fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)


fishing is a system (and it has a connection to Dilbert)

At the recommendation of my brother, I picked up a copy of Scott Adams’ “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big” about a week ago. Yes, it’s an actual book with words printed on pages. Adams is the creator of the Dilbert cartoon.

Adams BookI’d usually dismiss this type of book. Too often advice or self-improvement books reflect on an author’s early years, that period of time when one can afford to fail, eat broke food and sleep on a friend’s sofa.

One of the precepts presented early in Adams’ book is the idea of adopting “systems” as opposed to focusing on goals. The argument is that “…goals are a reach-it-and-be-done situation, whereas a system is something you do on a regular basis… Systems have no deadlines, and on any given day you probably can’t tell if they’re moving you in the right direction.”

It’d be absurd to suggest I have a fly fishing ‘style.’ I do have a system. All fishermen do, whether dunking worms, chucking hardware or casting flies.

Whatever the form of fly fishing, it’s a system that counts on a systematic approach. Tenkara requires a specific simple fly fishing system – consisting of a rod, level line (nylon, monofilament or fluorocarbon) and a fly – while a classical fly fishing system adds a reel and a tapered fly line made of PVC, vinyl, polyurethane or other similar materials.

When it comes to getting on or in the water, every fly fisher has an approach, a system. Oh, we like to claim we can adapt to changing conditions – and we can – but that adaptation is part of a system, whether entrenched in the scientific study of entomology or simply successes or failures of past fishing excursions.

Reading “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big” got me to thinking about the evolution of my system.

In the early years of my fly fishing career, I focused on out-fishing everyone around me. My brother tends to try to quantify various aspects of life, and he observed after I took him on his first real fly fishing experience that even he, with limited skills and even less technique, was hooking about three fish to every one brought in by the bait and hardware anglers within view. Full disclosure: I took a little evil pleasure in catching and releasing enough fish to make the meat fishers almost livid, particularly when I slipped fat fish back into the water. I sort of still do.

Numbers offer an easy measurement of how much one wins. However – and there’s no pinpointing when it happened – somewhere along the line my idea of “winning” shifted to a competition between myself and the fish. A new system, if you will; one that wasn’t aimed at landing a fish. This one focused on an internal challenge: becoming a better fly fisher. Milestones – not a goals – marked by fooling a fish. Often a specific fish…that one that no one else could tempt.

Without a deadline, without a focus on an end goal, the greater reward is the experience and the milestones along the way. Here’s hoping that this season there will be more experiences and milestones.

What’s your system?


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on being a more imaginative fly fisher

There’s a fear that can creep over me in the company of other fly fishermen. Those who know me personally are likely to agree there’s a touch of restraint in my personality. Blending into a crowd is specialty learned during middle school; let’s spin it as a well-honed survival skill. Thankfully, in the years since, I have been able to put myself out there with the backing of friends and colleagues, though I still haven’t totally abandoned my introversion.

It was a recent podcast that made me realize that perhaps that fear coincides with the niggling thought that I may be a lazy fly fisher.

But I will hike to the fish. There was no hesitation last summer to march three miles into high-altitude lakes for brook trout no longer than the spread of my hand. I also tie flies. I built a fly rod. And it’s no problem getting up early to spend the day driving the 240-mile loop that takes me over Tioga Pass and Sonora Pass, alongside high-elevation streams and lakes as well as high-desert rivers.

I still feel a bit unworthy among my fly fishing peers. When others are describing the physical skill it took to lay a dry fly in front of a big trout 40 feet away, across four different currents and through 30 mile-per-hour crosswinds, I have no response. Oh, I’m catching fish to be sure. Just with less effort. It’s called nymphing; often under an indicator or dry fly.

It’s not that I’m apprehensive of trying different techniques. I’ll swing small wet flies, cast dries as far as I can — maybe 20 feet accurately — and chuck streamers when an opportunity presents itself.

Thinking about it, after being hammered by messages in blogs, podcasts and online forums that nymphing is inelegant (it is), too productive to be considered a real challenge and more akin to lure fishing than fly fishing, it occurs to me that nymphing, in fact, requires a bit more creativity than other tactics.


Nymphing often requires visualizing where your fly is and what its doing; rarely can you see it like a dry fly. It takes some thinking to set the depth at which that bead-head fly might be presented to fish hugging the stream bottom.

Observational skills are much more important. With dry flies you can rely on visual cues. When swinging flies, the take is abrupt and obvious. Nymphing, however, requires keen observation of subtle clues: the movement of the rod tip, the twitch of a strike indicator, even a suspicious flash of color. It takes skill to discern a take from your fly bumping simply into a rock or snag or hanging up on weeds.

What I’m trying to imply is that there’s another level of mental dexterity involved in nymphing and not required of other tactics. All tactics benefit from some knowledge of fish habits, hydrology and entomology and basic situational awareness.

Nymphing, however, requires imagination.

Guess that’s why it works so well for a day dreamer like me.

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a tacky fly box, almost what I need

So this week my news feed coughed up an item about a Kickstarter campaign to fund the development of newfangled Tacky Fly Boxes.

Reading the Tacky Fly Boxes vision statement it seemed to me that it’s not fly retention that’s my problem; it’s retention of the entire box. The entire box should be coated in tacky stuff.

About seven years ago I stumbled upon a stretch of river that wasn’t more than 30 minutes away from the cabin by road, but in the early trout season offered an opportunity to fish in solitude. It’s an area deep within a canyon where dogwood and pines filter the sunlight. Only occasionally is the shade is broken by shafts of light, lending an emerald-green cast to the air. The river is lined by boulders much of its length here, and stepping from rock to rock is necessary.

The excitement that comes with discovering new water was amplified by the willing rainbows. It was the kind of catching that’s so good you purposely slow down to savor each cast, hookset and fish itself. But this was my early days of fly fishing. I hadn’t yet acquired any habits or routines.

A sampling of our likely weapons of choice.

At $1 or more each, they add up.

The plan that day was to fish one river in the morning and another in the afternoon. When I arrived at the second river I reached into my vest pocket, unzipped and now empty. No fly box. It’d be a lie to say there was no panic. To those who say fly fishing really isn’t that expensive, try losing an almost full fly box. Buying a few flies at a time doesn’t seem like much; add them up and it can be tidy sum.

After only a short internal debate I headed back to the first river. It should have been a futile search. More than likely, the fly box was about five miles downstream by now.

Retracing my steps, on the last boulder, nestled in moss, was my fly box.

I’ve adopted on-the-water rituals since then. I have lost a net to some trees while hiking through thick bush. One rod’s been broken. That fly box, however, was the one lost item that made me question taking up this hobby.

I didn’t give up. It’s all been downhill ever since.

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reality television makes me seem so smart (or, can you drown a fish?)

Whenever I’m flipping channels, I find myself stopping all too often on one reality television or another and occasionally spend too much time staring in disbelief. Few are engaging enough to warrant a season pass on the Tivo.

To me, reality television seems makes everyone else appear way more broken or stupid than myself or anyone I know, and if watched with the proper amount of cynicism, the absurdity quickly transforms into at least amusement, if not eventually outright hilarity. It’s almost a form of therapy that can make one feel so much better about one’s lot in life. (Full disclosure: Karen and I regularly watch “COPS,” and we figure there’s got to be a drinking game centered on the common suspect retort, “These aren’t my pants.”)



two birds, one stone

I tend to keep the soapbox tucked away when writing for this modest blog, but sometimes errant thoughts are worth sharing, particularly when they might just benefit all of us while making the most use of federal tax dollars. The following is presented without further editorializing.

Gun Control Proposals Marriage Control Proposals
Require universal background checks for all gun sales, including those by private sellers that currently are exempt. Require universal background checks for all marriages, especially those performed by private Las Vegas chapels.
Limiting ammunition magazines to 10 rounds. Limiting marital arguments to 10 rounds.
Financing programs to train more police officers, first responders and school officials on how to respond to active armed attacks. Financing programs to train more marriage officiants on how to respond to and dissolve ill-advised engagements.
Starting a national safe and responsible gun ownership campaign. Starting a national safe and responsible marriage campaign.
Send a letter from ATF to licensed dealers with guidance on how to facilitate background checks for private sellers. Send a letter from The Library of Congress to licensed marriage facilitators (civil, religious and otherwise) with guidance on how to facilitate background checks AND DNA TESTS for both engaged parties.
Remove barriers that prevent states from reporting information on people prohibited from gun ownership for mental health reasons. Remove barriers that prevent states from reporting information on people prohibited from marriage for mental health reasons.


a not-so-rugged Bass Pro woman

Would a Rugged Eddie Bauer Man or his more “metro” cousin want a Bass Pro Woman?

On the water, particularly from a distance, there’s an unsexy equality brought about by waders that usually don’t fit well, a vest that bulges in all the wrong places and hats that should shelter a small family. Longer hair might be a giveaway, but I’ve met a fair share of more liberal men on the water, so don’t trust that as a sign of gender. It seems this is slowly changing, at least on the waders front.

Bass Pro Lingerie Email

The email.

But yes, in the inbox the other day, that was an email from Bass Pro Shops with a subject line reading, “Shop Our Valentine Lingerie.” Nothing like a pink camisole trimmed in Realtree® camo… (Please, let’s keep the jokes clean.)

The occasions that found me visiting the Manteca, Calif., Bass Pro Shops store, it has only been a because it’s a convenient stop on the drive to the Sierra foothills (and because there aren’t any good, easily accessed fly shops along the route). I only pass by the women’s clothing department on the way to pick up some tippet or leader, and I’ve never seen any lingerie on display, but it’s clear the retailer is taking aim at indoor recreation.

However, I don’t think lingerie will do a great job of wicking away moisture under breathable waders.


not catching fish is no excuse to toss your bobber/spinner/PowerBait in my direction

Remember last week’s more rhapsodic post about finding solitude and fooling fish with dry flies? And then my comment about the contentedness found on that new stretch of river?

Well, the next day was a little bit different.

I knew that there’d be little or no solitude that day. This was a creek well know among the locals and regular visitors alike. A place to fill the freezer with hatchery trout or simply have fun catching.

An early riser because of work by design rather than nature, I was on the water at sunup to find a husband and wife beat me to one of the better locations. I fished downstream a bit and after landing a few fish, ventured closer to the couple when the husband abandoned a favorite run. Pleasantries were exchanged and after asking if it would be okay, I moved upstream of the couple. They were fishing with spinners and bait but our conversation reveled them to be well-rounded fisherfolks. Today they hoped to take a limit of fish, while other days on other waters they’d favor catching and releasing with a fly rod. Fish were landed amid enjoyable conversation peppered with suggestions of other worthwhile fishing venues. Limits caught, they departed about mid morning.

During this time, I’d settled in perpendicular to a nice deep section while two older guys began to cast bait into a pool just downstream of where I was fishing. To paint a picture, I was making quartering casts about 15 feet upstream and the roughly 30-foot drift of my flies put them 15 feet below my position before I’d recast. Ten feet below that point, these guys perched on the opposite bank.

Combat FishingThe fishing and catching was good for everyone for about an hour, then slacked off, though the trout were still responding well to flies, both on the surface and subsurface. Like the day before, a well-presented dry would lure a fish from the depths with good deal of drama and splashing that, of course, caught the attention of the other fishermen.

Then it happened. Plop.

A white and red bobber landed less than 5 feet away from me, right in the seam I was working. This would happen half a dozen times more, but since I was still hooking a fish now and again and my ‘competition’ wasn’t, I ignored the uncouth behavior.

However, when another fisherman took up position about 15 feet upstream and let his sunken ball of fluorescent PowerBait float to within a yard and a half of my feet (certainly sneaky if this was intentional), it became clear that these rude manners deserved a response.  But I’m not a confrontational person.  So…

Downstream but within sight of every one of the other fishermen were various pods of trout holding in pockets and depressions and behind rocks. With a new dropper tied onto a stimulator dry fly, I targeted the fish swimming closest to me and, one by one hooked, each. Slowly, I worked my way across the creek until I was casting against the opposite bank. The other guys weren’t catching, so they were watching. Like the day before, I enjoyed watching the reactions of each fish, with the ‘turn‘ telling me how I might adjust my presentation and hinting at where the fish expected to see food.

My response may not have had an impact on these guys (and yes, I knew there’d be others on this water), but after landing more than a dozen fish — then releasing them — while everyone else stood idly by sure made me feel better.


these aren’t the flies you’re looking for

Laying around on my hard drive…from an Alaska fly fishing forum:

Did you (or anyone else) happen to notice a beige plastic fly box on Quartz that weekend of Oct 13th? I last saw mine near the mouth at the lake (on the left side bank) up in the weeds that Wednesday the 10th and noticed it missing when I got back to the car at the bridge. If found please call Dan. It’s full of ugly streamers that don’t catch fish.”

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what we see this Wednesday… (05/18/2011)

  • Nice tale of getting away that takes you there:
  • A student really learning from fly fishing (and fulfilling a class requirement):
  • Tom Chandler of Trout Underground tweets: “One for the ebook; my “advance” copy of John Gierach’s latest book didn’t arrive prior to his interview, so I downloaded ebook. Reading now.” Follows up with post: