fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)


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crawling back into the light

Don’t misconstrue the lack of new words here during the last few months as an indication that there’s been an excess of fly fishing in my life. As often happens, new priorities displace what was previously most important.

During the last few months, fly fishing, feeding this space, even a favorite pastime of seeing movies as intended – on the big screen – fell by the wayside. The lack of fishing through all of last year is a bit alarming. The fact that I spent more time fishing waters in Washington state, where I don’t live, is telling.

Instead, we have been working on the house, purging the unnecessary accumulation of clothing unlikely to ever fit again as well as renovating and rearranging. There are on-going efforts to simplify and economize; a re-thinking of what we do, how we do it and why we do it. A personal challenge to learn new, foreign and perhaps extraneous subject matter, but through this rediscovering that the process of learning remains as attractive as ever.

Occasionally, there was the welcome interruption of long drives from home in Northern California to visit family near Seattle and in Portland. I last wrote about our short holiday that took us to Los Angeles, Mexico and Disneyland.

I’ve missed writing for fun, for myself. While widespread rumors suggest blogging is dying at the hands of social media, I don’t write for “likes.” A single writer can’t compete with the sheer scale of Facebook. I write without expectation my words will be read, except perhaps by a few family members. I don’t write because it’s easy; sometimes self-doubt can even make it painful. It’s an exercise as much as it is a digital memory for those few who may be interested.

So here I am. A new host, a new layout, a new start for the stuff I will write.

I can’t promise what’s to come will be good, funny, thought provoking or simply interesting, or even if it will appear with regular frequency. Rest assured, it will be me.


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backup? what backup?

This should not have been so easy. Having a love/hate relationship with the wizard behind the curtain that makes this blog run, I was totally expecting to embark on an adventure without end, one marked by wrong turns, erroneous Internet advice and little support when I finally decided to restart this blog with a clean slate. Instead, it took less than four hours last weekend to get things back up and running. Well, most of it.

To provide some background, during the last few months I’ve become better acquainted with my host’s support staff than I ever wanted to be. Invariably, each email began with some mention of “excessive usage.” First it was brute-force attacks, then a wonky plugin.

Next came fear. Fear that the next post would spike my usage, earning a prolonged shut down of my site. Fear that I’d lose every post and image uploaded since 1997.

Then I got over myself. The wife had been patiently listening to my grunts, ramblings and cursing for much too long. It was time to do something. Anything.

Most anyone will first search Google, through which you will find contradictory advice on how to handle restarting a self-hosted WordPress blog from zero. After too much time spent looking for the right advice, I just dove in, accepting that it’d either be a surprising success or fantastic failure. I backed up the data, wiped the directory clean, reinstalled WordPress with a new theme, and imported the previously backed up data.

And here we are, up and running. Mostly.

All the words are back. The photos, not so much. (I blame much of the increase in CPU and memory usage on a gallery plugin previously employed, a plugin that became bloated when commercialized.)

The biggest benefit is that everything under the hood is current and up to date. It’ll be a few weeks before all of the photos are restored, but I figure that few folks are interested in my history.

After all, blogs are generally about moving forward, one new post at a time, aren’t they?


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the rambling of an unfocused mind

I can’t seem to get anything written lately. But not really because of a lack of ideas. My mind is just a bit scattered with all that’s going on. The holidays, life, stuff. A day of solo fly fishing would help, I’m sure, but that ain’t happening anytime soon.

**********

I gotta follow my own advice: For the last few years [name redacted] has made it a point of ending any email or conversation that includes the mention of someone’s passing with the comment (paraphrasing here), “We’re getting older, you know, and fewer and fewer of our friends are still alive.”

My advice (more paraphrasing): “Appreciate the fact that you can still make that comment.”

Considering this wisdom, I’m now convinced that I need to avoid making any more friends and truly appreciate and make the best of what life has to offer. For the last 30 years I’ve always thought my future was much further ahead. I still do. But I’d like to think that my wife and I have learned a lesson or two over the years…doing now what we can rather than shelve that cruise, fishing trip or nicety of life until retirement.

**********

Seems I’ll always be in that awkward stage. Though I’m better than I was when younger, I still accidentally break things now and again. I dress better too, but other than the typical aloha shirt and shorts, I don’t have an easily identifiable “style.”

I thank God there are no full-length mirrors on the water. The few pictures of me in full fly fishing regalia confirm that I look less like the well-put together guy in the Orvis catalog — you know the one, with the sexy loops in his back cast, making even a plaid shirt look good — and more like a walking sausage. I can’t help but wonder if even the fish I land are a bit embarrassed for me.

**********

A week ago my wife told me she was getting her legs “sugared.” My imagination had just started to run away. Then she explained it…what a buzzkill…


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blog appreciation, or just do it

I wouldn’t normally write something for a Monday, but I’m sitting here between Super Bowl commercials marveling at the breadth of the ‘raw honesty’ discussion resulting from a post asking if this raw honesty is needed and how it may be connected to the success, relevance, or execution of a fishing blog, fly or otherwise; or any blog for that matter.

An acceptance that there is a place for anyone’s blog, even if just an opportunity to ‘howl at the moon,’ seems to echo through every opinion and observation, and an inherent support of an interpretation that ‘raw honesty’ means writing what you want to write and letting your personality separate your blog from the herd.

The Internet is a very public place, and an increasingly accessible space in which blogs in various forms arise. According to statistics from Technorati and Blogpulse, the estimated number of blogs ballooned from 3 million in July 2004 to 164 million last year. This diversity gives voice to authors that may have never been read if not for a blog, and I think we are all the better for it. I’m happy to see that I’m not the only person who’s grateful.

There seems to be little glory in blogging, and it’s generally fleeting. But like fly fishing, much of the fun of blogging is in the doing. Hooking a fish/reader is a welcome consequence.


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really? asking for raw honesty from fishermen? a response

Dear fly fishing bloggers,*

I have a confession to make. I have been reading many of your blogs. You don’t know this, because I don’t comment much. My wife disagrees, but often I don’t feel my words will add much to the conversation. I lurk, looking for writing that will take me away from the everyday, writing that will inspire, now and again enjoying others’ stories about water I hope to fish, and some that I probably won’t.

I won’t pretend that my encouragement will reach that many eyes. But, occasionally and perhaps more than admitted, blogging isn’t about catering to readers; it’s about the act of writing. This post, itself, is a modest reaction to a claim on [name redacted]’s another blog that “…99% of fly fishing blogs are boring…” and have followed “…the boring/cyclical path of print.” This seems an unfair assessment, though it is unclear whether this judgment and call for bloggers to “…put it all out there…” is leveled at blogs in general and includes those written by the vast majority who fly fish when they can, and for whom their blog is a hobby and another welcome diversion.

While these charges offer valid advice for all writers, the simplicity of launching and maintaining a blog has redefined freedom of expression. It’s clear that the intention behind some blogs is a simple sharing of experiences with family and friends, and the occasional visitor. They may be written for the joy of the task itself, or to satisfy ego, record for posterity, or to push an idea, belief, or agenda into or onto the world. (Or perhaps, as a response to something read somewhere else?) This blog grew out of ego years ago, initially as a website, to share my life with those few who might be interested. Sure, I’m grateful when more than three readers visit in a week, but this has evolved into a more permanent record, a journal of sorts, through which even I occasionally revisit old memories.

I’d also respectfully submit that many bloggers could be considered the essayists of today, making observations of daily life. It’s easy to recall more famous essayists such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Sarah Margaret Fuller, Arthur Miller, Jonathan Swift or John Updike. But for each one of these writers, many others shared anonymous and perhaps less polished observations and opinions in leaflets, pamphlets, or other media that has since disappeared.

In one respect, blogging is a most public form of learning, with all of one’s mistakes on display. It’s inherent in the learning process that bloggers might unconsciously test styles used by others as they find their way, leading to a sameness. Writing, particularly regularly and regularly well, can be difficult. It requires a well of ideas, opinions, and experiences. These experiences may be limited, and not everyone cares to divulge every personal hiccup in their life. Here I decided early on that certain topics would be verboten; a voluntary limitation on “raw honesty.” I’d suspect this is true with other bloggers. (I can’t help but wonder if in today’s world the term “raw honesty” no longer has any real meaning.)

More widely read bloggers have a better understanding of communal attraction of wistfulness and humor and how rooting posts in common experiences can make writing memorable without need for flowery language and a vast vocabulary. These are plain ideas not so easily applied. And, frankly, I don’t expect this level of writing in every blog, understanding that countless blogs were started out of passion, not because the author was a writer.

Blogs become my favorites simply because the writing or topics touch me in some way. At times I want to escape through the eyes of another, especially when I can’t fish. There’s an attraction in stories that offer differing perspectives of familiar or nearby places. Many times it’s merely catching up with the goings on in a friend’s life.

Reading over what I’ve written here, I asked, “Is this raw honesty?” Honest, yes. Raw, no; that’s just not me. I’m just a regular guy, working a job, with a family, who fly fishes when he can, usually less than he hopes; and for whom his blog is writing and sharing without expectation. Judge my blog as you will.

P.S. A discussion with a friend about whether the wording of this post should be strengthened, interestingly enough, led to an answer in the understanding that being true (honest) to my style offered a subtle metaphor.


* I excised “fellow” originally inserted before “fly fishing bloggers” with the consideration this is not a fly fishing-only blog.


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summer sickness (and justification for a dark man cave)

Take it from me; teaching kids to share will come around to bite you in the arse.

Thanks to this lesson — perhaps too well learned? — I was sick this last week. (That’s an optimistic “was.” I’m not quite out of the woods, yet.) I’d never heard a death rattle before and I’m not so certain that I didn’t this week.

Stooping over a fly-tying vise would only exacerbate the wheezing, so that was out of the question. I got what work done that I could then filled the days with reading, sniffles, television, coughing, and video games peppered with vacant stares into space. It’s been 10-plus years since I’ve suffered through a summer cold and this go-around has got me thinking that there’s a need for a well-stocked man cave/fly tying room into which I can draw the curtains and sink into darkness until my physical and mental outlook brightens.

With all that time on my hands, you’d think I could’ve devoted time to writing a long and winding piece full of interesting or entertaining words. The desire was there. The mind wasn’t. Like most marauding viruses, this one mysteriously turns one’s thoughts inward, alternately focusing on the suffering and possible relief, with the question “Why me?” creeping forward once and a while.

And slowly I began to detest the technology that allowed me to remain recumbent with the whole of the World Wide Web and all of its blogs in my hands.

Negative thoughts weren’t helped by learning that The Unaccomplished Angler’s apparently less unaccomplished son Schpanky not only gets paid when work is slow at the Carnation Golf Course, he can whip out a rod and pull some beastly bass out of the course ponds. Many young adults entirely dismiss their fathers’ advice, but there’s something almost acceptable about doing so to fish on company time.

The Trout Underground threw up seven posts in five days, reminding the rest of us that the self-employed can ignore work sneak away whenever they want, whether to Maine via Bass Pro or small streams so crazily beautiful they earn a triple-X rating. Over at Singlebarbed.com we’re told that there may be no stopping invasive species, so the gov’nment might as well contract with Gorton’s to make ‘em edible. Reinforcing the idea that I’m slacker, even a writing prompt from the always prolific Outdoor Blogger Network couldn’t get my mind in gear. At least I could get away virtually for a while, living vicariously through Owl Jones journey out west… And it was nice to see Mark at Northern California Trout, who fishes some familiar foothill waters, back in the saddle after futilely thinking he could walk away from this whole addiction blogging thing.

There were rewards found in having a lack of mental focus too much time on my hands. I stumbled across a fun blog written by a female fish cop who entertains with tales of life as a mom, outdoor lover and state game warden at Fish-Cop Out of Water, especially things you don’t want to hear. From there it was on to discover Mysteries Internal, with its lyrical writing about fly fishing, fixing up a home and discovery.

It wasn’t a pleasant week. But, thankfully, no fishing trips were cancelled due to this illness.


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I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, I’m a winner! (and an Opening Day tradition)

Things are looking up ‘round here.

The countdown to Opening Day stands at 67 hours and 5 minutes, and though I won’t be on the water, that’s fine. It’s become tradition the last few years for me to assist with our club’s fly fishing novice seminar every Opening Day Saturday. It offers an opportunity to pass along an education I received through the very same class and the off-the-water rewards are substantial. Many of the students continue on in the hobby, are involved with the club, and more than a handful have joined the outing I lead in the Eastern Sierra. The class also offers me a reminder of basics that I may have forgotten during a fishless winter. Also, the free lunch is a very good thing.

How Winning Requires New Skills

As ffw followers already know, I’m an unabashed nymph fly fisher. While other uptight purists fly fisherman would rather take a nap than fish with anything other than a dry fly, I go to where the fish usually are: well beneath the surface.

Oh, I’ll toss out dry flies when that’s where the action is, but it’s not too often.

Zudweg-Style Bunny Leech

But now I’ll be going subsurface with a slightly different tactic thanks to Jason over at Fontinalis Rising. According to Outdoor Blogger Network member Jason I should be expecting some awesome looking Zoo Cougars, bunny leeches, and lightweight shiner imitations.

So I’ll have to work on my casting of big flies a bit. These streamers will be good candidates this summer and fall for the East Walker, Upper Owens and West Walker rivers. Then there’s this midsized tributary I know in the Western Sierras, where brown trout spawn in the fall. Anyone have any other suggestions where these streamers might work well in the Central or Northern Sierras?

Thanks again to Jason!


As for what we see this week…


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fishing for words turns five after fourteen years in the making

fishing for words (ffw) was born on April 19, 2006. However and without knowing it, my blogging started fourteen years prior to that.

During the mid ‘90s — the beginning of the end for most grunge bands — I joined the few civilians who could make sense of this thing called HTML to launch a website with the unoriginal title “My Little Corner of the Internet.” It was a kooky little site for which every new entry required incorporating text into hand-coded HTML.

The trend at the time was to post a relatively static website about one’s self, and looking back one can see that the early “posts” — stories about trips or family events — popped up once or twice a year from August 1997 through July 2003. There seemed to be more to write about starting in 2004. I don’t know if was the fact that the kids were growing up and it didn’t take a trunk full of diapers, bottles, food and a stroller to travel more than five miles, or the fact that my new wife actually encouraged me to enjoy some adventures on my own.

My writing was largely directed at family and a few friends. Though a student once thanked me for my page on Aloha shirts (apparently it aided him in writing a term paper), I suffered no delusion that anyone would take an interest in what I wrote if they didn’t know me personally.

The Future of Outdoor Blogging

Perhaps the future will bring a new immediacy to outdoor blogging. (That’s not me...it’s my son with a wild rainbow on Stream X.)

Things changed in 2006 with this stuff called CMS and easy-to-use blogging platforms — both of which coincided with my first experience brandishing a fly rod over a Sierra Nevada stream. It was all in place: a website/blog that could easily be fed and a hobby that could provide material.

Now, 139,512 words and 458 posts later, I still resist defining my blog. It remains a place for family and friends…with a loose definition of “friend.” Over the years, nearly everyone in my immediately family has made an appearance in my blog — whether they liked it or not. Friends run the gamut: fly fishing club members, fellow bloggers I’ve surprised by actually showing up on their doorstep met face to face; folks who thanked me for suggestions on where their kids might have a good first fishing experience; even a few buddies met online with whom I eventually shared a fishing trip or two. Every reader is a potential friend, just like the older gentleman and younger guy wearing waders that were too clean and waving barely used rods.

While ffw doesn’t subscribe to any specific definition, it’s definitely been about sharing a personal story. It’s about stepping out of my little universe to share encouragement, a laugh, an experience, a tip or a trick. And every once and a while I’m pleasantly surprised to learn that my words do encourage or earn a chuckle.

Some folks might lament about how much things have changed in five years. I’d say that it’s only our methods of our interaction that have changed; the folks behind it remain much the same. Take a look at the Outdoor Blogger Network, for example — a group of good folks coming together over common interests. They’ve got to be good folks; they let me and my little blog join in the fun. And fun it’s been, sharing my misadventures and adding a couple of new readers every year.

As for the fly fishing, the places I fish usually are not covered in the slick pages of magazines. These are places that can be reached with relatively modest means and without a 4×4. (I did learn last year that a 4×4 would be helpful on the roads to and from Yellow Creek.)

My hero shots find heroism in fooling small wild and skittish brook trout with a fly tied with my own hands. (This summer, hero shots may include a fly rod built with those same hands.) And though the “body count” isn’t so important to me anymore, it’s still about duping that first dozen fish and the story that comes with it.

I’m hoping that there will be many more fish to write about.


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on finding what’s not there a little too late

This post brought to you by the writing prompt “Damaged Goods
from the Outdoor Blogger Network (OBN)

There seems to be a general consensus in the fly fishing community that if you haven’t broken a rod, smashed a reel or torn your waders, you aren’t fishing hard enough or often enough. There may be some truth to this idea. If so, I have to make up for lost time.

Speaking of lost…

It was one of those warm spring days that finally pushed the long, hard, fishless winter to the back of my mind and encouraged thoughts of the season ahead. I’d started early, as usually, setting up a personal roadside staging area behind my Honda, where I pieced together a 5 wt rod, strung line through the guides and tied on those nondescript nymphs that suggest food to fish in the twilight before dawn. I stood on the old rug to slip on waders and boots. Throwing on the vest, I was ready for the short walk from the road down to the creek.

There’s nothing I like better than mornings alone on the creek, when the lack of sunshine renders polarized lenses useless and tilts the odds in favor of the trout. I waded to the opposite shore, from where I could cast towards cut banks and larger fish holding there.

The sun rose. The fishing was good. So was the catching. By noon the body count was well into double digits. Nymphs had been replaced with dry flies.

As usual, things began to slow down during the middle of the afternoon. One last cast led to one more last cast. Then another. And another. Almost without thinking, I’d cast, watch a fish rise, wait a second, then set the hook and bring it to the net. That’s why I nearly fell over when that last fish peeled line off my reel as it raced upstream. This was one of the big ‘uns I thought.

We danced for a good fifteen minutes. Upstream and downstream; into weeds and around boulders. I don’t know whether this particular trout was finally too tired, graciously decided reward me with a close up look, or wanted a closer look at his adversary, but soon we were at arm’s length.

I reached toward my back and grabbed…nothing. Apparently, and unknowingly, I lost my net — formerly attached to a magnetic net holder — sometime during the late afternoon.

No net and a big fish can be bad news. I never saw that fish and I won’t even estimate its length. Let’s just say he’s now referred to as the one of many that got away; an energetic fish that gave me the fin just when I thought the fight was over.

The only thing damaged that day was my pride.


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…they’re the people that you read each day*

This post brought to you by the writing prompt “Which Outdoor Bloggers
would you like to Meet?
” from the Outdoor Blogger Network (OBN),
though not all of the bloggers mentioned here are OBN members…


Contemplating this question I realized how lucky I was to meet Kirk from The Unaccomplished Angler in person before his recent retreat from fame. It certainly brings your inflated online impression of someone who’s written a few books and maintains a consistently enjoyable blog down to earth when you sneak up on him while he’s doing yard work. Though I’ve already met him, I’d still like to someday take up Kirk on his offer to spend some time on “The Forks.”

I started my blog before the term existed. I started in 1997 with a simple website that was cumbersome to update, and because it was hand-coded HTML, new content (e.g. “posts”) appeared periodically. (Those of you who recently stepped into blogging don’t know how easy y’all have it with CMS and blog publishing applications.)

Then one day I came across something quite wonderful back in aught-six of the third millennium. One of the first blogs that actually looked pretty nice. Tom Chandler had pieced together a good-looking layout for The Trout Underground. My more modest talent has allowed me to make some money in the field of writing, and Tom’s prose gave me the inspiration to reach outside my training as a journalist for the creative side of writing. Just as much as I enjoy Tom as a writer (regardless of whether his Fly Fishing Underground Writer’s Network is competition for OBN), there’s also the lure of joining him on some of his home waters, which are open during the winter, when I’m often jonesing for a fly fishing fix.

Linking from The Trout Underground, before I knew it would be against better judgment, I ended up on Singlebarbed, where Keith Barton‘s skewed outlook near the shores of the Lil Stinkin’ can alternately leave you laughing, crying or shaking your head. His take on fly tying is what I like best…there’s no recipe that doesn’t deserve to be messed with, whether that means cheap different materials, methods or colors. Keith fishes some less-than-pristine waters near me, but meeting and fishing with him might require a 55-gallon drum of body sanitizer and a hazmat suit.

I’ve found that recovery from a visit to Singlebarbed can be aided by a visit to David Knapp’s The Trout Zone. David’s got a keen eye for photography and a “quiet” writing style. David fishes some prime trout waters in Tennessee, particularly the type of small streams I enjoy; all the more reason to want to meet him for some photo pointers and fishing.

It’s possible I could go on writing for pages and pages screens and screens about various bloggers that I’d enjoy meeting and likely fish with, but to finish up I’d have to include Chris Hunt over at Eat More Brook Trout. How can one not love his blog’s irreverent name? Personally, his story is one that I could make my own — a journalist who retires to work for Trout Unlimited, write essays about fly fishing and spend his free time fly fishing in a pretty awesome place. Even if only for a few days, Chris would be another guy with whom I could spend some time.

In closing, I’d certainly have to add Rebecca Garlock (The Outdooress) and Joe Wolf (Flowing Waters) to my list. Not necessarily because I’ve enjoyed reading their blogs (I have), but to possibly get a glimmer of a hint into their plan for OBN’s worldwide fly fishing blog domination.


*”Oh, who are the people in your neighborhood blog network?
In your neighborhood blog network?
In your neighborhood blog network?
Say, who are the people in your neighborhood blog network?
The people that you meet read each day”