fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)


say hi on Opening Day, but with my cast it’s unwise to approach from the rear

The general trout season opens tomorrow here in California and though I’ll likely be awake before sunup, it won’t be to beat the freezer-filling crowd to streamside.

Work’s got to get done if there’s any hope of having time to wet the line on any unfamiliar waters, and I’ll be helping a new group of students learn some of the ins and outs of fly fishing before heading for the hills in the afternoon. Perhaps more accurately, my casting will be an example of what not to do for these novice fly fishermen.

This is the fourth year that Opening Day has been more of a casual affair. Admittedly, I am itching to get out there with the fly rod; but it’s become a ritual not to be rushed, knowing that my son and I will likely be the only people on a small stream just far enough out a Forest Service road that most folks will give up and turn around about a mile short. Google Maps shows another creek a couple of miles further that just might be worth a try.

The maximization of our fishing time will include a few roadside spots as well, and on Monday, after the weekend warriors have left, we’ll slink down to some stocked waters trusting that we’ll be able to hook the dumb smart fish that didn’t fall victim to power bait or shiny objects.

If you’re out in the Sierra foothills this weekend, look for the guy with the funny cast. That’ll be me.



the good side to a bad wet season

The '97 ready to roll.

An excellent combination: sun, clear skies and a motorcycle.

The separation between Northern and Southern California is customarily delineated by rainfall or lack thereof. But not so much this year. The hope of a Miracle March making up for a dry, spring-like January and February is fading fast. I’m just a little bit worried that not all of the recently tied flies will get wet this year.

Still, I shoved aside one hobby for another, rolled the motorcycle out of the garage, geared up, set the choke and pressed the starter. Spark plugs fired, the engine caught, then sputtered and died. I tried a second time, it sounded as if it were flooded. After more thought than it should have taken, it dawned on me that this March day was already warm enough that there was no reason to apply much, if any, choke.

My son and I hadn’t really decided where we might ride, just that we would. But Sean’s suggestion of the Russian River Brewing Co. had lodged in my head, so we headed out Hwy 37, skirting the northern edge of San Pablo Bay (which is part of and north of San Francisco Bay), through the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge — a significant destination on the Pacific Flyway — and along the southern reaches of the Sonoma and Napa valleys. A cloudless sky and migrating birds looked down upon us.

It was good to be in the saddle again, and though we’ve ridden together less than either of would probably like, I think it’s fair to say that we’ve developed enough awareness to anticipate each other and communicate simple messages through hand motions. A bit of this signaling after we passed Infineon Raceway (the old Sears Point) had us heading north toward Petaluma, past green fields dotted by sheep and their lambs. The last dozen miles or so were the least enthralling; this section of Hwy 101 just south of Santa Rosa is always at some stage of deconstruction, and the redwoods on either side of the road always seem dusty, dirty and thirsty.

Soon enough we pulled into the free public parking (bonus!) offered for motorcycles, which just so happened to be behind the Russian River Brewing brewpub. Winding out way past the bar and through the tables, it was immediately clear that this is a popular place. (I’d later find out that, unless you’re a diehard triple IPA fan, stay away when the brewery releases its ‘Pliny the Younger’ — some folks wait up to five hours in line for the new batch of BeerAdvocate’s top-rated beer for 2009.) We tossed our names at the hostess, stashed the coaster-style pager and gulped down a few glasses of ice water.

Russian River Brewing Co. Menu

The tap menu. We opted for the right side...and it was good. Very good.

The pub is appropriately dimly lit, and the dark wood throughout quickly absorbs any sunshine that makes it past the crowd drinking and generally carousing out front. We were seated about halfway between the front and back of the place, and I had an unobstructed view of the tap menu. We’d learn that the left side tended toward ‘aggressively hopped’ beers; the list to the right was comprised of Belgian-inspired ales and barrel-aged (sour) beers. Selecting the beers in your flight is easy: pick one list or the other or both. It was an easy compromise — I was paying after all — and we opted to try the ales and barrel beers, to be accompanied by a ‘Piaci’ pizza (mozzarella, marinara, gorgonzola and pine nuts) and some hot wings.

Russian River Brewing Co. Flight

The traditional thumbs up from Sean, and a well-deserved thumbs up it is.

The grub was pretty darn good. The beers were crazy good. Our tasting included Redemption (blonde ale), Perdition (bière de Sonoma), Sanctification (blonde ale brewed with Brettanomyces yeast), Supplication (sour aged in pinot barrels), Defenestration (hoppy blonde ale), Damnation (golden ale), Damnation #23 (golden ale, triple aged with oak chips), Temptation (sour aged in chardonnay barrels), Salvation (strong dark ale), Consecration (sour aged in cabernet barrels) and Collaboration (IPA style). Only the Consecration was not to our liking, mostly because the cabernet seemed give the brew an overpowering sweetness.

Our favorites — at least mine — included Sanctification (uniquely tart but crisp), Defenestration (a clean blonde with a hop finish that didn’t linger or kill the taste buds) and Damnation #23 (a full-bodied, semi-spicy golden ale offset with a bit of oak). Thankfully, the sample glasses were 2 ounces, and we lingered over bites of the pizza, the gnawing of the hot wings and discussions of each beer.

A few hours later, well rewarded for the hour-long ride there, we started up the bikes and headed east toward the Sonoma Valley, offloading some beer along the way. After a while, Sean peeled off the main road and I stopped to refill the tank (42 mpg) before the final few miles to home.

Perhaps it’s time to think about hunting steelhead on the Russian River; any unsuccessful day fly fishing could be brightened with a visit to this namesake brewery.

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a milestone and 10,000 miles wiser

By the time you read this it’ll be official. I’ll have ridden 10,000 miles on two wheels.

There are those who’ll say I was getting in front of a possible midlife crisis with the purchase of my first motorcycle just about four and a half years ago. I’d disagree. The idea of riding has bounced around my brain since riding a friend’s off-road bike, so long ago as a kid.

Like fly fishing, riding was one of those things that looked fun, but something I never truly could envision myself doing. And like fly fishing, choosing to ride any particular day influences planning, gear and even the pace.

To be clear, in both cases I favor a slower pace.

This pace was reflected in the process that led me to motorcycling, starting with a Motorcycle Safety Foundation class, just to see if I might possess the skills to ride and to determine — taking into account the possibility of dropping someone else’s motorcycle — whether it still offered the enjoyment I remembered from years ago.

I’d be remiss to not give credit to my wife, who works in the healthcare field and often used the term “donor-cycle,” for supporting my desire to at least try motorcycling. Even knowing that my dad had a decidedly unpleasant motorcycling accident that led to his not riding, I went ahead with registration for the class — with my oldest son joining me — with no particular plan to purchase a motorcycle. That’s not to say I didn’t have thoughts about something in the Honda CB series… Sean and I both passed the class with flying colors and by early December 2007 our driver’s licenses carried an M1 endorsement.

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The first bike.

Though I had no immediate plan buy a motorcycle, the universe had something else in mind. Only four weeks after getting my M1 endorsement I became the owner of a venerable 1982 Honda CB650SC with about 8,000 miles on it. Now owned by my son, this vintage Nighthawk gently taught me the basics. It was a great starter bike; easy and fun to ride. It also taught me that two-wheeled transportation, while giving one a true appreciation for highway speeds, can make one feel more connected to the world. Maybe it’s the safety-conscious swiveling of my head, but I seem to see more when riding.

I definitely feel more when riding. My commute is about 30 miles one way on a state highway that passes through reclaimed marshland of the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge, farmland and by a cattle ranch, all the time skirting the upper edge of San Francisco Bay. (Technically it’s San Pablo Bay.) Despite protective riding gear, the microclimates are readily apparent. When the weather’s warmer, the water of the marshes retain enough heat to create a “banana belt” that makes my early morning ride more comfortable. But once I drop over a small ridge, heading closer to the coast, the air temperature invariably drops 5 to 10 degrees.

Over a year and a half with the 650, I learned basic repairs, added a vintage luggage rack, overcame a fear of riding in the rain and took a good number of local trips.

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Two bikes, two fly rods, two reels and an extra gallon of gas.

It was sad to see that first bike go, but nice to know it’d still be in the family. Even more exciting was the fact that on July 24, 2009, I took possession of a motorcycle that through its production years (1992-2003) had been my favorite: the Honda CB750F/Nighthawk 750. Mine’s from ’97 and had less than 4,000 miles on it when purchased. It’s now fitted with a windscreen, luggage and risers. I like it and its average of nearly 50 mpg.

Sean and I took our first long motorcycle trip after I bought the 750, heading over familiar roads and fly fishing along the way.

So here I am, 10,000 miles later. Yes, there have been two close calls, both due to inattentive drivers. (And yes, my wife knows about them.) I’m thankful that whomever is watching over me is doing so and I’ve learned to ride within my limits. I’ve come to grudgingly accept that the buffer I put between myself and the car in front of me is often instead seen by “cagers” (car drivers) as an opportunity.

Those who know me know I take care of my vehicles. But the motorcycle is unlike the cars. Once and a while I find myself simply staring at the motorcycle, an old-school symbol of freedom, still not fully believing I own and regularly ride one.


the younger brother’s first fly fishing experience (and when “it’s not all about the fishing” becomes a truism)

Teaching fly fishing requires enthusiasm. Teaching it well requires a bit more. A little curiosity helps.

It was my brother who provided the curiosity. Not openly, but in that tone of voice we’ve all heard before.

We were discussing ideas for his first visit to California in eight years and our trip to, up and over the Sierra Nevadas. “I’d be willing to try fly fishing if you have some gear I could use,” he said over the phone.

I’d thought plenty about offering such an opportunity but hadn’t mentioned it. Everyone has a story about how they were introduced to the sport. Mine surely isn’t unique, but it did imbue me with a belief that a curious mind opens the door to the best first fly fishing experience.

Along with the gear, I’d bring considerable enthusiasm. (It’d help to understand that my sister’s family has given me the nickname of “The Herring Merchant.”*)

That’s how Mark, Sean and I found ourselves on “Hatchery Creek,” not too far away from the cabin, just as sunlight touched the top of the hills. With borrowed waders, boots and a wading staff but minus an overloaded vest, Mark looked just about as silly as I. (It’s a tenant of fly fishing that fish don’t care how one looks.)

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Mark on a fish.

This creek tucks against a hillside and, controlled by a powerhouse, is nearly always fishable regardless of spring runoff. Though near a main highway, it’s sheltered by heavily treed banks, and — except for the occasional burps of a Jake brake — the outside world is easily left behind. Though the outcome of our day had yet to be determined, the absence of other fisherman was a welcome sign.

After gearing up and giving a primer on the creek, I led Mark toward one of my favorite runs. It’s the same piece of water on which I educated both sons as to the nuances of hydrology. On the surface it looks fast, and most would call it too fast for fish. The most obvious (and dependable) spot for trout here is near the far bank, where the water’s velocity is slowed by friction. Perhaps because of constant shadows and the lack of light, it’s difficult to see the nearer telltale seams that suggest hidden trout. As both sons learned years ago, a little bit of patience and a passable drift in the proper location will surprise you. It’s also a great spot to swing a fly at the end of the drift.

We were rigged up with nymphs under an indicator. It was too early for dry flies, and to my knowledge this creek is devoid of any real insect hatches, with only occasional dry fly takes in the afternoon.

There’s nothing more conducive to learning than doing, and my strategy was simple: talk, walk, fish and hope that Mark would get into at least one fish while doing so. I would take on the role of guide. I’d assemble leaders, tie knots and select flies. It would be Mark’s “job” to focus on hooking and landing a fish.

It Ain’t Pretty, But Works

For those who haven’t fly fished, casting nymphs (often heavier, underwater flies) with an indicator (yeah, like a bobber) is an inelegant affair. In this case it was more of a lobbing action. After a bit of discussion about this technique and a quick demonstration, Mark made his first casts. Occasionally I’d offer a bit of advice. The suggestion of a casting target that’d offer a better drift into a good trout lie. A recommendation to keep a tight line between the rod to the indicator, then a gentle admonishment to keep an eye on the indictor for any movement that didn’t seem “normal.” A description of the slight lift the rod should be given at the end of every drift.

It was that last piece of advice that gave Mark his first surprise. He’d made a good drift with no takers. Toward the end of the run, the rod tip was raised, the movement of the indicator slowed, and the flies below rose toward the water’s surface, as an emerging insect might do.

That’s how Mark hooked his first trout on a fly rod. Just as quickly as it was on, it was off.

It didn’t matter that we didn’t land that fish. It’s the confidence and faith that washed over Mark’s face that mattered. His big brother wasn’t just blowing smoke. An unseen fish had risen to take a fly presented just as he had advised. Without any encouragement from me, the training wheels were off.

Heading upstream, Mark stopped at a suspect pool while I ventured toward a stretch where riffles tumbled into a long, deep run that abutted a boulder, which in turn created a pool that offered a long tailout. Sean had fished the area earlier, but had since headed downstream.

When Mark moved to the pool behind that boulder, just below me, I futilely tried to keep an eye on my indicator as well as Mark’s. I needn’t have. Before I knew it Mark had set the hook. Encouraging him to keep the rod tip up, a bend in the rod and to allow the fish to tired ever so slightly, I dropped set aside my rod, grabbed my net, and headed downstream.

Mark was broadly smiling as the rod tipped danced. Not an acrobatic fish, it splashed enough to put on a bit of a show. Soon Mark turned its head and we had a decent trout in the net.

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Mark and his first fly rod fish.

Mark waded over for the obligatory fish photo. Excitement shifted to quiet contemplation. We talked of wetting hands before handing trout, the ease of removing a barbless hook, and keeping the fish in the water until all were ready for the photo. Photo taken, we let it rest in the net. It was a remarkably clean, deep bellied and heavily dotted hatchery rainbow trout measuring an honest 13 inches; a admirable first fly rod fish.

It quickly recovered and, as discussed, Mark softly cradled the trout as I lowered the lip of the net. Often, it seems to me that time slows in the minute or so before a trout finally swings its tail and darts for the familiar safety of deeper water. I never asked Mark if he felt that same sensation, but the look on his face confirmed that he had discovered the magic of catch and release fishing.

The Lesson Learned

At that moment I got it. A curtain parted ever so slightly, giving me privileged insight into why fly fishing guides, those who truly enjoy what they do, do what they do.

More could be written about that day. About the other fish that Mark stalked, hooked and landed, and his amazement that he could do so while hardware and bait fishermen struggled for even a single fish. About Mark’s discovery of trout in places he previously might have dismissed as holding fish. About a simple enjoyment in finding that sharing of one’s love of fly fishing can spark the beginnings of such a passion in another.

But looking above, there’s not much else to worth writing about Mark’s first fly fishing experience and how it rekindled in me renewed appreciation for the little things, beyond the fishing, that bring such joy to the sport.

* From “the Valve: A Literary Organ” blog —

[In the movie “Love and Death”] Boris is in love with Sonja, but she is unhappily married to Voskovec the Herring Merchant (“his mentality,” she complains, “has reduced all the beauty of the world to a small pickled fish“). She takes lovers. (“She takes uppers?” Boris repeats, incredulous, when he hears this news). Voskovec, preparing his pistols to fight a duel in defence of his wife’s honour, accidentally shoots himself. Sonja goes to his deathbed in the company of a couple of doctors. In what is, I think, my favourite exchange in all film, Sonja talks to the expiring man…Here’s the tender deathbed scene:

SONJA: You were a kind and loving husband. Generous and always considerate. (To doctors) What’s he got? About eight minutes?

DOCTOR: (consulting his watch) I think I’m slow. He’s got about three.

VOSKOVEC: Swimming out! Swimming out to the open sea like the great … wild … herring! [Dies]

(You can find more photos here under “The Brother’s Visit – Tuolumne Meadows, Eastern Sierra, First Time Fly Fishing”.)


making man time and acting like boys

I’ve no way of checking, but I’m pretty sure hell’s frozen over.

After eight years since his last appearance in the Golden State, my brother showed up with no specific plans. That’s where I stepped in as travel agent, outfitter and guide; apparently a role that suits me better than might be expected.

Lembert Dome

Lembert Dome viewed from the Tuolumne Meadows Campground, and where we'd be going.

A visit to the cabin is akin to establishing a base camp. In our case, a base camp stocked with beef jerky, beer and an XBox. One might be inclined to think it was something like a “man cave,” but there’s an irony to my brother and I spending quality man time together. Those who’ve been in the proximity when we get together know that we quickly prove the adage that you can’t take the boy out of the man.

Mark lives in the Evergraygreen state and while he said he’d enjoy seeing California family members, it became clear that he perhaps more happy to see the sun. I swung by the airport to him pick up Wednesday evening and we met up with my oldest son, Sean, at the Bass Pro Shop in Manteca. We secured a two-day nonresident fishing license, grabbed dinner and headed up the hill.

Weather-wise, we’d hit it right. Temperatures had peaked that day and would be still warm but slightly lower the next few days, meaning it would cool off at night; something important for a good night’s sleep in a cabin that has no insulation and no air conditioning.

Before Mark or Sean posts a comment below, I will admit that I was adamant that I would I had expected to wake up and hit the road for Tuolumne Meadows early the next morning. I did wake up at 5:00 a.m. But I rolled over and caught a few more winks.

Mark had asked if we might be able to hike up Lembert Dome. He and I had done so back when we were boys, with my sister and dad. It’s a pretty easy drive from the cabin to Tuolumne Meadows, just about 2½ hours. Since Tioga Pass had opened the week before, we would circle our way back over Sonora Pass.

Olmstead Point Marmot

Mark's friend, the Marmot, at Olmstead Point.

It’s been said many times before, but the blue of the sky is remarkable at higher altitudes, and we weren’t disappointed. With only a few clouds in the sky, we passed through the entrance station and soon arrived at Olmstead Point. Reinforcing that he boy stills lives within the man, Mark was all about seeing and getting photos of the marmots of our childhood at Olmstead. A few marmots obliged.

We next stopped at the Tuolumne Meadows Campground, where we spent many a family vacation camping. Sure, some things have changed — mostly manmade things — but nearly everything was recognizable and Mark and I soon agreed upon the location of “our” campsite, partially based on its position relative to the Tuolumne River, which itself was nearly unrecognizably high. I’m sure Sean was somewhat amused by our reminiscing.

Just down the road we pulled into the parking lot at the Lembert Dome trailhead and loaded up. The trail begins with a modest incline, but starting at about 8,600 feet and rising another 800 feet to the dome’s summit, it was soon clear that our lungs would get the kind of workout not seen in years. The gradient seemed to increase every 100 feet, and even if we were on the trail (we weren’t), it would be covered by extensive snow fields that made the hiking more difficult. At one point, Mark fell through the snow into a waist-high air pocket. Undaunted but pausing more often that we’d care to admit to catch our breath, we pressed on. I’m sure it took a lot of patience for Sean to not charge ahead. (I don’t think he broke a sweat or even breathed hard.)

It’s said that the memory grows hazy over time and Mark and I didn’t remember the last stretch up the back of Lembert Dome being so steep or requiring so much climbing. But climb we did, reaching the top. The view was made a tad more incredible by the fact that we had it to ourselves.

At the Top of Lembert Dome

Me, Mark & Sean a the top of Lembert Dome. (After Mark and I rested for half an hour just a few minutes.)

It was hoped that we’d also find some water to fish. Without much browbeating Mark had asked if he might get a chance to try fly fishing, and I had plenty of gear he could use. We rigged up and flogged the no-so-high-but-higher-than-usual Lee Vining Creek. It was tough going. I was the only one to get two strikes, but missed both fish.

We refueled our egos with some good barbecue at Bodie Mike’s, then headed north to Bridgeport, and I pointed out all of the water that we might have fished. Every single river was the color Yoo-Hoo.

Traveling creates memories, and traversing the Sierra Nevada Mountains can make for some of the most vivid memories. Then there are other things that one doesn’t soon forget.

Our return to the cabin meant a few preparations for the next day, when we’d get out on “Hatchery Creek,” hoping to get Mark into his first trout on a fly rod. Mark looked to verify that his fish license was in his wallet. It was. His driver’s license wasn’t. He searched through my car. Sean looked through his car. I looked around the cabin. Mark began to go through his suitcase. After thinking about it a bit, I called Bass Pro Shop. The customer service rep went through the lost and found, looking for a Washington license with the appropriate name and a goofy looking photo.

Soon we were making the 1½-hour drive back to Manteca. Only a few miles went by without Sean or I reminding Mark of his snafu.

There was an upside to this. We enjoyed a manly dinner at the House of Beef.

Back at the cabin, assurances were made that I’d not linger in bed the next morning as there’d be fish to catch. And I did not.

But Mark’s First Fly Fishing Experience is a story unto itself, and for next week.

(You can find more photos here under “The Brother’s Visit – Tuolumne Meadows, Eastern Sierra, First Time Fly Fishing”.)


what we see this Wednesday saw last week

A marmot at Olmstead Point.

A marmot at Olmstead Point, a stop on our way to Tuolumne Meadows, and a hike that would require the full use of our lungs.

Looking at our Target - Lembert Dome - from Tuolumne Meadows Campground, over the very swollen Tuolumne River.

Looking at our Target - Lembert Dome - from Tuolumne Meadows Campground, over the very swollen Tuolumne River. The hike is 1.5 miles with an 800-foot elevation gain.

Mark and Sean on the last stretch up the back of Lembert Dome.

Mark and Sean on the last stretch up the back of Lembert Dome.

The view from Lembert Dome, looking out over Tuolumne Meadows.

The view from Lembert Dome, looking out over Tuolumne Meadows.

Mark's first experience fly fishing...obviously it went well.

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the fishing that led to appreciating that good beer

I didn’t know it then, but that confidence mentioned in words written about a week ago would be tested on the first full day of Trout Season 2011, even if high water narrowed our possible venue down to two or three choices where we knew the fish should be willing to play. At least that’s what we thought.

Sean's Angels Creek Rainbow

Sean's hands make this nicely colored rainbow from Angels Creek seem smaller than it actually is. At least that's what he says...

There’s a balance that comes with fishing the week after Opening Day. The fact that most of the water known to hold trout was given a rude awakening on Opening Day is offset by wide-open access. So, although I’m not one to linger long after opening my eyes in the morning, this morning there was no frantic rush to get out the door.

The night before we had decided to head to “Hatchery Creek.” While well stocked with rainbows (and occasionally brook trout), it also can offer kokanee in the spring and a few elusive browns in the fall. We had been warned, however, about the aforementioned grumbling on Opening Day from anglers who couldn’t find the fish maintained that DFG had cut back on its stocking.

The easy accessibility of this creek — as well as the everyday responsibilities of life — quickly fades as we descend the banks of this creek. No matter the origin of these trout, soon they would occupy all our thoughts and become our obsession for most of the day.

The creek, actually more a short tailwater before it dumps into a lake, is high. Maybe higher than I’ve ever seen it, and it takes more than a moment or two to identify familiar landmarks. Sean and I wonder out loud if high flows during the winter had scoured the creek. Together we remember a productive pool that two years ago was shaded by a now absent tree. A few of the old channels seem to have disappeared; new channels slowly reveal themselves. It’s hard to tell, but even a few boulders seem to occupy new positions.

With more of a series of grunts than conversation, it’s agreed that I’ll head slightly downstream to a long, fast, shallow run that’s always been good to me. The current here is too fast for dry flies. Nymphs work well, but most of the fun starts on the swing. It’s the first place I threw out a wet fly, and the first place that a trout took that soft hackle wet fly, one I had tied with a sparse blue-thread body and partridge hackle. After a few casts, the fish reveal themselves. It’s a cookie-cutter rainbow, but a welcome sign that all’s once again good with the world, at least in this brief moment in my part of the world.

Sean wandered upstream to another run, where water tumbled over rocks into a deeper run that ends in front of a boulder. It’s one of those hot spots favored by trout and deep enough to require at least one heavier fly.

After half an hour or so and three trout to the net and about the same for Sean, I ventured upstream, peering into pools and undercuts where I’d usually be able to sight fish. Seeing no fish sign, I checked in with Sean and headed downstream again. Going farther downstream requires care. Trees hug the banks and blackberry bushes are so prolific that thorny, tippet snatching blackberry vines hang overhead. There’s no overhead casting here. Line management is limited to side-arm casts, lobbing or simply dropping flies and letting the current take them to the fishy spots.

There’s one very fishy spot that requires that last tactic. Water bubbles over a creek-wide riffle before dropping into a wide area marked by granite boulders big enough to disrupt the current and create a pocket, a holding lie, for trout, yet small enough to allow the nearby current to flow fast enough, delivering bugs to waiting fish.

I dropped my flies — a size 18 AP Nymph and a size 22 glass bead chironomid pattern — just below the riffle. One drift, a second, then a third.

I’ve found that occasionally a subtle pause, perhaps no more than a second, perhaps a bit longer, can suggest that there’s a larger fish is at the end of the line. This was one of those times. I set the hook. My line paused. It vibrated faintly in the current. Then it was out of the pocket, through the riffles and around an upstream boulder faster than I could follow. But I would never see the fish. The same could be said for my home-tied fly.

The rest of the day, Sean and I would explore the lower reaches of this creek, finding a pool where, he’d been told, trout can often be found. We did find fish there.

This creek widens and gains speed closer to its mouth, reminding me more of a freestone river in the Eastern Sierra. Nice brown trout water, except it’s not home to many browns. There was fishing along the way but no more catching.

I can’t say whether it was the exertion of hiking, the full day of fishing or just plain thirst, but the dinner and the beer that came with it that night tasted awfully good.


the slow lesson of fly fishing

Fly Fishing Trip Goals: Fish New Water(s), Fish for New Species/Strains of Trout,
Drink New Beer(s), Repeat. Note: Do so slowly, with great deliberation.

It’s not casting, presentation or fly selection; it’s a deliberate and slower pace that offers the best chance of success in fly fishing.

This isn’t a new or unfamiliar idea. My first appreciation of a slower approach was the pace at which I entered any water, familiar or unfamiliar. Slowing down to take the time to make a few observations. To watch the sun rise. To look for that one rising trout. To take time to fish that small seam a few feet out from the bank.

[singlepic id=1088 w=275 h=368 float=center]The decision to try my hand at tying flies required a slow, methodical approach as I learned techniques and how materials responded to the tying process. I’m not a production tyer, and probably think more what I’m doing when tying than I should. That’s okay; a lot of that thinking is about the fish I expect or hope to fool with that fly; or memories of already having done so.

Rod building again necessitates slowing down. Wrapping thread seems simple, and it is. Wrapping thread well isn’t. Five-minute epoxy is the fastest part of the process. Laying down multiple coats is not.

More experienced fly fisherman might wonder why it took so long for me to come to this conclusion. In my defense, there were trout to fool and success was measured by body count.

Two weeks ago, while setting aside the desire to get on higher-elevation trout water as soon as legally possible, it dawned on me that the fish would still be there even if my arrival was delayed a day or two. Like dominoes falling, decisions were then made to purposely plan a slower pace.

It’s a huge thing to slow down in today’s world. To take a slow, long look at that wild trout. And, when the sunlight’s too dim to fish, to slowly relish the day’s adventures, seasoned with good food and, if you’re lucky, a good beer.

It’s all worth savoring.

To be certain, we lugged along a few new brews to the cabin during our Opening Day trip, but didn’t pass up the opportunity to try something from the tap during dinner at The Rock.

Told by the waitress that customers had complained that New Belgium’s Ranger IPA was too hoppy, Sean naturally went ahead and ordered it. Apparently those customers have sensitive palates. I’m not a huge fan of too much hoppiness on the back end, but even I found the Ranger rather mild. So did Sean.

Though not an extreme beer snob, I favor trying local suds, and opted to try Snowshoe’s Grizzly Brown Ale. (And, honestly, I felt an obligation to try the Grizzly as research. The Snowshoe brewery is an hour away from the cabin and will be on the itinerary during my brother’s visit next month.) I’ve grown increasingly fond of a well-done brown ale. The Grizzly didn’t disappoint, and it seemed that Sean might have wished he’d chosen it. It’s certainly dark in color, but semi creamy and not heavy as might be expected. A nice toasty maltiness gives way to a light hop finish.

Certainly a great way to finish a day of fly fishing.


start of the 2011 trout season: working out the kinks

From what I hear and experienced, it might just be a good thing if you missed the Trout Opener this year. At least on the east and west slopes of the central Sierra Nevada mountains.

No one’s outright said as much, but reports from the Eastern Sierra suggest that crowds may have been there but the fish weren’t. One particularly likeable report: “Bait slingers and trollers failed miserably on Opening Day weekend and 100,000 lives were spared!”

Bass from the Shadows

One small bass from the shadows of a small pond.

The same seemed to be true in our neck of the woods. A California DFG hatchery worker I’ve talked with over the years told of anglers grumbling that fish were nowhere to be found, despite the usual numbers being planted. (More interesting parts of that conversation will come in a future post.)

Not all went as we planned, but arriving in the Sierra foothills in the aftermath of Opening Day put Sean and me in a good position to fish and explore in relative solitude. Months of neglecting necessary fly fishing skills were soon forgotten and muscle memory was gradually regained.

Arriving before Sean and after opening the cabin for the season (thankful that pipes hadn’t burst during the long winter) it was time work out the kinks on the convenient Lyons Canal. Just behind town, it’s more accurately Section 4 of the Main Tuolumne Canal of the Lyons Reservoir Planning Unit. Built in the mid 1850s, it’s part of a network of canals — estimated to total 60 miles — that crisscross Tuolumne County. Though peppered with flumes and concrete in some sections, parts of it have been reclaimed by Mother Nature and now resemble a small stream carved into the rolling hills.

Like many moving waters, walking a short distance away from easily accessed sections is worth the little effort required. Stocked with rainbows, the canal is also home to a now wild population of brown trout.

Hopeful that the most important tool in my fly fishing arsenal — confidence — wasn’t lacking, I tested likely cut banks, boulders and shaded water.

Despite the lack of wildness of the surroundings — homes and a roadway are a short distance away — these brown trout are wild enough to scatter at the shadow of a rod or a less-than-light footfall. This requires casts well upstream of your position, with the best casts placing the fly no more than a few inches from the bank.

My first fish darted out from a surprisingly deep undercut four feet in front of me; eating a standard red Copper John nymph and barreling downstream into faster water. Nicer still, this was probably one of the biggest browns I’ve pulled out of the canal. It looked healthy, even happy.

Brown Trout from Lyons Canal

Another brown from the canal…they do like hugging those banks.

Six browns of various sizes came to the net that afternoon, all seeming to eye me with what might be described as familiarity bred by a near certainty that we’ve met before. Thankfully, most are small enough to be released by freezer-stocking folks hunting the bigger, stocked rainbows.

Perhaps it’s a reflection of the intervening off-season troutless months, but the brown trout this year seemed feistier and their spots brighter than I remember.

I finished up the day, with long shadows creeping between shafts of the setting sun, tossing streamers into a pond on long-fallow golf course. Decent sized bass cruised the banks, but in such small water quickly disappeared into the weeds. A few of their offspring were fooled with streamers and trailing nymphs; the biggest was about eleven inches.

As the sun fell behind the tips of the pines, it felt good to have worked the rustiness out of my cast and rediscover the confidence that had been in hibernation.