fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)


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think not, do (and why I think one can trust their feelings…after a bit of real-world learning)

I don’t remember how it was learned. There has been a lot of trail and error, fishing trips and advice from guides and fly fishing friends. It certainly wasn’t during my first year of fly fishing, when it was all new and mysterious — and happiness was fooling a single wild trout. Mistakenly filled with a dream of never being skunked again, all virgin water held promise, particularly without the knowledge that is only gathered with time on the water. Maybe, at first, this knowledge is founded upon a dog-eared book authored by Whitlock, Humphreys, Cutter or Rosenbauer. But over time, those written words merge with experiences to become more instinct than reason.

Only lately did it become clear — while reflecting on fishing an Eastern Sierra river a bit more than a few weeks ago — that my approach to water, at least assessment of it, was without conscious thought that day. A first trout that came to the net early that morning would be the only fish for a period of time longer than I liked. But there was a lot of water to fish. It wasn’t too long before the burble of the river, the lowing of cattle and the rhythm of casting encouraged giving in to just being there and trusting in my strategy.

I no longer feel frustration (I’ll admit to a bit of irritation) when the net remains dry and the fish don’t respond to sound tactics. Digging a bit deeper often reveals a smidgen of an idea that I may be employing the appropriate tactics, just not in the right place. If asked, I usually can’t describe the right place, but I’ll know it when I see it.

I saw that right place that morning on the Upper Owens River, but it wasn’t until long after the fact did I recognize my knowing that it was the right place. At the moment, it simply felt right. It was a small bend where the water tumbled over and through a few polished rocks, with enough speed to carve underneath the bank a small undercut. Above this bend, a confluence of two braids would funnel any food to where fish should be waiting.

What those books don’t tell you, and can’t if they hope to find new readers, is that as insight is accumulated, at sometime it’ll be a gut feeling telling you that you’re in the right place, at the right time, casting the right fly with the right technique. With a lot of luck, you may even feel that a drift is so right that a hook up is almost — almost — guaranteed. That day half a dozen trout from that bend would end up in my net.

It took some thinking about that day before I realized that it was following a feeling, a learned intuition perhaps, and that not overthinking worked out pretty well.

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the conundrum of working-class guy’s fly fishing vehicle

Ask around, do a little research and you’ll likely find that the question “what’s the best vehicle for fly fishing” is often answered “truck.”

But I’m still paying into social security so others can fly fish when they want a working stiff. I need transportation that is, first and foremost, reliable, and just as important, economical. I have to spend money on gas to make money, and the less I spend upfront the better.

During better weather, the Honda CB750 and its 45+ miles per gallon is a fine option. But it’s difficult to load the necessary fly fishing gear, and the cooler of post-fishing beer, on a motorcycle. I’ve tried.

Being a bit obsessive about conducting research on anything that will cost more than $50, I’ve been thinking — probably too much according to those around me — about the vehicle that, in about 1½ to 2 years, will replace my current 2003 Honda Accord. Since I’ll likely buy a certified pre-owned car, it’s going to be something currently on the market. My current car gets 30 to 32 mpg most of the time, and on long trips to fishing venues, I’ve seen 34+ mpg. But over 80% of my driving is commuting to and from work.

I’ve debated the merits of various models, including sport utility vehicles and all-wheel-drive cars. A hybrid is out of the question; too heavy and not enough clearance for the occasional Forest Service road. Subaru is a commonly offered up make as an all-encompassing solution. But I’ve noticed two things: most Subaru owners talk about the sportiness of the ride, the go-almost-anywhere capability, but rarely praise their cars’ mpg, and it seems to be a roll of the dice when it comes to build quality. That might be said about any make, but that’s my experience.

Despite the fact that I’ve been a Honda owner for well over 20 years, I opened up my consideration to other options, particularly now that the mpg on midsize sedans is edging up.

But, and a bit ironically, it’s fly fishing that helped firmed up my decision. At least for now.

I’ve driven my Honda on a good many, only slightly improved, Forest Service roads. Sometimes for miles, over the relatively soft dirt along the Upper Owens River, for example, or over rocks on my way to the Little Walker River, and on washboard roads in the hills behind the cabin.

Still, the doggone car doesn’t squeak or rattle.

I’m hoping this will still hold true for my next car, until that someday when I can justify a dedicated fishing truck.


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my early thanksgiving

Yesterday the shield on my helmet was dotted with mist. Clouds showed up early in the morning and again hover above today. Temperatures have noticeably dropped and the first reports of snow in the Sierras have filtered down to the lowlands. Tomorrow we’ll be making the annual trek to Camino, Calif., and the ranches that make up Apple Hill. It’s clear that fall has hit Northern California.

It’s a time of year that sparks in me some introspection. Though it’s far from over, there’s an almost instinctive looking back on the year; recalling the new friendships — however temporary they may be — as the days are filled with one activity or another. The opportunity for these friendships was the answer to a recent question, as I was beginning to adopt another hobby, if it might just be one hobby too many.

The answer is no. Whether motorcycling, fly fishing or shooting, a welcome sense of belonging emerges as I learn from, and about, those pursuing similar interests, or simply enjoy the camaraderie.

It may be a bit early, but that’s certainly a reason for thanksgiving.


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a week of fly fishing, part two: a personal challenge (or, an unfamiliar approach to familiar waters)

There are times when the catching is good, but the fishing still unsatisfying. I was felt this way on Hot Creek, just a bit, during this last club trip to the Eastern Sierra.

I may not eagerly jump out of bed on a work day, but by nature — likely because I’m in tune with nature on most fishing trips — I’m an early morning fly fisher.

It’s a strategy that works for me. It puts me on the water long before almost anyone else. Nymphs work well for me in the twilight of the morning. The darkness lends the fish in my net a a mysterious, ghostly quality.

But this last trip, after that aforementioned conversation with the guy from Cabo, I thought it was time to change it up.

That’s what put me on Hot Creek about mid afternoon on a Thursday.

It was nicer than I expected, with a mid week crowd comprised of a single fisherman and myself, and the normally frustrating winds almost nonexistent. Caddis coated the bushes. An errant mayfly dipped up and down in the air.

I’d been told that a certain crane fly imitation would work well. I didn’t have one. The hoppers that were suggested didn’t get even a glance from fish clearly seen to be eating. For a time I watched the graceful and economical movements of a pod of trout, rising to feed and falling back to the bottom. Obviously, there was something that I couldn’t see bringing them to the surface.

Like most any water, Hot Creek comes with its own piece of counseling: go small. And in the afternoon, dry flies.

Normally I’d head upstream and work my way down, but after a friendly conversation with older gent already fishing (and giving him a size 20 caddis for use as an indicator above a trailing something about size 22-24), I decided to stick and move as I worked my way up the creek.

I rigged up in similar fashion, with a black caddis trailing a size 24 parachute Adams. This time of year, tactics at Hot Creek are often dictated by the abundant weed growth. A soft footfall serves one well, and I carefully picked my way around bushes while watching the “lanes.” In the past, I bypassed these areas under the pretext of one excuse or another. (My casting isn’t good enough, I won’t get a long enough drift, too many people, etc.)

It wasn’t too long before I saw that first nose, more of a bump in the water, a tell-tale sign of a feeding trout.

I cast well upstream. It took a few more casts, but with some skill luck, a good drift put the fly where it needed to be.

Hot Creek Brown/Small Fly

It still amazes me that a nice Hot Creek brown like this can be landed on so small a fly.

I’d repeat this more times than I care to recall but was rewarded with eight beautiful trout, mostly browns, all of which were no less than 13”. The biggest and prettiest crowded about 24” of beauty into 15” of fish.

Next year, I think this place will deserve an entire day of my attention.