fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)

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

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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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4 thoughts on “my very best Goldilocks impersonation and the chance encounters of fly fishing

  1. I think that was the group of cows I ran into on Wednesday. OK, maybe not, but they looked an awful lot alike. I’d like to get back over on the Walker some day. The first time was a bummer.

    Mark

  2. Now that’s a fishing trip. And even if you hadn’t caught one fish, you still had great family time to look forward to.

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