fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)


1 Comment

plenty of water and willing fish, and a return to Crooked Creek, part three

It’s a good thing that the shoreline of Crowley Lake isn’t much to look at; indicators go down the moment one looks away.

Looking down at Crowley Lake from the west, toward Nevada.

Nested in the south end of the Long Valley Caldera, Crowley Lake is a reservoir turned model trout fishery. Created by the damming of the Owens River just before the Owens River George, the lake sits at 6,800 feet and cool during the summer but doesn’t fully freeze during the winter. With a pH on the alkaline side and feed by a confluence of snowmelt-fed creeks – the Upper Owens River and McGee, Convict, Hilton, and Crooked creeks – and underwater springs, it offers a near-perfect mix of abundant oxygen and nutrients to sustain a robust population of aquatic insects, dominated by an incredible number of chironomids. The addition of Sacramento perch offers fry to feed big trout.

Whenever on this trip, I put out a call for partners to share the cost of a guide boat. While stillwater nymphing may not be a tactic favored by all, it’s unfair to dismiss it without trying it, at least once. Like guided fly fishing on any boat I’ve been, it’s like stepping onto a cruise ship. Just bring yourself, your license and sunscreen.

Gerry was the first to respond to my query and we set up a trip with Joe Contaldi. The owner of Performance Anglers Guide Service, he’s well-known on the fly fishing club speaking circuit and possesses the qualities that make for a great guide: enthusiasm, knowledge, and skill.

We arrive at the marine just before its 7 a.m. opening. We watch in disgust as an angler, two trucks ahead of us, strips all of the monofilament off his spinning road and leaves it lying on the road. The gate opens and we pull up, stopping long enough for Gerry to open the passenger door and grab the line.

It’s busy around the boat ramp as we walk toward the docks. After quick hello to Doug Rodricks, who I’ve fished with before on Crowley and Eagle lakes, we find Joe and his boat. Joe’s got that lake guide look, weatherworn, clear eyes, and a natural penchant for enthusiastic encouragement. He welcomes us aboard, offers massive and unexpected muffins for breakfast, then readies the boat for a short run north to McGee Bay.

It’s calm this morning on the lake; it’s a liquid mirror reflecting the mountains and sky. Beautiful, but not my favorite conditions. My best days fishing Crowley were helped by a little ripple on the water, just enough wave action to keep the fly moving and enticing hits a dozen feet under the surface. Gerry and I are instructed to occasionally raise our rod tips to give the flies action, a tactic with which we’re both familiar.

We anchor, rig up, and Joe points out the lane we should target. It’s a drop off twenty to twenty-five feet from the boat. I settle in, reacquainting myself with the lake, like meeting up with a friend after a long absence. It’s not long before there’s confirmation of fish in the area, on other boats. The still morning air is broken now and again by shouts of “fish on,” sometimes followed by the noises of anguish when a fish doesn’t make to the net.

Stillwater nymphing on Crowley Lake requires patience, focus, knowledge, and hope. I could on a guide for the knowledge, then hope I’m fast enough to set the hook. It’s the focus on the indicator, quickly followed by a quick and smooth hookset that’ll factor into success. Sometimes it takes a few misses to reacquire that skillset. Less than an hour after anchoring, that skillset was reacquired.

It’d be nice to say that I hit that first strike and landed a fish, but I can’t exactly remember. Regardless, that first fish was more than nice sized, about eighteen-plus inches. Joe asks if I wanted a photo with it, but I opt to wait for a bigger trout.

Fish on for Gerry in the early and too calm morning.

There can be days on Crowley Lake when the fishing is fast and furious, or consistent, or tough. This would be a day of consistency, both in terms of frequency and size. There was a chance nearly every half hour to hook a fish. A chance that required we consistently perform good hooksets. Sadly but honestly I must say my hooksets were less consistent than the bite.

The fish we did bring to net were consistently impressive. About midmorning , Gerry and I had a double. We both landed fish nearly every hour until about 11 a.m. When the bite slowed, I dug into lunch, a ritual that often elicits strikes. It didn’t.

One of my first Lahanton Cutthroats of the day.

Gerry’s big Lahanton, out of McGee Bay.

This is the time of day when guides decide whether to hold out for better fishing or to explore other options. Friend and outing companion Wayne and his guest, Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing participant Mike, were on the move, their guide on the hunt for a better spot. Joe asked us if we wanted to pull up anchor, suggesting we might try the Crooked Creek arm. Despite uninspiring reports from other guides, I said I was willing to give it a try.

(Crooked Creek was where I first learned stillwater nymphing. During April 2007, son Christopher and I attended the DVFF’s Novice Fly Fishing Seminar and, inspired by the class, sought a real-world experience reinforce what we had learned and expand out skillset with the help of a guide. I booked a trip on the hitherto mysterious Crowley Lake. When I was a kid, my family and I would pass the lake on the way to Tuolumne Meadows or June Lake Loop. The local newspapers we’d pick up to read and use in starting campfires were peppered with photos of unbelievably large trouts.)

Wayne and Mike headed out in search of fish.

Joe spent extra time positioning the boat mid channel and the first 10 minutes didn’t inspire confidence that this had been the right move. With my attention span waning, I missed the first solid takedown. But consistent opportunities that afternoon allowed Gerry and me to hook, fight, and land some of the most exciting fish of the day.

That evening, without embellishment, we dutifully made a report to our club colleagues. Perhaps our only complaint were sore cheeks from the constant grinning.

The next morning coffee was on early and a coordinated effort ensured the cabins were quickly cleaned. After a final group photo, some would make one last stop to wet a line. I chose to take my time through Yosemite, lingering to enjoy time well spent in beautiful places.

 


For those who missed ’em: Part One and Part Two.

Advertisements


6 Comments

National Parks Week and appreciating a high-country home

Centennial-Logo-W-Find-Your-Park-LogoOur days were measured by trout caught, bears seen and miles hiked; nights by stars and the embers of a campfire. During those summers we’d rarely see a familiar face, but the place seemed unchanging. We grew a lot during those short visits, climbing granite domes, hiking trails commonly rising 1,000 feet in less than five miles, floating in a river that only a few miles earlier was born of snowmelt.

I was reminded that Tuolumne Meadows was our vacation “home” last week when I posted a photo of my brother and me with a trophy high-country trout, back when our fishing was more about self-sufficiency and every fish ended up in a pan surrounded by bacon. Mornings my brother, sister and I would hike to Soda Springs to capture the naturally carbonated water – and bits of minerals I’m sure – our mother would gently blend with pancake mix to make some of the puffiest pancakes in the world.

Our visits to Tuolumne Meadows were more adventure than vacation. Stories of our exploits of those summers come up frequently: The poor decision to slide down the granite face of Lembert Dome as the sun set. The bear that followed us back to camp after a long day hike. My sister’s discovery that fish were living beings while ironically still fishing but refusing to eat our catch. On tougher hikes, mom’s constant encouragement to discover what might be around the next bend.

TM-Mark and meIt wouldn’t be out of place to say that Tuolumne Meadows, a less visited part of Yosemite National Park, helped form the person I am today. I’ve since returned to Tuolumne Meadows, one time fishing there with my sons, another time hiking up Lembert Dome with my brother and one son. Nature seems to ignore us humans; the changes over the last three decades are entirely ours.

I’ve been lucky enough to have visited Death Valley, Sequoia & Kings Canyon, Lassen, Redwood and Mt. St. Helen national parks. Many national monuments, recreation areas and historic sites as well: Alcatraz Island, John Muir National Historic Site, Point Reyes National Seashore, Muir Woods National Monument, Cabrillo National Monument, Fort Point National Historic Site and Golden Gate Recreation Area.

The national park system is America’s Best Idea. Next week is National Park Week. Every national park will offer free admission from April 16th through the 24th. If you can, get to one and #FindYourPark.

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity”
― John Muir, Our National Parks


Leave a comment

the weekend so far

Evidence that I’ve had little time to write this week…visit by the brother, a newphew’s first football game of the season, and a son’s graduation from the police academy…

Nephew Nicholas running down the ball.

Newphew Nicholas running down the ball.

Class 84 Inspection

Napa College POST Academy “Class 84” ready for inspection.

Sean Ready for Inspection

Sean ready for inspection.

Self Improvement Certificate

Sean recieving a certificate for an RTO score of 100% based on “performance, maturity, professional conduct, attitude and readiness to enter an FTO program.”

Two Generations

Mark and Sean, hopefully soon to be two generations of peace officers.


2 Comments

thinking ahead, and behind

As the days between fishing trips grow more numerous, my thoughts wander. Thoughts coalesce into an inexact catalog of flies that need to be tied and new patterns to be attempted, the fuzzy details of the rod to be built during midwinter, and a rough outline of next year’s fishing trips, mostly of the multi-day variety to out-of-the-way or unfamiliar water.

Then there are the memories. Recent thoughts floating to the surface center on How It All Began.

Flying fishing came later in my life. Prior to that, my limited exposure to the sport was the occasional, distant fly fisher who seemed less fisherman and more of an aerial artist using fly line as his brush. Having more than once employed the fly-and-bubble technique with my spinning rod, I knew that this technique mysteriously allowed the casting of impossibly small flies.

Fly fishing snuck up on me. It was a conspiracy of the fishing gods to bring together opportunity and motive.

My son and I had made an impromptu late August trip to a small stream in the Eastern Sierras. Still an hour or so away from our destination, as can happen in the high mountains, a torrential rainstorm obscured the view of Mono Lake. The spirit of youth overcame the concern of age, and we found ourselves seeking a campsite at least moderately protected by aspens.

I was left to lash a tarp between the trees and the minivan while Christopher bounded though the rain towards the somewhat swollen creek. He’d later tell of how folks he met along the way dismissed his chances of finding any willing fish.

He proved them wrong. Casting a now unknown fly and allowing it to drift below overhanging bushes, he found his first trout with his new fly rod. It was a decent brown, a trout that neither of us had the pleasure of meeting face to face. He returned with a contagious joy. The campsite didn’t seem so damp after all.

Again, as can happen in the Sierras, the next day dawned bright and cloudless. The storm had passed, leaving behind a freshness. Vivid green aspen leaves sparkled with water droplets. From the damp ground wafted a pleasant earthiness. The creek ran clear.

A couple of miles along a graded dirt road, among yet more aspens quaking in a light breeze, is a bend in this stream; upstream, where it emerges from tangled braids of nearly impenetrable brambles. It’s one of those typical Sierra streams, small enough to wade across in three or four strides without getting your knees wet, peppered with small, rounded granite rocks and flowing with gin-clear water under dappled sunlight filtering through pines and aspens. This day, trout were stacked up in riffles near the opposite bank.

Small, lightweight Panther Martin spinners got their attention. In a relatively short period I had landed more than my share by tossing a spinner on the opposite bank, gently pulling it into the water, and letting it drift almost haphazardly downstream to the pod of rainbows. Despite using an ultra-light, 5’6” Fenwick rod the thrill of fooling these trout abated after an hour and half of non-stop catching.

The Compleat Angler or the Contemplative Man's Recreation

The Compleat Angler or the Contemplative Man's Recreation

It was time for something a bit more challenging. I asked and borrowed my son’s L.L. Bean fly rod with God-knows-what fly attached to a leader that was probably too short. Though it was more akin to lifting and dropping a wet noodle than a real cast, I got the fly onto the water and floating downstream into promising riffles. I cast again. And again.

A quick splash was the first indication of a decent cast. A few more casts. The fly drifted further into the riffles and nearly out of sight. Another splash and I hooked my first trout on a fly rod. It wasn’t big, maybe six inches. It was one of the most beautiful brown trout — and the first — I have held in my hand.

Thinking back, it wasn’t so much the landing of the fish that first sparked my interest in The Contemplative Man’s Recreation. (For the antithesis of meditative fishing, see Unaccomplished Angler’s “Sturgeon on a dry fly.”) Despite the numbers and statistics thrown around by yours truly, it was the contest between me and the fish — the act of attempting to fool a fish with what it thought might be real food — that hooked me.

As many trout as I’ve been lucky enough to land, each time I’m on the water it becomes clearer that I won’t live long enough to truly understand these fish. They remind me of this with their unpredictable reactions to my best presentations, and baffle me with their willingness to take a poorly presented fly. In that lies the challenge that lures me back.


Leave a comment

the best lesson

While I’ll be attending my son’s graduation ceremony in a few hours, in my mind Christopher has already gone through a “graduation” of sorts. Over the past few years he’s taken many small steps, and some big steps, towards gradually becoming a young man anyone might be proud to know.

It’s not been an easy path. But that’s a story for him to tell.

What truly matters is that he’s been considering and examining the next steps in his life, long before his ceremonial graduation on the Sacramento campus of Universal Technical Institute. The ability to look ahead — and appropriately move forward — seems too often shoved aside by young people’s thoughts dwelling on life’s unfairness, a sense of entitlement, laziness, or any combination of these and other excuses factors. This ability to forge ahead is an essential life skill, one of the most important talents one can hope to have in his or her arsenal and one equally applicable to a person’s professional and personal lives. As a parent, it’s a skill that I’ve always hoped would come easily and early to all of my kids.

An education of sorts, for me, coincided with Christopher’s growth during these years. It’s easy, common and sometimes important for a parent to judge a child’s behavior by their own standards. It can be just as valuable, albeit difficult, to consider how a child is viewed by the outside world. Once parents do, they can find pride in knowing that an employer calls upon their son or daughter to fill in when other employees don’t show up. There’s pride in knowing that a son gets up, works a four- or five-hour shift, then drives the 63 miles to campus for a day’s worth of learning, all on his own. Not to mention that he’s one of the top five students in his current course.

In a few hours we will set aside some time to appreciate Christopher’s accomplishments. Greater than those accomplishments, however, will be the (hopefully always) present ability and the wherewithal to move forward, reaching for that better future.  Without looking forward, into many possible futures, it’s likely that my son wouldn’t graduating today.

Good job, and congratulations, Christopher.


Graduation day is tough for adults. They go to the ceremony as parents. They come home as contemporaries. After twenty-two years of child-raising, they are unemployed.” ~ Erma Bombeck


Leave a comment

last hurrah ’09

[singlepic id=746 w=200 h=267 float=right]We’re back. The second annual End of Trout Season Trip is history. And we caught more browns, brookies and rainbows than could rightfully be expected.

It all started late and slow as less adept drivers transformed former automobiles into too many ready-to-be-recycled bits strewn along Hwy 680. We picked up speed through Livermore, grabbed a sandwich dinner in Dublin, then came to a stop in Manteca. Younger son Christopher needed his first look at a Bass Pro Shops store and a few pieces of gear. Eyes suitably glazed over, it was a quick 70 miles to the cabin and an early bed time.

There’s a benefit to regularly falling getting out of bed during the five o’clock hour. It’s that much easier to hit road early when fishing. On the road in the dark, with Christopher asleep and few episodes of “Ask About Fly Fishing” queued up on the iPhone, the 93 miles to the upper East Walker River quickly slipped away.

Mother Nature was nice enough to cooperate, and the weather was exactly as if I had ordered it up…cool, crisp and high-desert clear. I don’t think it was much above 40° and never rose much above 50° on the EW. The nicest surprise is that this would be the first time I would been alone on the East Walker, if for just the first hour.

[singlepic id=745 w=200 h=150 float=left]Once we were bugged up and on the river, the rest of life drifted away. Cast, mend, watch. Repeat. That went on for a total of, oh, maybe ten minutes before the confidence inspiring first strike. That’s the way it was to be all morning. Grand total: twelve browns in three hours. Not a one less than twelve inches long and some stretching to fourteen. Nice fish. All fat, sassy and seemingly ready for winter. There we’re bigger fish around to be sure. In a slower moving, slick surfaced stretch we caught sight of a wake that would do the Lock Ness Monster proud. Big fish to the net or not, it was a great start to the weekend.

Eating lunch on the go, it was south to Tioga Pass Road. We tried a familiar lower stretch of Lee Vining Creek, but most of those fish were holdover stockers that had earned an education over the summer and weren’t having any of what we were selling. So it was onwards and steeply upwards to the upper sections of Lee Vining Creek and other high-mountain creeks, where I know of a few wild populations of brook trout just right for the 3 wt. rod.

It had become a mandate that I visit these little trout. I did so during May, only to find a few fish, and those few fish unwilling to fall for any of my offerings. This time it was to be different.

[singlepic id=747 w=200 h=267 float=right]The air temperature was, at best, in the high thirties, and a stiff wind whipped down off the snow fields. I mentally marked the time: one thirty. ‘Cause I had just walked into what seemed to be one heck of a hatch. Or at least a feeding frenzy. Pods of brook trout, dazzling in their spawning colors, slashed at the surface. Others breached like freshwater whales in miniature. And I could do no wrong with a size 14 Royal Wulff, off which I hung a size 22 “Ghost Midge” of my own design. (Simply tie a tiger midge with gray thread instead of black, with a small flash tail if you’d like.)

I stopped counting at twenty. A number of ten-inch trophies made up for lack of length with brilliant colors. Yes, that’s a trophy fish at 9,990-something feet in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. There’s something amazing about fishing a small, crystal clear mountain creek, no deeper than 12 inches and landing fish after fish. I would have liked to have spent the entire afternoon there. But we had older son Sean to meet and some one hundred-plus miles to go.

Sunday dawned cold and clear again. Soon we were packed up and ready to return to reality home, but not without one last cast or twenty. On the road home there are a few small West Slope streams that feed into Don Pedro Lake; good places to delay our reentry into the world by a few hours. The morning started off slow and Sean wandered downstream. I should have seen the signs. No witnesses. No one to man the net.

It could have been predicted. It was a soft take. Subtle in fact. Muscle memory set the hook. Then all hell broke loose. Apparently a torpedo had attached itself to my line. It accelerated upstream. Three leaps later the fish made the mistake of almost grounding itself in shallow water. Then I could see its back – a big back – break the surface. A short second of indecision preceeded a downstream charge; a charge powerful enough to take me with it. In the end, fifteen minutes later, and 100 feet down stream, a slab of a fish was in the net. Barely. Twenty four inches of rainbow. The biggest trout I’ve landed in moving water. And no witnesses. Only the camera to trust to tell the story.

[singlepic id=752 w=470 h=352]

The rest of the morning was filled with multiple double hook ups as Sean and fished favorite spots side by side. We landed a number of DFG-raised rainbows, with just enough casts required between strikes to keep it interesting. Sean was lucked enough to bring an eighteen incher to hand. I got another good fish of twenty two inches. I also had a repeat of last year. I’d heard years ago that in the fall some wild Don Pedro Lake browns occasionally find their way upstream thanks to spawning urges. This was proven to me to be fact last fall went I landed an eighteen-inch brownie. Got one again this year. Even if it was only ten inches, I’ll count it.

My last hurrah for Trout 2009.

The slideshow:

The gallery:
[nggallery id=65]


2 Comments

hot weekend!

The often unknown price of planning a trip to The Cabin can come in many forms…frozen pipes in the winter, construction noises in the spring…and heat in the summer.

I knew it’d be a whirlwind (long) weekend, with Christopher and Katelyn dropping in Friday night for some fishing Saturday, followed by Sean and Kirsten arriving Saturday night for more fishing Sunday. (Both boys are at that age during which young men seem to test the devotion of girlfriends by dragging them around to all sorts of questionable activities.) I did not know that temperatures would soar those three days, breaking thermometer bulbs up and down the Sierra foothills. The car thermometer read 107°F at one point. While I’d rather not believe that figure, the psychological toll came nowhere near the physical.

But we managed to have fun. Christopher wanted to test the waters of the South Fork of the Tuolumne River, up the road from Groveland, so we did. Sean and I had visited this stretch of the river on Opening Day, only to find the flows quite high. This time around we found nice pools and decent fishing. I initially headed upstream, finding a welcome strike or two; finally landing a decent rainbow after casing upstream to a likely pool from behind a boulder. Christopher and Katelyn chased after some fish they saw lingering in a bigger pool.

My Tuolumne River Rainbow

My Tuolumne River Rainbow

My attention turned downstream. Fruitless casts into some bigger water prompted a switch to a dry/dropper set up (dry fly with a trailing nymph). This produced at least a dozen takes and a few smaller fish landed, including what might have been my first Sacramento pikeminnow, in juvenile form. After the Tuolumne we played at Moccasin Creek for a while. With the blame for the tougher than usual fishing placed firmly on our late afternoon arrival and the high pressure system that brought the searing heat — I still managed to hook and land four decent rainbows.

Sean & Bass

Sean & Bass

The remaining daylight after dinner found us, as promised, fishing a small pond near Lyons Canal for bass and sunfish. We all caught something. The bass were small but willing to hit nearly anything. Christopher and I threw streamers to hook numerous bass, while Katelyn landed one on a spinner. We closed the fishing for the day with a stroll along the canal, where Christopher landed a decent-sized brown trout. Later, Christopher took first in a round of miniature golf, with dad behind by one stroke. Then Christopher and Katelyn left and dad collapsed.

Sean and Kirsten were ready to roll about 6:00 a.m. Sunday and we were on Moccasin Creek by 7:15. The fishing was again a bit tough. I’ll blame my lack of fish to hand on the fact that Sean borrowed my 5 wt. fly rod because Kirsten was using Sean’s/my backup 5 wt. fly rod, leaving me to use a too-limber 3 wt., which made strong hook sets difficult. However, when all was said and done, dad out-fished Sean by two trout. I think it was 7-5.  Kirsten also hooked a few and landed one.

The post-dinner fishing was again targeting bass and sunfish. Sean had a frustrating time with a streamer. At my suggestion he switched to a dry/dropper and was immediately on to the small bass. The fun continued after I tied on a damselfly imitation to elicit some awesome top-water strikes. But let’s just say that the dad vs. Sean competition wasn’t even close in this venue. (Grasshopper, when you can take the fly from my hand, it will be time for you to outfish your father.)

Another game of miniature golf showed my consistency…again one stroke behind the son. This game, however, sure brought out Kirsten’s competitive streak. She was ready for an immediate rematch with Sean.

Did I mention it was hot all weekend?