fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)


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is anybody home?

The excuses could include the fact that it’s the holiday season, it’s too doggone cold and that the general trout season is closed. Simply, I’ve been busy. Funny thing, though, is that I’m okay with not fly fishing for a while.

It struck me this week how I often remain oblivious to many of the changes in my life. It’s nothing I’m concerned about, and actually pleasant to know that our now kid-less life is evolving into an adventure.

The world is full of books, blogs and articles addressing what one might or should do when the next is inevitably empty. Free time can become something to be filled. Rooms may remain vacant and unused. Hours or days can be occupied reading those books, blogs and articles, or that time can be devoted to doing something that’s enjoyed.

Our time has been spent exploring, taking on a new hobby, re purposing space throughout the house; most of the time doing so together. Last fall’s adventure discovering new places not too far from the cabin will hopefully become part of all of our future visits. One new(ish) hobby is target shooting, something that hearkens back to my growing up years, but has grown to encompass a refinement of skills. Karen took up a new course of study a while ago; I’m exploring — more formally — certain interests, including Javascript and creative writing. I hope to get out on the motorcycle a bit more.

Sure, I turned 50 this year, but like many birthdays it was like every day of my life so far; marked by subtle transition rather than a sudden transformation.

The preceding years were largely artificially constrained by scheduling imposed by schooling, not something I resent, but impactful nonetheless.

Now, I’m looking forwards to more closely following the rhythms of nature.


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being forced to slow down and take the road less stressful

It was shaping up that this week might be the last rain-free week in which I could ride the Honda to work every day. I’d not ridden enough this year and winter was closing in.

My commute is 27 miles, mostly on highway, and the traffic’s generally moving at the speed limit when I’m headed to work. This time of year the mornings are chilly enough to prompt a wish for heated grips but the afternoons usually offer perfect riding weather.

Nearing the off ramp that’d put me on city streets for about a mile before reaching the office, my CB750 started to get a little squirrelly; just enough to convince me to slow down. The last turn before the office required too much effort and I knew from previous experience that the rear tire was losing air. It turned out my year-old rear tire was going flat.

I’d made it to the office and there was nothing that could be done immediately. I’d later learned that it was puncture about the size of a 30-penny nail (that’s pretty big). I called a few shops near the office and tried Fix-a-Flat, but in the end my son — who luckily had the day off — was willing to provide transportation home and pick up the bike the next day.

The response to this event, mine and of those around me, was interesting, particularly when others realized that you usually don’t carry a spare tire on a motorcycle. My calmness in the face of this dilemma surprised me. Perhaps it was the friendless of the people at the local shops, who despite being unable to help me, wished me good luck (in a sincere manner).

Riding a motorcycle is a choice. Hopefully a conscious choice that include being safe. For me a choice that’s been about slowing down and worrying less; taking it slow not only when it’s prudent but also knowing that the places I’m going will probably be there whenever I arrive.


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the conundrum of working-class guy’s fly fishing vehicle

Ask around, do a little research and you’ll likely find that the question “what’s the best vehicle for fly fishing” is often answered “truck.”

But I’m still paying into social security so others can fly fish when they want a working stiff. I need transportation that is, first and foremost, reliable, and just as important, economical. I have to spend money on gas to make money, and the less I spend upfront the better.

During better weather, the Honda CB750 and its 45+ miles per gallon is a fine option. But it’s difficult to load the necessary fly fishing gear, and the cooler of post-fishing beer, on a motorcycle. I’ve tried.

Being a bit obsessive about conducting research on anything that will cost more than $50, I’ve been thinking — probably too much according to those around me — about the vehicle that, in about 1½ to 2 years, will replace my current 2003 Honda Accord. Since I’ll likely buy a certified pre-owned car, it’s going to be something currently on the market. My current car gets 30 to 32 mpg most of the time, and on long trips to fishing venues, I’ve seen 34+ mpg. But over 80% of my driving is commuting to and from work.

I’ve debated the merits of various models, including sport utility vehicles and all-wheel-drive cars. A hybrid is out of the question; too heavy and not enough clearance for the occasional Forest Service road. Subaru is a commonly offered up make as an all-encompassing solution. But I’ve noticed two things: most Subaru owners talk about the sportiness of the ride, the go-almost-anywhere capability, but rarely praise their cars’ mpg, and it seems to be a roll of the dice when it comes to build quality. That might be said about any make, but that’s my experience.

Despite the fact that I’ve been a Honda owner for well over 20 years, I opened up my consideration to other options, particularly now that the mpg on midsize sedans is edging up.

But, and a bit ironically, it’s fly fishing that helped firmed up my decision. At least for now.

I’ve driven my Honda on a good many, only slightly improved, Forest Service roads. Sometimes for miles, over the relatively soft dirt along the Upper Owens River, for example, or over rocks on my way to the Little Walker River, and on washboard roads in the hills behind the cabin.

Still, the doggone car doesn’t squeak or rattle.

I’m hoping this will still hold true for my next car, until that someday when I can justify a dedicated fishing truck.


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my early thanksgiving

Yesterday the shield on my helmet was dotted with mist. Clouds showed up early in the morning and again hover above today. Temperatures have noticeably dropped and the first reports of snow in the Sierras have filtered down to the lowlands. Tomorrow we’ll be making the annual trek to Camino, Calif., and the ranches that make up Apple Hill. It’s clear that fall has hit Northern California.

It’s a time of year that sparks in me some introspection. Though it’s far from over, there’s an almost instinctive looking back on the year; recalling the new friendships — however temporary they may be — as the days are filled with one activity or another. The opportunity for these friendships was the answer to a recent question, as I was beginning to adopt another hobby, if it might just be one hobby too many.

The answer is no. Whether motorcycling, fly fishing or shooting, a welcome sense of belonging emerges as I learn from, and about, those pursuing similar interests, or simply enjoy the camaraderie.

It may be a bit early, but that’s certainly a reason for thanksgiving.


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folks might think I’m one of those guys, but I’m now old enough to not care

This is how my journey of self discovery (one of many recently) started this week:

“The new seat for my custom motorcycle seat arrived today. I’m going to test ride it tomorrow,” I told my brother, realizing that its arrival Monday sort of made it a birthday gift to myself.

“Cool. How much did that cost?” asked Mark.

“Oh, about $400…”

“You mush like your tush…”

The conversation went on with justifications about spending that kind of money, talk about long rides that have been planned for some as-yet unset date.

I’m certainly not wealthy, but with a bit of scrimping and saving in other parts of my life, I can equip myself with motorcycle (or fly fishing) gear that increases my enjoyment. Good gear is worth it: not thinking about how my butt may start to go numb is priceless.

Stuart Smalley

“I deserve good things, I am entitled to my share of happiness. I refuse to beat myself up. I am an attractive person. I am fun to be with.” Three out of four ain’t bad. Dig the sweater.

I’m tough on all my gear, but the big name waders I purchased almost five years ago only recently needed repair after hiking through brambles and blackberries, scrambling over boulders, only to be unceremoniously crumbled and thrown in the trunk until their next use or being unpacked and hopefully cleaned at home.

There’s also that one rod I use most, even when it’s not an exact match for my quarry, even when it’s a bit too long for the brush-lined banks of relatively small water. It’s the one that casts best. I don’t have to accommodate the rod, it fits me. Like that motorcycle seat, I don’t think about it, it just does its job. Also like that seat, my favorite wasn’t cheap. But it does everything that I ask of it, without me asking.

In some respects, I was a fly fishing snob in my formative fishing years, arguing that landing a 14-inch trout on my less-than-$100 rod was equivalent to a 21-inch fish on more expensive gear. Back then, I figured waving around a more expensive rod would scream “poser.” Perhaps I’m wiser now. Or, like that honey badger, I just don’t care.

Luckily, my wife’s been the most ardent support of my purchasing good stuff. I’ve just been a bit too miserly to listen. So when the bill comes, she can’t complain. She started it.


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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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late summer lament, wife on the motorcycle, and a reminder from Churchill

"Four Seasons-Fenner Nature Center" photo collage by Aunt Owwee, used under creative commons licenseHi, I’m Patrick and I’m a fly fisherman. I cast my last fly…

Late Summer Lament

It’d soften the blow to say that I fell off the wagon this summer. The truth is that I nearly missed the wagon entirely.

There are plenty of excuses for not fly fishing as much as I’d have liked this summer. Sure, high water on many of the rivers for much of the summer is another lame excuse. Thankfully, I’m gainfully employed, which while providing the funds for fishing, also limits the time in which to do so.

I did squeeze in some quality and numbers of fish on the few trips I did make, but it’s been too many days. I’m feeling the shakes. The hope is to get in a quick fix next weekend.

But here in California summer won’t wane until late September, although the high country where I prefer to chase trout will have a light dusting of fall colors by then. That’s when we’ll expect to make up for lost opportunities. It’s the annual club trip and my time there this year will be nearly doubled. The chance of larger fish will also be raised with the hope of spending many of those days on a favorite lake that’s lately been giving up some big brown, rainbow and cutthroat trout.

In between now and then, we’ll be heading to Alaska via a cruise ship, giving devoted attention to The Wife, and there will be no fishing. We’re saving up for a week-long fishing trip in The Last Frontier sometime in the coming year. Or the next.

More Adventure on Two Wheels

The Wife surprised me a while ago. “So, when are you going to take me on the motorcycle?”

There’s no telling if it’s the experience gained over a few years of riding or the miles, or maybe the idea of snuggling at speed, but it was clear she was serious after a little discussion. I knew she used to ride, back when rashness of youth focused on the “bad boys” with their Harleys motorcycles.

After buying a helmet last Saturday (not pink and no rhinestones, thank you), we rode on Sunday. Not too many miles, about 15, but enough for me to get the feel of having a passenger. All went well, no doubt helped along by The Wife’s previous riding experience.

Having a wife supporting her husband’s hobby is pretty near; to join in, definitely a bonus.

When Fly Fishing Wasn’t a Political Photo Op

During some general browsing of the web, I came across the article below from the Ottawa Citizen, dated August 28, 1943. It struck me as an illustration of the resolve of leaders not too many years ago. Despite the troubles of the world, time was taken to enjoy a favored pursuit (albeit during a secret meeting codename Quadrant). A reminder, despite the troubles of today, to slow down and savor that which we enjoy.

Churchill Goes Trout Fishing after Secret Confab, Ottawa Citizen, Aug. 28, 1943 (Google News Archive)

Churchill Goes Trout Fishing after Secret Conference in Quebec,
from the Ottawa Citizen, Aug. 28, 1943 (via the Google News Archive)