fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)


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a different type of enrichment

In my newsfeed this morning was a refreshing article about a kind of cool plan for Native Americans to take ownership of a section of land in Northern California through which flows a wild trout stream. According to the Sacramento Bee:

A group of Maidu Indians has succeeded in its quest to be named the official owner of Humbug Valley, a 2,325-acre area in Plumas County that is the last remnant of their once vast homeland still in relatively pristine condition.

The Pacific Forest and Watershed Lands Stewardship Council unanimously recommended that the Maidu Summit Consortium hold title “in perpetuity” to the grassy meadow laced by a wild trout stream seven miles southeast of Chester.
Sacramento Bee

Nice.

I really don’t have much of an opinion on Native American gaming, but more than once, almost in the middle of nowhere, I’ve passed huge Native American casinos on my way to a trout stream. (I do hope that the parking garages are designed to capture any runoff tainted by the drippings from the Buicks, Cadillacs, Lincolns and Crown Vics.)

While I wouldn’t lump myself in with tree huggers, I am also aware of the fact that modern remediation isn’t always as successful as might be hoped. What’s encouraging is a plan to use indigenous understanding and traditional techniques to restore this land.

The Maidu will work with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to develop a comprehensive land management plan that includes restoration of forest and meadow habitat as well as Yellow Creek, a state-designated wild trout stream. Earlier this year, the two groups were partners in a project designed to restore wet meadows in Humbug Valley.

Charlton H. Bonham, agency director, was part of that project and has publicly endorsed Maidu ownership of the valley. Humbug Valley presents a historic opportunity to demonstrate how traditional ecological knowledge can complement the modern scientific approach brought by state agencies, he said.

I fished Yellow Creek in solitude a couple of years ago and consider it one of my best experiences on a wild trout stream. It’s an intimate creek marked by undercut banks, with numerous twists and turns that reward stealth.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens next.

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no longer just fair-weather fishing

I’d never thought of myself as a fair-weather fisherman until last month. The truth is that the timing of my fishing trips — most of which take place within a few hours drive of our cabin in the Sierra foothills — is more often dictated by the level of water and the appetites of the trout in it. There are plenty of sources for information that will give you an idea of what might be expected when you get where you’re going, but usually doesn’t match up with the reality of being there.

Last month I had left the cabin on an outing that began like any other early-morning trip over Sonora Pass. I left before sunrise, the roads were vacant and it was about 40 degrees F. The general idea was to visit previously unvisited areas of a nearby watershed, with no specific plan in mind.

The elevation of the cabin is about 3,600 feet, where autumn is generally makes its presence known in a pleasant manner. Leaves are beginning to change and there’s a nip in the air. Short sleeves are still comfortable most of the now shorter daylight hours.

The temperature fell as I began to climb toward the pass, and blotches of yellows and reds more frequently peeked out from behind the evergreens. By the time I arrived at Kennedy Meadows (elevation 6,700 feet), it was about half an hour past sunrise, but in the shadows of this piñon-juniper forest, it was 27 degrees. In 10 more miles I climbed another 3,000 feet, emerged from the tree line, and the temperature would rise about 25 degrees.

I have a fondness for the high country — because its beauty is one of stark contrasts, in some ways harsh but fragile in others, with dwarfed pines scrapping out an existence against a background of granite — and this dramatic variation in temperatures is one of the most observable influences on that beauty. The simple expansion of water as it becomes ice slowly breaks down granite. The melting of that ice, and snow, as well as a general weathering of the landscape, breaks that granite into pieces that, through weather and the activities of insects and animals, can be mixed with decomposed plant matter to create a thin and rocky soil. It’s truly amazing that such infertile soil supports numerous conifers of all shapes and sizes.

The descent on the east side of the mountains leads down to the high desert, where desolation of this shrubland is interrupted by strings of trees, usually aspens in the canyons and pines elsewhere, following the course of the rivers and streams of the Walker watershed. The sun gathers strength here, but this morning its power would be contested by a layer of cold air that had established a foothold during the night.

River-Side Ice

River-side ice at 26 degrees that morning.

There’s always that time, between emerging from the artificial environmental cocoon of a vehicle and before the cold really starts to bite, that the air temperature never seems that cold. When I pulled alongside likely looking water, it was 26 degrees. I had given serious consideration to the idea it would be chilly, but now worried I hadn’t considered it seriously enough.

So with the thought that I had come too far and retreat wasn’t an option, I began the layering that I hoped would suffice. This was comprised of fleece pants under the waders, a wind-proof wading jacket over a fleece sweatshirt that was on top of my long sleeve shirt, and a well-worn, wide-brim canvas hat. Later I’d realize that my fingerless fishing gloves would have been a welcome addition.

As long as I kept moving, I avoided the long shadows that persisted as the sun hung low along its autumnal path. The water was 58 degrees, at the low end at which trout will be active, so I didn’t linger too long in one spot and moved frequently to cover as much water as possible.

This was an entirely new experience. My breath hung in the air, lingering as puffs of white. Skim ice crunched underfoot. My guides iced up within fifteen minutes. It was cold. So cold that I almost — almost — hoped that wouldn’t have to plunge my hand into the water to unhook a fish.

I would leave this first spot about an hour later, skunked but feeling that for that brief time, more than ever, that I couldn’t escape being part of nature.


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being forced to slow down and take the road less stressful

It was shaping up that this week might be the last rain-free week in which I could ride the Honda to work every day. I’d not ridden enough this year and winter was closing in.

My commute is 27 miles, mostly on highway, and the traffic’s generally moving at the speed limit when I’m headed to work. This time of year the mornings are chilly enough to prompt a wish for heated grips but the afternoons usually offer perfect riding weather.

Nearing the off ramp that’d put me on city streets for about a mile before reaching the office, my CB750 started to get a little squirrelly; just enough to convince me to slow down. The last turn before the office required too much effort and I knew from previous experience that the rear tire was losing air. It turned out my year-old rear tire was going flat.

I’d made it to the office and there was nothing that could be done immediately. I’d later learned that it was puncture about the size of a 30-penny nail (that’s pretty big). I called a few shops near the office and tried Fix-a-Flat, but in the end my son — who luckily had the day off — was willing to provide transportation home and pick up the bike the next day.

The response to this event, mine and of those around me, was interesting, particularly when others realized that you usually don’t carry a spare tire on a motorcycle. My calmness in the face of this dilemma surprised me. Perhaps it was the friendless of the people at the local shops, who despite being unable to help me, wished me good luck (in a sincere manner).

Riding a motorcycle is a choice. Hopefully a conscious choice that include being safe. For me a choice that’s been about slowing down and worrying less; taking it slow not only when it’s prudent but also knowing that the places I’m going will probably be there whenever I arrive.


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go big(ger) or go fishless

The reality of my fly fishing outings is that more time is spent preparing and getting to the designated spot than is spent in considering the fish I might hook and, hopefully, land. Most of the time, this isn’t an issue. Then there’s the one time of year when it is.

Like most fly fisherman, I have my usual haunts; some more wild, some more convenient. Some of these places require a lot of planning: the scheduling of vacation time, packing the gear and more food than I’ll ever eat, and longish driving times. The more convenient places are usually less an hour away from my base of operation, usually the cabin.

That’s where I was a couple of weeks ago when I set out for Sure Thing Creek. It’s not the most wild stream, but in the fall it’s usually quiet. This time of year most of the fish left in the creek — mostly stocked rainbows — are the smartest, which didn’t fall for less refined presentations of hardware, bait and even flies. (At least that’s what I like to tell myself.) I’m familiar with the general ebb and flow of nature here, which usually dictates nymphs at sunrise then a dry/dropper set up about midmorning, which can give way to decent dry fly fishing about midday.

This day I was alone on the creek, which is actually a small tailwater, and the pattern of fishing was much of the same, though everything was delayed about an hour because of the coolness of fall. I spent most of the morning moving through three prime lies, with an embarrassing number of fish to the net. I switched to a dry/dropper with a #20 Red-Butt Zebra Midge hanging on 6X tippet about 12 inches below a #16 Stimulator with a yellow-green body.

Eventually, the number of strikes on either fly suggested a move downstream to a new pool that had been created over the last year when a tree that used to lean over the stream toppled during the winter and higher flows ate away at the bank previously held in place by its roots. The water cascaded over rocks, bubbles bringing oxygen into the pool, which was now wider and longer, and enticing.

I was pretty confident there’d be fish at the top of the pool, out of sight under the bubbles. A prominent seam about foot off the opposite bank also offered promise. I stood at the edge, and where the water immediately in front of me was about three feet deep and I could see the bottom. I cast about 20 feet to the head of the pool and let the flies drift.

It wasn’t until after I had passed my flies through the pool about half a dozen times that my suspicions were confirmed. The first sign was a strike on the nymph, though my hookset was too slow the fish too quickly spit out the fly. A few more casts offered another chance and with a good hookset, and carefully playing the fish, I had a rainbow trout of about 13 inches to the net.

In that moment, I had it all right: the fly, the cast and the presentation. I cast a few more times. The dry fly stopped. I set.

The rod bent more than it should. The first thought was “snag.”

Then the snag moved; slowly at first, but with purpose. Then the fish shook its head. Not the short, rapid shakes of a smaller fish, but the firm, powerful strokes of something larger. Then it shot upstream. Gentle pressure briefly brought back to the middle of the pool before it torpedoed downstream. More pressure, in the opposite direction, turned it around. We danced this way about four times.

Then it surprised me by charging toward me, angling downstream slightly. Stripping loose line, I regained leverage and applied pressure. Slowly the fish began to swing back upstream, paralleling the pool’s edge at my feet. It was a BIG fish. A salmon-sized trout.

With only a quick look, it could have been described as an Atlantic salmon — big spots on a pale background. Stunned, I didn’t respond fast enough to keep it out of the weeds, where it rolled, leaving about 2 lbs. of vegetation on my leader.

The world seemed to move slower than it should at this point, allowing my brain to process every sensory input. It was likely a big brown from the lake below. And between it and me was a foot of monofilament with a diameter of only five hundredths of an inch.

Maybe those thoughts took too much time to process, or maybe it was the fear that arose after realizing the size of my tippet, but a few second later that fish snapped my line with one big surge.

It was only after recovering from my deep momentary despair that I realized that my fault was not considering that I might meet up with a bruiser brown that day, pushed by the urge to spawn out the lake and into this small creek — even though I had landed a few over the years.

I’m just hoping there’s a next time, and that I’m better prepared.