fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)


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you’ll just have to trust me

“…Facebook is responsible for the death of thousands of fish a year due to people mishandling fish as they pose for victory shots.”
      — attributed to Brian O’Keefe, co-founder of Catch Magazine in “An Upstream Journey, Dispatch #5: Taking a Break in Bend” by Paul Moinester


It’s become accepted in an era of InstaFaceGooTumblr that without visual evidence you’re not to be believed.

…which explains the fact that a search of “fly fishing photography” yields over 20 million results. It appears customary for articles about “catch and release” in mainstream fly fishing media and other outlets to include how to take a grip and grin with minimal impact on the fish. Even a few detail how the solitary fisherman can take better photos.

My experience fishing alone has taught me that there is no easy way to take a decent photo. When I did, it was only to prove my fly fishing prowess luck.

NoPhotoNot anymore.

It could be argued that trout are the most beautiful freshwater game fish. Yes, their coloration goes beyond simple camouflage, it is sprinkled with a subtle and unmatched beauty for which words are inadequate.

I’d like to say it’s that beauty that leads fly fisherman so often post or carry photos of fish. But more often than not, these poses — “hero shots” — show a fish in a most unnatural environment: out of water, often in midair, and in a human’s hands.

Getting a good photo when fishing solo is something I haven’t mastered. There’s the bumbling for the camera once the fish is in the net. The instant the camera’s turned on the trout, at least the ones I land, decide to be as uncooperative as possible. Most of my first shots are unattractive photos of their backs. There might be a second attempt but by the third try, sympathy for the fish wins, and I let it slide out from the net.

That’s not to say I won’t take any fish photos whatsoever when fishing solo, but there’ll be no more arm’s length shots; maybe photos only of that remarkable fish, landed quickly and handled minimally, in the net in the water. With any luck, I’ll learn how to take underwater shots.

Next time I tell you I landed a few trout, you’ll just have to trust me.


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when every leaf is a flower

Big Trees & Fall Color

Big Trees & Fall Color

I, for one, believe the best adventures of childhood were often found in the backyard or within one’s immediate neighborhood. As adults we learn of the wider world, of places that are ancient and historical, mysterious, full of wild lands and animals. It’s true, but a life lived yearning to visit these places can let the wonder right outside our door slip away unnoticed.

It was expected that this week at the cabin would entail local exploration, the type of exploration allowed only by ignoring the clock and following a path chosen in the few moments before our next step.

So it was that Karen and I found ourselves at Calaveras Big Trees State Park, after, of course, stopping along the way to pick up seasonal favorites: apple cider donuts and fresh-pressed cider. I was familiar with the area, which is about an hour away from the cabin, but only as an extension of my search for new fishing waters, namely Beaver Creek and the North Fork of the Stanislaus River. To explain briefly, Calaveras Big Trees was created to preserver two groves of some of the most massive giant sequoia trees. (Not always the tallest, but volumetrically the world’s largest trees.) These are Sequoiadendron giganteum, the inland relative to the perhaps more familiar coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens.

The morning was spend wandering among these enormous trees, looking upward until our neck muscles complained during a hike that covered a few miles. But if the sequoias were the big stars of the show, big leaf maples and dogwoods were the flashy supporting players; this time of year decked out in shades of red, yellow and orange. Their dazzling colors proving that “Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.”1

Pictures are worth more words than I could possible write, so below is a gallery, a glimpse of what we saw.

1 Albert Camus


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hiking through history

We snuck out of the Bay Area on the Thursday a week ago for long weekend, planning to cram a bit of everything into the time we had.

Railroad ties at the West Side Rail Grade trail head.

Railroad ties at the West Side Rail Grade trail head.

In a new spirit of exploring unknown parts of familiar territory, we ended up on the West Side Rail Grade the next morning. The trail — really a former narrow-gauge railbed — begins on Buchanan Road in Tuolumne City and is carved into the hillside above the North Fork Tuolumne River, on the north side of the canyon. It was christened in 1898 as the Hetch Hetchy & Yosemite Valley Railroad under the ownership of the West Side Lumber Co., which used narrow-gauge railroads in the Sierra Nevada Mountains until the 1960s. The HH&YV was primarily employed to haul fresh-cut logs from the sugar pine forests of eastern Tuolumne County to the West Side Lumber Mill in Tuolumne City.

The trailhead is just outside of town, and the first 100 yards are marked by decomposing railroad ties that look like worn steps. After that, most of the trail is exposed, which left us to bake in a remarkably hot morning sun. There are a couple places where benches and tables allow for a break in the shade, and a sprinkling of poison oak along the trail encourages one to stick to the well-worn path.

Though I’m not a history buff, per se, it’s a pleasant surprise to find remains of history in situ. About a mile down the trail we came across long portions of ties and rails, with the trail occasionally shifting from one side of the tracks to the other.

Rails of the Hetch Hetchy & Yosemite Valley Railroad.

Rails of the Hetch Hetchy & Yosemite Valley Railroad.

The grade slopes gently downward, at least for as far as we hiked, and it would be a great place to break in some new boots. Had we continued the full 4½-plus miles, we could have soaked our toes in the North Fork of the Tuolumne River, near Basin Creek. (I originally discovered part of the West Side Rail trail while exploring Forest Service land above Long Barn, and while fishing an upstream portion of the Tuolumne, but have since determined that was another section of the trail that stretches from Hull Creek to the Clavey River, that that’s another hike for another time.)

Hot and happy dog.

Hot and happy dog.

We met a few folks along the way: an overachiever who was jogging uphill and a few women who walk it almost every day, one of whom had made a dramatic move from the northern California coastal town of Bolinas to the much drier Sierra foothills.

With the full heat of the sun soon approaching, we left the exploration of a last blind curve for another time, and headed back. This day we had the dog with us and I don’t know if it was he or I who was panting more in the heat.

I have a feeling, though, that we’ll see more of this trail in the spring.

 

 


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respite from curveballs

Sometimes life just throws a curveball. Two weeks ago it felt like every curveball was followed by another.

So, I abandoned the original plans to sandwich a cabin visit with the sister and family between two full days of fishing and just go with the flow.

That meant the two-and-a-half hour drive to Twain Harte stretched out to about four, interrupted by a longer than usual stop at Bass Pro.

It also took longer than usual to coax that first trout to take a fly in a nearby stream.

Back at the cabin, I whiled away some time reading and generally taking it easy.

The sister, her husband and two sons taller than most everyone pulled in about noon Friday. Soon enough we were beating the heat at Twain Harte Lake. A visit to the cabin is a mixed blessing during hot weather; the lake offers respite, complete with an old-school snack shack with burgers, fries, milkshakes and snow cones. The cabin, however, and despite a lack of insulation, seems to retain all the heat of the day well into the evening.

The nephews goaded their parents into the usual swim to a platform near the center of the lake, then a swim to “The Rock.” Then back. I admired their energy from shore, dipping my feet in the water and reading. The afternoon was completed with a visit to the snack shack.

Normally the only overexertion on my vacations entails scrambling over boulders and under downed trees in search of trouts that sometimes aren’t there. Saturday I opted for an easy, sure thing, fishing a well-stocked creek that’s often pounded by the put-and-take crowd. This day I’d be alone for well into four hours, targeting specific fish and trying to coax dry-fly takes.

I found my cabin mates finishing up the breakfast clean up when I returned about mid-morning. They planned to hit the local disc golf course, and I figured I’d lug my camera along. I’ve come to realize that I don’t have a lot of hero shots of myself during fishing, hiking, motorcycling, etc., so I’m trying to step in to take a few photos for folks when I can.

The boys pondering Luci's shot. Missed by that much.

The boys pondering Luci’s shot. Missed by that much.

This disc golf course is purely a volunteer effort that gets some financial support from the local community, and it’s nice to see younger folks join in the creation of something positive. The course winds its way through a now fallow traditional golf course, over an irrigation ditch and under a flume.

My nephew Nicholas plays Ultimate Frisbee and might be expected to be the odds-on favorite, and while Tom, his father, will deny his intense completive streak, it quickly became clear that the rest of us were there to, pretty much, watch a one-on-one match. On the fourth basket (hole) another player gave us another disc, allowing me to participate. Like the amateur I am, there was a lot of wasted effort spent on power when form was more important. I later learned that my arm isn’t as young as it used to be. There was no use keeping track of my score; I was always one stroke behind Tom or Nick. And where either of them could curve a Frisbee around an obstacle, my choice was limited to going straight through if I could or give it a very wide berth. The competition would end with Tom winning by a stroke. I believe Tom also won our game of mini golf that evening.

The afternoon was again spent on the beach, with swimming, conversation, tossing of the Frisbee and a return to the snack shack.

Proving that there’s not competiveness in their family, Tom and Nick returned to the disc golf course the morning before our departure for a grudge friendly rematch. Nick recovered some dignity with a win.

This short trip was a welcome, unscripted getaway.


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dusting off good memories

Just about two weeks ago I awoke to two unfamiliar sights that dusted off old memories. Bright sunshine, a cloudless sky and startlingly green lawns made possible by man’s influence on the course of water in this Southern California desert.

I hadn’t been in Riverside County for more years that I care to count, and this was the first time in a long while that I was visiting the lower half of the state without any plan or itinerary. There was a more mundane reason for this trip, but much of the time it offered a chance to really look around.

There’s always a risk that memories won’t match up with the reality of a place after the passing of decades years. Not this time. Sure, there probably where more people, more cars on the road, and more of those funky strip malls that seem endemic to Southern California, but it was the nature of the place — something that I tend to tune into more than man-made landmarks — that matched my memories.

My viewpoint was a bit muddled…I had spent my early high school years looking east to find Mt. San Jacinto; this trip it was west. But much of the terrain was familiar. The steep escarpments of the San Jacinto and Santa Rosa mountain ranges. The dramatic demarcation between the watered and arid land of the Coachella Valley. The canyons carved over decades by flash floods. Clusters of course native grasses and sparse bushes watched over by the occasional ironwood tree.

A beauty of its own.

A beauty of its own.

High above were the “sky islands” of the mountains. The Palm Springs Aerial Tram took us from a dry canyon (2,643 ft.) to the near alpine conditions surrounding the mountain station at 8,516 ft., where the snow was in the foreground of a view of the vast and dry valley below. This engineering marvel — only the first tower is accessible by road, the others only on foot and by helicopter — passes through five climate zones during its 2.5 mile climb.

Looking out over Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley desert from 8,500 feet.

Looking out over Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley desert from 8,500 feet.

Our drive one day included a stop at one of the big date ranches in Indio, where I was reminded how much I enjoy that fruit. (Those with lower moisture content, thus not sticky, can be good snacks to carry during hunting and fishing…) We also passed the Salton Sea, an ecological oddity that no one seems to know what to do with.

It’s always a risk revisiting a place of the “good ol’ days.” I’d dare say that this trip, and memories it created, were almost as good as those days long gone.


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worrying about women in fly fishing

I worry about women in fly fishing and how it might affect me.

Not because women take instruction better and may easily out cast and out fish me. Not because every other fly fishing blog post seems to include an image of any number of women that attract attention away from the fish they might be holding. I’m not so worried that with the emergence of fly fishing gear for women, I might someday try on a pair of waders only to find them a bit snug in the wrong places. I’m also not worried about the women-only fly fishing outings. (I can always volunteer to be the camp cook, right?) And I’m not worried that women tend to generally be better fly fishers than men. There are already so many people, male and female, who are more accomplished fly fishers than I.

Maybe it’s a self-confidence issue. I don’t view myself as that rugged, burly guy. Thank God my wife loves me, but I tend to fall in the adorkable category, leaning slightly more toward dork. Suffice to say, I don’t really stand out in any way. I can easily disappear in a crowd.

I am worried, however, that in any photo, even if I’m holding a sparkling, iridescent 24-inch trout, I’ll be upstaged by any women fly fisher who happens along to help with the netting.

The evidence is below. Not fly fishing, to be sure, and even though the deckhand is behind a decent halibut and attired in unflattering foul-weather gear, most comments about this photo weren’t about the fish, but about much she was leaning in, her smile, etc.

Me, my fish and the deckhand who’d fillet it.