fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)


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an annual one-day tour; many waters fished, some not

The Oldest Son and I kept tradition alive with the Annual One-Day Tioga/Sonora Pass Tour last week and found a few Sierra Nevada rivers and streams running a bit too high for easy fishing, despite the lack of snow this year.

This excursion — passing through Yosemite’s high country and over two passes exceeding 9,000 feet — was marked this year by a deliberate slowing down. As always, the plan was to fish along the way. This time, however, there was an acceptance that fish would be there, or not, when we arrived. Perhaps it’s maturity. Perhaps overconfidence in my abilities. Whatever the case, it would open our eyes to new sights and new fishing possibilities.

The Tuolumne Meadows general store being assembled for the season.

The Tuolumne Meadows general store being assembled for the season.

We left the Family Cabin later than usual but quickly covered our longest continuous stretch of driving before arriving at Yosemite’s Big Oak Flat entrance station. Less than an hour later we pulled into the Tuolumne Meadows campground parking lot. A crew was stretching canvas over the wood frame of the campground’s general store. The meadows were already exposed and beginning to brown. The upside: it’ll probably be a relatively light mosquito season. But if you have any inclination to fish high-country streams or rivers, the season will be about a month head this year. Don’t be fooled; it was still cold.

We wadered up and spooked a few trout in one river, wrongly thinking that they had forgotten about fisherman during the winter. We explored a few other streams just past Tioga Pass. Reading a roadside monument, I learned of Bennettville, a mining town that never produced ore during its existence from the 1870s through 1933. It did, however, give birth to the Great Sierra Wagon Road, which later became Hwy 120 and the Tioga Pass Road.

The Tuolumne River, with Sean in the far background.

The Tuolumne River, with Sean in the far background.

The morning spent, we headed down to the Tioga Gas Mart and after picking up a few bottles of Mammoth Brewing beer, stopped for a barbecue lunch.

A few more miles behind us, we stopped on the bridge over the Little Walker River. I judged it just on the verge of being fishable and expected Molybdenite Creek, which feeds into the Little Walker, to be in similar shape and worth the time to show Sean this favorite place for the first time. Disappointed to find two other fisherman, we hiked around them before dropping down to the creek.

The Bennettville Marker near Saddlebag Creek. The town is about a mile west.

The Bennettville Marker near Saddlebag Creek. The town is about a mile west.

My favorite spots on this creek are pools usually created by piles of brush or the ledge of a small waterfall. Eventually, I hooked a couple of wild fish, lost most on dry flies that were just a bit too big, but finally landed a nice brook trout. Downstream, Sean also hooked a nice brookie.

We worked our way downstream, exploring the confluence of the two creeks, then began the return upstream, revisiting suspect water. Sean landed another brook trout from the pool I had fished.

The other fisherman had left, leaving upstream water open. Through a thick stand of pines and aspen I found a curve in the creek that created a pool and nice looking tailout. Trees crowding the edge of the creek limited casting to short casts parallel to the stream. Reaching the tailout required letting a fly drift under an overhanging log. But it was too good to pass up. A few drifts netted a decent brook trout.

Once my focus was off the tail out, a small pod of fish working at the head of the pool came into focus. It was pretty clear they were stocked trout, and while their domesticated appetite might not present a huge challenge, their position did, requiring casting from a crouched position and underneath an overhanging birch branch. Sean joined me later, and despite losing three or flies between the two of us, it was a fun casting and fighting fish in close quarters.

On the way toward Sonora Pass, we skipped the raging West Walker in favor of the upper North Fork of the Tuolumne, on the west slope. There we’d find stock rainbows willing to hit stimulators well into the evening.

In the end, we fished places unfamiliar and usually unfishable this time of year.

The spirit of exploration spilled over to the next day…

More on that next week.


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fly fishing through Glass

“High tech” used to refer to the latest silica nano matrix rod or the lightest reel made of unobtainium. Not anymore.

While Google’s Glass has launched with less-than-useful third-party apps — “Glassware” — tied into CNN, Evernote, Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter, the real breakthrough is yet to come.

For better or worse, a glimpse into the future.

Google Glass Fly Fishing App

Google Glass Fly Fishing App (click on image for larger view)


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first time fly fishing with the wife (or, rolling the dice on being out-fished)

I never pushed fly fishing on my wife, but she’s always supported my pursuit of the sport and listens attentively to accounts of all my adventures. She usually believes the fish are as big as I say.

Then, a few months ago she took me by surprise, asking if I would show her how to cast a fly rod. I’ve had welcome opportunities over the years to help teach, or at least acquaint, a few folks with fly fishing. In addition to assisting with the club’s novice class, it could be said I didn’t teach too many bad habits to my brother and my son, both of whom went on to have some success.

After an involuntary thought that “those who can, do, but shouldn’t necessarily teach,” I agreed to take my wife out for some casting. Good weather offered an opportunity and we spent just under an hour going through the basic motions.

A few weeks later, during a discussion of our weekends, I reminded her that I’d be teaching the novice class on an upcoming Saturday. She asked if there might be room. There was, and soon she had reserved a spot. She learned a lot and suffered through some frustration.

It is nice to have someone to take a photo.

Sure is nice to have someone along to get photographic evidence.

We’d be at the cabin a week after the class, and while a friend would be with us and side trips were planned, it was expected that I’d slip away to chase a few trout. Although we packed extra rods, reels and my spare waders and wading boots, it wasn’t until we stopped at Bass Pro and purchased a license for my wife did the reality sink in that she actually might join me.

Firmly believing that the best way to hook someone on fly fishing is to get into a fish on a fly rod, our destination the next morning was a stocked stream not too far from the cabin. We test-fit the waders at home and knew they would work well enough. My wife set up the rod and reel on her own, we clipped on our wading staffs and headed to the stream. I think it was after a dozen steps or so that my wife began referring to my old wading boots as “clown shoes.” (Admittedly, they were a bit big, but did the job that day.)

My wife doesn’t much like water — it’s for drinking and bathing and that’s about it — but she didn’t flinch much when we began wading. While waders provide a barrier between the wearer and the wetness of the water, one still “feels” the water. I reassured her that in water this cold, after a bit of time, she’d be too numb to notice.

Just before the first strike...

Just before the first strike…

This is a stream best nymphed, with limited dry fly action some afternoons. Offering a running commentary on what I was doing, I rigged up two standard nymphs below an indicator. I explained and demonstrated where to cast (and hooked a fish in the process), and talked about how the trout would be looking for a close approximation of a real insect drifting near a current seam.

The morning was sprinkled with encouragement and advice. My wife’s casting, more like lobbing under the tree limbs above, improved. Her patience was impressive. After the first take of the day, it was more than an hour before a second bump. She wasn’t the only one casting to ghosts. I could count my strikes on one hand.

About midmorning we shifted downstream about 10 feet. The fish in this stream, though raised in a hatchery, move throughout the day, typically following the movement of the shadows. Close to noon, there’s more sunlight than shadows on the water, forcing any trout in the area into a narrow and definable seam. Downstream, I switched to a dry/dropper setup and was sight casting to a decent looking fish. Good placement and presentation earned a solid strike, and I landed my second and last fish of the day. Photo taken and trout released, the focus returned to getting the wife on a fish.

There’s no telling what changed — the temperament of the fish, the depth or general presentation of the flies — but suddenly my wife could lay out a cast, manage the line and fool a fish. A trout was hooked on the second or third strike, offered a dramatic leap and was gone. In between a few more strikes we worked on line management and talked about setting the hook. A few more strikes were missed.

Karen's First Fly Fish

Getting the “hero shot” took some dedication with an uncooperative, slippery fish. But she did it.

Then it all came together.

It was good to get excited about a fish on the line, even if it wasn’t my line. Limiting my advice to keeping the rod tip up and letting out line when the fish demanded it, I set my rod down and carefully moved downstream of the missus. I calmly instructed her to bring the fish head first into the net. For one heart-stopping moment the 12-inch rainbow would have flopped out were it not for my cat-like ninja reflexes luck.

Yes, my wife did receive a proper fly fishing baptism, falling into the water a few times. (No water over the waders and nothing broken.) Tangles were minimal and, amazingly, not one fly was lost the entire day. I do worry, however, that had she hooked (and landed) all the fish that hit her flies, she would have out-fished me.

Ask my wife why she stepped up to try fly fishing and you’ll get some sentimental nonsense that it’s another way to spend time with her husband. That day, in a cool stream away from everyday worries, after landing a trout, she told me of a new understanding of why I enjoy fly fishing.

While we’re not running out to buy her new gear, I’m now optimistic that there’s a greater chance of fly fishing any suspect water we pass during our travels.


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finding a fly fishing fix not far away (and why a 3 wt. was a poor choice)

I usually eyeball them through jaundiced eyes. Though instinctively taking inventory of every feature — shelter, shade, structure — I’d normally pass up a puddle made even more unappealing by strategically placed CalTrans-orange barrier netting.

But I missed Opening Day of trout season last Saturday. So, while a preference for good hygiene precluded any thought of sullying waders in the tepid water, it was hard the next day to pass up an opportunity to soak a line to test a presumption that life might be found beneath the surface.

My son’s tales of casting spinners to willing small bass brought me to this containment pond, barely five minutes from the house. Not much more than 50 feet across, there was nothing remarkable about it. The setting was serene enough, being that it is behind a [location redacted]. Trees line the south bank, providing a bit of shade and shelter. Reeds sprout near a corrugated culvert pipe and a darkness that comes with depth suggested a smaller drop off about five feet from shore.

“Nothing much over eight inches,” he had said.

Parked on a nearby street, I returned the 5 wt. to the trunk, selecting the 3 wt., thinking the smaller rod would offer a more sporting fight. We hiked over sidewalk and up a dirt embankment to get there.

Lacking any need for sophisticated assembly of a rod or the puzzling about the appropriate fly, my son and his girlfriend were soon throwing spinners and eliciting strikes. I maintained a semblance of dignity, but it’s a bit unsettling to publicly rig a fly rod while visitors to the [redacted] came and went by, while the sound of compression braking floated up from a nearby Bay Area highway. Being predisposed to size 20 Parachute Adams and even smaller nymphs, my choice of suitable flies was limited. A bluegill-ish streamer pattern was the ultimate choice.

The superiority advantage of fly fishing was immediately apparent. After three casts I managed to land the “largest” fish my son had seen pulled from this urban lagoon. All of 10 inches, it was a fun match for the 3 wt. This pattern continued, with more fish missed than hooked.

Previous encounters with bass — actually, lack thereof — left me a bit dismissive and a bit underprepared, but playing these little fish helped reduce a twitch developed during a winter devoid of any fishing. But the contentment that snuck up on me vanished in an in-your-face demonstration of the circle of life; a demonstration of an oft-told fish story that I had never personally experienced.

Like any of the half dozen other six-, eight- or 10-inchers, this small bass offered up a small tussle, until a large shadow shot forward and engulfed it. Any leader that was visible quickly disappeared as the shadow returned to the depths. A short tug of war ensued. Just as quickly, my line and rod went limp. It was more than I bargained for, but a welcome reminder why I enjoy this sport.

Big bass from a small pond.

Big bass from a small pond.

In a cloud of optimism but without any expectations, my box of streamers was re-examined and a heavier, bead-head yellow woolly bugger tied on. The smaller bass paid a bit more attention to this fly, though it was equal to at least a quarter of their body length. After a few casts, I remembered to let it settle a bit, hoping that might present the fly to the fish a bit longer. This tactic worked well enough, and I landed about 24 inches of bass six to eight inches at time.

The wind made casting a bit of a chore with a big fly on such a small rod, but soon enough I was more consistently hitting promising water. Finally the fly landed where directed. I paused; stripped in line, paused again, stripped. The line stopped in mid-strip. Being more accustomed to embedding a hook in an underwater log or moss-encrusted rock, it wasn’t until my line shivered that I realized there was a big(ger) fish on the other end. The choice of a small 3 wt. rod and reel was quickly called into question; the reel’s drag screaming painfully and the rod bending into an uncomfortable semiellipse.

There’s no gingerly playing a big fish on a small rod. Do so and you’ll probably lose this fish. Horse a fish too much and you’ll probably break equipment.

Without a net, I was unprepared for a fish of any size. But the fishing gods must have been smiling on me. Time seemed to slip away, eventually the fight ebbed and a lip was gripped.

In the end, I found my temporary fix last weekend far from clear, cool streams in which I’ll be wading when you read this.

An anatomy of urban fly fishing.

An anatomy of urban fly fishing.