fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)


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cruising Alaska, part two: Ketchikan and surprise

I was reminded of my childhood when the ship began to dock the third morning of our Alaskan cruise. Years ago my sister and brother and I, still sleeping, would be packed into the car, and we’d wake us up numerous miles down the road. This time it was our captain announcing the successful mooring of the ship and clearance to disembark passengers.

Early morning over Ketchikan, Alaska.

Ketchikan greeted us with sunshine and colorful waterfront shops. The rest of the town huddled between mountains and the sea. Our half-day shore excursion would take us to visit the Deer Mountain Tribal Hatchery and Eagle Center, the nearby Totem Heritage Center, the Saxman Village and the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center.

Though it’s no secret that Ketchikan, as well as Juneau and Skagway, owes much of its financial survival to tourism, our guide/driver that morning exemplified the tourist-friendly attitude that would greet us during all of our on-shore travels.

The collection area for salmon returning to the Deer Mountain Tribal Hatchery.

The Deer Mountain Tribal Hatchery and Eagle Center is within a relatively easy walk east of the dock. Our guide walked us through a town park to the entrance of center, next to a creek in which numerous pink salmon milled about. We were greeted by a docent and resident owl, and entered the eagle habitat. To be honest, I was hoping for something, well, a bit more. However, it did offer an up close look at two of these amazing birds, which haven’t been released into the wild due to injuries. A creek running through the small habitat allows them to hunt spawning salmon.

The Deer Mountain Tribal Hatchery is just as small in keeping with its mission to ensure the survival of various salmon species rather than supply fish for a fishery. Its operation was well described by the docent, though the distraction of big salmon in a holding pen interfered with my hearing everything she had to say.

Perhaps more remarkable was the Tlingit and Haida totems, moved from islands throughout the Inside Passage and now housed a short walk away in the Totem Heritage Center. The unrestored appearance of the totems housed in the center — each 100-plus years old — lend a sense of history. Small, surrounding exhibits cover Tlingit and Haida history and traditions.

Totem in Saxman Village on a nice sunny Alaskan day.

We next visited Saxman Village, a tour highlighted by a carving demonstration and nearby totems. Of note is the Seward Shame totem built to shame the former U.S. Secretary of State for not repaying a Potlatch (a gift-giving festival) to the Tlingit people. While the color red is used to indicate shame, indicating stinginess, red also figures prominently on the nearby pole built out of respect for Abraham Lincoln* and commemorating the U.S. Revenue Cutter Lincoln in its role in helping two rival Tlingit clans establish peace.

Back in downtown Ketchikan, we were dropped off at the U.S. Forest Service’s Southeast Alaska Discovery Center. Worth a visit, the Discovery Center offers displays and information covering a wide swath of the area’s natural and human history, and might have offered a better starting point.

Lunch in Alaska is simple for me: various versions of halibut fish and chips, this time in view of Ketchikan’s Thomas Basin Harbor, at the south end of town.

We’d been warned that all three of our ports of call had been invaded by jewelers who typically started their businesses in other, more tropical cruise ship destinations. My wife, in fact, already wanted to look at a particular ring.

We oohed and ahhed along while strolling diamond row, picking up a few of the compulsory t-shirts along the way. Our last stop was to see “The Ring.”

I hadn’t been warned about the sales folks. They are smooth and slick. It all starts with an innocent question: “What do you think the price is?” Let’s just say it was too much, even with the initial offer of a discount, but it must have been apparent — in our eyes or maybe our body language — that we had no plans to buy. Another substantial discount raised my eyebrow.

Carver at work in Saxman Village. (A totem carved by a master carver can cost up to $4000 per linear foot.)

I’m terrible at picking out jewelry and recently began an early search for a suitable ring for our 10th anniversary, which is not too far off. I was having a heck of a time. But again, I went into a defensive huddle with my wife, shaking my head with such exaggeration that another offer was made. Earrings were thrown into the deal. The sales manager stepped up with calculator in hand. I’d even go so far as to say we had the original salesman sweating, just a bit. Another huddle, another offer, the incorporation of sales tax into the offered price, and a deal was struck.

I was hoping to see ice in Alaska, and I thought it would be in a glacier, but regardless of the profit earned on the sale, we walked back to the ship feeling we’d done okay.


* This one is different from the Lincoln Totem in the Alaska State Museum.

A photo slideshow, already playing. (I’ve added photos since last posting the album):

https://picasaweb.google.com/s/c/bin/slideshow.swf

(You can directly access the Picasa album, with captions, by clicking here.)


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few words, some pictures, more to come

We’re back after travelling from San Francisco to Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway, Alaska, and back again in 10 days…leaving at the end of August and returning to the start of September.

I’d say our trip when by fast, but the ship rarely exceeded 21 knots and the days were packed with the history, wilderness and the people of Southeast Alaska.

There was amazement that two of our ports o’ call can only be accessed via plane or boat. Pink salmon crowded the rivers and brought out the bears. We tasted beer that can’t be found anywhere else.

Pictures for now; words later.

https://picasaweb.google.com/s/c/bin/slideshow.swf

(You can directly access the Picasa album, with captions, by clicking here.)


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the slow lesson of fly fishing

Fly Fishing Trip Goals: Fish New Water(s), Fish for New Species/Strains of Trout,
Drink New Beer(s), Repeat. Note: Do so slowly, with great deliberation.

It’s not casting, presentation or fly selection; it’s a deliberate and slower pace that offers the best chance of success in fly fishing.

This isn’t a new or unfamiliar idea. My first appreciation of a slower approach was the pace at which I entered any water, familiar or unfamiliar. Slowing down to take the time to make a few observations. To watch the sun rise. To look for that one rising trout. To take time to fish that small seam a few feet out from the bank.

[singlepic id=1088 w=275 h=368 float=center]The decision to try my hand at tying flies required a slow, methodical approach as I learned techniques and how materials responded to the tying process. I’m not a production tyer, and probably think more what I’m doing when tying than I should. That’s okay; a lot of that thinking is about the fish I expect or hope to fool with that fly; or memories of already having done so.

Rod building again necessitates slowing down. Wrapping thread seems simple, and it is. Wrapping thread well isn’t. Five-minute epoxy is the fastest part of the process. Laying down multiple coats is not.

More experienced fly fisherman might wonder why it took so long for me to come to this conclusion. In my defense, there were trout to fool and success was measured by body count.

Two weeks ago, while setting aside the desire to get on higher-elevation trout water as soon as legally possible, it dawned on me that the fish would still be there even if my arrival was delayed a day or two. Like dominoes falling, decisions were then made to purposely plan a slower pace.

It’s a huge thing to slow down in today’s world. To take a slow, long look at that wild trout. And, when the sunlight’s too dim to fish, to slowly relish the day’s adventures, seasoned with good food and, if you’re lucky, a good beer.

It’s all worth savoring.

To be certain, we lugged along a few new brews to the cabin during our Opening Day trip, but didn’t pass up the opportunity to try something from the tap during dinner at The Rock.

Told by the waitress that customers had complained that New Belgium’s Ranger IPA was too hoppy, Sean naturally went ahead and ordered it. Apparently those customers have sensitive palates. I’m not a huge fan of too much hoppiness on the back end, but even I found the Ranger rather mild. So did Sean.

Though not an extreme beer snob, I favor trying local suds, and opted to try Snowshoe’s Grizzly Brown Ale. (And, honestly, I felt an obligation to try the Grizzly as research. The Snowshoe brewery is an hour away from the cabin and will be on the itinerary during my brother’s visit next month.) I’ve grown increasingly fond of a well-done brown ale. The Grizzly didn’t disappoint, and it seemed that Sean might have wished he’d chosen it. It’s certainly dark in color, but semi creamy and not heavy as might be expected. A nice toasty maltiness gives way to a light hop finish.

Certainly a great way to finish a day of fly fishing.


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what we see… (04/13/2011)

  • A guide’s story about the worst clients…ever: http://bit.ly/gBZ6or (Makes me not feel so bad about the one time I arrived on the dock while my fishing license remained in the cabin.)
  • Fun write up over at Eat More Brook Trout about a great day not fishing: http://bit.ly/hOnpod
  • Continuing with brook trout… Over at Small Stream Reflections a nice pictorial of the seasons of brook trout: http://bit.ly/g0Npv4
  • By the seventh day, you shall have beer… It probably can’t make the best double IPA or Doppelbock, but the high-tech and all that stainless steel and chrome certainly up the “I want it” quotient. (And everything sounds so much cooler with a New Zealand accent.): http://bit.ly/gmRhQh


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Mother Nature wins, but it’s okay (and accumulatingmy 15 minutes of fame, a few seconds at a time)

The thought last weekend was to get away for a rare five-day retreat, spending some time at the family cabin, entertaining ourselves with visits to wineries in nearby Murphys, squeezing in a bit of fly fishing on one of the few open rivers in the Sierra foothills and generally stepping away — far away — from the everyday.

We had enjoyed three weeks of spring-like weather prior to our departure, but the moment we publicly announced our plans, Mother Nature decided she knew better.

[singlepic id=1076 w=300 h=199 float=center]

A better use of snow.

The drive that got us up to Hwy 108 was easy enough, with stops along the way for lunch and gwaking at Bass Pro. It was after the last stop at Covers Apple Ranch that Mrs. Nature gave us fair warning with steady snowfall as we wound the seven miles to the eastern (and higher) edge of Twain Harte. By the time we reached town, the inches of snow that frosted the familiar with a fresh coat of newness also dictated extreme caution.

While I don’t mind clearing the white stuff to pull into the driveway or the nearly two feet of snow that that muffled and covered the world outside the next morning; I didn’t like the resulting power outage, the excavation of that 60-foot driveway a second and third time, and the increased release of water in the only nearby and fishable tailwater. Though we were thankful for the propane-fired heater, stove and water heater, the lack of power for 48-plus hours wasn’t fun. It was dark by 6:00 p.m. and it’s difficult to read, much less tie flies, by candlelight. Fishing was out of the question the next day as flows on the Stanislaus rose in 40 hours from less than 250 cfs to nearly 1,100 cfs.

We surrendered about 42 hours after our arrival. In that time I learned the value of a snow blower after shoveling the driveway three times, clearing an estimated accumulation of four feet of snow. (My arms agreed with rusty mathematics that suggested I moved over 1,900 cubic feet of the stuff.) Proving that Mother Nature maintains a healthy sense of irony, we were greeted by blue skies just as that last of the gear was packed into the car.

[singlepic id=1082 w=600 h=399 float=center]

Mother Nature, The Joker. The skies cleared after nearly four feet of snow snuffed out
the power and we went about departure preparations. (More photos below.)

However, we both enjoyed being in a winter wonderland for a while, spending one afternoon tucked into The Rock resaurant with a good draught of Smithwicks ale, a few appetizers and a cozy view of dime-sized flakes floating to earth. I personally enjoyed introducing The Wife, for the first time in her life, to real, heavy snowfall. We also learned that the Prius can do well enough in the snow.

I don’t begrudge Mother Nature for cutting our trip short with piles of snow; it’s the resulting runoff that’ll keep the trout happy and make for excellent Sierra fishing in the late summer and fall.

A Few More Seconds of Fame

It’s nice to know that Orvis Fly Fishing Guide Podcast host Tom Rosenbauer thought enough of my comment on Facebook to mention it in his latest podcast. If you’d care to listen, you only have to wait until about 1:30 into the podcast.
[audio:http://media.libsyn.com/media/orvisffguide/15_tips_on_Sight_fishing_for_Stripers.mp3|titles=Orvis Podcast-2/22/2011]

I responded to Mr. Rosenbauer’s podcast of a week ago, “Gear Maintenance in the Off-Season and Ten Tips for the Aging Angler,” with a personal anecdote that there are indeed exercises that could help the aging angler. Though I have yet to be officially recognized for my longevity, a gym membership put to good use during the last year or so seems to have improved my balance during wading, something I attribute to core exercises, namely crunches, bridge, planks and rotational movements.

Admittedly, as a generally lazy meditative lot, exercise may be foreign to most fly fishermen, and the most widely practiced workout is casting, which coincidently builds up muscles used to also hoist a beer or scotch.


More of what we saw during our shortened stay at The Cabin last weekend:
[nggallery id=77]


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beer and bone study reveals another hidden health benefit of fly fishing

With our Opening Day 72 days away, things are looking pretty good. The Sierra snowpack appears to be in fair shape, particularly on the Eastside. New flies have been tied. Gear’s ready.

But wait.  It gets better.

One beverage of choice for the post-fly fishing adventure has been deemed to be a great source of stuff that’ll improve bone health.

Researchers at the nearby University of California, Davis (and now friends of fly fishermen everywhere), have published a study showing that beer contains a large amount of dietary silicon (Si). Thankfully, better-tasting many microbrews seem to be the best source of the mineral.

UCD researchers tested 100 commercial beers for silicon content and organized the results according to beer style and source. According to the study, published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, India Pale Ales (IPAs) offer the best bet at boosting bone mineral density (BMD) with a silicon content averaging 41.2 parts per million (ppm). Ales offer an average of 32.8 ppm. Lagers like Budweiser, PBR, Coors, and Molson aren’t worth drinking offer only half as much silicon as IPAs, at a relatively feeble 23.8 ppm. Since boosting BMD protects against osteoporosis, does more beer drinking equal more time on the water in retirement? We’d like to think so.

Note of Warning

It’s pretty obvious that except when bass fishing or brownlining it would be counterproductive to consume beer prior to stumbling around boulders in a favorite stream. Less obvious is that one should leave the beer behind during winter fly fishing. Beer freezes fairly easily.  That’s where the whiskey comes in.

[Article: “Silicon in Beer and Brewing.” Troy R. Casey and Charles W. Bamforth. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, Published Online: February 8, 2010 (DOI: 10.1002/JSFA.3884); Print Issue Date: February 2010]