fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)


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


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a return to the high country with the folks who raised us, some thirty years later

It turns the tables a bit when it’s the kids introducing parents to new places and experiences and revisiting the familiar after three decades is icing on the cake, though there’s bound to be disagreement in our personal memories.

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Mom and Dad at the cabin, for their first visit.

But easy agreement was found in the beauty of the scenery and shared remembrances during a long drive up and over Tioga Pass, along the shores of Mono Lake, before a return over Sonora Pass.

The parents arrived at the cabin late that Sunday afternoon, and after running an errand that took entirely too long for Dad, dinner was enjoyed and we settled in for the evening. Thankfully, the storm that had dumped snow on the passes had dissipated the day before and the warmth of the sunshine had cleared the roads.

Mom, Dad and I leisurely left Twain Harte with a route in mind but absent any planned stops or timetable. The hillsides leaned more toward gold, but were freckled by islands of still-green grass.

I’ve driven this road many mornings, but saw things a bit differently today since I wasn’t preoccupied with wetting my fly line. Miles rolled by, lubricated by conversation. Soon it was time for a stop to stretch our legs. Though there aren’t many hatcheries that will, in my mind, match the magnificence of the historic Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery visited in my youth, there was something familiar about walking around the Moccasin Creek Hatchery with the folks.

After the excitement of gaining 1,500 feet in elevation over the two miles of the “new” Old Priest Grade, it was all new territory for Mom and Dad as we wound through Big Oak Flat, Groveland, and past Buck Meadows. Highway 120 took us from 2,838 feet at Big Oak Flat to Yosemite National Park’s Big Oak Flat Entrance Station at 4,900 feet. Dad was impressed by the tidiness of the towns and the number of old buildings alongside the roadway, many of which are still in use.

If it wasn’t enough to have fantastic weather, traffic was light. By mid morning we arrived at the entrance station, where the purchase of an annual pass got us across the park border. Words in many foreign languages hung in the cool air, reminding me of the many nature blessings that aren’t more than a day’s drive from home that attract visitors from around the world.

I’ve always throught that the changes in vegetation and terrain grow more dramatic once inside the formal boundaries of Yosemite. Heavy forest yielded to granite, which only seems to yield to water in the form of glaciers, ice and liquid. We pushed on to Olmsted Point, taking obligatory photos, then on to Tenaya Lake. Availing ourselves of the facilities near the lake, I made a mental note that I need to spend more time exploring Tenaya Lake and its surroundings.

There’s a drama that comes with finally emerging from the forest to be presented with the dramatic vista of Tuolumne Meadows, then dropping into the meadow itself. This time I was taken aback by the dramatic change in its appearance compared with that of last spring, when my brother, son and I were on our way to a challenging life-affirming hike to the top of nearby Lembert Dome. Last year the meadows were covered with water. This year, the grass was already the gray-brown of late August.

I had to explain to Dad that the Tuolumne Meadows campground wasn’t open yet when he asked why I was parking alongside the highway. He’d never been here so early in the season. (The campground would open two weeks later, rather early.) Though last June there was snow on the ground and big puddles filled with mosquito larvae, there was nothing of the sort this last week of May. A stroll toward the entrance was accompanied by a bit of debate about the differences between today’s visit and our memories of camping trips more than two decades ago. Regardless of the differences of opinion and any discrepancy in our memories, there was more than enough that was still the same to foster a feeling of familiarity.

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Mom and Dad’s triumphant return after 30-some years.

My worries about the water were confirmed during this walk through the campground when I stopped near the same spot from which I took a photo of Lembert Dome in 2011. Last year, there was no discernable difference between the channels of the Tuolumne River and the river itself, and the water was within two feet of the bottom of the Tuolumne Meadows (Hwy. 120) Bridge. This year, the channel nearest the campground was no more than a foot deep, and the river was barely touching the bridge abutments.

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The three of us at Leavitt Falls Overlook.

The reminiscing was further fueled by the sheer rock walls along the descent from Tioga Pass to Lee Vining. The thought of dropping in at Bodie Mike’s for a barbecue lunch was derailed by Dad’s sudden proposition of stopping at the Tioga Gas Mart — that he didn’t recall seeing before — to grab lunch at the Whoa Nellie Deli. A word of warning: Be careful what you order. It’s all big at Whoa Nellie. The Cowboy Steak Sandwich is not so much as sandwich as it is a steak slapped on a roll.

The easy drive north on Hwy. 395 from Lee Vining was a welcome change after such a big lunch. By the time we arrived to the intersection of Hwys. 395 and 108, the urge to nap had passed. A good thing considering the hairpin curves that would take us from 6,765 feet to 9,623 feet at Sonora Pass. Before our main ascent, the Leavitt Falls overlook offered a last opportunity to stretch our legs before the long trip over the pass. The reduced volume of water coming over the falls was another reminder that it’s going to be a dry year in the Sierra Nevada. We posed for photos, then began the long climb.

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Getting a roadside education at Sonora Pass.

This was undiscovered country for the parents, who never had a reason to travel this road. To my eye, Hwy. 108 over Sonora Pass offers much more dramatic transitions. The road rises faster and the changes in terrain and vegetation follow suit. Surprised to find it open, we stopped at the Donnell Reservoir scenic overlook, with a sweeping over the Stanislaus River canyon and the Central Valley. The road from there is bit less remarkable, winding through heavy forest and passing towns that only seem to be wide spots in road.

It was a long but worthwhile day; one that both revived and created memories.

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a few days to fish (and learning that life will find a way)

There was exploration, fish caught, and the folks who raised us would revisit an old vacation spot at 9,000 feet — all despite weather last week that threatened to put the kibosh on all of it.

I started a mini-vacation two Fridays ago with a run up to the cabin, for once not battling traffic for any of the 142 miles. The plan was to get in a bit of fishing before the parents arrived Sunday afternoon and a drive over Tioga and Sonora passes on Monday. Besides an introduction to the cabin, history was the main reason for this tour. Our family typically spent vacation in one of the best possible venues, outdoors and many summers that meant Tuolumne Meadows.

But as of Friday, both passes were closed as late-season snow fell under dark gray clouds.

Brown Trout on a DryWilling to gamble only so much on the weather that afternoon, I set out for the ol’ irrigation canal, knowing it offers shelter and, if needed, a quick exit. During a few short hours the shifting weather offered sunshine, rain, hail and even a light flurry of snow. The fishing was as expected; my flies were hit mostly by wild browns and only the smartest stocked rainbows that hadn’t fall victim to salmon eggs or spinners. The stink of a possible skunking lifted, I retreated to a hot dinner and prepared for the next two days.

Instead of huddling inside, I was up before the sun on Saturday counting on the early hour and cold weather — about 48°F — working to my advantage. I choose wisely. Although I was on a well-fished creek, it was just me, the trout and couple of ducks for three hours. Fortitude and toughness won me solitude and a good number of fish that morning. Or, perhaps, it just proves that early bird adage.

By midday I was cleaned up and headed to the Moccasin Creek Hatchery for Trout Fest; the only time of the year that anyone is allowed to put a hook in its raceways. The grins of the kids were contagious; the K-9 demo of a quagga mussel search pretty amazing, and the general mood was generally festive. A local fly fishing club offered casting instruction in another raceway, allowing folks to cast an all-to-big fly to trout with appetites bigger than their four or five inches. I talked up a few of the hatchery personnel in hopes of lining up my plans for Sunday morning.

Those conversations suggested a return to the lower North Fork of the Tuolumne (near Basin Creek), a section of the river I had first visited about four years ago and enjoyed as an early season venue. This section is deep in a canyon and quite beautiful, despite its relative closeness to civilization. Most of the fish I caught back then there were stocked and in the intervening years that section of the Tuolumne had fallen off the stocking list as the result of an environmental lawsuit. But the word was that there were wild trout to be found.

Usually I’m up and out the door at the crack of dawn, but I’d reserved that Sunday morning for leisurely exploration of Forest Service roads outside of Long Barn. I was surprised to find much of my route paved with asphalt, and after marking a good-looking creek or two on the GPS, I headed to Tuolumne City and the four-mile descent to the lower North Fork of the Tuolumne.

Like so often happens, a small, nice looking wild rainbow slammed my dry fly on the first cast. (They always seem to do that when I’m least prepared.) I missed that first fish but managed to find almost dozen other little rainbows, scattered in the likely spots.

After a morning of rewards, I headed back to a hot shower before the arrival of the parents. But the folks’ visit will have to wait until next week.


we didn’t know it should have been scary at the time

This post brought to you by the writing prompt† “My Outdoor Scary
from the Outdoor Blogger Network (OBN).

Lembert Dome

The Target: Lembert Dome, 900 feet of granite.

In all fairness, my dad didn’t see it coming. I blame it on the thin air or the simple joy of being outdoors in God’s country.

For more than a few years, my brother, my sister, and I eagerly anticipated a week or more of camping in the Tuolumne Meadows campground. These trips were filled with hiking, fishing, campfires, hiking that was sporadically interrupted by fishing, and that general freedom engendered by nature’s wide-open spaces.

Many hikes started in the campground or nearby, which meant a starting elevation of at least 8,500 feet and often closer to 9,500 feet. Many of the trails were obvious or followed rivers or streams, and were usually marked on the USGS maps dad packed with the space blankets, water, lunches, snacks and other supplies. Some hikes were long and generally flat, others shorter but a bit tougher on the shorter legs of kids. The trail to Lake Elizabeth gained about 1,000 feet in elevation over 4.5 miles. Getting to Gaylor Lakes required rising 600 feet in what seemed like the first mile of the three. (Gaylor Lakes supposedly offered great fishing, but the inhalation of swarms of mosquitoes that rose with every step on the surrounding marshes cut the trip short.)

Lembert Dome — a 900-foot tall mass of granite — towers above the nearby Tuolumne River. From the meadows one can often see tiny people standing on top. Then, one summer, me, my dad, my brother and my sister saddled up and began an ill-fated hike that would take us to the top of the dome on a relatively easy trail, but one that grows steeper as it ascends the backside.

The trail cut through a forest and over a few streams as it traced the lower edge of the dome, then looped toward the back the dome. All the while we gained elevation, but it’s the last fourth of the 2.8 miles that asked the most of our legs. This climb started with a clear demarcation of the alpine zone. Trees became fewer and shorter, some stunted, and soon we stood on granite. Then it got a bit tricky, with some rock scrambling and careful footwork required before we reached the top.

Half Dome Back When 1

Yes, we made it... (This is the original, unaltered photo. Scroll down for a better colorized version.
And where the heck did I get that belt buckle?)

Standing on top of this massive granite dome, where the air seems just slightly thinner, the deep greens of the meadows and trees contrast with a sky of eye-straining blues and snow-capped mountains reaching 11,000 feet or more. We lingered and marveled; maybe a bit too long.

Not exactly the best boots for hiking.

The hike had taken a little bit longer than expected and dad was a tad anxious about getting back to camp dome before dark. From where we stood, the face of the dome didn’t look too steep. It also looked like a shortcut.

We didn’t know that there was a surprising amount of glacial polish and exfoliation, cracks parallel to the surface that develop with expansion and contraction‡. Our Sears Roebuck and Co. boots would have been more at home on a flat construction site and offered limited grip. (You might know these boots; versions are still sold today under the Diehard brand — the ones with white leather crepe sole with a tread best described as small rolling hills.) Baseball-sized rocks and small BBs of decomposed granite tumbled beside us as we picked our way down.

We’d also find out that the stitching and rivets in our jeans didn’t offer much traction. It wasn’t easy to walk down the steep granite, so we controlled much of our descent with the seat of our pants. Literally. We slid on our bums. I think our pants gave up their last threads that day.

We did make it down Lembert Dome that afternoon and my brother and I hiked back to camp with just a bit of bravado. Dad, no doubt, and probably my sister, were relieved.

We were too young to be appropriately terrified worried that day. Now that age has tempered my bravado, when I think about this, I’m suitably scared for that young man. But I’m always glad that he had this adventure.

Half Dome in Color

...and here we are with the color slightly adjusted. (Forgot that Mark was ever so small.)

Looking out from Lembert Dome

Us kids looking out from atop Lembert Dome. Not so scary...

Us on Lembert Dome

My brother, my son, and I made it back in 2011.
This time there'd be no sliding down Lembert Dome's face.

† This prompt was issued a few days ago, but nothing immediately think came to mind, which I chalk up to a lack of adventurousness the preparedness taught to me by the Boy Scouts.
‡ There is no general agreement among geologists as to the exact cause of this phenomenon.


the parent’s 50th wedding anniversary weekend

My parents celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary last weekend. They didn’t want a big bash, but wanted the family to get together. And, for the first time in quite a few years, we gathered, with my wife and I, and my sister and her family, flying from San Francisco to Seattle-Tacoma International. Being short on vacation time it was a quick trip for us, flying up Friday and leaving Sunday.

The reason we all gathered in Duvall, Wash.

It was the type of low-key celebration that is more common in my immediate family (except, maybe, for my brother). It started Saturday morning at mom and dad’s house with a get-what-you-want breakfast. There was a lot of catching up and joking around. The nephews got reacquainted.

About mid morning, dad presented mom with an anniversary gift; a communal effort that brought together a heartfelt quotation chosen by dad with a cross-stitch put together by my wife, with the matting and framing coordinated by me. Yes, tears glistened in mom’s eyes, and dad’s voice crackled during his presentation.

That afternoon, in typical Konoske fashion and joined by my wife’s parents, we continued the celebration with a hearty “main meal.” (I’d call it either late lunch or early dinner, as the rest of the family well knows by now.)

At Sunday morning mass, mom and dad’s marriage was blessed at Holy Innocents Catholic Church, with the family in attendance. It was nice, and like our parents, low key. After mass and before some of us had to leave, we enjoyed too much breakfast at Duvall Grill.

But I do think I heard something about mom being up for sainthood.

Below is a slide show of photos from the weekend, or you can visit the album here.


thanks to dad, we were lucky to simply survive experience the great outdoors

This post brought to you by a writing prompt from the Outdoor Blogger Network

I’ve been a dad for more years than you’d think and with that has come amazement that the number of candles on my birthday cakes made it to double digits.

Sure, everyone my age grew up without seat belts, car seats, and medications without child-proof lids. Many of my contemporaries rode bikes without helmets, ate sandwiches made with white bread and drank drinks made with real sugar.

Personally, I’m more amazed that I and my siblings survived family vacations in the great outdoors.

I can’t figure out if dad was fearless, just wasn’t being smart or placed such importance on exposing his kids to the outdoors that the risks outweighed the rewards. Maybe it was the fact that we didn’t have innumerable television documentaries underscoring man’s inability to win in a one-on-one battle with nature. Whatever the reason, we were lucky.

There are photos that I won’t share here of me in diapers, in the wilds of Yosemite Valley. That might have been where it all began, but the memories are foggy.

Tuolumne Meadows Campsite

Where we camped for many years, long ago...

What I do remember are the multiple summers we spent in Tuolumne Meadows. At 8,600 feet elevation the weather was changeable. This made day hikes, already an adventure thanks to steep elevation gains and decomposing granite, unpredictable.

While there’s debate among my family as to the name of the lake that was the destination on one ill-fated hike, it’s clear that dad had pushed the limits on that cold and overcast day. With the distance of the hike limited by the length of my youngest brother’s legs, I’m guessing the hike in took no more than a couple of hours. Much of the trail wound in and around trees before rising and emerging onto a wide meadow. Crossing the meadow put us on the shore of a lake nestled up against granite peaks. Back then we carried spin fishing gear, and it wasn’t more than a few casts before a trout made one of the most dramatic, leaping strikes to swallow dad’s Mepps Agila. Small as the fish was, dad stumbled back in his surprise at the strike.

Just about then or shortly thereafter (my memory was muddled by the excitement), the gray of the sky gave way to small granules of something best described as light hail or heavy snow. Not being as keen on fishing, my sister and brother were huddle with mom near what little shelter was offered by a wind-stunted tree. “Jerry,” my mom said, “I think it’s time to go.” Nearly 40 years later I can understand that when fishing, time flies by but those same minutes are painfully slow to pass when you’re shivering in the high country and miles from the remotest fingers of civilization. Grudgingly, dad decided it was better to leave the fish for the sake of his children and, perhaps, his marriage.

The first time we pitched a tent at the Tuolumne Meadows Campground, where, by the way, there are no public showers; my dad’s solution was to take advantage of what nature had to offer. He proudly explained to us that we’d be using biodegradable soap. (It was a novelty back in the 1970s.) Our water source would be the oh-so convenient Tuolumne River. A river that originates from two forks — the Dana Fork and the Lyell Fork — both of which originate from the huge snowpack in the high peaks of the Sierra Nevada. There’s something about bathing in water that only 24 hours ago was in its frozen form. Yet another time we dodged hypothermia.

Then there were the bears. We knew they were there. We saw them occasionally during the day. It’s the times we didn’t see them that still give me chills. There were mornings we’d wake up and dad would show us the bear tracks through our camp; tracks that weren’t there yesterday and must have been made during the night, when I stepped out of the tent for a trip to the bathroom and could have become a tasty midnight snack for one of Yogi’s cousins.

Sierra Cup

The fateful faithful Sierra cup.

Those mornings dad would tempt fate yet again by preparing breakfast on the flattop griddles that years ago were standard equipment in every national and state park campsite. These griddles were nothing more than flat plates of steel welded to a grill, on top of a three-sided steel box, and naturally were exposed to the elements all year long, accumulating sap, rust and the occasional animal or bird dropping. Dad’s ritual involved stoking the wood underneath the grill with the idea of sterilizing it, then throw on bacon to lube it up before tossing on eggs and toast. While it’s entirely possible he did manage to sterilize the griddle, I can help but wonder if some of the “seasoning” entailed small bits of rust and other things.

In that vein, I also remember being so proud of our Sierra cups. My brother and I would loop them under our belts, and like little men, dip them into the clear streams to quench our thirst. Try that nowadays without worrying.

These are only snapshots of my childhood adventures in the wilderness, and there are other, less dangerous memories of other hikes, more fishing and just being a kid in the great outdoors. Those I’ll save for another time.

I was lucky to spend so much time in the great outdoors. All of these adventures never fail to bring a smile to my face.


my summer vacation 2010 — post #3(and what I will do again)

…continued from part 2:

Sunday was only the day between the days that I’d be fishing. Saturday was set aside for salmon. Monday would be time for more gentlemanly and sporting fly fishing; dad’s first experience of fly fishing, ever, and my first visit to the Yakima River.

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Looking downstream on The Yak.

The plan called for hooking up with guide Derek Young in Snoqualmie at eleven o’clock that morning, meaning a leisurely drive from Duvall under gray skies. As with many of my guided fly fishing trips, there’s months of anticipation and correspondence, including probably too many questions from me, followed by the first face-to-face meeting.

Derek’s one of the growing number of guide/acquaintances who are forcing me to come to grips with age. Used to be I’d expect a guide to be a fellow with at least a few years on me. No so much anymore. Young(er) is fast becoming my description of the guides I’m meeting.

We climbed into Derek’s truck after quick introductions, and took off east on Highway 90 towards Ellensburg. The drive offered a good opportunity to set goals and expectations for the day, peppered by an abbreviated education of the scenery passing our windows, its geography and its history. The miles were marked by a slow transition from the wet side of the Cascade Mountains to the dry side, and overcast gave way to clear, blue skies. A quick stop was made in Ellensburg to arrange for shuttle service, and then it was off to our put-in point.

As one who typically wades into trout waters, larger rivers can be intimidating. The Yakima was no exception this day, running somewhere near 3,000 cubic feet per second. Derek placed The Green Drake, our boat for the day, in the river. Rods were rigged and safety stressed. We’d be doing a float of about five miles through the Farmlands section of the river, with a first stop shortly downstream to warm up our casting arms.

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Derek holding court.

Dad took up the seat on the bow — often referred to as the ‘hot seat’ as it’s the first part of the boat to pass fishy water — and I perched on the stern. It was warm, verging on hot, but the cool water of the river, with sort of glaciated green cast to it, offered natural air conditioning.

It was a short ride downstream before Derek pulled alongside a small island near the far bank. Derek was recommended not only a great guide for the Yakima, but as a teacher. Besides getting me on to some fish, the hope was to ‘learn’ my dad a bit about fly fishing. Throughout the day Derek would work alongside dad, offering guidance on casting, reading the water and answering questions about insects, the river, trout and darn near anything.

I wasn’t left entirely on my own. Remember, most everything I fish in California can be waded across without much trouble, but with a bit of direction and some pointers Derek sent me toward some fishy spots. Meanwhile, Derek would get dad acquainted with the tools of the trade and casting.

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Class in session: dad and Derek seeking fish.

This first stop put me in position to target the bank with an upstream cast, tossing dries under some overhanging branches and along grassy edges. Either that sixth ‘guide sense’ kicked in or upon seeing I was without much love, Derek suggested I cast towards the middle of the river, targeting a seam created by gravel bar.

Sure enough, it was fish on. These small Yakima rainbows were rising to my CDC PMD. (For non fly fishers, that’s a Pale Morning Dun tied with Cul de Canard — that’s French for duck bottom — feathers, highly waterproof feathers that sit on top of or near the preen gland of ducks and geese.) Half a dozen or so ‘bows came to hand. An occasional ten- or eleven-inch hatchery Chinook offered a pleasant surprise. I sure hope that years down the road I still feel that sense of magic that comes with fooling that first fish in unfamiliar water.

During the float to our next stop, dad was characteristically full of questions and Derek was the man with the answers. As mid-afternoon approached, we pulled up at the end of a side channel. I was told it was my turn to learn a little something. Fly fishing’s so far been a single-handed affair for me. But I wanted to swing flies, and that meant trying out an Orvis switch rod.

The fly rods familiar to most folks entail a single handle in front of the reel. Switch rods, the lighter cousin to the larger and heavier two-handed Spey rods, can be cast with one or two hands, and like Spey rods, offer additional length and casting power. Derek waded next to me to demonstrate the grip, rolls casts and Spey casts. And caught a few small trout during the demonstration. Yeah, a little humbling, this not-even-trying-yet-still-catching thing that guides do.

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Me, attempting to swing a wet fly.

Left on my own, while Derek and dad targeted the side channel, my tentative casts with the switch rod put a wet fly out and down, with the tip of the rod following the swing. The idea is to cast and swing a few times, bringing the fly into the edge of downstream riffles, then taking a step downstream to repeat the process. Casting’s not been my strong point over the years, but both my roll and Spey casts got a bit better. Good enough to hook two Yakima trout.

Though I could have stayed and swung flies for a few more hours, it was time to pull anchor and float to lunch our next stop. Upon sidling up on the rocky finger of another island, dad and I tested the waters while Derek set up the table and chair and laid out a great lunch of sandwiches, salad, fruit and the enemy of waistlines everywhere, chips. I don’t know if it’s the physical exertion of fishing (apparently dad came to realize that fly fishing is much more than tossing a line in the water and sitting back in a ratty lawn chair with a cheap beer), or simply being outdoors, but food takes on more vibrant flavors when consumed riverside.

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Lunch on the river. Doesn't get much better.

Fighting off the inclination to nap, Derek led us to another side channel he knows to hold fish. He again demonstrated the not-even-trying-yet-still-catching trick, getting a few trout to rise to casts to indicate where we should lay our flies. I was able to reach up and under the overhanging branches to bring up a fair share of rises, but the strikes seemed a bit half hearted. But, being one who tends fish with flies underwater, it was fun to elicit splashes at the surface.

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A Yakima Rainbow pull up with a nymph.

Knowing that I pride myself on adequate nymphing skills, Derek rigged up a rod with two nymphs, one a stone fly of his own modified design. After a few passes through a deep pool just downstream of our lunch spot, a few strikes indicated that fish were home and hungry. A few more passes and two fish came to hand. (Now dad knows what I mean when talking about “dredging up some big fish on nymphs.”)

The day began with the hope that good hatches would show up around sundown. They never materialized. The last mile or so involved my chucking nymphs toward the banks as we floated by. The take-out came up fast. The boat was trailered, rods disassembled and our weary bodies loaded into the truck.

I’d like to say with certainty that it was a big fish that broke off a few flies in the logjams during the last mile or so. Maybe. Maybe not. I hope to find out next time.

There will be a next time.


my summer vacation 2010 – post #2(or what we won’t do again)

…continued from part 1:

My intention was to follow up our first Alaska fishing trip with a second this year.

Intentions, however, have a tendency to be fleeting. The rising cost of airfare, family commitments, and life in general pushed aside any still-unformed plans for a triumphant return to Alaska.

Which is when the idea of trying for salmon in the waters off Washington began to germinate.

Suggestions of a multi-day stay in Westport faded away amid concerns of storms closing down fishing. In the end, the agreement was to hire a charter to chase Puget Sound king salmon.

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Why is this man smiling?

That’s how I found myself restlessly laying in bed, not really sleeping, waiting for the alarm to buzz at 3:30 a.m. If there’s anything that makes me revert to the giddiness of childhood, it’s anticipation of a day of fishing.

It’s that same anticipation that lends an almost laughable seriousness to the pace of my preparations. I was up, fed and ready in fifteen minutes. Dad was still seeking that eyelid-opening fight sip of coffee.

What happens when you're filming and people think you're taking a still photo.

Greg, dad’s neighbor, was one of three guys joining us, with my brother rounding out the six pack. Greg impresses me as someone who also takes fishing seriously. The plan was to be on the road at 4:00 a.m. Greg was backing the Tacoma Double Cab into the driveway at 3:50 a.m. Dad shoveled down some breakfast, and with coolers loaded, we hit the road long before any reasonable commuter would even roll out of bed.

I called Mark to let him know we were on the road and the drive dissolved into friendly chit chat. A second call revealed that Mark was a short distance ahead of us, and we caught up with him on the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge, crossing Lake Washington. A quick stop allowed Mark to park his truck and join us; then it was north to the Shilshole Marina.

At the dock, under heavy overcast, we arrived before the charter captain as well as Rowland and his son Jessie, the last of our group. The captain and deckhand showed up a few minutes later, leaving instructions to head down the dock when our last two fishermen were on scene. Rowland and Jessie pulled up a bit later, and down the dock we went.

The water was dark and the boat not ready. Perhaps a sign, but one easily ignored in our excitement. Soon we boarded and began to motor towards Whidbey Island. Less than half an hour out, lines were in the water. During that time it also grew clearer that the captain had enlisted a friend to act as first mate — a friend who wasn’t too familiar with the captain’s usual techniques.

[Now would be a good time to lend some perspective. When Mark, dad and I fished for halibut in Alaska’s Cook Inlet, Captain Daniel and First Mate Dylan operated as the proverbial well-oiled machine. Their boat was squared away and each knew what to do and when to do it, with little wasted motion and maximization of the fishing experience. Maybe we were spoiled by this experience, but it’s the bar by which my brother and I now measure any charter boat and its crew.]

The question arose as to who would be first up, and my gracious companions agreed that as the organizer of this little adventure, it would be me. I didn’t have to wait long. The tip of port-side rod seemed to stutter, then went down. I grabbed the rod, set the hook, and it was fish on. Trolling means there can be 100-plus feet of line out, and our first look at this king was quite a distance out, but close enough to elicit ‘oh my God’ or ‘holy mackerel’ from my boat mates.

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The King Jumps

After what seemed like thirty minutes but in truth was probably closer to five, I had gained line. About thirty feet off the stern the fish slowly crested the surface, then dove. It quickly took back some line and jumped, nearly lifting its entire body out of the water, shaking its head. The plug suddenly flew towards my head. I ducked. I cursed. I wondered what I did wrong.

Humbled and shaking my head in disbelief, I slumped in a chair. A buzz of excitement lingered in the moist air, only to die away when it was discovered that the hook broke. My disbelief shifted.

Thankfully, the morning bite was on. In short order it was Mark’s turn up. The starboard rod went down and he was fishing. His fishing was cut short when the line broke. My disbelief grew.

Dad was next up. All eyes were on him to change our luck. Fish on and he was in the fight. He uttered something about the fish being gone and was admonished by the captain to keep reeling. Sure enough, like kings will do, this fish was running toward the boat. Slack was taken and line tension regained. Finally, a nice looking fish was brought onboard.

It was soon clear that the fishing this day wasn’t going gangbusters. Some boats were still without even a hook up. The rest of the morning disappeared as we continued to troll, leaving behind the bulk of the “fleet” to chase bait balls in deeper water.

Time gets lost in the gray of an overcast ocean, but within a couple of hours Rowland and Jessie were able to land fish.

No way this fish was getting away.

Big Fish of the Trip

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Rowland & His King

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Jessie & Big Fish of the Day

Jessie’s king was crowned Big Fish of the Day. Unfortunately, I don’t think anyone can be certain if Greg missed the hookset on a few fish or not.

The trip back to port always seems much longer when a boat hasn’t limited out. Did we have a good time as a group? I think the answer is yes, it was a good guys’ day out.

However… Reflecting upon our halibut experience in Alaska didn’t help Mark and me to find a way of reconciling what we’d come to call hardware failures. There won’t be a next time. We’d rather put the money towards the next trip to Alaska.

I’m already eyeing dates in 2012.

Early morning, rocking boat; just about enough put anyone dad to sleep.
Greg (at the end of the video) thinks it's pretty funny.


my summer vacation 2010 – post #1

My PNW vacation is over. Family were visited, friendships started, fish sought and some caught. In between there was beer, uncle time, time to myself, and general re-acquaintance with the place.

Thrust back into the routine, I’ll be back at work today, and have the weekend to recover, in between yard work and car washing. In the rear view mirror are great memories that began a week and a day ago.

This trip was marked with my first experience flying with fly fishing gear, including two rods and matching reels. Despite worries that TSA personnel might consider fly line a strangling risk, not once did I have to submit to questions or a strip search of any kind. I did, however, leave desiccant (a white, nondescript powder to non fly fishers) at home to avoid the whole anthrax issue.

The retired folks who raised us took time out of their busy schedule to provide transport to my lodging, which, funny enough, they also provided, and without any hint of compensation. (We’ll get back to that.) I’d love to say that Mother Nature welcomed me to Seattle with blazing sunshine, but, well, it’s Seattle: overcast and gray. I interrupted the ride home with a stop for lunch in celebration of Mom’s birthday. My brother and his family, in a surprise appearance, joined us. It was a fun family meal.

The first beer I've met that I didn't like.

That evening, thanks to wifely permission, “little brother” Mark and I headed out for a bit of a beer adventure. I’d like to say that I never met a beer I didn’t like. That’s no longer true after our experience that evening with a flight at a local bar and grill. Of seven beers, we deemed only one barely acceptable for our palates. And we’re not beer snobs. Thankfully, it was the time together that mattered more than the beer, and after moving along to another source, we found better-tasting brew. I remember later appreciating that my brother’s wife put out the air mattress, and laying down. That’s it. Sleep came fast.

Next I knew, it sounded as if cartoon characters where running around the house. Nephews Kaden and Levi were up and it was time to begin some “uncling.” I don’t claim any particular knack for this art, but there’s a certain pride that comes with one’s nephews (or nieces, but I don’t’ have any) knowing you’re the uncle. It’s even better when they remember you because of fun times. (Insert comment here about me acting their age.)

Fair is fair, so Mark and I stayed with the boys to allow their mom a bit of away time. As an uncle who grew up when the biggest video game was PONG, it was natural that I’d join the ‘phews in a game of Super Mario. With a timer set to ruin our fun at any moment, we jumped into the game as I struggled to recall how to play; all the while watching the boys go Donkey Kong all over me. Called back to reality by the buzz of the timer, we gobbled down some breakfast and assembled for a walk in the woods along the Skykomish River.

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The Nephews at the Skykomish River

If there’s any one thing that I like about the upper King County/Snohomish County area, it’s the easy access to nature, whether woods, rivers or mountains. It was a good time walking on trails in the Al Borlin Park, which parallels the Skykomish. A good place to get some fresh air, throw rocks into the river and just be outside. Also an opportunity for an uncle to show off his mad rock-skipping skills.

We closed the day with a late and long lunch at the folks’ place.

Then it was time to hit the sack early. Alarms were set for 3:30 a.m. in anticipation of Saturday’s salmon fishing. For some of us it would be fishing, hooking, but not landing; but that’s the next post, which should be number two of three.