fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)


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sometimes it’s the place

I held it off as best I could, tried to put some of my favorite waters out of my mind. In the end it was hope, more than gasoline, that propelled me over Sonora Pass a couple of weeks ago.

Over the years I’ve spent many days walking the banks of babbling creeks in the Eastern Sierras. The first to give up wild trout – Molybdenite Creek and Little Walker River – top my list. This is where I landed by first sizable wild rainbow trout.

Moon Over the Little Walker River

Moon Over the Little Walker River

I can’t think of these places and others like them without an intensifying need to return. These are familiar places become less so if not visited every year. Often it’s the memory that fades. Sometimes nature exerts its will on the landscape.

It was clear that this would be the first year in a while that runoff from more abundant – but still not plentiful – snowpack would make many rivers and streams unfishable. But a limited amount of vacation time, and hope, were enough of an excuse to make the trip.

Sonora Pass with more snow than last year. Still not enough.

Sonora Pass with more snow than last year. Still not enough.

I came in from the west across Sonora Pass, early enough that morning to be alone for the 20 miles between Kennedy Meadows and the Pickel Meadow Wildlife Area. It’s a serpentine road that demands attention, a ribbon of relatively new asphalt that twists and turns, rising through stands of pines to wind-scoured fields of granite before dropping into the starkness of the Eastern Sierra.

Six miles beyond the Sonora Pass summit but before my descent into Pickel Meadows, Hanging Valley Ridge comes into view. The morning sun is still low and the ridge still casts a shadow over much of the meadow. From my vista point, distance masked any audible anger, but the torrent of water working itself into a lather over Leavitt Falls offered a clue as to the difficulty to come.

2016.06.25.6.Little Walker River

The first glimpse of the West Walker River was both encouraging and discouraging. It was good to see high waters scouring the river bed and suggesting good summer fishing to come. It also hinted that there’d be little fishing and likely no catching in any of the Walker watershed’s moving waters.

See the path, right there?

See the path, right there?

This day there would be more hiking, exploring and simply being in the mountains. Contrary to the anger on display as water crashes against rocks, the sound is soothing. Delicate flowers sway in winds that predictably funnel through most mountain canyons.

It was a day without fishing, but not wasted.


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in the air and on the road in San Diego

It was in the shade of a concrete canyon that we reminisced over breakfast about those last few days in San Diego. It was a visit without an itinerary but nonetheless full. Balboa Park. A working lunch and dinner. Coronado Island.

The trip last week was free of monetary worries; part of a package to celebrate my having worked 30 years with the company. Whether it was a perk or disruption, the rest of my co-workers would join us for a day at the office and the celebration that evening.

Karen and I were on the road early that Wednesday, weaving through the normal early-morning traffic. Highways 680, 24, 980 and 880 got us to Oakland International Airport in good time. My past airport experiences had been marked by apprehension and anxiety. For me, arriving 15 minutes early equates to being on time; on time is late. Airports bring too many unpredictable variables into play. I didn’t like it and constantly imagined missing a parking lot shuttle or flight.

We arrived at the airport more than two hours before our flight, allowing time for a leisurely breakfast. It made me feel like a real traveler. I was relaxed, in fact.

And my wife had a plan. Her mother was a stewardess back when that job title wasn’t outdated, but the knowledge she imparted still applies today. My wife would take a window seat, and I’d take the aisle seat. As long as the flight wasn’t completely full, this might, deviously, deter anyone from taking the seat between us. It worked. No more than 70% of the seats were occupied, allowing us to enjoy some elbow room.

The flight was comfortable. The first landing attempt waved off, the second attempt turbulent but successful. The weather was clear and San Diego almost seemed to sparkle.

I was originally under the impression that my boss, the company owner, would be our chauffer. But I was handed the keys. He’d be our navigator. Along the way we were regaled with tales of his family’s history in San Diego. The first relative arrived in the late 1800s. During his youth, he wasn’t allowed south of Broadway. Our hotel, Hotel Palomar San Diego, was just north of the old Woolworths, where he never had a sandwich.

What would be the view from our room on the 18th floor of the Palomar.

What would be the view from our room on the 18th floor of the Palomar.

San Diego is one of the more puzzling cities I’ve visited. Its waterfront is wide open, as most are. But a few blocks in, it’s a mashup of old and new, with older buildings’ blank walls facing a street for two or three blocks. Often, only a single door or parking garage entrance hints that there is something behind the featureless edifice. While development of the city’s Gaslamp Quarter does seem offer a mix of people living, working, shopping and dining, most areas don’t.

This isn’t helped by the many, multi-lane one-way streets. I read somewhere that one-way streets encourage greater car speeds and discourage pedestrian and bike traffic. This seemed to be the case in the one-thousand block of Fifth Avenue, our home base for three days.

If our stay is any indication, San Diego has some of the best weather anywhere in the country. After our quick tour and dropping the boss off at the office (farther up Fifth Avenue), we ended up in Balboa Park. We took a quick tour of an anemic display of California native plants, the headed toward the Spreckels Organ, lucky enough to quickly find a parking stall.

More people than you’d expect for a Wednesday walked up and down the sidewalks. Balboa Park’s landscaping isn’t easily described. From any single location one might see five or more different species of trees. Lawns lush by California standards give way to xeriscaping, planted with succulents from around the world. There was a remote familiarity to it. This is what I grew up with in the San Gabriel Valley.

Karen had suggested The Prado for lunch. (I silently mulled over feelings that any restaurant with a name that starts with “The” could quickly empty my wallet.) Located in the House of Hospitality, it’s at the center of Balboa Park and was built for the 1915-16 Panama-California Exposition. The building echoes the Spanish Colonial Revival style apparent throughout the park, though there is an argument that, being an architectural stylistic movement that arose in the United States during the early 20th century, it’s wrong to connect it with Panama.

We were seated immediately and our server was almost doting. Splitting the entrée, as we often do, limits the choices bit – it’s well known that Karen doesn’t eat cheese (I do) – but we agreed upon steak tacos.

Often it’s the entirety of a meal that makes it better than good and that was the case with this meal. The rice and beans were better than most, the steak cooked well but still tender, and the tortillas were more flavorful than their thinness would suggest.

It was a delicious start to a trip that would end up offering much good food, fantastic weather and a lesson in slowing down.


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instant gratification without imagination

The capacity to form new ideas, concepts, stories or poetry, music and new methods of dealing with problems, and outwardly doing so out of nothing. That’s imagination.

Growing up, when I wasn’t bothering my siblings, running around outside or collecting newspapers for recycling, imagination was a constant in my life. So much that I was a hair’s breadth away from becoming a poor copy of Walter Mitty.

Daydreams fueled by science fiction centered on excitement and being more than the person I was: if not a hero, at least important to the make-believe mission. Sure, I consumed the usual television shows: The Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons, Tom & Jerry, the obligatory Sesame Street and Mr. Rodgers’ Neighborhood, The Jetsons, Johnny Quest, the craziness of Sid & Marty Krofft (H.R. Pufnstuf, Lidsville, The Banana Splits, Land of the Lost, Sigmund and the Sea Monsters), and nearly any other late 1960s or early ’70s shows that you might recall.

But sandwiched into my television viewing was Thunderbirds, one of my favorite shows and likely the root of my partiality for science fiction. (This would later lead to mass consumption of shows such as Space: 1999, The Six Million Dollar Man, the original Battlestar Galactica, reruns of the original Star Trek, The Prisoner, Logan’s Run.)

Despite this list of shows, I wasn’t always stuck in front of the boob tube. (American slang during the 1970s and ‘80s for the television, not something scandalous.)

A lot of my time was spent with a briefcase full of Legos. The original Legos. The ones that were rectangular or square of varying thickness. No curves. Then one year Lego launched bricks with a slope to one side. It was amazing.

The new Lego Beetle.

The new Lego Beetle. I won’t turn down a gift of it.

A small niche of the interwebs went a bit crazy yesterday with the launch of the Lego Creator 10252 Volkswagen Beetle. Don’t get me wrong, I really like it. I owned a 1971 Standard VW Beetle.

But it worries me. Beyond the basic definition of imagination is the ability to see something that’s not quite there.

The real Thunderbird 2.

The real Thunderbird 2.

My Lego version of Thunderbird 2 was cubist by nature of the materials at hand. But I imagined it into being the Thunderbird 2 through which I lived out many adventures.

I can’t help but wonder if the Lego Creator 10252 kit and others like it go too far in removing the need for that aspect of imagination.

Beetle Classic

Something a bit like my original 1971 Standard Beetle (“Classic”). Right color, wrong wheels. Great college car.


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answer: fly fishing. question: what’s good for your physical health?

At risk of luring more physical fitness geeks into waters I’d rather not share, there’s a secret benefit to fly fishing, beyond the mental benefits spelled out last week.

Fly fishing could be the best all-around workout that’s actually fun.

This isn’t the Norman Rockwell vision of fishing, not sitting on a dock, waiting. It’s about walking and wading; constantly moving. Many different level of physical activity come into play with fly fishing.

From the dexterity required to thread line on tiny hooks to working the body’s core by (carefully) wading across uneven streambeds.* Even fly fishing maven Tom Rosenbauer points out on the Orvis Fly Fishing Learning Center that wading a small stream, “…climbing over rocks and wading in the current, [he] could burn as many calories in the same amount of time as [he] could on the elliptical.”

Rather than spend my time extoling the virtues of fly fishing as exercise, I’ll let the folks over at explain it with an infographic. (You can find the more comprehensive article here.)


Source: Fix.com Blog


*A reason why you should always use a wading staff.


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a bit about the therapy of fly fishing (and why I’m told I need it)

Fly fishing changes one’s brain. According to research, 20 or more specific brain centers of the unconscious brain may be called into action at a single time during an average person’s day.

Separate centers deal with the basics – metabolism (heart, lungs, circulatory system), sensory input (touch, temperature, pressure, pain) – as well as perception, memory, learning, thought and language. The brainstem gets into the act by correlating past memories and events with the present situation to suggest a possible plan of action. Each center analyzes incoming information to make changes to address external influences.

It’s all designed to reach a desired outcome. If that desired outcome is achieved, something called the “hypothalamic satiety center” will receive signals of satisfaction. Unfortunately, in today’s busy world, that satisfaction can be very short in duration.

Lucy-FishingThis same research suggests that when fly fishing, less than 10 brain centers may be active. When one first takes up fly fishing, high expectations could bring a few more brain centers into action. However, over time, the combination of that anticipation as well as affirming memories of previous fly fishing successes, in theory, increases the duration of signals sent to the satiety center in the hypothalamus.

This could be why a few weeks ago my wife told me that I need (her emphasis) to go fishing. Maybe my brain centers have been too active.

There’s plenty of commentary about fly fishing as therapy. This gentle sport is integral to the well-known Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing and Casting for Recovery programs. It’s used in other, lesser-known therapy programs for drug addiction and depression.

Surely it’s a good form of self-therapy.

Water is a key part of this therapy. The sound of moving water is soothing. The sound as it tumbles over rocks, through vegetation or over a fall. Moving water lends freshness to the air, making it cool and moist. Animals lured to the water add to the chorus. Birdsong echoes off the water, the beat of insect wings hums in the background, frogs croak. If one’s lucky, a breeze will rustle the leaves and grasses.

This restful backdrop becomes part of the alertness, concentration and stealth required of fly fishing; a meditative state that directly increases the likelihood of hooking a fish. On the stream, waiting is necessary.

Fly fishing was mindfulness before it had a name.


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memories of candy and adventure

Not that long ago, at the counter of a local drugstore, I caught myself reminiscing about the candy of my past. Specifically Bottle Caps. But not today’s version.

The Old-School Packaging

The Old-School Packaging

Those Bottle Caps found at the five and dime of my childhood were bigger. Back then they came in a flat package, neatly lined up, each one closely resembling a bottle cap and duplicating soda flavors: root beer, cola, cherry, grape and orange. It may be a faulty memory or wishful thinking, but I seem to recall another flavor akin to Dr. Pepper.

The older version, indented on the bottom.

The older version, indented on the bottom.

While Bottle Caps stick out in my mind as a favorite candy, their taste evokes memories not just of the candy itself but also of adventure. According to biological anthropologist John S. Allen, the author of The Omnivorous Mind, food is a powerful trigger of memories. That explains why many of the collective memories of my immediate and extended family revolve around food. Our family travels on its stomach, with a standing joke that one uncle journeys from restaurant to restaurant on vacation.

Perhaps my Bottle Caps experience isn’t that unusual. It’s not the candy itself that provokes strong feelings of nostalgia, it’s the associated adventures it signifies.

Once in a while, my brother, sister and I were allowed to ride our bikes the six-tenths of a mile to that five and dime. (Some quick but unverifiable research shows it may have been Les and Don’s Market, near the corner of W. Leslie Drive and N. San Marino Ave., but I don’t recall it being a big store. Perhaps my focus on candy led to tunnel vision.)

This was a time without cell phones, when we’d carry a dime for a pay phone. Not that it was expected that we’d have to use it, and I don’t think we ever did.

It was the greatest experience—our first taste of freedom…with candy. Crossing each driveway, each cross street required a new level of responsibility and awareness. We were now accountable for our own safety. We left the familiarity of our neighborhood behind to more intimately explore bordering lands. In our minds, those six-tenths of a mile could have been one hundred miles.

The new version, flat on the bottom.

The new version, flat on the bottom.

However, Bottle Caps candy was redesigned in 2009. Each piece became smaller. The underside was flattened, diminishing its approximation of a real bottle cap. There’s a rumor that Bottle Caps stacked in paper tube packages are the original size and shape, but I have yet to confirm this.

I went on to have other adventures, but the emotions and wonderment originally associated with Bottle Caps also no longer exist in their original form.

There are no instructions for life. It progresses into a series of memories. It’s those that you choose to carry and those you leave behind that form your expectations of adventures to come.

This isn’t a lamentation. Just ask my wife; a kid-like wonderment still exists within my soul. But those embers of wonder need to be stoked.


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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?