fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)


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avoiding that 12-step program

I’m trying to avoid that 12-step program.

I’ve seen the results of the sickness. It’s not pretty. Often, it means a car can’t be parked in the garage.

An unchecked inventory of rods, reels, waders, vests and more spills from the shelves. A lathe, peppered with bits of grip cork, sits front and center, over fading oil stains. Boxes of feathers, thread, fur and hooks litter the floor. A pontoon boat or float tubes fill much of the rest of the space.

After taking an unblinking look at my array of fly fishing gear, it’s become clear that the time to act is now, before I lose control to an outside intervention. The rule around the house is that if an item hasn’t been used in a year, you’d better have a darn good reason — other than unshared sentimentality — for hanging on to it.

That hard look uncovered that 10-foot, 7 wt. rod that’s been wetted only once, chasing bass three years ago. I wouldn’t say I’m a trout snob, but bass fishin’ just hasn’t grabbed hold of me. And the trout I do chase generally don’t require much more than a 5 wt. (I’m actually leaning more toward a 4 wt. nowadays, but that’d require another acquisition.)

Luckily, I don’t have much, yet. There’s an old bamboo rod in one of those cases, but it’s safe; the wife suggested it could be decorative in the fly tying room that’ll be occupied by the last kid at home, probably for another three years. The spinning rods were long ago tucked into the garage at the cabin in the hope that visiting nephews might enjoy them. A boxful of spinners should join them shortly.

I expect that one’s collection of fly rods and reels is acquired for no other reason than fishing. Sometimes we want the latest and greatest, and forget what we already have. Sometimes it’s the search for the gear that will allow for longer casts, straighter cast, more accurate casts, or all of the above. Other considerations include differences in feel, flex, power, speed and fit and finish.

Maybe it’s a quixotic quest, but after casting various rods owned by friends and guides’ rods during the last year, I’m hoping to apply greater scrutiny any future gear acquisitions…buying only what I need, spending the money to get what I really want (with the required scrimping and saving). And there’ll still be room for a back up rod.

I’m hopeful that my belief that garages are for cars — many Californians seem to think that garages are above-ground basements — will keep to a minimum prevent any hoarding.


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trying to keep it simple (or, call me cheap)

A time comes in every fly fisherman’s career when it becomes clear that he (or she) has too much gear.

An outsider will recognize this long before the fly fisherman, but it seems that at some point, the vast majority of fly fisherman will eventually talk about simplifying. This may mean using a lanyard instead of a vest, carrying a single fly box instead of three, or taking up tenkara, which itself requires the purchase of more gear.

There’s an irony to the oft-told story of the boy who started fishing with cane rod, then grew into the fly fisherman who owns a small-brook rod, a small-river rod, a medium-river rod, a large-river rod, single- and double-handed salmon/steelhead rods, a stillwater rod and maybe a saltwater rod. And a few spare rods just in case. Each rod, of course, needs a matching reel. While there is legitimate need for a range of rods, this same fly fisherman will fondly recall the remarkable enjoyment, and simplicity, of chasing bluegill, bass, trout or some other fish with that cane rod of their childhood.

It’s been posited that a fly fisherman moves through four stages in how he approaches the sport, and the same might be true of gear:

  1. The first stage entails learning to cast with a rod that was passed down as a gift or was simply inexpensive enough to warrant an attempt at fly fishing. The first fish caught on this rod will likely be remembered forever. A fly box — probably a small, free one from the fly shop — and forceps fit into any available pocket. A broken branch serves as a wading staff.
  2. Stage two entails replacement of that first rod and reel with counterparts that are shiny and new, both of which are more of a personal choice, and not a choice necessarily predicated on budget. Then there’s the vest; two, three or five more fly boxes and the flies to fill them; a decent mesh net; a wading staff; and maybe waders and felt-sole wading boots.
  3. It all peaks in the third stage. A preference for a specific brand means new rods, new reels (with back ups for both) and new lines for every type of water fished or species chased. The vest may be replaced with a chest or sling pack. A rubber net is a must have, as is a lightweight, high-strength composite alloy collapsible wading staff. New rubber-soled wading boots include carbide cleats. A multitude of flies are purchased or tied, and if tied, enough materials to last three lifetimes must be bought.
  4. The stage of simplification. It’s not so much about catching fish anymore, it’s the act — the gear is secondary. Maybe an attempt to recapture the pure joy of that first fly rod-caught fish, or perhaps avoiding hauling so much stuff around the river. Perhaps the rod is one built at home…not perfect but nice looking enough, and mated to a reel chosen for no other reason than it’s a favorite. The single fly box may not be filled, but it has every fly that’ll be needed.

If the level of a fly fisherman is measured by his gear, I’m still an amateur. Coming into the hobby later in life hasn’t afforded me the years that many spend accumulating equipment.

I did, however, purchase a new net at the club auction this week, for many reasons. Sure, it’s lighter than my current net and more “appropriately sized” for the trout I land. Crafted by a club member who’s also a skilled woodworker (so, made in America), it’s one of a limited set with the club logo (in enamel and metal) worked into the handle, and my winning bid will go into the pool of money the club donates to many conservation organizations.

Fly fishing is not stuff, it’s what you do. (And it really shouldn’t matter what you use to do it.)

Net Detail

Close up of the enamel badge...


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it boils down to confidence in the little things

If you’re looking to build self-confidence and have taken up fly fishing, there is no shortage of instructional books, DVDs, websites and podcasts. Some folks will proclaim that things like more expensive better rods, a specific brand of fly line and the one killer fly will be the keys to a better fly fishing experience. But the best thing any angler can do is to just keep casting; confidence comes with learning to do things on your own.

Building this necessary confidence took me a while. Those who’ve seen my fishing — specifically my casting — might agree that blind confidence is a much bigger part of the equation than skill.

In casting, confidence requires first believing that you won’t piece a body part and, second, that you’ll get the fly where it needs to go.

When it comes to flies, there’s a prevalent theory that anglers gravitate toward certain flies — and hook most fish with them — because they have confidence in those flies. Confidence or lack thereof can also apply to the landing of or losing those hooked fish. My “confidence flies” are the Zebra Midge, AP Nymph and something like a Copper Chromie, but with red thread and silver wire.

Confidence in flies can be challenged again when you tie your own. The flies that work, the ones in which an angler has the most confidence, will be the ones tied most often. That certainly applies to my tying. (See the list above.)

My confidence was called into question this year, once again, when I hooked that first fish on the rod I built during the winter. My confidence grew with each fish coaxed to the net.

Soon I’ll be testing the limits of that confidence. I’ll be working with knotted leaders.

Yeah, old school stuff. There are folks who eschew modern loop-to-loop connections and extruded knotless leaders and swear by knotted leaders. In my case, I’ll be duplicating a time-tested formula used for stillwater nymphing (3 feet of 1X, 3 feet of 3X and 7 to 10-plus feet of 5X to the depth fished).

It’s my knot-tying ability that’ll be tested…in a lake where 18-inch rainbow, brown or cutthroat trout aren’t uncommon, and often one might get into a 24 incher. It doesn’t help that I have an inherent mistrust of tippet. The formula works; at least when tied by guides I’ve hired.

This time I’ll be me tying the knots, and I’d daresay that any fish I land will be well deserved.


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what we saw the week before this Wednesday (2011-08-10)

  • Bummer…wish I got the World Fishing Network so I could watch the #Orvis Guide to #FlyFishing show… http://ow.ly/5ZcGO http://ow.ly/5ZcHG#
  • #Fishing report from the good ol’ days used to illustrate “…decisions made then, and the present we have inherited.” http://ow.ly/5Zc9P #
  • Got good local trout water? An article on closest to me: http://ow.ly/5Z95Y Challenging #flyfishing venue that might improve in 10-15 years. #
  • Redington first #flyfishing manufacturer at Outdoor Retailer show. Good for industry outreach, but will it crowd waters? http://ow.ly/5XN6S #
  • Is a man thing – or just me – to enjoy the smell of vulcanized rubber in the Costco tire shop? #


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the fishing that led to appreciating that good beer

I didn’t know it then, but that confidence mentioned in words written about a week ago would be tested on the first full day of Trout Season 2011, even if high water narrowed our possible venue down to two or three choices where we knew the fish should be willing to play. At least that’s what we thought.

Sean's Angels Creek Rainbow

Sean's hands make this nicely colored rainbow from Angels Creek seem smaller than it actually is. At least that's what he says...

There’s a balance that comes with fishing the week after Opening Day. The fact that most of the water known to hold trout was given a rude awakening on Opening Day is offset by wide-open access. So, although I’m not one to linger long after opening my eyes in the morning, this morning there was no frantic rush to get out the door.

The night before we had decided to head to “Hatchery Creek.” While well stocked with rainbows (and occasionally brook trout), it also can offer kokanee in the spring and a few elusive browns in the fall. We had been warned, however, about the aforementioned grumbling on Opening Day from anglers who couldn’t find the fish maintained that DFG had cut back on its stocking.

The easy accessibility of this creek — as well as the everyday responsibilities of life — quickly fades as we descend the banks of this creek. No matter the origin of these trout, soon they would occupy all our thoughts and become our obsession for most of the day.

The creek, actually more a short tailwater before it dumps into a lake, is high. Maybe higher than I’ve ever seen it, and it takes more than a moment or two to identify familiar landmarks. Sean and I wonder out loud if high flows during the winter had scoured the creek. Together we remember a productive pool that two years ago was shaded by a now absent tree. A few of the old channels seem to have disappeared; new channels slowly reveal themselves. It’s hard to tell, but even a few boulders seem to occupy new positions.

With more of a series of grunts than conversation, it’s agreed that I’ll head slightly downstream to a long, fast, shallow run that’s always been good to me. The current here is too fast for dry flies. Nymphs work well, but most of the fun starts on the swing. It’s the first place I threw out a wet fly, and the first place that a trout took that soft hackle wet fly, one I had tied with a sparse blue-thread body and partridge hackle. After a few casts, the fish reveal themselves. It’s a cookie-cutter rainbow, but a welcome sign that all’s once again good with the world, at least in this brief moment in my part of the world.

Sean wandered upstream to another run, where water tumbled over rocks into a deeper run that ends in front of a boulder. It’s one of those hot spots favored by trout and deep enough to require at least one heavier fly.

After half an hour or so and three trout to the net and about the same for Sean, I ventured upstream, peering into pools and undercuts where I’d usually be able to sight fish. Seeing no fish sign, I checked in with Sean and headed downstream again. Going farther downstream requires care. Trees hug the banks and blackberry bushes are so prolific that thorny, tippet snatching blackberry vines hang overhead. There’s no overhead casting here. Line management is limited to side-arm casts, lobbing or simply dropping flies and letting the current take them to the fishy spots.

There’s one very fishy spot that requires that last tactic. Water bubbles over a creek-wide riffle before dropping into a wide area marked by granite boulders big enough to disrupt the current and create a pocket, a holding lie, for trout, yet small enough to allow the nearby current to flow fast enough, delivering bugs to waiting fish.

I dropped my flies — a size 18 AP Nymph and a size 22 glass bead chironomid pattern — just below the riffle. One drift, a second, then a third.

I’ve found that occasionally a subtle pause, perhaps no more than a second, perhaps a bit longer, can suggest that there’s a larger fish is at the end of the line. This was one of those times. I set the hook. My line paused. It vibrated faintly in the current. Then it was out of the pocket, through the riffles and around an upstream boulder faster than I could follow. But I would never see the fish. The same could be said for my home-tied fly.

The rest of the day, Sean and I would explore the lower reaches of this creek, finding a pool where, he’d been told, trout can often be found. We did find fish there.

This creek widens and gains speed closer to its mouth, reminding me more of a freestone river in the Eastern Sierra. Nice brown trout water, except it’s not home to many browns. There was fishing along the way but no more catching.

I can’t say whether it was the exertion of hiking, the full day of fishing or just plain thirst, but the dinner and the beer that came with it that night tasted awfully good.


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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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part five of building a rod: glossing over things

I’m a bit betwixt and between things until next Thursday, and because the forecast shows raining beginning that day, there’s an outside chance there’ll be some fishing. That’ll be then.

For now, this morning, I’ll be consulting with the club’s guru of rod construction on a one of two finishing touches for the 4 wt that’s sitting pretty on the dining room table.

[singlepic id=1070 w=275 h=183 float=center]

Epoxy covering the tip top wrap.

My goal last week was to lay down epoxy on the guide feet and butt wrap, and did so with modest success. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as warm as it should have been for this first pass at epoxying. Though opinions vary, I’m convinced that a temperature of 70°F or better is necessary for the best results. That day it was about 68°F.

Then there’s the need for speed. I was a bit too careful, apparently, beginning to coat the tip top guide wrap and working down the rod. My thought was to start with the smaller guides and quickly work toward the stripping guide before the pool of epoxy became unworkable. The epoxy was still workable when I reached the stripping guide but a new batch was required before coating the thread wraps above the grip. Then it was a matter of rotating the rod pieces to allow the epoxy to flow, hopefully creating an even coating 360 degrees around the wraps. A couple of hours later, it looked pretty good.

However, after a few days of drying the gloss of the hardened epoxy revealed flaws inflicted by my inexperience a temperature that was a bit too low. It was time for 600-grit sandpaper.

Like it often is with fly fishing, taking the time to step back, look things over and make adjustments can pay off; and so it is with rod building. I sanded portions of the epoxy on five guides and spend time smoothing out the epoxy covering the long wrap above the grip. Later, the temperature climbed above seventy. Epoxy was mixed and cooperated, flowing readily with only a few bubbles, which were easily dispatched by blowing on them through a straw. The sections were again regularly rotated until the epoxy set. The results were well worth it.

After this morning, the butt section should be ready for a last coat of epoxy, and then it’s be off to a club member for a custom inscription that will, without reservation, tell those who look close enough that it’s the result of my work.

[singlepic id=1071 w=600 h=399 float=center]

Epoxy covering the tip top wrap. Look closely and you'll see the bubbles that have since been sanded out.