fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)


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the promise of wet weather

Keeping little guys comfy.

Keeping little guys comfy.

The yard was dusted with frost this morning and the drive to the office was made a bit more exciting by a patch black ice on the Petaluma River bridge. California’s in between storms and a chill has fallen from painfully clear skies.

There are now feet of snow in the Sierras – infinitely better than the inches anxiously counted last year – and a new hope. During the last few years of drought I’ve stayed away from my favorite skinny waters, those little streams where Mother Nature passionately paints trout with dazzling colors; wild fish willing take anything above or below the surface that looks like food.

The prospect of revisiting these little guys, who’ve likely faced struggles of their own with limited water, is exciting and worrisome. They’re physically small and sensitive. They’re not “hero shot” fish. And the creeks in which they live are too small to wade and deeply entrenched, with the occasional waterfall and deep scour pools.

Keeping these trout wet presents a problem. Perhaps it’s time to add a small photography aquarium, aka “photarium,” to my kit.

Here’s to hoping I’ll need to.

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you’ll just have to trust me

“…Facebook is responsible for the death of thousands of fish a year due to people mishandling fish as they pose for victory shots.”
      — attributed to Brian O’Keefe, co-founder of Catch Magazine in “An Upstream Journey, Dispatch #5: Taking a Break in Bend” by Paul Moinester


It’s become accepted in an era of InstaFaceGooTumblr that without visual evidence you’re not to be believed.

…which explains the fact that a search of “fly fishing photography” yields over 20 million results. It appears customary for articles about “catch and release” in mainstream fly fishing media and other outlets to include how to take a grip and grin with minimal impact on the fish. Even a few detail how the solitary fisherman can take better photos.

My experience fishing alone has taught me that there is no easy way to take a decent photo. When I did, it was only to prove my fly fishing prowess luck.

NoPhotoNot anymore.

It could be argued that trout are the most beautiful freshwater game fish. Yes, their coloration goes beyond simple camouflage, it is sprinkled with a subtle and unmatched beauty for which words are inadequate.

I’d like to say it’s that beauty that leads fly fisherman so often post or carry photos of fish. But more often than not, these poses — “hero shots” — show a fish in a most unnatural environment: out of water, often in midair, and in a human’s hands.

Getting a good photo when fishing solo is something I haven’t mastered. There’s the bumbling for the camera once the fish is in the net. The instant the camera’s turned on the trout, at least the ones I land, decide to be as uncooperative as possible. Most of my first shots are unattractive photos of their backs. There might be a second attempt but by the third try, sympathy for the fish wins, and I let it slide out from the net.

That’s not to say I won’t take any fish photos whatsoever when fishing solo, but there’ll be no more arm’s length shots; maybe photos only of that remarkable fish, landed quickly and handled minimally, in the net in the water. With any luck, I’ll learn how to take underwater shots.

Next time I tell you I landed a few trout, you’ll just have to trust me.


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(relatively) word-free Friday

Since pictures are worth a thousand words, and it would take many thousands to tell of the adventure and fun enjoyed last week with my brother’s family, below is a gallery of photos that tell the story than I could. The days were filled with swimming at the local lake, visiting a historic gold rush town and panning for gold, more fun — swimming, sliding, diving, building sand castles — at the lake, hiking, mini golf and a trip to Yosemite. Enjoy!

Due to loading issues, the gallery has been moved here.


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a return to the high country with the folks who raised us, some thirty years later

It turns the tables a bit when it’s the kids introducing parents to new places and experiences and revisiting the familiar after three decades is icing on the cake, though there’s bound to be disagreement in our personal memories.

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Mom and Dad at the cabin, for their first visit.

But easy agreement was found in the beauty of the scenery and shared remembrances during a long drive up and over Tioga Pass, along the shores of Mono Lake, before a return over Sonora Pass.

The parents arrived at the cabin late that Sunday afternoon, and after running an errand that took entirely too long for Dad, dinner was enjoyed and we settled in for the evening. Thankfully, the storm that had dumped snow on the passes had dissipated the day before and the warmth of the sunshine had cleared the roads.

Mom, Dad and I leisurely left Twain Harte with a route in mind but absent any planned stops or timetable. The hillsides leaned more toward gold, but were freckled by islands of still-green grass.

I’ve driven this road many mornings, but saw things a bit differently today since I wasn’t preoccupied with wetting my fly line. Miles rolled by, lubricated by conversation. Soon it was time for a stop to stretch our legs. Though there aren’t many hatcheries that will, in my mind, match the magnificence of the historic Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery visited in my youth, there was something familiar about walking around the Moccasin Creek Hatchery with the folks.

After the excitement of gaining 1,500 feet in elevation over the two miles of the “new” Old Priest Grade, it was all new territory for Mom and Dad as we wound through Big Oak Flat, Groveland, and past Buck Meadows. Highway 120 took us from 2,838 feet at Big Oak Flat to Yosemite National Park’s Big Oak Flat Entrance Station at 4,900 feet. Dad was impressed by the tidiness of the towns and the number of old buildings alongside the roadway, many of which are still in use.

If it wasn’t enough to have fantastic weather, traffic was light. By mid morning we arrived at the entrance station, where the purchase of an annual pass got us across the park border. Words in many foreign languages hung in the cool air, reminding me of the many nature blessings that aren’t more than a day’s drive from home that attract visitors from around the world.

I’ve always throught that the changes in vegetation and terrain grow more dramatic once inside the formal boundaries of Yosemite. Heavy forest yielded to granite, which only seems to yield to water in the form of glaciers, ice and liquid. We pushed on to Olmsted Point, taking obligatory photos, then on to Tenaya Lake. Availing ourselves of the facilities near the lake, I made a mental note that I need to spend more time exploring Tenaya Lake and its surroundings.

There’s a drama that comes with finally emerging from the forest to be presented with the dramatic vista of Tuolumne Meadows, then dropping into the meadow itself. This time I was taken aback by the dramatic change in its appearance compared with that of last spring, when my brother, son and I were on our way to a challenging life-affirming hike to the top of nearby Lembert Dome. Last year the meadows were covered with water. This year, the grass was already the gray-brown of late August.

I had to explain to Dad that the Tuolumne Meadows campground wasn’t open yet when he asked why I was parking alongside the highway. He’d never been here so early in the season. (The campground would open two weeks later, rather early.) Though last June there was snow on the ground and big puddles filled with mosquito larvae, there was nothing of the sort this last week of May. A stroll toward the entrance was accompanied by a bit of debate about the differences between today’s visit and our memories of camping trips more than two decades ago. Regardless of the differences of opinion and any discrepancy in our memories, there was more than enough that was still the same to foster a feeling of familiarity.

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Mom and Dad’s triumphant return after 30-some years.

My worries about the water were confirmed during this walk through the campground when I stopped near the same spot from which I took a photo of Lembert Dome in 2011. Last year, there was no discernable difference between the channels of the Tuolumne River and the river itself, and the water was within two feet of the bottom of the Tuolumne Meadows (Hwy. 120) Bridge. This year, the channel nearest the campground was no more than a foot deep, and the river was barely touching the bridge abutments.

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The three of us at Leavitt Falls Overlook.

The reminiscing was further fueled by the sheer rock walls along the descent from Tioga Pass to Lee Vining. The thought of dropping in at Bodie Mike’s for a barbecue lunch was derailed by Dad’s sudden proposition of stopping at the Tioga Gas Mart — that he didn’t recall seeing before — to grab lunch at the Whoa Nellie Deli. A word of warning: Be careful what you order. It’s all big at Whoa Nellie. The Cowboy Steak Sandwich is not so much as sandwich as it is a steak slapped on a roll.

The easy drive north on Hwy. 395 from Lee Vining was a welcome change after such a big lunch. By the time we arrived to the intersection of Hwys. 395 and 108, the urge to nap had passed. A good thing considering the hairpin curves that would take us from 6,765 feet to 9,623 feet at Sonora Pass. Before our main ascent, the Leavitt Falls overlook offered a last opportunity to stretch our legs before the long trip over the pass. The reduced volume of water coming over the falls was another reminder that it’s going to be a dry year in the Sierra Nevada. We posed for photos, then began the long climb.

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Getting a roadside education at Sonora Pass.

This was undiscovered country for the parents, who never had a reason to travel this road. To my eye, Hwy. 108 over Sonora Pass offers much more dramatic transitions. The road rises faster and the changes in terrain and vegetation follow suit. Surprised to find it open, we stopped at the Donnell Reservoir scenic overlook, with a sweeping over the Stanislaus River canyon and the Central Valley. The road from there is bit less remarkable, winding through heavy forest and passing towns that only seem to be wide spots in road.

It was a long but worthwhile day; one that both revived and created memories.

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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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cruising to Alaska, part one: getting up steam

There are a few notable things about taking a cruise that make me feel good: massages, a disconnection from everyday demands and the fact that it’s relatively certain I’ll be part of the younger crowd. Lump in the fact that your hotel room is hauled from port to port while that someone else does the driving, often while you’re asleep, and it’s a pretty sweet deal.

Fueling this allure of cruising is the old-school mode of conveyance, a reminder of less hurried days. The big ships today don’t move any faster than their counterparts of the early 1900s.*

One has to step away from the food, onboard boutiques, entertainment and the Internet café to truly experience this timelessness of travel by ship. My wife and I found ourselves relatively undisturbed during a long, afternoon walk on a lower deck, much of that time watching the ship’s prop wash disappear over the horizon.

Leaving San Francisco Bay

We embarked in San Francisco after a short ride from home, courtesy of the in-laws. One overriding factor in choosing this longer cruise — my dear wife will tell you I wasn’t initially convinced it was worth the extra cost — was that it didn’t require violation screening by the TSA or limits on luggage…we could’ve have taken a ferry across the bay, then walked from the San Francisco Ferry Building to the cruise terminal.

Checked in and familiar with our stateroom’s location on Aloha Deck (11), we familiarized ourselves with the ship courtesy a scavenger hunt. It was helpful to my waistline that our stateroom’s location would require going up or down at least two and often four or five flights of stairs to reach most destinations.

The weather was fantastic for our departure; a bluebird sky, sunshine and wisps of clouds over the bay…at least until we got to the Golden Gate Bridge. Very little of the bridge was visible, but no matter how little of the bridge we saw, it was from a unique perspective. With the ship headed out to an overcast sea, we unpacked, settled in and prepared for dinner. My wife was most excited that evening to receive her Princess Patter, the ship newsletter, which offers a list of shipboard activity the next day and a column written by various ship’s crew.

Our first two days would be at sea, something that’d be unremarkable without knowing that I’ve been prone to seasickness. While Sea Princess — with a length of 856 feet, beam 106 feet and gross tonnage of 77,000 tons — is big ship, 11-foot swells can give a slight pitch to the deck. My apprehension faded away the morning of the second day, when I seemed to have gotten my sea legs. Even so, I still find it a bit disconcerting to jump on a treadmill in the morning to see the sea go by in a direction perpendicular to the direction you’re walking.

That second day I planned to meet with the maître d’hôtel in the morning regarding our dining arrangements. Our original reservations provided for anytime/flexible dining, but before embarking we had requested a switch to traditional dining. The first evening we were reminded that anytime dining really isn’t that flexible, not being served until well after 6:30 p.m. Apparently I made the maître d happy. My request to change to traditional dining came without caveats and with a willingness to share a table with others. Yes, my wife and I dine well with others.

We filled that second day visiting the gym, learning the ship’s layout, confirming spa appointments and attending seminars; some informative, others part of the up-selling that comes with cruising.

During a visit to the cabin in the late afternoon it was learned that I’d be wearing long pants to dinner. We had been moved to the first seating (5:30 p.m.) in the traditional dining room. We didn’t know that fate had a surprise in store.

Sunset somewhere along the California coast…

We were seated at our table, with room for six, before anyone else. Eventually, a couple sat down with their daughter and son-in-law, and introductions commenced. Shortly, however, it grew clear that they had expected another daughter and her husband to occupy the seats now filled by us. Speculation that the daughter hadn’t been able to get her dining assignment changed was soon rendered moot when she appeared, revealing that she did secure a change to traditional dining but hadn’t been able to get an assignment to their table. With a little push from my wife and I, and agreement from the head waiter, the daughter accepted our offer to switch table assignments.

We were presented to our new tablemates, among whom, as luck would have it, was a gentleman my wife had come to know on cruisecritic.com. It quickly became clear we’d all get along when John commented that had he seen us coming, he’d have said “no” to new tablemates. We’d end up spending every dinner and many evenings with John and his wife Connie, and Gene and his wife Maydean.

Our third night was a special occasion: it was the first time in years I’d worn long pants, much less a suit formal night. Adhering to tradition, it was suit and tie for the men, a dress or nice pant suit for the women. Well, some of the men and some of the women. There was a mix of attire, with tuxedoes at the top, plenty of suits, a smattering of polo shirts and khakis, and others who just should’ve order room service in. (This is one of those times that I tend to show my age, expecting that honoring a tradition means making a real effort.)

That was also the evening that we began an eight-night tradition of evening entertainment courtesy of cabaret singer/pianist Sammy Goldstein.

With an excellent start to this cruise, I was looking forward to our first stop: Ketchikan, Alaska.


* There was a contest among ocean liners to capture the trans-Atlantic speed record that led to a top speed of 43 knots (held by the SS United States), but the line is now blurred between ocean liners and cruise ships, and most maintain a cruising speed closer to 20 knots. The only ship comparable to an ocean liner of yore is Cunard Line’s Queen Mary 2, which has a top speed of 30 knots but typically cruises at 20 to 26 knots.