fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)


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ripples without water (or, this drought stinks)

The only reason I haven’t curled up in a fetal position and yielded to California’s 500-year drought is there’s at least a few days of trout fishing on the horizon.

It’ll be good news and bad news situation. The good news being that low water will allow access to most streams and rivers during my limited time fishing this month. The bad news is that the water may be gone when I can next venture into the Sierras.

droughtmapAs a native Californian, most of the drought news is the “usual” hue and cry about the fight to bring water to farmers, efforts to save water, dwindling city supplies and wildfires resulting from the record heat, as well as the not-so-usual and so-called Bay Delta Conservation Plan.

But the stories that truly illustrate the far-reaching impact of The Great Drought are smaller in scope and often just as alarming.

Spring fishing in the Sierra Nevadas usually means fewer people and rattlesnakes. This year, at least the rattlesnakes will be more numerous.

Wildlife experts from the high Sierra to Southern California report that snake sightings are up, largely due to the warm, dry weather that has gripped much of the West. Rattlesnakes, like many animals, have been drawn out of their wintertime dormancy earlier this year because of the mild conditions that have accompanied the drought, experts say.

Shrinking agricultural employment is affecting school attendance.

It’s not just fish that depend on insects — which often reproduce in water — but birds. The tricolored blackbird may make the endangered species list with help from the drought.

Reproduction declines have been noticed since 2007, before the drought, Meese said, but recent counts have shown even steeper declines. A statewide survey of tricolored blackbirds, known for their red shoulder patch with a bright white stripe, was recently concluded and the results are due out in three weeks.

At issue for the birds is a lack of insects since female birds require insects in their diet to form eggs. Also, young birds require insects during the first nine days of life, when they cannot digest plant material. Meese contends that the effects of the drought have created lower populations of insects, as well as less-extensive wetlands from which blackbirds can feed.

Even before the full effect of the drought can be felt, food prices are on the upswing. The $200 million cherry crop is expected to be up to half of normal. http://blogs.kqed.org/bayareabites/2014/05/13/light-california-cherry-season-thanks-to-warm-winter-expect-higher-prices/

…the warm, dry winter threw cherry trees off their game all over the state. California usually delivers the nation’s early season cherries, but with yields down around a third of what they usually are you can expect to pay a whole lot more at the market.

What the trees want is a wet, chilly winter with fog that keeps the daytime temperatures under 55 degrees.

But, clearly, the trees aren’t getting what they want.

California honey prices are being pushed to new highs. California was at the top of the list of honey-producing states a couple of years ago. Not anymore. This third year of drought could cut production to its lowest since 1981.

Suction dredge mining remains an issue for our rivers but, apparently, now is the time to shut down those machines and pick up a pan in the search for gold. Accessibility is creating a mini-gold rush in the Sierra foothills.

If there’s a silver lining, it’s that the severity of this drought has shifted the discussion on fracking.

Fracking a single oil well in California last year took 87 percent of the water consumed in a year by a family of four, according to the Western States Petroleum Association, an industry lobbying group. That amount — a modest one by national standards, the oil industry argues — has become an increasingly delicate topic since a drought was officially declared early this year in the state.

The drought, combined with a recent set of powerful earthquakes, has provided the momentum for about a dozen local governments across California, the third-largest oil producing state, to vote to restrict or prohibit fracking in their jurisdictions, as concerns over environmental effects and water usage have grown.

At the same time, a bill that would declare a statewide moratorium on fracking has been gathering support in the State Senate, a year after a similar effort failed.

The frail nature of our infrastructure — arrogantly designed to fight Mother Nature’s wisdom — is certain to be tested in the many months between now and the next rainfall. A switch to ignoble warm water species might salve the itch to fish, but at what cost to one’s pride?

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how to be a hero (or, hey, leave those fish alone)

It’s clear that nature’s dewatering of California this year will leave the trout that can be found skittish and stressed. I suppose that only the most thoughtful fishermen will leave them well enough alone as the summer wears on, or perhaps cross to the dark side of warm water species.

Opening Day may mark the beginning of the few weeks during which decent trout fishing may be found not too far away, while fish mortality is at a minimum. After that, it’s unlikely you’ll find solitude at a high alpine stream, creek or lake. The same climate change pushing wildlife to higher altitudes will similarly affect their human hunters.

This summer and fall — when still-flowing rivers will only offer skinny water — will be seasons of small fly rods and even smaller flies. A few small wild trout fisheries I hold dear (and of which I also hold a delusion that only I know about them) won’t withstand much molestation, meaning I’ll also be somewhere else.

It’s been proposed that “heroic measures” will be needed to save California’s salmon runs. As the weather warms up and naturally flowing water is scarce, it’ll be just as heroic to leave alone those fish that have nowhere else to go.


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is one California too much, or how do you feel about buying multiple fishing licenses?

Though it’s a remote possibility that the proposal by Silicon Valley venture capitalist Tim Draper to divide California into six states would make it over the many required hurdles — from gathering signatures of 807,615 registered voters to put the measure on the ballot to final congressional approval — it presents a conundrum for a native Californian.

This is a big state, one of diversity. Every once and a while that diversity bubbles to the surface; one example is the Jefferson state movement that is revisited every decade or so. Boards of supervisors in Modoc and Siskiyou counties, which are near the Oregon border, approved measures in support of the Jefferson state declaration. Tehama County, one county south of Modoc and Siskiyou, has placed a similar measure on the ballot.

California is one of the few places where five major climate types can be in close proximity. From my home, it’s a four-hour drive to the high Sierras, the Humboldt redwoods or the southern coastline. The same goes with fishing: steelhead to the north, Striped bass to the east, trout to the northeast and southeast, saltwater fish to the west.

Setting aside all the pros and cons about and difficulties of creating smaller California state, it raises the possibility, just to fish for trout in place I enjoy, that I’d have to buy three separate licenses. Saltwater fishing could require a fourth. This may be an accepted part of living in smaller states, but not something I look forward to.

One upside might be the possibility that the proposed state I would live in, “North California,” could regain its water rights. I’m sure we’d set a fair price for all that water needed down south.


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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.


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on “the movie” and stuff

I was correcting a co-worker who thought “A River Runs Through It” involved the pursuit of bass…

…and after suppressing my laughter, then dispensing a quick education on the differences between bucketmouths and trout; a thought occurred to me. The credits for the movie list more than a dozen categories of fish wranglers. The fish were farm-raised stunt doubles, “harmlessly tethered” and not hooked. So, did these fish earn SAG…um…scale?

Death from above?

I’m not much for bass, likely because bass haven’t had much more to offer me besides more refusals than I care to count…

…now there’s another seventh reason to avoid Peacock Bass, at least in the Brazilian Atlantic Forest. Researchers at the Universidade Federal de Pernambuco have discovered a new species of porcupine that lives in one the country’s most endangered forest ecosystem. It lives in trees. (I don’t know about you, but I have had things fall on me while fishing. Thankfully, nothing alive…yet.) This species joins the six known porcupine species in the region…


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can calling it a native fish make it so? or: how you can learn to stop worrying and love the fish that eats a fly

This week, I might be stepping into quicksand. If nothing else, it’ll be entertaining for the rest of you to watch.

While a good many local anglers applauded the California Fish & Game Commission’s decision at its Feb. 2, 2012 meeting to strike down proposed changes to striped bass regulations, changes that, at the very least, would degrade the quality of a fishery that supports considerable segments of the local economy, there was a curious footnote to the proceedings.

A desire to declare striped bass, introduced from the East Coast, as a ‘native’ California species.

California Fish & Game Commission’s then-Director Daniel W. Richards summed up the issue:

Another great comment that I heard today was this issue of what is native. [California Department of Fish & Game] Director Bonham and I had great conversation just yesterday about this. We are regularly, and just several months we were being challenged with a frogs and turtles matter of non-native species…it’s controversial and there’s both sides to it, and these striped bass have been here for 130 years. At what point in time do we…and some of the analogies we gave I thought were terrific, especially when you take it down to the human level, who’s a native Californian and who’s not. I thought it was really very apropos. I mean, they’ve been here 130 years, that’s, I don’t know, what is that, that’s three or four generations I think you’d probably call that. [Striped bass] starts to be fairly native to me.

After that, then-President Jim Kellogg, after pointing out that he worked on the first pump station on the Delta (1966-’69) and saw the numbers of fish those unscreened pumps dumped into the canal announced in his last act as president:

…because nobody’s got an answer as to how this is done, or who declares it or something like that, I’m going to declare the striped bass a native species in the state of California.

Central to the proponents of the new regulations painted striped bass — asking it be considered an invasive species — as largely responsible for the decline of the state’s salmon stocks. Opponents cited striped bass’ long history in the California Delta (declared a sport fish in 1935) and its coexistence with salmon and Delta smelt over that time. (The definition of ‘coexistence’ may be considered ill-defined in the absence of any hard, long-term, historical data.)

While most will agree that these proposed changes to the striper regulations was a thinly veiled water grab, it does bring to light a conflict that can arise between native and now wild populations of introduced fish, particularly without a firm scientific understanding that can overwhelm any argument from either side of the debate. And while the predation of introduced species changes ecosystems, there’s no scientific model to predict the consequences of eliminating such a long-entrenched species.

In the short span of our lives, does ‘native’ becomes anything that was here before us? Big brown trout and competitive rainbows have so well supplanted Lahontan cutthroat trout — it and the Eagle Lake Rainbow were once the only trout in the Easter Sierra — that rarely does one hear of an angler landing a decent Lahontan, expect those in Crowley Lake and the Upper Owens River. And it’ll be a shame when Lahontan cutthroat no longer exist in California, which is likely to happen.

But it’s hard to label the non-native trout that provide us so much recreation as ‘invasive.’

In any case, might these naturally reproducing fish populations better fit a status similar to that of ‘historical (living) landmark?’ Is there an appropriate measure of time before anyone can declare an introduced species to be a ‘naturalized citizen?’ And will the difference between native and naturalized fish populations eventually become indistinguishable, legally or otherwise?

Regardless of the answers, I’ll be the one overlooking the illegal immigration status of the trout that eats my fly.


If you’re interested, the video recording of the meeting can be found here; click on the link for Feb 2, 2012 and fast forward to about 1:35:00 for the start of the striper discussion.


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start them lying fishing young

From well-known outdoor writer Tom Stienstra in the San Francisco Chronicle today, presented without comment:

Tall tale about giant bass

Word came from Pleasanton last week that a 13-year-old boy had landed a record 18-pound, 9-ounce largemouth bass at Shadow Cliffs Lake. It seemed too good to believe. Unfortunately, it was.

At Shadow Cliffs, park rangers say several people saw the boy wade into the lake and scoop up a large dead fish. Park officials said they do not acknowledge the fish as a record.

When the story first emerged, the boy said he caught the fish with a lure, that the giant bass did not fight much, and he gave it to a friend to eat. A photo of the fish I was provided showed that its eyes had turned white and its body had a layer of slime, similar to that of a fish that has been dead for some time.

This is yet more proof that, while all people are born honest, by the time they go fishing they usually get over it.