fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)


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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.

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really? asking for raw honesty from fishermen? a response

Dear fly fishing bloggers,*

I have a confession to make. I have been reading many of your blogs. You don’t know this, because I don’t comment much. My wife disagrees, but often I don’t feel my words will add much to the conversation. I lurk, looking for writing that will take me away from the everyday, writing that will inspire, now and again enjoying others’ stories about water I hope to fish, and some that I probably won’t.

I won’t pretend that my encouragement will reach that many eyes. But, occasionally and perhaps more than admitted, blogging isn’t about catering to readers; it’s about the act of writing. This post, itself, is a modest reaction to a claim on [name redacted]’s another blog that “…99% of fly fishing blogs are boring…” and have followed “…the boring/cyclical path of print.” This seems an unfair assessment, though it is unclear whether this judgment and call for bloggers to “…put it all out there…” is leveled at blogs in general and includes those written by the vast majority who fly fish when they can, and for whom their blog is a hobby and another welcome diversion.

While these charges offer valid advice for all writers, the simplicity of launching and maintaining a blog has redefined freedom of expression. It’s clear that the intention behind some blogs is a simple sharing of experiences with family and friends, and the occasional visitor. They may be written for the joy of the task itself, or to satisfy ego, record for posterity, or to push an idea, belief, or agenda into or onto the world. (Or perhaps, as a response to something read somewhere else?) This blog grew out of ego years ago, initially as a website, to share my life with those few who might be interested. Sure, I’m grateful when more than three readers visit in a week, but this has evolved into a more permanent record, a journal of sorts, through which even I occasionally revisit old memories.

I’d also respectfully submit that many bloggers could be considered the essayists of today, making observations of daily life. It’s easy to recall more famous essayists such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Sarah Margaret Fuller, Arthur Miller, Jonathan Swift or John Updike. But for each one of these writers, many others shared anonymous and perhaps less polished observations and opinions in leaflets, pamphlets, or other media that has since disappeared.

In one respect, blogging is a most public form of learning, with all of one’s mistakes on display. It’s inherent in the learning process that bloggers might unconsciously test styles used by others as they find their way, leading to a sameness. Writing, particularly regularly and regularly well, can be difficult. It requires a well of ideas, opinions, and experiences. These experiences may be limited, and not everyone cares to divulge every personal hiccup in their life. Here I decided early on that certain topics would be verboten; a voluntary limitation on “raw honesty.” I’d suspect this is true with other bloggers. (I can’t help but wonder if in today’s world the term “raw honesty” no longer has any real meaning.)

More widely read bloggers have a better understanding of communal attraction of wistfulness and humor and how rooting posts in common experiences can make writing memorable without need for flowery language and a vast vocabulary. These are plain ideas not so easily applied. And, frankly, I don’t expect this level of writing in every blog, understanding that countless blogs were started out of passion, not because the author was a writer.

Blogs become my favorites simply because the writing or topics touch me in some way. At times I want to escape through the eyes of another, especially when I can’t fish. There’s an attraction in stories that offer differing perspectives of familiar or nearby places. Many times it’s merely catching up with the goings on in a friend’s life.

Reading over what I’ve written here, I asked, “Is this raw honesty?” Honest, yes. Raw, no; that’s just not me. I’m just a regular guy, working a job, with a family, who fly fishes when he can, usually less than he hopes; and for whom his blog is writing and sharing without expectation. Judge my blog as you will.

P.S. A discussion with a friend about whether the wording of this post should be strengthened, interestingly enough, led to an answer in the understanding that being true (honest) to my style offered a subtle metaphor.


* I excised “fellow” originally inserted before “fly fishing bloggers” with the consideration this is not a fly fishing-only blog.


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photo prompt: Ketchikan, a bug, a brother’s visit on granite dome and a couple of sunsets

This post brought to you by the photo prompt
Goodbye Summer…” from the Outdoor Blogger Network (OBN)

It had seemed that summer slipped away, but in these photos is found evidence of time well spent…

At the Top of Lembert Dome

Me, my brother Mark & son Sean a the top of Lembert Dome. (After Mark and I rested for half an hour just a few minutes.)

Promise in the early morning over Ketchikan, Alaska.

Caddis on leaf over Rock Creek, Calif.

Sun Setting west of Juneau, Alaska, above Douglas Island.

Sunset somewhere off the coast of Canada.


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summer sickness (and justification for a dark man cave)

Take it from me; teaching kids to share will come around to bite you in the arse.

Thanks to this lesson — perhaps too well learned? — I was sick this last week. (That’s an optimistic “was.” I’m not quite out of the woods, yet.) I’d never heard a death rattle before and I’m not so certain that I didn’t this week.

Stooping over a fly-tying vise would only exacerbate the wheezing, so that was out of the question. I got what work done that I could then filled the days with reading, sniffles, television, coughing, and video games peppered with vacant stares into space. It’s been 10-plus years since I’ve suffered through a summer cold and this go-around has got me thinking that there’s a need for a well-stocked man cave/fly tying room into which I can draw the curtains and sink into darkness until my physical and mental outlook brightens.

With all that time on my hands, you’d think I could’ve devoted time to writing a long and winding piece full of interesting or entertaining words. The desire was there. The mind wasn’t. Like most marauding viruses, this one mysteriously turns one’s thoughts inward, alternately focusing on the suffering and possible relief, with the question “Why me?” creeping forward once and a while.

And slowly I began to detest the technology that allowed me to remain recumbent with the whole of the World Wide Web and all of its blogs in my hands.

Negative thoughts weren’t helped by learning that The Unaccomplished Angler’s apparently less unaccomplished son Schpanky not only gets paid when work is slow at the Carnation Golf Course, he can whip out a rod and pull some beastly bass out of the course ponds. Many young adults entirely dismiss their fathers’ advice, but there’s something almost acceptable about doing so to fish on company time.

The Trout Underground threw up seven posts in five days, reminding the rest of us that the self-employed can ignore work sneak away whenever they want, whether to Maine via Bass Pro or small streams so crazily beautiful they earn a triple-X rating. Over at Singlebarbed.com we’re told that there may be no stopping invasive species, so the gov’nment might as well contract with Gorton’s to make ‘em edible. Reinforcing the idea that I’m slacker, even a writing prompt from the always prolific Outdoor Blogger Network couldn’t get my mind in gear. At least I could get away virtually for a while, living vicariously through Owl Jones journey out west… And it was nice to see Mark at Northern California Trout, who fishes some familiar foothill waters, back in the saddle after futilely thinking he could walk away from this whole addiction blogging thing.

There were rewards found in having a lack of mental focus too much time on my hands. I stumbled across a fun blog written by a female fish cop who entertains with tales of life as a mom, outdoor lover and state game warden at Fish-Cop Out of Water, especially things you don’t want to hear. From there it was on to discover Mysteries Internal, with its lyrical writing about fly fishing, fixing up a home and discovery.

It wasn’t a pleasant week. But, thankfully, no fishing trips were cancelled due to this illness.


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my favorite outdoor food really isn’t mine… (and breakfasts of legend)

This post brought to you by the writing prompt “Share Your Favorite Food
from the Outdoor Blogger Network (OBN)

I’m a food lover.

That’s why it’s difficult to narrow down my list of favorite outdoor foods to a single dish. Or snack cake. Or junk food.

When I’m in the Great Outdoors, usually fly fishing, it’s an opportunity always seized upon to graze freely. Though not out of doors, there’s always In-n-Out on the drive to or from the Family Cabin, the forward base of operations. A short few minutes away is Diamondback Grill. (Yes, we likes our hamburgers, though I favor the buffalo burger, medium rare.)

If I make it to the Eastern Sierras, there’s Bodie Mike’s Barbeque and the Whoa Nellie Deli for sandwiches in Lee Vining. And trips with the club to “The Eastside” come loaded with calories: pork posole stew, pasta, and barbecue beef sandwiches, all washed down with homemade beer.

While the above can be consumed out of doors, none are truly portable in the Great Outdoors.

That said, I’m not afraid of roughing it. I’ve spent time sleeping on rocks under a canvas roof or in the back of a questionable fly fishing vehicle (e.g. minvan). But age brings on a certain requirement desire for comfort. That limits much of my outdoor eating to the time I’m on the water.

Breakfasts of Legend*

Old-School Campsite Grill/Griddle

The source of Legendary Outdoor Breakfasts

I’d be remiss to not mention those breakfasts cooked by dear ol’ dad on the ancient heavy steel griddles that seemed to dot every campground we visited when I was a kid. You know the ones. They were made of ½-inch steel, attached to a matching steel fire ring or two “walls” made of cement and indigenous rocks.

Who knows how long the detritus of the forest — pine needles, sap, bird droppings, dead insects — accumulated on that griddle. But the first morning in camp dad would take a scrub brush to it and stoke up the fire to “sanitize” it. Once only coals were left, the cooking of one of the best outdoor breakfasts began.

There was a specific order to the cooking of this morning repast. Sausage or bacon came first, and a lot of it, to ensure a good layer of grease that was necessary in an era before Teflon®. Then the eggs, popping and sizzling like nothing you’ll see today in today’s non-stick skillets. Last, and certainly not least — and my favorite — bread slathered with real butter and “toasted” in the grease and any bits of eggs still stuck to the griddle. These were the breakfasts of legend.

These days another of my favorite foods is more of a meal: lunch on a guide boat. The phthalo blue of the open water, fresh air carried on a slight breeze, and the ribbing about the last missed hookset become condiments to whatever’s on the menu. Like that awesome pastrami sandwich from the local deli, piled with provolone, pickles and peperoncini on a rustic roll and slathered with spicy mustard. Sure, it tastes mighty good, but even better is that inevitably the “bite” will turn on with a vengeance as I chew that first mouthful.

As alluded to above, the Great Outdoors can lend a flavor to even the simplest of foods. Most of the lunches I toss together before heading to a stream or river are simple. Beef jerky, an apple, water and maybe a granola bar. (The less time taken to assemble lunch means more time on the water.) And every time, that apple carelessly thrown into my vest tastes so much better when eaten streamside — while a hatch starts, of course.

Nowadays, my favorite outdoor food is the one I never finish eating because I’m up on my feet again making that next hookset because the fish are the ones eating a favorite food.


* I believe my brother will whole-heartedly agree that there nothing that compares to our memory of these breakfasts, if not the reality. I think he’d also share my opinion that although there’ve been great breakfasts in the intervening years, there’s still nothing like breakfast cooked outdoors on these griddles, and eaten in the cool morning air of the Sierra Nevada high country.


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“I shall return”…with flies this time

Above 45 Degrees

Go North, young man.

This post brought to you by the photo prompt “Dream Destinations” from the Outdoor Blogger Network (OBN)

Being relatively new to fly fishing, it’s a bit difficult to answer the question of where I dream of fly fishing. There are so many places I haven’t been.

Generally being a Salmoninae guy, my first inclination was to narrow a dream destination to North American waters north of 45° latitude.

Canada is a blip on the radar — British Columbia for its renowned stillwaters filled with Kamloops rainbows and its coastal rivers and streams for salmon and steelhead, and Ontario for monster brook trout and grayling. Upper bits of Montana and Idaho would qualify as well, and we all know they offer plenty o’ places to fly fish.

But for me, it’s gotta be Alaska, a place I’ve fished, though not with flies.

Longing to Return

Brother and dad looking over the Kenai River

Alaska’s a no-brainer…there’s the entire Bristol Bay watershed — a place that may never be in budgetary reach — but perhaps just as intriguing and perhaps slightly more wallet friendly is Southeast Alaska. (Being a bit late to this post, The River Damsel beat me to choosing this destination, she’s also keen on fishing the 49th state. BTW, I would like to think it’s the compression of a telephoto lens that makes that bear in the third photo in her Dream Destination post only look so close…)

Kasilof River Moose

Where else can the morning traffic jam of drift boats be interrupted by a moose?...

Tractor Launch at Ninilchik

...or does a halibut trip begin with a beach launch?

And while it’s the fishing that’d be the main focus, there is the allure of that full-service, all-inclusive Alaskan lodge experience. There’s nothing like being responsible to only for dressing yourself and showing up for either food, fishing or sleep; it sorta removes any worries regarding the wanton consumption the occasional adult beverage.

Kenai King

Dad's first Kenai king...

Since I’m not retired or self-employed and don’t live within easy driving distance of nice trout water (and general trout season is closed here until the end of April), I’m left to only dream for now…though plans have been made and will be executed in the coming months.

I’d like to thank Rebecca over at OBN for this photo prompt and aggravating an already crazy itch to fish.


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why I blog (or, what’s in it for me?)

This post brought to you by the writing prompt
Why We Blog about our Outdoor Life
from the Outdoor Blogger Network (OBN)

blog: (n) web log, a shared on-line journal where people can post diary entries about their personal experiences and hobbies, with postings usually in chronological order.

For me, writing is work. Blogging is for fun.

I began my career in writing 25 years ago, long before the words “web” and “log” merged to create the everyday term. My livelihood revolves around news and analysis, and I still enjoy it after all these years. My blog is a personal extension of what I do.

It seems that I began to flirt with the idea of writing during my middle school years. The lack of social interaction that comes with being a nerd left plenty of time for other things. So, I spent time in front of an IBM Selectric typewriter, pounding out stories based on the fictional futures of classmates. The choice of a journalism class as an elective during my sophomore year in college brought me to the attention of the school newspaper advisor and, without thought to the dismal pay that comes with trying to make a living writing, I soon declared my major to be journalism.

Since my college education included a few elective computer science classes mixed in with Journalism 101 and Mass Media Law, within a few years I had become the go-to guy in our small office for software installation (Remember DOS?) or computer repair. Soon I was tapped to design and launch our first website.

[singlepic id=20 w=277 h=360 float=center]

The boys, August 1997, Eagle Lake

My web log grew out of HTML knowledge gained on the job. That first personal website wasn’t in a format that today would be recognized as a blog; nor was it easy to use. It consisted of hand-coded HTML. Any new “posting” required new code, whether it was a simple trip report, a photo gallery or even a link. (Though I launched this website in 1995 — hosted on AOL — the earliest post included on this blog is from August 1997.)

Perhaps it started with a preoccupation as to whether or not I could produce and maintain a personal website, but the struggle to determine content led to the idea of a virtual logbook through which I could share my adventures — the most exciting of which were out of doors — with family and friends.

Laziness also may have been a factor motivating the creation of this website. Back then, sending out an email to a number of recipients wasn’t difficult but email applications wouldn’t allow photos to be inserted in the email body. Everything was an attachment. Without captions or associated text, there was no context for photos. There was also the little matter of Internet dial-up service topping out 14.4Kbps. A website partially solved these problems. My first entry described one of the first camping trips with my kids in the Lake Tahoe area. Flash forward a few years and you’ve got blogging applications that allow everyone into the pool.

The reason I blog, however, has grown beyond a simple recounting of experiences. It’s taken on a more personal aspect. I still write to share experiences, thoughts and photos with family and friends, but after so many years writing and editing dry analytical niche newsletters, my blog has become an outlet.

Here I can experiment with attempts at humor and storytelling. Here I can fail in a most public manner and just as easily deliver the goods in anonymity. At times I curse writer’s block (or the fact that I apparently don’t fly fish enough to provide blog fodder during the lean winter months). Other times prose flows easily.

There’s a vanity inherent in the act of writing, and blogging is much the same. But it offers rewards. Comments, positive or negative, suggest that people other than my parents, siblings and spouse actually read what I write and that my words occasionally spark thoughts. It’s also been a catalyst for friendship and camaraderie, both virtually and in person.

Has my bog changed what I do besides devoting time to its care and feeding? Yes, in many ways. Perhaps most important, it’s knowing that I may blog about an experience that constantly reminds me to truly live in and savor those moments spent doing what I enjoy, so that later I can share the details.

It’s said that secretly all writers want to live forever. Barring that, they hope that their words will live forever. Seems we all got our wish with this little thing called the Internet…and the blogs that live within it.