fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)


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practicing for retirement

From the start, we knew it’d require a different mindset. Not since our honeymoon 10½ years ago had Karen and I spent more than three or four days at the cabin. Eight days, however, clearly presented an opportunity for adventure; exploration at our own pace.

Potty-Mouth Wine

Potty-Mouth Wine

I did spend a couple of days fishing, but our destinations most days were only decided the evening before and sometimes only that morning. Our internal alarm clocks — or at least mine — meant I was up by oh-dark-thirty every morning, but that left plenty of time for a full breakfast if desired.

More than anything, we wandered; around town (Twain Harte) and through hill and dale. The higher elevations were colored by fall foliage while below 2,000 feet the grass of the oak woodlands was a pale gold.

Our day-long loop through Copperopolis, Angles Camp and Columbia took us through these distinctly different habitats, past the Sierra Conservation Center (aka prison) and over the very low New Melones Reservoir. In all my years in the area, never has New Melones looked less like a lake and more like a canyon than it did last week.

A map won’t tell you that Copperopolis has something of a split personality. The “real” Copperopolis — near Reeds Turnpike — was established in the 1860s and is a bit unique in that it was founded near a copper mine, not gold. But just north, near Hwy 4, is what looks like a Hollywood set plopped down in the middle of nowhere. It reminded me of the town of Lago, in High Plains Drifter; without the red, of course.

The buildings in Copperopolis Town Square tap historical architectural design of the mid and late 1800s, with retail shops and restaurants surrounding a small park with a gazebo, landscaped fountain and flag pole. Allowing for the fact that we were visiting on a Wednesday, during the fall, it was still quite vacant. It’s clearly designed with a pedestrian focus, including park benches, stone masonry walls and faux old-fashioned gas lamp posts. It was a nice enough place for a leisurely walk, with a stop for a root beer float in an old-style ice cream parlor.

The town square is nice enough, but peeking behind the curtain — actually one block off the main street — reveals paved streets complete with sidewalks and lightposts but devoid of homes; just dirt lots. While folks there will tell you Copperopolis Town Square is a phased development, I couldn’t help but wonder if these vacant lots were remnants of the recession. After all, developer Castle & Cooke did break ground on Copperopolis Town Square in April 2006.

Our loosely outlined plan was to stop in Angels Camp and Columbia before returning to the cabin. One suggestion: Don’t visit Angels Camp on a Wednesday; it seems as if half the businesses were closed.

The drive from Angels Camp to Columbia was interrupted, however, by my sudden veering on to Red Hill Road near Vallecito. During the summer I met a young man dispensing tastes at Mammoth Brewing Co. and learned in the course of conversation that his family owned Twisted Oak Winery. He was taking a break from the wine business to learn about beer, and after I mentioned the cabin in Twain Harte, he suggested a stop at the Twisted Oak tasting room in Murphys. I didn’t know the winery was in Vallecito until I saw the sign.

It was clear this was a place where the folks didn’t take themselves too seriously; the posted speed limit on the driveway is 9 mph. One wine label says it all: “*%#&@!” (described as a potty-mouth Rhone-style red blend). It’s a friendly place, and laughter pairs well with wine, so we lingered, bought some wine then headed on down the road.

We covered about 80 miles that day, agreeing to expand the circumference of our exploration the next time we can take the time to slow down.

It became clear we were enjoying ourselves and spending our time wisely when my sister emailed to ask if we had retired and not told her.

Not yet. But it sure was nice to spend a week acting as if we have.


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when every leaf is a flower

Big Trees & Fall Color

Big Trees & Fall Color

I, for one, believe the best adventures of childhood were often found in the backyard or within one’s immediate neighborhood. As adults we learn of the wider world, of places that are ancient and historical, mysterious, full of wild lands and animals. It’s true, but a life lived yearning to visit these places can let the wonder right outside our door slip away unnoticed.

It was expected that this week at the cabin would entail local exploration, the type of exploration allowed only by ignoring the clock and following a path chosen in the few moments before our next step.

So it was that Karen and I found ourselves at Calaveras Big Trees State Park, after, of course, stopping along the way to pick up seasonal favorites: apple cider donuts and fresh-pressed cider. I was familiar with the area, which is about an hour away from the cabin, but only as an extension of my search for new fishing waters, namely Beaver Creek and the North Fork of the Stanislaus River. To explain briefly, Calaveras Big Trees was created to preserver two groves of some of the most massive giant sequoia trees. (Not always the tallest, but volumetrically the world’s largest trees.) These are Sequoiadendron giganteum, the inland relative to the perhaps more familiar coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens.

The morning was spend wandering among these enormous trees, looking upward until our neck muscles complained during a hike that covered a few miles. But if the sequoias were the big stars of the show, big leaf maples and dogwoods were the flashy supporting players; this time of year decked out in shades of red, yellow and orange. Their dazzling colors proving that “Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.”1

Pictures are worth more words than I could possible write, so below is a gallery, a glimpse of what we saw.

1 Albert Camus


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the 2013 Eastern Sierra Expeditionary Force, part 3

My last full day in the Eastern Sierra was planned around a mid-afternoon visit to Mammoth Brewing. John — a multi-year attendee of this outing — was keen on the idea, so we planned to spend the morning fishing and the afternoon…um…let’s call it “beering.”

We got an early start driving up Rock Creek Canyon to the Mosquito Flats trailhead, at about 10,000 feet. It was a typically crisp fall morning when we geared up and begin hiking, which for stretches was more akin to climbing. It stopped every once and a while to catch my breath admire the scenery.

Looking downstream (east) as Rock Creek exits Heart Lake.

Looking downstream (east) as Rock Creek exits Heart Lake.

We had no particular goal, so about an hour in we departed the trail and headed to the inlet of Heart Lake, which is about a mile and quarter so up the trail. John dropped down to the trail-side of the inlet; I hiked to the opposite side of the lake. Quite a few years ago I hiked this trial, a bit further, fishing the lakes along the way. That year I caught nothing. I know now that it had been too late in the day.

This early morning, however, there was plenty of interest, particularly if I could cast my orange humpy (dry fly) within a foot or so of the reeds lining the lake. There were spots, near inlets and outlets, where I would land half a dozen brookies, most colored up for the fall spawn. Most would slowly emerge from the depths or from behind a submerge log, and either lunch at my fly or flamboyantly refuse it.

Typical brook trout, one of many, caught in Rock Creek and its lakes.

Typical brook trout, one of many, caught in Rock Creek and its lakes.

We’d fish Rock Creek between two other lakes as we descended with the creek. I’d hook an occasional brown trout and stop often to just enjoy where I was. It was a beautiful day, with an ever-present breeze that kept things cool. The sun would be obscured every once and while by dark clouds; the almost black clouds I’ve only seen in the high country. John’s movement would mirror mine for the most part, though he did have to return to the trail to hike over a huge granite outcropping that prevented his following the edge of one lake.

Throughout the morning we met other folks, mostly hikers with a few fly fishermen among them. There was a noticeable absence of hardware or bait fishermen. While the casting is easy on the lakes, greater stealth was required in the close quarters of the creek. Most of the time I would cast downstream about ten feet, piling up some line to allow for a relatively drag-free drift for another five to ten feet. Any closer and my footfall would spook any unseen fish.

By the time we returned to the trailhead, it was time for lunch. My plan included a quick shower — I was going into town after all — and to meet John in Mammoth. We arrived just about the same time and it was easily decided to share a flight of regular beers as well as one of the seasonals. We had a good time talking with a server who worked the summer at Mammoth Brewing and would be heading back to Murphys (where The Wife and I enjoy the fruits of local winemaking), where he’s help with the grape harvest at his family’s winery. I walked out the door with a growler of Floating Rock Hefeweizen and one of Imperial Root Beer.

Both the beer and root beer (which, to my taste buds, is easily one of the best root beers around) are long gone. The fish have forgotten who I am. This just means I’ll have to return.