fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)


my very best Goldilocks impersonation and the chance encounters of fly fishing

Last week in a nutshell: Trout weren’t caught where expected; a good many others landed where only a few were caught before. One river was frustrating; another too low; one just right. Fellow fly fishermen were met and their company enjoyed on the water.

Some folks won’t understand the almost 200 miles traveled to catch and release the trout I finally found. But a quiet sense of urgency seems to settles in after the summer solstice, an urgency that leads to miles of driving before sunup.

With water in many Sierra rivers, creeks and streams low this year, this urgency demanded a trip, however quick, to the Walker River Basin. It’s a watershed I’ve visited less than I should, considering the beauty of the country traveled distracts from the time it takes to get there. Breakfast is light and handy, the air cold and crisp as I crest the Sonora Pass. Horizon-to-horizon cloud cover dulls the day.

Morning commute traffic means something entirely different here. Before reaching the high desert of the Eastern Sierras, the two lanes of Hwy 108 winds through forests of pines and aspens near the Leavitt Meadow Campground, and though its twists and turns demand slower speeds, both lanes are usually vacant. But not this morning.

Thanks were muttered to the mechanic who last worked on my brakes as a cowboy sidled alongside to suggest it best that I pull to the side of the road and wait. I did and prayed just a little as a herd of cattle gave me the close up and personal experience I never wished to have, as well as one of those encounters that makes a journey all the more memorable.

A few miles more and two hours after my departure, an internal debate of where to fish the East Walker River was quickly settled by the absence of vehicles near the “miracle mile.” After a few wrong turns (caution is warranted driving a sedan on these dirt turnoffs), it was time to gear up. A lack of competition other fishermen tends to eliminate a subconscious desire to rush this process, and I stood there looking like a sausage standing on end while wishing another angler “Good morning.”

East Walker Brown

The single East Walker brown that came out to play…and on a red-butt zebra midge tied by yours truly.

His accented response was explained in the resulting conversation. He was visiting from France, working his way up the Sierras, and with admiration in his voice told me he enjoyed a quite a time on Hot Creek the day before. We talked techniques, and in a bit of name dropping I mentioned that three-time French Fly Fishing World Champion Pascal Cognard had recently spoken at a club meeting. (The French team has been ranked #1 by the International Fly-Fishing Federation for a number of recent years.) I mangled Pascal’s last name but once it was clear I was talking about competitive fly fishing and who I talking about, my new friend told me that he had competed against Pascal. Small world.

We spent a bit of time within sight of each other and I spent time watching his strategy. That French nymphing brought the first fish to the net within half an hour before I wandered downstream.

The East Walker has become my nemesis. It’s never not given up a fish and admittedly I haven’t spent much time fishing it. This day I poked and prodded likely pools, riffles and runs, with only one small brown to show for four hours of effort. Hungry and a bit frustrated, it was time to retrace my route, with stops at the Little Walker and West Walker rivers.

Though “little” is in its name, the Little Walker was too low for my tastes since I was hoping to fish stretches holding the wild trout that live there. It was back down another dirt road to the highway.

Bank on West Walker River

Rewarded will be a nice cast to within a foot or so of this bank on the West Walker…

The idea of unknown possibilities kept at bay a creeping despondency that was nourished by the still overcast sky, an unwetted net and the aches that come with age exertion. The West Walker is typical of the rivers in the Eastern Sierra…you might miss it if you didn’t know it was there. It winds through high desert terrain, below banks that conceal its course. Parking the car alongside the handful of trucks emblazoned with one military insignia/motto or another, I loaded up and headed out the half mile to a bend that seemed to interest a handful of anglers.

The number of fishermen made it a less than optimal situation, but my eye was drawn to flashes on the surface, near the tail of the bend and just below a lone fly fisherman. I walked quietly to a position downstream and behind him. Our conversation began when he stopped to replace a lost fly. He’d arrived at the nearby U.S. Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center only two days ago, heard that the fishing was “on” and now stood on the shore of the West Walker in his fatigues.

He was enjoying himself. Though stocked rainbows, a long pod of fish had stacked up against the opposite bank, next to reeds and in deeper channels, and were earnestly feeding on the surface. Every other cast was welcomed with a bump, slash and, best of all, a solid strike. I was invited to join in and set up on a small point just downstream.

West Walker Rainbow on a Dry Fly

The reward.

The next three hours were filled will double hook ups and an inevitable comparison of our fish, talk of flies and home, and rain, wind and sun. Good fishing makes triumph seem easier in the face of a challenge, and despite powerful wind gusts — gusts that didn’t help casting but allowed the sun to shine — we continued fishing. Sidearm casts two feet off the water got flies close enough to feeding lanes. We never exchanged names but were fast friends in fly fishing that day.

Breaking my rule of never leaving willing fish, I headed back over the pass. My sister and her family were joining me for a three-day weekend, and though fishing is a big part of my time in those mountains, it had been a while since they’d been to the cabin and there was family fun to be had; fun that would be a bonus on top of that day on the three Walkers.


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what we saw last week… (2012-07-18)

  • Clear waders, so fisherman everywhere can avoid pasty white legs; my gift of genius to the fly fishing industry. Free of charge. #flyfishing #
  • Will fish and game agencies revise season start/end dates? #Salmon alter migration with water temperatures. #
  • Fishy fashion: New luxury clothing/accessory line uses #salmon skin leather. #
  • Tenkara becoming just another mainstream #flyfishing tactic? Orvis begins selling Tenkara USA's equipment. #
  • Will magnetic flies work? Magnetic cells get rainbow trout back to original spawning grounds. (Typo in the headline…) #

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time well spent on new water, part two (or, why it’s best to go sooner, not later)

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Looking up Beaver Creek.

As alluded to in my last Friday post, the excellent fishing just over a week ago was often centered on a certain little red humpy. Accompanying the good fishing was good weather. I couldn’t have asked for any better; it was in the mid 80°s those four days. The following week the average daily highs climbed above 100°.

When it comes to fishing unfamiliar waters, I’m a big fan of hedging my bets. While specific locations and tactics will be obfuscated in conversations with just-met fly fisherman, and stops at local shops often require filtering out hyperbole, it’s usually fellow fly fishing club members that will usually — with a caveat that certain tidbits never be shared — give the most accurate information.

That’s what led me to Calaveras Big Trees State Park to check out Beaver Creek and the North Fork of the Stanislaus River.

I’ll get the North Fork of the Stan out of the way first. I fished it later in the day and did land a few fish. It’s not my favorite type of river. It’s certainly scenic, shadowed by groves of ponderosa and sugar pines, incense cedars, white firs, mountain dogwood and, of course, giant sequoia redwoods. It looks to offer a great opportunity for rafting and I probably should reserve final judgment until there’s a chance to visit when the water is lower. But it’ not the easiest stretch of water to fish as it tumbles through truck-size boulders that mean edging a few yards downstream might entail a half-mile hike just to get around those boulders.

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Missed hatch on Beaver Creek.

Beaver Creek, however, was a reminder of why I enjoy fly fishing smaller waters; they require a more personal involvement with nature. Though it took bushwhacking to move upstream, Beaver Creek offers the intimate style of water I favor, and that certainly made any difficult terrain less of a burden. My hope was to find the wild fish I had been told about, but if they were there, they weren’t as aggressive as the stocked rainbows. I was pleasantly surprised, however, by a wild brown that nailed the humpy only seconds after it landed near a likely seam.

I fished a few other less remarkable sections of the Stanislaus, revisited Herring Creek, and wet a line in some of the ol’ regular spots. It was a good few days. And when the humpy didn’t work, one of my “confidence” flies, a stimulator of nearly any color, did.

I’m glad I went exploring when I did; it’s likely that within a month some of these creeks will be a bit too skinny.

[singlepic id=1229 w=600 h=450 float=right]

When it doubt, Stimulator!


will El Niño save the coming winter/next season?

We were fooled once before — the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) predicted a wetter than normal 2012 winter for Northern California last fall — but the same agency’s Climate Prediction Center is now predicting a 50 percent chance that El Niño conditions will develop in the next few months. (The original NOAA synopsis is here.)

If it does, there’s likely to be flooding in this neck of the woods but next summer’s small stream trout season might look a bit more promising.

According to International Research Institute for Climate and Society Chief Forecaster Tony Barnston we’ll know soon enough:

The development of El Niño depends greatly on what happens in the coming two months. If we do not get at least some development by the end of August, then the chances of getting development later become much lower.”

Here’s to hoping for a snowpack that more than makes up for what was lacking this year.


time well spent on new water

The bad news is that work this year dictates quick trips pretty much limited to the family cabin. The good news is that this allows for frequent trips that engender exploration.

Last week I decided that the two full days available for fishing would be dedicated to moving waters with familiar names but until now remained unfished. And no one told me it was humpy week. Red and yellow to be exact.

Road work meant the last five miles of my trip took half an hour. Luckily, a month ago I found a small section of the North Fork of the Tuolumne River not more than 20 minutes from the cabin, a convenient place to get the skunk off after a midafternoon arrival in the Sierra foothills. It’s not remote and often occupied, with a limited number of wild trout, but it’s a place that offers room to practice casting to specific seams and shelter.

Like much of the moving water in the Sierras, this section of the Tuolumne was already low. The early season spoiled me, so the fisherman in me was also initially disheartened to find two kids frolicking in the main pool. As a dad, I appreciated that these kids were having a good time outdoors. However, despite the splashing and noise, a trout would periodically and enticingly slash at the surface.

Though a short drive, I hate wasting an opportunity to fool a fish with a dry/dropper combination. A red humpy and a self-tied small, go-to bead-head nymph.

It took a few casts to warm up.

Then the fish warmed up to my presentation.

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Darn fish wouldn't stay in focus. (But was caught near the rock, in focus, in the background.)

So it went for a few hours. The humpy dried off many times after being battered and half swallowed. These fish were hungry and made me look good.

That’d be the theme this trip, and though I didn’t find as many wild trout as hoped, I did well enough to consider it time well spent.

The next three days I’d fish four unfamiliar waters, landing fish from each, often amid relative solitude (we’ll get to that next week). When not alone, I was lucky enough to enjoy conversation with fishermen more knowledge about the area than I, fly fishermen who were happy to offer friendly advice and recommend additional venues. One gentleman, with a long history of fishing the foothills, related bit of history that suggests in high-water years there’s a very real possibility of brook trout being washed out of a reservoir into a nearby steam.

Yes, it was time very well spent.

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Big-tailed rainbow...surprising for a stocked fish.