fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)


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say hi on Opening Day, but with my cast it’s unwise to approach from the rear

The general trout season opens tomorrow here in California and though I’ll likely be awake before sunup, it won’t be to beat the freezer-filling crowd to streamside.

Work’s got to get done if there’s any hope of having time to wet the line on any unfamiliar waters, and I’ll be helping a new group of students learn some of the ins and outs of fly fishing before heading for the hills in the afternoon. Perhaps more accurately, my casting will be an example of what not to do for these novice fly fishermen.

This is the fourth year that Opening Day has been more of a casual affair. Admittedly, I am itching to get out there with the fly rod; but it’s become a ritual not to be rushed, knowing that my son and I will likely be the only people on a small stream just far enough out a Forest Service road that most folks will give up and turn around about a mile short. Google Maps shows another creek a couple of miles further that just might be worth a try.

The maximization of our fishing time will include a few roadside spots as well, and on Monday, after the weekend warriors have left, we’ll slink down to some stocked waters trusting that we’ll be able to hook the dumb smart fish that didn’t fall victim to power bait or shiny objects.

If you’re out in the Sierra foothills this weekend, look for the guy with the funny cast. That’ll be me.


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moving at the speed of fly fishing

While the youngsters flit about, expecting a burger delivered before they order, fly fisherman become one of the last bastions of stubbornness patience in a world moving at the breakneck pace of broadband.

People will visit a commerce or news website less often if it is slower than a close competitor by more than 250 milliseconds (a millisecond is a thousandth of a second).

‘Two hundred fifty milliseconds, either slower or faster, is close to the magic number now for competitive advantage on the Web,’ said Harry Shum, a computer scientist and speed specialist at Microsoft.
But speed matters in every context, research shows. Four out of five online users will click away if a video stalls while loading.”

via The Economic Times

As a youngster, I always assumed that those old fly fishing guys — a group to which I still feverishly claim not to belong — were slow because of age. Time’s revealed that I was a bit hasty in judging.

Sometimes it’s a method, sometimes superstition, and more often than we might care to admit, an unwillingness to think that it’s us that’s the problem…or a belief that any problem can be rectified with just one more cast.

It might be obvious that changing flies or moving up river is an answer to refusal after refusal after refusal. But obstinately I place faith in my ‘confidence flies.’ I don’t think I’m all alone; count the number of magazine articles, blog posts and forum discussions extolling anglers to swap flies after three refusals. And that same fisherman who knows the steelhead shuffle will sight cast to that single big brown while shadows grow longer.

Then there’s that one fish that’s the ‘fly in the ointment.’ The same fish that takes the fly on that last cast — the cast after which I was going to move up river; the cast after which I was going to change flies.

It’s that single fish that seems to have slowed me down; requiring the devotion of more time than appropriate thought to every move, every change, every cast.


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fly fishing: a great equalizer

Be honest. This is often the way we imagine it could have happened. Standing in a river in early May, maybe June, the fish are still eager and maybe still a bit stupid. The spot you’ve chosen offers a clear cast to riffles only half a dozen yards long. The weather is cool enough to encourage the wearing of that old, long-sleeve flannel shirt. The bright sun is blocked by a classic wool walking hat; the one that lends the wearer a certain swagger. The patches of aspen, peaking out between the Jeffery and piñon pines, are once again covered with bright green leaves.

It wouldn’t be too difficult to cast from here, and you consider it, but you are new to the sport and the desire to properly and softly present the fly requires a few more steps. The trout slowly and quietly slurp Baetis duns. You check your leader, eyeing its length and looking for any nicks or knots that would give away your fly as a fake.

You cast the fly into a seam you think will carry it past the closest edge of the feeding fish. The fly slips around one rock, then another. To keep the drift realistic, you lift your rod tip to keep as much line off the water as possible. Everything looks and feels right. The fly disappears, and without thinking, and an imperceptible pause, you set the hook. If time allowed, there’d be a debate as to who was more surprised, you or the fish.

All of this positioning and decision-making doesn’t take as long as it seems, except that it takes great effort to ensure that everything is perfect for the woman watching from the bank. She sits on a checkerboard blanket, the remnants of a picnic scattered about. Her classic beauty competes with the trout for your attention. She smiles, impressed, as the rainbow trout glistens in the sunlight, before you carefully return it to the water.

However, unless you’re luckier than the rest of us, reality is much different…even for better-looking people, particularly those who’ve just learned to cast a fly.

Ewan McGregor took Hollywood actress Emily Blunt fly fishing – and she ended up catching his dog.

The Crieff-born actor was in Scotland last year filming Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, about a fisheries scientist who tries to bring the sport to the Middle East.

Ewan was showing off his newly acquired casting skills to Emily…

He said: “All the actors stayed in this beautiful little house. They had a pond down at the bottom of the garden and some rods and both Amr Waked, who is also in the movie, and I had learnt to fly fish.

“We were showing off because we were trying to impress Emily with our fly fishing skills – ‘Look, you do it like this, don’t bendy our wrist, no, that’s right…’

“And she caught my dog who was running around behind. She hooked him. She didn’t catch any fish but she did catch my dog.”

– via DailyRecord.co.uk


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the view’s better from the passenger seat

It seems that I don’t drive distracted.

About a month ago, Willy and I loaded up at his house and left just before 7:00 a.m. and headed east, skipping from one highway to another, toward Toms Place, Calif., the annual fall destination for the club’s Eastern Sierra outing. It’d be my fourth. Along the way we’d be travelling through the Sierra foothills and Yosemite*, stopping at the Crowley Lake Marina for a quagga mussel inspection of Willy’s Bay Ranger.

Over the last eight-plus years I’ve had multiple opportunities to drive Hwy 120, up along scrubland bordering Priest Grade to where the highway becomes Big Oak Flat Road and winds through the sparse foothill woodland surrounding Groveland and much of the roadway, then finally rising into heavier stands of conifers — more correctly a lower montane forest — before the Yosemite entrance station at about 5,000 feet. My past trips encompassed ambitious one-day, 225-mile fishing trips with stops to cast a line at four or five different creeks or rivers as well as motorcycling over Sonora and Tioga passes shortly after opening, when snowdrifts 10-plus feet high line the high-country portions of the road.

It’s a fantastic road trip, to be sure, but on this drive I found that the view was very different from the passenger’s seat of Willy’s Cadillac Escalade.

The motley crew that would comprise the 2011 DVFF Eastern Sierra Trip.

The road welcomed us with limited traffic, and only a few miles of road construction slowed our progress. Anyone who’s driven through Tracy, Manteca and Oakdale — perhaps headed to Two Mile Bar or Goodwin Dam on the Stanislaus River — know that there’s plenty of nothing to look at. It’s here that the road seems to drone on between orchards and field crops, time seems to slow and I’m thankful that the highway is now three lanes through Tracy, once a bottleneck no matter the time of day.

It’s outside of the appropriately named Oakdale that the oak woodland takes hold. The oak trees and an occasional gray pine break up the monotony of the now golden grasses. Then there’s the always subtle shock of the “girls, girls, girls” sign that appears out of nowhere, perched above a rundown hotel and shadowy outbuilding truly in the middle of nowhere, all of which is enclosed by a substantial not-so-ornamental iron fence. That sign is also a landmark signaling the last mile or so before the right turn toward Yosemite.

The history of the Sierra foothills comes to life driving through Big Oak Flat and Groveland in the form of vacant stone buildings adorned with iron shutters and doors that recognize the danger of fire during the hot summers. Jeffery, Yellow and Ponderosa fight for space between buildings. The road here barely allows the passing of two motorhomes, forcing life to slow to a crawl. Not necessarily a bad thing.

As we approached the national park border the density of the forest was more imposing than my long held impression resulting from occasional glances from the driver’s seat. I’d seen these trees before, but details now stood out. A thick green canopy blocks any view of the sky and despite a distinct lack of branches from the ground to a few feet above the average man’s head, there were so many trees that the concentration of trunks cut the range of visibility to a couple hundred yards. As the miles slide by, the undergrowth grows lush.

More than just a stop to hit the restrooms, the Big Oak Flat entrance to Yosemite marks the start of a big change in vegetation and terrain. After another half hour and a left turn toward Tuolumne Meadows, Western Juniper, Red Fir and Lodgepole Pine dominate the view, indicators of the upper montane forest. Meadows of unreal green — in essence nature’s sponges for snowmelt — occasionally come in to view, edged by skunk cabbage and corn lily. In another hour, slabs of granite and collections of boulders begin to replace meadows.

Then, unexpectedly, the view opens up to vast expanses of what I’ve always known as granite and that, in all of my limited travels, seems to be the unique calling card of the Yosemite high country. A less brilliant white, I’d later learn that it’s actually a mix of granitoids and in many cases leans toward granodiorite, which is darker, almost moody and reflective of the changeable weather. It also marks the march into the subalpine forest as one nears 9,000 feet in elevation.

This day was clear and the only distraction was a fuel gauge needle too close to “E” for comfort. Since I tend to measure distance by time instead of mileage, I guessed that the gas station in Tuolumne Meadows would arrive at least a few comfortable miles before the needle was pegged. I grimaced a bit with each incline and hoped I was right.

The East side of the Sierra Nevada mountains. (Photo courtesy Fed Glaser.)

My concerns were alleviated by the sight of the sapphire-blue waters of Tenaya Lake, probably one of the most photographed bodies of water within the borders of Yosemite National Park. The beauty of Tenaya belies the fact that it’s a barren, fishless lake. Thankfully, I knew it was less than 10 miles to the Tuolumne Meadows gas station, one of the few Chevron stations with a mini-store that offers rock climbing equipment for sale and rent. We’d done alright so far. It was 11:00 a.m., putting us on schedule to stop for lunch in Lee Vining.

This time the appearance of Tuolumne Meadows and its namesake river was a far cry from a visit in June with my brother and one son. The river was no longer near flood stage; the water had receded and the meadow was again grass. Lembert Dome loomed above us, sheer peaks watched from the southeast and the now fishable Dana Fork of the Tuolumne River teased us from alongside the road. Soon we reached Tioga Pass station and began a descent that would take us past Tioga and Ellery lakes, and into Lee Vining Canyon.

This 9-mile stretch of road harbors the majority of my childhood memories of family vacations. Scattered about are small meadows dotted with small stands of Lodgepole and other pines, and laced by small streams with small, willing wild brook and brown trout. Tioga Lake recalls a day of crazy fishing, when my sister, brother, dad and I stood on rocks a few feet above the lake casting spinners and watching the (stocked) rainbow trout chase our lures, only to strike at the last minute.

It all changes after Ellery Lake. Sheer rock is the predominate feature. Only small plants and hardy trees cling to crevices. Only on the canyon floor, the eventual destination of Lee Vining Creek after its exit from Ellery Lake, offers any great expanse of green. The Eastern Sierra high desert — a Pinyon pine-Juniper woodland — begins near the canyon floor, offering a stark contrast, beautiful in its own way, to the forest passed through to get there.

We had about 12 more miles to Lee Vining and sat down for lunch on the patio at Bodie Mike’s Barbeque just after noon. With the seasoning that comes with eating out-of-doors, we dug in, enjoying the view toward Mono Lake between bites. It was a quick drive to Crowley Lake Marina to surprise the marina attendant with a bone-dry boat. It took longer to affix the tag than conduct the inspection.

A few minutes later we tucked our stuff into the cabin to find ourselves with more time than expected on our hands. The afternoon sun was still well above the mountains to the west. We were there to fish, so took a short stroll to the nearby Rock Creek to cast a few flies.

Rock Creek isn’t too big, but usually heavily stocked and fished just as much. Willy and I split up. I would find a few rising fish willing to strike my offerings, but the kicker was Willy’s first fish — his first post retirement trout. A not-too-shabby brown trout of about 14 inches.

We spent a bit more time casting to rising fish, next to the opposite shore, of course. A few took our offerings, fewer were landed, but it was good to spend a few hours getting the “skunk” off before dinner.

Looking back, it was a good start to what would be a trip that was great for reasons I didn’t expect.


*Not through Yosemite Valley, however. The road to the valley dead ends near the Happy Isles Visitor Center. Hwy 120 passes the valley and heads through the high country and Tuolumne Meadows, then over Tioga Pass.


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fishing for words turns five after fourteen years in the making

fishing for words (ffw) was born on April 19, 2006. However and without knowing it, my blogging started fourteen years prior to that.

During the mid ‘90s — the beginning of the end for most grunge bands — I joined the few civilians who could make sense of this thing called HTML to launch a website with the unoriginal title “My Little Corner of the Internet.” It was a kooky little site for which every new entry required incorporating text into hand-coded HTML.

The trend at the time was to post a relatively static website about one’s self, and looking back one can see that the early “posts” — stories about trips or family events — popped up once or twice a year from August 1997 through July 2003. There seemed to be more to write about starting in 2004. I don’t know if was the fact that the kids were growing up and it didn’t take a trunk full of diapers, bottles, food and a stroller to travel more than five miles, or the fact that my new wife actually encouraged me to enjoy some adventures on my own.

My writing was largely directed at family and a few friends. Though a student once thanked me for my page on Aloha shirts (apparently it aided him in writing a term paper), I suffered no delusion that anyone would take an interest in what I wrote if they didn’t know me personally.

The Future of Outdoor Blogging

Perhaps the future will bring a new immediacy to outdoor blogging. (That’s not me...it’s my son with a wild rainbow on Stream X.)

Things changed in 2006 with this stuff called CMS and easy-to-use blogging platforms — both of which coincided with my first experience brandishing a fly rod over a Sierra Nevada stream. It was all in place: a website/blog that could easily be fed and a hobby that could provide material.

Now, 139,512 words and 458 posts later, I still resist defining my blog. It remains a place for family and friends…with a loose definition of “friend.” Over the years, nearly everyone in my immediately family has made an appearance in my blog — whether they liked it or not. Friends run the gamut: fly fishing club members, fellow bloggers I’ve surprised by actually showing up on their doorstep met face to face; folks who thanked me for suggestions on where their kids might have a good first fishing experience; even a few buddies met online with whom I eventually shared a fishing trip or two. Every reader is a potential friend, just like the older gentleman and younger guy wearing waders that were too clean and waving barely used rods.

While ffw doesn’t subscribe to any specific definition, it’s definitely been about sharing a personal story. It’s about stepping out of my little universe to share encouragement, a laugh, an experience, a tip or a trick. And every once and a while I’m pleasantly surprised to learn that my words do encourage or earn a chuckle.

Some folks might lament about how much things have changed in five years. I’d say that it’s only our methods of our interaction that have changed; the folks behind it remain much the same. Take a look at the Outdoor Blogger Network, for example — a group of good folks coming together over common interests. They’ve got to be good folks; they let me and my little blog join in the fun. And fun it’s been, sharing my misadventures and adding a couple of new readers every year.

As for the fly fishing, the places I fish usually are not covered in the slick pages of magazines. These are places that can be reached with relatively modest means and without a 4×4. (I did learn last year that a 4×4 would be helpful on the roads to and from Yellow Creek.)

My hero shots find heroism in fooling small wild and skittish brook trout with a fly tied with my own hands. (This summer, hero shots may include a fly rod built with those same hands.) And though the “body count” isn’t so important to me anymore, it’s still about duping that first dozen fish and the story that comes with it.

I’m hoping that there will be many more fish to write about.


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off-the-water rewards

I just finished counting the days until Opening Day in this neck of the woods, and realized that April will mark the fifth anniversary of my quick descent assimilation into the fly fishing community. The years have flown by as this hobby uniformly crept into the fabric my existence, without any warning of how rewarding and frustrating it could be, and how much richer it would make my life.

While I’ll likely forever argue with those who say fly fishing is about being on the water, in beautiful places, striving for the prefect cast (Would you really be there if the fish weren’t?), I was reminded last weekend that it can be similarly gratifying to pass along the joy of the sport.

When club casting instructor Willy called me and asked if I could fill in as an assistant at the Fly Fishing Show, I felt some relief that my father was on the other line, lending legitimacy to delaying my answer. Perhaps it’s a lack of confidence or a high level of self-criticism, but despite assisting with the club’s novice fly fishing seminar for these five years and acquitting myself well enough on the water to present flies in a manner suitable enough to fool fish, I’ve never thought of myself capable of offering worthwhile advice on casting. But I’d been kept onboard as the “hooking and landing” instructor for nine consecutive seminars over those five years. Besides, when a Federation of Fly Fishers-Certified Casting Instructor calls you, it suggests a level of faith.

The weather leading up to Sunday was cold and wet. The next system was predicted to lay a thin layer of snow on the local hills, but it moved quickly; the skies and sun would shine upon us all day.

Olive at the Fly Fishing Show

Kirk Werner's series of children's book showed up at the Fly Fishing Show.

I’d never been to the Fly Fishing Show for no other reason than lack of planning. Aisles were crowded with the requisite rod and reels in shiny colors that offered no additional functionality except to attract the eyes of anglers. One long row was inhabited by fly tiers doing what they do best. In between these booths, and others displaying gear, where thousands of flies for sale and lodges all touting trips of a lifetime.

Greeting me at the Federation booth were a few familiar faces, giving lessons in fly tying, offering casting lessons and talking up the Trout in the Classroom program. The job was simple. Meet and greet folks and offer free casting instruction. During the afternoon, Willy, Gary (who teaches the novice seminar with Willy) and I would do just that with a number of people. After all, free is a very good price.

I’ll admit to some trepidation at offering advice after a checkered short five-year career in fly fishing. Sticking to the basics seemed good enough, particularly for folks who’d never casted a fly rod. The results were surprising. The nearly adult boy who wanted to fly fish with his dad was soon able to cast well enough to place the yarn fly close to, if not in, the target ring. The girlfriend of the guy who wisely understood his attempts to teach her to cast might make him single again, learned that making a backcast as if she were picking up the phone* allowed for nice loops and a great presentation.

We kept offering and giving lessons. My confidence rose. While Gary instructed a wife, I worked with the husband to successfully relearn the casting of a smaller 5 wt trout rod after years of chasing Dorado with a 9 wt. We swapped stories and techniques all the while.

The kids were the best. My day ended spending time with a girl who was probably all of 11 years old, who wanted to learn to cast so that she and her dad could take advantage of an offer from an aunt in Montana to get them out on some of the local rivers. This little girl’s focus, willingness to learn and lack of bad habits allowed for fast learning, only delayed by a break now and then to rest. By the end of our time together, she was casting to a target with deadly accuracy.

At the end of the day, it was clear that I did something to help these folks learn fly casting or improve their casting. Perhaps it was as simple as standing outside on a sunny day and offering small words of encouragement. Perhaps there’s more to it than that. Regardless of what it was that I had to offer, the thank yous, appreciation and smiles after each lesson were genuine. Despite being a volunteer, I was paid well.


*Think of picking up the receiver of a wall-mounted phone and stopping at your ear.