger Network, please put in the effort to click the link below. It’s more than worth our time to fill out the form and pass along our desire to Save Bristol Bay by Stopping Pebble Mine.


The following is a guest post available to all outdoor bloggers who have an interest in the Pebble Mine/Bristol Bay issue. Please feel free to you use it on your blog.

Photo by B.O'Keefe

Photo by B.O'Keefe

Starting Monday, April 16, more than 30 sportsmen from around the country are traveling to the nation’s capitol to let their elected officials and the president know that protecting Bristol Bay is a top priority for hunters and anglers.

This is an important week to show the folks who have the power to protect Bristol Bay that sportsmen are in this fight. We’ve got folks from Alaska, Montana, Michigan, Colorado, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Texas, Wisconsin, Washington, North Carolina, California, Missouri, New York, and Virginia representing this great country and the millions of people who want Bristol Bay to be protected and left just like it is today–pristine and productive.

A recent report by the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation shows that there are 34 million hunters and anglers in the U.S., and we’re a powerful constituency. Every year, we pump $76 billion into the economy in pursuit of our passion, through our spending on gear, licenses, gas, lodging, meals and more. All of that spending and activity directly supports 1.6 million jobs in this country.

We are also an influential group because 80 percent of sportsmen are likely voters – much higher than the national average. And, we also contribute the most money of any group toward government wildlife conservation programs. So, hopefully if we care about an issue and show our support, the decision makers will listen to what we have to say.

In just a few weeks, the EPA will be releasing a draft of its Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment. This huge scientific assessment will likely guide future decisions about large-scale mining and other industrial development in the Bristol Bay region. If they find that disposal of waste from the mine would adversely harm the surrounding clean waters or natural resources, the EPA can deny or place restrictions on a required dredge and fill permit. If warranted, we hope the Obama Administration would take that step to protect Bristol Bay.

You can support the fight for one of planet Earth’s finest and most productive fishing and hunting destinations by taking action today. Fill out this simple form that will send a letter to the President and your members of Congress asking them to protect Bristol Bay. Let’s carry our sportsmen into D.C. with a lot of momentum.


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trying to keep it simple (or, call me cheap)

A time comes in every fly fisherman’s career when it becomes clear that he (or she) has too much gear.

An outsider will recognize this long before the fly fisherman, but it seems that at some point, the vast majority of fly fisherman will eventually talk about simplifying. This may mean using a lanyard instead of a vest, carrying a single fly box instead of three, or taking up tenkara, which itself requires the purchase of more gear.

There’s an irony to the oft-told story of the boy who started fishing with cane rod, then grew into the fly fisherman who owns a small-brook rod, a small-river rod, a medium-river rod, a large-river rod, single- and double-handed salmon/steelhead rods, a stillwater rod and maybe a saltwater rod. And a few spare rods just in case. Each rod, of course, needs a matching reel. While there is legitimate need for a range of rods, this same fly fisherman will fondly recall the remarkable enjoyment, and simplicity, of chasing bluegill, bass, trout or some other fish with that cane rod of their childhood.

It’s been posited that a fly fisherman moves through four stages in how he approaches the sport, and the same might be true of gear:

  1. The first stage entails learning to cast with a rod that was passed down as a gift or was simply inexpensive enough to warrant an attempt at fly fishing. The first fish caught on this rod will likely be remembered forever. A fly box — probably a small, free one from the fly shop — and forceps fit into any available pocket. A broken branch serves as a wading staff.
  2. Stage two entails replacement of that first rod and reel with counterparts that are shiny and new, both of which are more of a personal choice, and not a choice necessarily predicated on budget. Then there’s the vest; two, three or five more fly boxes and the flies to fill them; a decent mesh net; a wading staff; and maybe waders and felt-sole wading boots.
  3. It all peaks in the third stage. A preference for a specific brand means new rods, new reels (with back ups for both) and new lines for every type of water fished or species chased. The vest may be replaced with a chest or sling pack. A rubber net is a must have, as is a lightweight, high-strength composite alloy collapsible wading staff. New rubber-soled wading boots include carbide cleats. A multitude of flies are purchased or tied, and if tied, enough materials to last three lifetimes must be bought.
  4. The stage of simplification. It’s not so much about catching fish anymore, it’s the act — the gear is secondary. Maybe an attempt to recapture the pure joy of that first fly rod-caught fish, or perhaps avoiding hauling so much stuff around the river. Perhaps the rod is one built at home…not perfect but nice looking enough, and mated to a reel chosen for no other reason than it’s a favorite. The single fly box may not be filled, but it has every fly that’ll be needed.

If the level of a fly fisherman is measured by his gear, I’m still an amateur. Coming into the hobby later in life hasn’t afforded me the years that many spend accumulating equipment.

I did, however, purchase a new net at the club auction this week, for many reasons. Sure, it’s lighter than my current net and more “appropriately sized” for the trout I land. Crafted by a club member who’s also a skilled woodworker (so, made in America), it’s one of a limited set with the club logo (in enamel and metal) worked into the handle, and my winning bid will go into the pool of money the club donates to many conservation organizations.

Fly fishing is not stuff, it’s what you do. (And it really shouldn’t matter what you use to do it.)

Net Detail

Close up of the enamel badge...


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what we saw last week… (2012-04-11)

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restoring environmental damage, one criminal at a time

I’ve always thought that lacking a contemporary ‘Australia’ to which convicted lawbreakers might be shipped, widespread use of chain gangs might be a better answer than sending less violent criminals to prisons in which privileges once used to encourage good behavior have become expected and perhaps undeserved perks. Sure, some states charge for the cost of incarceration, but work instead of cash would be better and more direct method of repayment.

This thinking resurfaced while I watched ‘Wild Justice’ on television a few nights ago. I’m convinced that there is no risk that the poachers, idiots and outright criminals suspects shown on ‘Wild Justice’ will learn much from their televised arrests; after all, ‘COPS’ has been on the air for 23 years and still the stock answer from nearly any suspect is either “they’re not my pants” or “only a couple of beers.”

A segment showing California’s Fish & Game wardens clear out a Mendocino County marijuana ‘grow’— with an estimated street value of $28 million, cultivated by surfers and a woman who claimed to have grown disillusioned when trying to reconcile the salary she was paid as a college graduate in corporate America with the money to be earned growing ganja — was a reminder of the often overlooked environmental damage inflicted by these criminal operations. This was a particularly nasty one; a gravity fed irrigation system delivered all sorts of chemicals to the grow, ultimately trickling downhill into the local watershed.

Toxic Marijuana

In addition to 300 pounds of pesticides, the cleanup of 335 California national forest marijuana grows (note this was only in national forests) in 2010 entailed the removal of 130 tons of trash, 5 tons of fertilizer and 260 miles of irrigation piping.

Even just the illegal grading of roads into these grows and the denuding of hillsides is now seen as having an impact on salmonids equal to that caused at the height of logging in Del Norte, Humboldt, Mendocino, Trinity and Siskiyou counties. The profit margin is huge, and the lure, for a mix of growers: Mexican nationals with or without cartel or gang connections, Emerald Triangle natives growing just enough without attracting law enforcement attention, and a network of smaller growers.

Much of it is grown on national and state forest and park land, and with no cost to use the land or siphon off the water that flows there, it’s a high-margin crop made more lucrative by a distribution network that’s grown with the state law allowing limited possession of marijuana for medicinal purposes and an apparent reduction in marijuana crossing the border. (A Mendocino County-commissioned study estimated that marijuana accounts for up to two-thirds of the local economy. It’s also estimated that three quarters of the marijuana sold in the U.S. is grown in the Golden State.)

Without taking a position on either the growing or use of marijuana (or the collision of state and federal laws), I can’t help but think that the folks who wreak this environment damage — suspecting that some of the home-grown variety may be self-styled environmentalists — might be better ‘re-educated’ in cleaning up of the mess they leave behind. Besides, they’ve already built hovels in which they can be housed during the clean up. But, if they want one, they’ll have to pony up their own cash for the hazmat suit.


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what we saw last week… (2012-04-04)

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