fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)


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steelhead weather, mountain trout, and a strong chance of no more opening days

It soon became clear that I had fooled myself.

My fly rod rested, unmoving; my head shook in disgust as discouragement took root.

Being a high-country angler at heart, solace is found in solitude. While this opening day morning was marked by lonely weather, with steel gray clouds and drizzling misery on all below, it was snowing above 5,000 feet. That prevented everyone who had hoped to cross Sonora Pass to fish the eastern Sierras – myself included – stuck to fishing limited waters on the west slope.

My early arrival allowed seclusion for only so long. And if trout had eyelids, I would have argued all but a few had shut their eyes to my flies. But it was nice. All sound was dampened by wet pine needles. Low-hanging clouds induced a preternatural calmness. Drops of rain filtered through the overhanging branches of dogwoods and cedars to finally gather together in larger drops before falling and pockmarking the stream with miniature geysers.

The crunch of tires on gravel sliced through the trees, tearing me from my musing. A first, second, then third vehicle pulled up. Camouflage-clad fishermen, with rods almost as long as the stream is wide, hauled out tackle boxes that could double as streamside seating, and each tipped their hat to me and lined up a few feet away. Hooks were buried into bright red salmon eggs and lines were cast.

I remained stationary. It’s not uncommon to see bait or hardware fisherman travel in packs, but this had caught me off guard. In this spot, however, I am usually alone with a rare visit by one other fisherman.

The small pools I knew were upstream were, despite the drought, rendered temporary inaccessible. Getting to those pools required clambering over a rocky outcropping, and the rainfall during the night – downpours woke me more than once – raised the stream just high enough to make it too dangerous for one who’s not so young anymore. Downstream was a canyon that wasn’t much safer for the same reason.

Snow dictated I head downslope, where there were few options.

Though opening day may nowadays be more routine than tradition, I was on a mission to shake off the rust of winter, to prove that I could still cast and was still fast enough to set a hook (and correspondingly adjust my hook set, whether it was my dry fly or nymph that fooled the fish). And so it was that I was committed to spending the day attempting to reassure myself that given the opportunity during the coming summer and fall, I wouldn’t look like an idiot swinging a stick on a river, creek, stream or lake.

There are a number of waters along Hwys 108 and 120. It would have been preferable to head away from the opening day crowds, likely as far as Goodwin Dam, where its 4-mile stretch of tailwater forms the Lower Stanislaus River. But that would require a steelhead report card that I didn’t think I’d need this year. I wasn’t driving something that could go off road, eliminating a large percentage of other waters. Other possibilities were still closed off by season gates.

There are never-ending debates about the differences between hatchery and wild trout, but wanting fish to fool meant wading into a put-and-take fishery.

By the time I arrived, sunlight was peeking through parting clouds. This is one of those west slope year-round creeks around which is created an oasis of vegetation despite the surrounding dry hills, on which this year the grass is already gold. It’s frequented by meat fishermen who I always hope paid their license fees just as I did.

Opening Day Trout, 2015

Opening Day Trout, 2015

Until the heat of summer, most folks fish the south side of this creek. Waders allow me to access the north side, dropping my flies into seams on the edges of pools and riffles. Fish were there and, hatchery-born or not, seemed to have an appetite for something that looked a bit natural. My catch rate vs. everyone – while not always the case, but often repeated – was about three to one. I have to admit a look of bemusement might cross my face now and again when other anglers scramble to try to duplicate my style or squint at my size 16 and 16 flies, which they likely can’t see from where they are.

More important to me than the numbers was the ratio of fish hooked and those landed. Better than most opening days, I hooked fish on about eighty percent of the takes I saw and of those landed most. A fellow across the way lamented that he didn’t bring his fly rod, but spin casting was the best way to keep his son engaged. That brought back memories in me and a gratefulness that I tried over the years to acquaint my kids with a sport that can bring a lifetime of good times.

This was the first opening day for me in quite a few years. Previous years I spent opening day weekend helping to teach aspiring fly fishers.

My thoughts now have shifted to thinking it would have been better to teach this year’s opening day weekend and instead of waiting for a single day each year, get off my duff and avail myself of the growing number of year-round moving trout waters in the Sierras, both on the west and east slopes.

Lesson learned.


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Sportsmen Descend on DC to Save Bristol Bay (guest post)

Though I’m taking the offer lazy way out and throwing up this guest post by Trout Unlimited on the Outdoor Blogger Network, please put in the effort to click the link below. It’s more than worth our time to fill out the form and pass along our desire to Save Bristol Bay by Stopping Pebble Mine.


The following is a guest post available to all outdoor bloggers who have an interest in the Pebble Mine/Bristol Bay issue. Please feel free to you use it on your blog.

Photo by B.O'Keefe

Photo by B.O'Keefe

Starting Monday, April 16, more than 30 sportsmen from around the country are traveling to the nation’s capitol to let their elected officials and the president know that protecting Bristol Bay is a top priority for hunters and anglers.

This is an important week to show the folks who have the power to protect Bristol Bay that sportsmen are in this fight. We’ve got folks from Alaska, Montana, Michigan, Colorado, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Texas, Wisconsin, Washington, North Carolina, California, Missouri, New York, and Virginia representing this great country and the millions of people who want Bristol Bay to be protected and left just like it is today–pristine and productive.

A recent report by the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation shows that there are 34 million hunters and anglers in the U.S., and we’re a powerful constituency. Every year, we pump $76 billion into the economy in pursuit of our passion, through our spending on gear, licenses, gas, lodging, meals and more. All of that spending and activity directly supports 1.6 million jobs in this country.

We are also an influential group because 80 percent of sportsmen are likely voters – much higher than the national average. And, we also contribute the most money of any group toward government wildlife conservation programs. So, hopefully if we care about an issue and show our support, the decision makers will listen to what we have to say.

In just a few weeks, the EPA will be releasing a draft of its Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment. This huge scientific assessment will likely guide future decisions about large-scale mining and other industrial development in the Bristol Bay region. If they find that disposal of waste from the mine would adversely harm the surrounding clean waters or natural resources, the EPA can deny or place restrictions on a required dredge and fill permit. If warranted, we hope the Obama Administration would take that step to protect Bristol Bay.

You can support the fight for one of planet Earth’s finest and most productive fishing and hunting destinations by taking action today. Fill out this simple form that will send a letter to the President and your members of Congress asking them to protect Bristol Bay. Let’s carry our sportsmen into D.C. with a lot of momentum.


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why the California trout you might catch will be different, though not to your naked eye

Chances are that in the sordid noble history of nearly all fly fishermen, trout were caught, cleaned and eaten. It’s just as likely that these fish were born in a hatchery, raised in concrete runways and trucked to that river, stream, or lake from which they were plucked.

Writing without the encumbrances of real journalism, I can can step out on a limb and offer definitive word that nearly all of the stocked rainbow trout in California soon could be triploids. Yup, them fish that should be asterisk’d in any claim of a record.

Hatchery Upwelling Jars

Hatchery Upwelling Jars

Shifting to triploids by 2014 is the goal, according to California Department of Fish & Game’s Dr. William T. Cox*, Program Manager: Fish Production and Distribution, thanks in part to the 2006 lawsuit filed by the Pacific Rivers Council and the Center for Biological Diversity claiming that CA DFG’s fish stocking did not comply with the California Environmental Quality Act. The nut of the lawsuit was the impact of stocked trout upon anadromous fish populations and other native aquatic species.

While the resulting hatchery environmental impact reports called for the protection of steelhead in anadromous waters below rim dams, CA DFG will expand rainbow triploid production to approximately 90% of the state’s stocking program. The few exceptions will include Eagle Lake, an understandably unnamed southern Sierra source of Kamloops Junction Rainbow broodstock, and hatchery broodstock that will be placed in certain waters when three to four years old.

Triploids aren’t new to California. They were first brought in from out-of-state suppliers, such as Sumner, Wash.-based Troutlodge, then reared in CA DFG hatcheries. The department later developed its own program, with a single apparatus and borrowing methodology from other states that have had success with trout triploidy. This single apparatus was trucked up and down the state, following the spawning of the different rainbow strains.

That will change near the end of this month when additional triploidy pressure shocking machines should arrive from Europe, allowing for the placement of two machines at the Mt. Shasta Hatchery and single machines at the San Joaquin Hatchery and Hot Creek Hatchery. (You can get a good, easy-to-understand outline of triploids and their production at Get Hooked.)

There Be No Monsters Here (and Good News for Natives?)

It seems you can set aside concerns that genetically engineered monster rainbows will be dumped into California waters. These triploid trout will be still be stocked when ½ to ¾ of a pound. (Trivia: The size of trout stocked by CA DFG rose to a target of ½ pound when the general daily limit on trout was reduced to five, from 10 fish. Before that, stocked trout often were smaller.)

Although mandated by 2005’s Assembly Bill 7 — now California Fish and Game Code §13007 — and not directly related to the PRC/CBD lawsuit, Dr. Cox expressed hope that up to 25% of CA DFG’s stocked fish will be heritage species (in terms of numbers) by 2012-13. State hatcheries currently raise Eagle Lake Rainbow (Oncorhynchus mykiss aquilarum), Lahonton Cutthroat (Oncorhynchus clarki henshawi), California (or Volcano Creek) Golden Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss aguabonita) and Steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss).

A fifth heritage trout species should be in production by January 2012. Spelled out in the California Fish & Game Commission’s Current Issues Fall 2010 document are plans to upgrade the infrastructure at the Kern River Hatchery for the production of the native Kern River Rainbow Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss gilberti). Dr. Cox said that Kern River rainbow broodstock should be collected this fall. Long-term plans include the possibility of rearing Lahontan cutthroat trout for the Lake Tahoe basin restoration.

Regardless of one’s opinion of stocked trout, it’s fair to say that those with boots on the ground in California’s hatcheries honestly aim to better the angling experience. Here’s to hoping.


* Yes, he’s a fisherman who spent much of last month fly fishing in Wyoming and Montana.