fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)


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following no plan

Unhurried, we turned what could have been a three-hour drive into an easy-going, day-long expedition. Hours were spent exploring thin blue lines on maps and the unfamiliar dirt roads that would get us to hopefully fishy water. That time was rewarded with wild fish. One of us had to be satisfied with drifting a fly well enough to at least provoke strikes. We stumbled over boulders and walked through cold, clear waters on both the east and west slopes of Stevens Pass. Passed up less welcoming waters and greedily eyed a pod of big fish, fish too smart or wary to tempt. We stayed where we wanted as long as we wanted, and when the urge struck, we again headed east for a few or more miles before searching new water along another dirt road.

Often the best aspect of a destination is the journey required to get there. It’s all the better if that travel takes you out of your comfort zone. That’s now part of the nature of our Bro’ Trip™.

It was during June eight years ago that the rough outline – or at least the possibility – of an annual Bro’ Trip™ took form. Such traditions don’t just happen. They require work.

Back in 2008, our trip was about taking Dad fishing in Alaska, something he’d talked about but never followed up on. We spent four days of fishing for salmon and halibut out of a Kenai River lodge. Today, our Bro’ Trip™ is more modest but still adventures that include discovery and often take us to new places.

We easily throw trip ideas back and forth at the start of a new year before getting down to the real work: scheduling. We’re not retired or self-employed. Mark has two young boys. Side projects – Neighborhood Watch, college classes, and website work for my fly fishing club and the IWFF and NCCFFF (two other fly fishing groups), demand my regular attention. We both try to plan family vacations each year. Mark takes the boys camping and the whole family to various destinations. My wife likes cruises. Thankfully, both our wives support the allotment of some time for brothers to be brothers, and to sometimes act like boys.

After my banzai run up I-5 and the visit with the parents, I met up with Mark and family Sunday evening. He was barbecuing kokanee that was swimming earlier that morning. I was pretty ready to roll out the next morning. Mark wasn’t. It didn’t bother me much that he wasn’t ready. I’ve made a conscious effort over the years to avoiding worrying when it’s not necessary. And it’s definitely not necessary on vacation.

By midmorning the next day we turned off Hwy 2 and headed down a Forest Service Road toward Money Creek. Like many of the waters we’d fish that week, Money Creek is small pocket. The type of creek that attracts very few people, most likely fly fishermen with self-esteem issues. But its small dry fly water is worth a few casts. We were a bit too heavily armed, perhaps optimistically, with 3 wt. rods. We agreed to meet at the next bend to decide on whether we would extend our stay.

The weather was warm enough to allow wet wading but the water cool enough for the fish. Dense forest shaded both banks, their branches demanded care when casting unless we stepped into the water to make an upstream cast, which is my favorite tactic on previously unvisited water. The first step into the water was mildly shocking.

It’d been too long since I last laid hand to a fly rod, but the old muscle memory came back fast enough to generally place flies where trout might be looking. Without a visible hatch and expecting these to be wild and relatively unmolested fish, both Mark and I had tied on stimulator flies of one kind or another: Mark’s with an orange body, mine in yellow. The color didn’t matter; both were about size 16.

Quick strikes confirmed my guess; the trout were there. However, a lack of hookups suggested my fly was too big.

Mark working his way up Money Creek.

Mark working his way up Money Creek.

The benefit of not being a “purist” allows me to easily adopt strategies that other fly fishermen might frown upon. Rather than replace my size 16 fly, I tied a piece of tippet, about 10 inches, on to the stimulator, onto which I tied a size 20 Elk Hair Caddis. The biggest benefit to this setup is that the larger stimulator would give me an approximate location of my smaller, almost invisible fly.

That’s all it took. Later, Mark reported numerous strikes but not one fish to hand. I had landed half a dozen or so. The largest was about eight inches. It was a promising start. During the day we’d fish other creeks. We’d pass up others, usually because the footing was too treacherous for two not-in-their-prime guys. We found willing fish in the East Fork Miller Creek, before it merges with the Tye River to create the South Fork of the Skykomish River. Other waters on our list included Foss River, Rinker Creek and Quartz Creek.

Just after noon we had run out of easily accessible water and headed over Stevens Pass to make the descent into eastern Washington. We were talking like brothers can and munching on snacks, and the scenery whizzed by. That should have been a clue. The state trooper in the oncoming lane turned on his lights and made a U-turn. I couldn’t see any other cars headed east.

In retrospect, I found it heartening that I didn’t feel my stomach dip or my heart flutter with the realization those red and blue lights were for me. A quick check of my paperwork, an admonishment to slow down, and we were off again.

Mark interrupted our descent toward Wenatchee, suggesting we pull over to check out Nason Creek, which slips in and out of sight of the highway for many miles. This was a spot he’d checked out before. It was a broad, flat bend in the creek, its slow water hemmed in by broadleaf trees.

I half looked for signs of fish. This is the best way to spot a fish. This looking/not-looking – unfocusing on what you want to see – reveals subtle movements at the edges of your vision. Shadows, formerly rocks, start to sway back forth. Just above, the streamlined body. First one, then two, and a third and fourth. I pointed them out to Mark.

Then my jaw went slack and I went silent. An impossibly large trout swims into view. Larger dots along its back suggest it’s a brown trout. It would be former brood stock beyond its prime breeding years, but I’d rather believe it’s a wild and clearly piscivorous fish.

A welcome flight at Icicle Brewing.

A welcome flight at Icicle Brewing.

Before heading into Leavenworth for lunch, we sought out access on Icicle Creek, but hunger, fatigue and unfamiliarity with the area made beer and lunch more attractive. We stopped and walked a couple of blocks to Icicle Brewing Company.

The heat of eastern Washington was unlike anything I’ve felt before. It’s terribly dry. Even a small breeze feels like sandpaper. Shade offers only minor relief.

We lingered while munching on a pretzel, landjaeger and a meat and cheese platter, critiquing the beer and musing about unimportant things. (Who matched pretzels to mustard in the first place?) From Leavenworth it should have taken about 75 minutes to the house in Chelan but construction delays added about 40 minutes. Enough time for Mark to get in a nap.

Chelan was still baking in the afternoon sun when we arrived. We’d bake the rest of the week.


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no fishing, but a good catch

Summer’s gone and dribbles of rain have wet the ground a few times. It’s been an almost fish-less year for me. That may change with an end-of-the-season trip after the first of November, but in the meantime I’ll remain a bit cranky.

That’s not to say I haven’t been busy with tangential fishing endeavors. By the end of this month the move of two fly fishing club websites to new online platforms should be finished, and my involvement will taper off from full-time developer/designer to part-time consultant. I’ve also busied myself with experiments in online learning, recreational shooting and a personal goal of walking 5 miles daily. It’s become difficult to remember how fishing could fit into my schedule.

Last weekend it was creepy neighborly curiosity that had Karen and me traipsing through a home across the street and a houses up. The residents weren’t people with whom we had wanted to acquaint ourselves. The house was now vacant and an estate sale planned for Saturday.

In the world of estate and garage sales, every minute counts; but we had things to do and arrived about an hour late. There weren’t too many items of interest, though a nice rolling tool cabinet and couple decent pieces of furniture were tagged as sold.

I’m not a picker by any stretch of the imagination and generally won’t dig through a pile of junk hoping for a gem. But walking through the garage my attention was drawn to a few rods tucked into a corner.

It was the usual collection of rods bought on the spur of the moment: a mix of spinning and bait casting rods and nothing remarkable. The same could be said of the reels, with one exception tucked behind the others. A fly reel attached to a medium saltwater spinning rod.

Two years ago I purchased an unbranded bamboo rod at the club auction for minimal money and since had been looking for a reel that might match the rod’s patina and pedigree. At first glance, this reel would fit the bill. I offered $5, mumbling that it was the reel I was interested in, but that I’d do them a favor by taking the rod off their hands as well. The deal was sealed and money changed hands.

The Catch

The Catch

The rod cleaned up well enough to keep for the occasional misstep outside of fly fishing. The reel was in decent shape and only required wiping some dust and cobwebs away, which revealed it was a Pflueger Medalist 1495, a solid reel that I suspected might work well enough on the so-far-unused bamboo rod. But it was set up for left-hand retrieve, and I don’t do left-hand retrieve.

The Internets quickly offered up enough knowledge to indicate that I could set it up for right-hand retrieve. With a few tools and decent instructions the reel was soon in pieces. Maybe it’s nostalgia, but I admired its construction and relatively simple design — a more elegant reel from a more civilized age.

After a simple inversion of the drag plate was all it should take, but the right-hand retrieve side of the drag plate was missing a bezel that would allow the drag bearing, which fits inside the drag plate, to nestle into the drag plate. Test fitting revealed that would prevent the spool from seating properly. I scratched my head for a bit then sent off a few emails to guys who know better than I.

Apparently I had found a left-hand retrieve only Medalist 1495, likely manufactured in the late 1950s or 1960s before Pflueger changed the drag plate to allow folks to reel with the “wrong hand,” apparently a “quite collectible” version of the Medalist.

You’ll find me looking for another $5 reel for that no-name bamboo rod.


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and now, to compound your fly rod decision

It’s not the press release* itself (below) that intrigued me so much as the question as to whether Douglas Outdoors faces an uphill challenge.

All the right connections are made in the announcement — it’s led by the former president of a well-known fly rod and reel manufacturer, who later was also involved with a mid-range manufacturer; has a connection to conservation and a rod who holds two IGFA fly rod records, and touts a “made-in-the-USA” label.

If it’s not enough to launch another mid-range fly rod line in a market filled with options, particularly from more established, formerly upscale manufacturers, Douglas Outdoors promises to limit sales through dealers, mainly independent shops.

A FRESH LEGACY

Jim Murphy, former President of Hardy North America and founder of Redington, announces the founding of Douglas Outdoors. This is a new partnership with the Barclay family, prominent conservationists and owners of the Douglaston Salmon Run (DSR) on the famed Salmon River, in New York. Douglas Outdoors will present two new fly rod ranges, a line of spin and casting rods, and two new fly reels at the annual ICAST/IFTD show on July 15 in Orlando Florida. This first product offering will feature the Eclipse fly reel, the first to be made in the Douglas Outdoors factory in New York.

“We are in the process of building a new fishing rod factory here in New York State.” Murphy said, “We have hired a leading composites engineer to head the team. Tom Murphey, formerly of the Air Force Research Laboratory in Albuquerque is not only a prominent scientist in the field, but is also the holder of two current IFGA records on fly. Tom will be applying the latest material science breakthroughs to fishing rod design. We will bring our first US Made rods to market in 2015.”

“Douglas Outdoors is committed to a dealer-centric program. Our focus will be on the independent dealers, and we will offer them products, programs, and support that will reflect on their key role in the fishing industry.” Murphy continued, “I look forward to presenting Douglas Outdoors to the industry and to offering a fresh legacy of tackle and services that anglers and dealers alike will find both new and familiar.”


*This appeared in my fly fishing club’s in box.

Disclosure: No, I have not received nor do I expect to receive any compensation for this post.

Lastly, I don’t know how a “legacy,” by definition, can be fresh. I blame the copywriter.


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(not) all fishermen are liars

A few weeks ago in preparation for the coming trout season, I decided it was time to replace the line on my 5 wt. rod. I won’t say that I’m cheap, but this line had served well during its all-too-long life. It wasn’t as if it had developed any hinges or cracks, but last September the welded loop broke and I used a nail knot and monofilament to create a new loop-to-loop connection, then finished the season without having to replace it. But while I’m not a great fly fisherman and don’t demand perfection in my equipment, a floating line that doesn’t float is a bit of a problem.

When I first set up this rod and reel, I used line purchased at a club auction. It was a great deal for a name brand line. Truthfully, I’ve since wondered how long it might have been in the club inventory. It would be hoped that it spent it’s time in a house closet; where the temperature was regulated and exposure to ultraviolet light limited, but it more likely spent its time in a garage, baking during the summer.

This was a plain fly line, nothing special. Its entire length was that vibrant green that makes outsiders question how fly fishermen catch anything. In my pre-fly fishing life I too wondered how fish didn’t see that bright, large-diameter line, not knowing then that there was nine feet of leader and tippet that I couldn’t see, to which a fly was attached.

I’m getting a late start this season, so replacing the line wasn’t imperative. The real decision was where I might get it replaced. I don’t have many choices in fly shops around here. I could drive an hour into San Francisco. There’s a new fly shop in the city, a shop within a shop, apparently, owned and operated by a guy well known in local fly fishing circles. I haven’t been there yet, but hear it’s pretty nice.

There’s another shop south of me, not too far away and across a toll bridge. But like many local fly shops, it is one that seems to be only surviving, not thriving. It’s in the suburbs, not near any fly fishing destination, not in a convenient location and not in a high-traffic area. More than that, it seems that inventory is lacking. I understand it’s a business and inventory is money, and no business owner wants money sitting on the shelf. However, the last time I spent a significant amount of money in this shop was a few years ago, when I found a pair of the previous season’s waders on sale and was lucky they fit. I was apprehensive that this shop would offer much choice in the way of line.

The other option was to head north, a little farther, but not an unreasonable distance. Luckily, my wife had suggested making a day of it, stopping at a new brewery, having lunch and casually exploring places we’d never stopped before. And this sporting goods store has a pretty good reputation for a wide selection of fly fishing gear and accessories.

It’s a well-stocked store, divided into clear sections dedicated to conventional and fly fishing, as well as hunting. I was greeted the moment I walked in but left alone to ponder a myriad of fly lines. Without counting, I’d guess that between the different brands, types of line and specific applications for each of those lines, I was presented with at least 60 choices.

I nymph a lot and boxes of lines dedicated to this tactic were printed with key words and phrases such as “easy mending,” “extra powerful turnover” and “high flotation tip.” Camouflage lines are neat, but I was hooking fish with the bright green line, so why change?

After just about the right amount of time had gone by, the salesman who had greeted me sauntered up.

“So, have you picked one out yet?”

“No, there’s quite a selection to go through.” I had narrowed my choice to two selections, grabbed the appropriate boxes and asked him directly, “I’ve got this one fly line here. It claims it’ll do everything I want and will slice through the wind for the longest cast possible. The truth is I don’t cast much more than 20 or 30 feet, unless on a lake. That’s the way it is where I fish.”

He didn’t jump into a sales pitch, but instead countered my question. “Where do you fish?”

We ended up discussing streams and rivers in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and exchanged stories as fly fishermen often do. Obviously, this painted a good picture about my line needs. He told me of some of his favorite water and experience in aiding with the development and testing of fly line for one company. I tend to believe that most fly fishermen are pretty honest except when it comes to the fly that’s working that day, but I was a bit suspicious, and steeled myself for the hard sell.

Still I stood there with the two fly lines in each hand, each the same brand I use on my 4 wt. rod. In one hand was the special-purpose, “highly textured” line; in the other was a standard weight-forward line for half the price. “What do you think?” I asked.

He replied, “All you need is this basic line. It’ll do everything you want and even stuff they don’t print on the box. The other line is only what you want when casting into wind.” Then he whispered, “Really, that basic line will do just as well, it just takes a bit more skill.”

I felt a bit embarrassed that he’d recommend the lower-priced line when I had walked in prepared to spend much more. I made up for it with the purchase of some flies, extra tippet, beads and other items for which I don’t have an immediate need, but will eventually use.

I don’t know if this guy is paid on commission or not. Perhaps he’s evidence that there is such a thing as an honest fly fisherman.


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on the (hidden) cost of visiting a “local” fly shop

Sure, deceit is rampant in fly fishing. A common non-answer answer to “What fly you using?” might be, “Well, they’re looking at dries, taking some nymphs too, but streamers might work.” And it’s always delivered with a grin.

That same grin might go along with a tale about the latest and great gear gotten at a great price, but often left unsaid is the “where” of that purchase. While I pondered the gift certificates on my desk and personally wrestled with this question of “where” the last few weeks, it dawned on me that me and my generation maybe the last one with truly equal footing in the pre- and post-Internet world.

My nearest fly shop is about 17 miles away, not too far. It’s a modest affair and on the surface, like many fly shops, seems to have had its struggles over the years. Inventory can still be hit or miss.

The Orvis gift certificates on my desk, however, made the choice between shopping online and visiting a brick-and-mortar shop both a logistical and a financial decision. The closest store, in San Francisco, closed last year. I could shop online, but wading boots were on my list, and just as much as I wouldn’t buy a fly rod without casting it first, I generally don’t buy anything that will be worn without test fitting. I also detest the drawn out process of buying, returning and awaiting shipment of a replacement item.

That’s why the wife and I ended up at the Roseville Orvis store, 80 miles away from home, a weekend ago.

We made a day of it, stopping to walk in Discovery Park along the American River, just above its confluence with the Sacramento River. The weather was great and the river was dotted with boats of anglers searching for the first salmon of the Central Valley season.

packWe found the Orvis store after realizing it had moved and, feeling a bit like a dork, I carried my waders and socks on the walk to the store. The waders gave me away as soon as I entered the store, and soon I was set with new rubber-soled wading boots. (My old felt boots are still serviceable, but will be relegated to a back role and waters known to be invasive species free.) A small chest pack was selected and a day pack ordered. More than a few flies made it into the bag.

I enjoyed the friendly banter with Frank – comparisons of fishing experiences, hints and suggestions of waters that deserve a visit – something that’ll never be matched online. And there was no cost to fondle wiggle test rods on my wish list.

Fuel to Get There: $18.45
Entrance Fee at Discovery Park: $5.00
Lunch at Smashburger: $10.52
Plenty of New Fly Fishing Gear: Don’t Ask
Personal Service from Guy Who Actually Uses the Gear: Priceless


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my trouble with fly rods

VapenApparently more and more fly rod builders are chasing customers younger than I can pretend to be.

My tenure in the sport isn’t long, but long enough to absorb more than a few old timers’ tales, tales in which rods are referenced by the manufacturer and either a simple model number or more elegant name reflective of fly fishing. Examples: older rods such as the Paul Young Perfectionist, the Phillipson Epoxite Registered Midge and contemporary models like Winston’s Boron series or Orvis’ Access and Clearwater lines.

But, according to Sage, there can be only ONE*. While the Orvis Helios implies it’ll imbue one with god-like powers on the stream, at least that name still has an indirect connection to fishing†. Two years later we have the new Vapen rod from Redington. Vapen? Look it up. The first few results in a search of the Internet will show its etymology is Swedish for “weapon.” A bit of an odd name for a niche of fishing that typically embraces a catch and not-kill-or-wound philosophy. Then there’s the Vapen Red, with a polymer grip, co-developed with a golf club grip company, that’s the color of Technicolor lipstick. Yes, correlations between golf and fly fishing are many, and fly rod development — as well as that of nearly all fly fishing accoutrement &msash; has always been about chasing and adapting the latest technology from other industries.

But I’ve been thinking about stepping up to a nice, and lighter, fly rod. Now, it seems, it’s all moving a bit too fast for me and getting, well, a bit too flamboyant and aggressive for my tastes.

Maybe I’m that is slowing down as the world speeds up around me. Perhaps I’m closer to “vintage” that I’d care to admit. After all, I remember when marijuana was the “evil weed.” My high school education included a typing class. And these days I increasingly have to explain my pop references to the staff I’ve hired.

Guess there’s little hope I’ll ever be hip on the stream.

The comments, as always, are now open.


* Is someone at Sage a “Highlander” fan?
† Helios, the Titan god of the sun and god of the gift of sight, lived in a golden palace located in the River Okeanos.


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first time fly fishing with the wife (or, rolling the dice on being out-fished)

I never pushed fly fishing on my wife, but she’s always supported my pursuit of the sport and listens attentively to accounts of all my adventures. She usually believes the fish are as big as I say.

Then, a few months ago she took me by surprise, asking if I would show her how to cast a fly rod. I’ve had welcome opportunities over the years to help teach, or at least acquaint, a few folks with fly fishing. In addition to assisting with the club’s novice class, it could be said I didn’t teach too many bad habits to my brother and my son, both of whom went on to have some success.

After an involuntary thought that “those who can, do, but shouldn’t necessarily teach,” I agreed to take my wife out for some casting. Good weather offered an opportunity and we spent just under an hour going through the basic motions.

A few weeks later, during a discussion of our weekends, I reminded her that I’d be teaching the novice class on an upcoming Saturday. She asked if there might be room. There was, and soon she had reserved a spot. She learned a lot and suffered through some frustration.

It is nice to have someone to take a photo.

Sure is nice to have someone along to get photographic evidence.

We’d be at the cabin a week after the class, and while a friend would be with us and side trips were planned, it was expected that I’d slip away to chase a few trout. Although we packed extra rods, reels and my spare waders and wading boots, it wasn’t until we stopped at Bass Pro and purchased a license for my wife did the reality sink in that she actually might join me.

Firmly believing that the best way to hook someone on fly fishing is to get into a fish on a fly rod, our destination the next morning was a stocked stream not too far from the cabin. We test-fit the waders at home and knew they would work well enough. My wife set up the rod and reel on her own, we clipped on our wading staffs and headed to the stream. I think it was after a dozen steps or so that my wife began referring to my old wading boots as “clown shoes.” (Admittedly, they were a bit big, but did the job that day.)

My wife doesn’t much like water — it’s for drinking and bathing and that’s about it — but she didn’t flinch much when we began wading. While waders provide a barrier between the wearer and the wetness of the water, one still “feels” the water. I reassured her that in water this cold, after a bit of time, she’d be too numb to notice.

Just before the first strike...

Just before the first strike…

This is a stream best nymphed, with limited dry fly action some afternoons. Offering a running commentary on what I was doing, I rigged up two standard nymphs below an indicator. I explained and demonstrated where to cast (and hooked a fish in the process), and talked about how the trout would be looking for a close approximation of a real insect drifting near a current seam.

The morning was sprinkled with encouragement and advice. My wife’s casting, more like lobbing under the tree limbs above, improved. Her patience was impressive. After the first take of the day, it was more than an hour before a second bump. She wasn’t the only one casting to ghosts. I could count my strikes on one hand.

About midmorning we shifted downstream about 10 feet. The fish in this stream, though raised in a hatchery, move throughout the day, typically following the movement of the shadows. Close to noon, there’s more sunlight than shadows on the water, forcing any trout in the area into a narrow and definable seam. Downstream, I switched to a dry/dropper setup and was sight casting to a decent looking fish. Good placement and presentation earned a solid strike, and I landed my second and last fish of the day. Photo taken and trout released, the focus returned to getting the wife on a fish.

There’s no telling what changed — the temperament of the fish, the depth or general presentation of the flies — but suddenly my wife could lay out a cast, manage the line and fool a fish. A trout was hooked on the second or third strike, offered a dramatic leap and was gone. In between a few more strikes we worked on line management and talked about setting the hook. A few more strikes were missed.

Karen's First Fly Fish

Getting the “hero shot” took some dedication with an uncooperative, slippery fish. But she did it.

Then it all came together.

It was good to get excited about a fish on the line, even if it wasn’t my line. Limiting my advice to keeping the rod tip up and letting out line when the fish demanded it, I set my rod down and carefully moved downstream of the missus. I calmly instructed her to bring the fish head first into the net. For one heart-stopping moment the 12-inch rainbow would have flopped out were it not for my cat-like ninja reflexes luck.

Yes, my wife did receive a proper fly fishing baptism, falling into the water a few times. (No water over the waders and nothing broken.) Tangles were minimal and, amazingly, not one fly was lost the entire day. I do worry, however, that had she hooked (and landed) all the fish that hit her flies, she would have out-fished me.

Ask my wife why she stepped up to try fly fishing and you’ll get some sentimental nonsense that it’s another way to spend time with her husband. That day, in a cool stream away from everyday worries, after landing a trout, she told me of a new understanding of why I enjoy fly fishing.

While we’re not running out to buy her new gear, I’m now optimistic that there’s a greater chance of fly fishing any suspect water we pass during our travels.