fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)


1 Comment

more on the move, road trip and short vay-kay

You fail only if you stop writing.
— Ray Bradbury

…and I have failed now for almost a month.

This stuff just doesn’t write itself.

There’s also the small matter of math. My figuring says every week there’s less than 50 hours not dedicated to sleeping, work, commuting, eating, shopping, housekeeping, etc. A new project, a good thing (more on that later), will further diminish time available for personal projects.

Hopefully this will wind up what was started with the last post. After that, maybe a new schedule or new focus to get this blog thing back on track and minimize lapses of radio silence.

I’ve never lost sight of the truth that this is more of a diary or personal history than anything else, and I appreciate those who have stuck around or dropped in once and a while.

Now, where was I?…


It was a longish drive from mid California to the wet-side of Washington but not exhausting as predicted, thankfully so. Being one with an internal alarm clock that doesn’t easily reset, I was up before the sun. Which really isn’t too hard when there’s a nearly 10° or so northerly difference between the latitude of your origin and destination.

Not one to sit, or lay, too still for too long once awake, I was soon unloading the son’s stuff and playing Jenga with boxes, furniture pieces and miscellaneous asymmetrical items. With help from the wife and son, soon enough we had a relatively compact pile in a corner of the garage.

The agenda for the day meant a circuitous route to drop off the rental vehicle (which made the wife sad) at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and abandon the son in Bellevue with a friend with whom he’d stay for a temporary but indeterminate period of time. Being a Sunday, traffic wasn’t bad.

This was a trip without a real itinerary, but we did have goals. So that afternoon we met the brother, his wife and the two nephews for lunch, followed by a long visit at his house. My wife will tell you that such visits are marked by silliness. The nephews are at that age. My brother and I never outgrew it.

It was a good time, with casual, wandering conversation, unconstrained by a specific time. Until dad called, asking if we’d be home for dinner. Guess some things never change.


With the exception of earning a salary, the wife and I have probably benefited more from the son’s job than he has. His employee discount has allowed us to spend a few nights in the type of boutique hotels we’d usually deem a bit out of our price range. We spent some of Monday out and about, but the night at the Alexis Hotel in downtown Seattle.

Pleasantly, we were upgraded to a suite; a suite nearly the size of our house. It was a bit extravagant–we were only planning to sleep there–but still amazing.

Pike Place Market on a quiet night.

Pike Place Market on a quiet night.

Without much of a plan and needing dinner, we started walking up 1st Street, winding our way toward Pike Place. It didn’t dawn on me for a while, but there’s an almost indiscernible difference between Seattle and San Francisco on a Monday evening. There were very few people on the streets that evening. In a later discussion it was decided that San Francisco is more of a year-round tourist destination; Seattle not so much.

After enjoying the manager’s wine hour, we hit the streets in search of food. A number of restaurants were closed, and perhaps we weren’t that hungry, but it was difficult to find an eatery that we found appealing. Our search took us all the way past Pike Place Market, by Gum Wall (more of Gum Alley), through Post Alley, and about three miles later, my wife grabbed my arm and told me where we were going to eat: Kastoori Grill.

Karen’s become a good sport at more adventurous eating, and Kastoori Grill is a good example. Kastoori Grill is in an unassuming space and easy to miss, or dismiss. The dated décor belied the attention to the food and service that night. Though we don’t always stick to the plan, this evening we planned to split a plate and ordered the aloo chaat appetizer (because fried mashed potatoes), the lamb biryani entrée, and, of course, naan. It’s hard to judge a cuisine which one hasn’t sampled in the country of origin but judging by my taste buds, it was all good. The aloo chaat was good but I liked its garbanzo bean “salsa” topping best. The lamb in the biryani was tender and the least lamby tasting lamb I’ve ever eaten. More than satiated, we walked out satisfied. We slept well that night.

As we ended the night before, so began the next day at Biscuit Bitch. She really isn’t tough, and the guys and gals who work there were welcoming and quick to offer advice to new patrons. It was already decided we’d split the Easy Bitch (biscuits and sausage gravy with two eggs over-easy topped with crumbled bacon). Wanting to better judge the biscuit itself, I also ordered a biscuit with blackberry jam. It was almost too much goodness. Almost. The Easy Bitch was rich and the fresh-cooked crumbled bacon pushed it over the top. The separate, butter-slathered biscuit revealed the namesake product’s flakiness. This is the kind of place that’s quickly labeled “cute,” with a slightly hippy vibe and limited seating requiring a willingness to cozy up with a stranger.

The morning was interrupted by a few phone calls and debate over how to best deal with the son’s need to retrieve items left only 20 miles away, but without a car and in a rural area, a lifetime away by public transit. Resolved, our morning was freed up for wandering through Pike Place Market and more than a few blocks up to the Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room.

A more descriptive term for Starbucks’ first Reserve Roastery might be Willy Starbucks’ Coffee Factory. A lot of gleaming copper and stainless steel are contrasted with warm wood surfaces. Not a coffee drinker, it was something to see but much of the experience was probably lost on me.

Later we’d end up finding one of my beverages of choice, on a winding trip back to the bro in Monroe.

Advertisements


1 Comment

the move that prompted a road trip that led to a short vacation

If you think you missed that New Year’s post in which I promise to start afresh — writing more, fishing more and worrying less — don’t bother looking for it because you won’t find it. Any intent to write was muddled by events that ensured there was no distinct end to last year or clear beginning of this year.

Our trip to Washington State wasn’t technically last minute but certainly hasty. A son accepted a position in Seattle and the cheapest option was to rent a second vehicle and haul him and all his worldly possessions up Hwy 5 in a single day. My parents graciously offered a bit of storage space in their garage. Plans were set in motion.

The day before our departure we expected to drop by the boy’s place and load up. His things would be packed, we were told. They were not. It took more than a few hours and 14,000 steps, according to my pedometer, to pack things in our two vehicles. It was a good thing we had upgraded to a rental vehicle one size larger.

Believing that I’m immune to the march of time, I still cling to the idea that the 800-mile drive from home to Seattle’s Eastside could be accomplished in a single day. All it takes a reliable vehicle, about 14 hours and a co-driver willing to quickly empty the bladder. My brother and I did just that some 20 years ago.

We were out the door that first Saturday of the new year as hoped, at 5 a.m. The three of us would rotate between the two vehicles, with more stops at Starbucks than gas stations. (I can’t help but think part of Starbucks’ marketing strategy is to offer clean bathrooms that lure travelers, who buy beverages, requiring a stop at the next Starbucks, where the cycle is repeated.)

Hwy 5 Sunrise

Sunrise somewhere along Hwy 5 in far Northern California.

An experienced traveler knows that the most boring sections of Hwy 5 are from Vacaville to Redding (California), Roseburg to Portland (Oregon), and Castle Rock nearly to Seattle (Washington). Traveling through at least one of those stretches during the dark early morning hours helps, and we didn’t see the sun rise until well past the puddle that is Shasta Lake. The miles droned by but, surprising, we all seemed none worse for the wear when we pulled into Eugene, with a longer-than-expected detour to Papa’s Soul Food Kitchen & BBQ.

As I have noted before, we will drive for food, and when travelling we will make time for food. (Rarely is a conversation among our family members not peppered with food references.) This is a place Karen and I had seen on Diners, Drive-In and Dives and thought to give it a try. We were met there before the 2:00 p.m. opening time by Karen’s friend Michelle and her husband Nik, who made the trip from Portland to join us.

I loved the Louisiana vibe of the place and friendliness of the staff. The food was good, but not worth-a-return great. The hushpuppies were the highlight. The red beans and rice were close to what I recall being served in the French Quarter. The brisket was tender, with a nice smoke ring, but relied on a sauce I found too sweet for flavor. The fried chicken was crispy but lacked zing. We lingered a bit longer than expected amid enjoyable conversation. Maybe it was the pint of Oakshire Brewing’s Original Amber Ale or simply not being on the road. Refreshed, we zipped through Portland with an unusual lack of traffic, even though it was midafternoon.

With the increasing latitude north, darkness came earlier, conflicting with our internal clocks. I’m not certain, but it seems that every trip north I end up stopping, in darkness, at the Toutle River Safety Rest Area 5 miles north of Castle Rock. As rest stops go, I think it’s one of the best and my earliest memory is from 1985. Dad and I were moving to Issaquah in the hope of finding jobs and stopped there, pleasantly surprised to find hot coffee and cocoa thanks to WSDOT’s Free Coffee Program.

Quickly calculating that we could skip the last planned stop for gas, I was soon in the familiar territory of Bellevue and Redmond, followed by the dark rural road that would take us across the Snoqualmie River and into Duvall. The short two-lane segment of N.E. Novelty Hill Road that descends toward the Snoqualmie River floodplain is slow. It twists almost back underneath itself along a steep grade, with no street lights. N.E. 124 Street crosses the river and in my mind Novelty Bridge marks the beginning of something a bit more wild. Perhaps it’s the wide expanses of undisturbed land. Or the seemingly uncontrollable volume of water flowing in nearby rivers. Or the smallness of Duvall’s downtown. It’s been a fleeting but persistent feeling during every visit.

But downtown Duvall was welcoming, with Christmas lights adorning street lamps and brightening our way. We pulled into the parents’ driveway a bit later than planned but not tired enough that we didn’t stay up and visit with Mom and Dad and my brother for at least an hour.

The next day we’d face the reality of being strangers in strange land unpacking the son’s stuff and dropping off the rental vehicle, and then, finally, take time to relax. We’d also learn that flooding is apparently no way to measure the water-wealth of a state.


Leave a comment

is anybody home?

The excuses could include the fact that it’s the holiday season, it’s too doggone cold and that the general trout season is closed. Simply, I’ve been busy. Funny thing, though, is that I’m okay with not fly fishing for a while.

It struck me this week how I often remain oblivious to many of the changes in my life. It’s nothing I’m concerned about, and actually pleasant to know that our now kid-less life is evolving into an adventure.

The world is full of books, blogs and articles addressing what one might or should do when the next is inevitably empty. Free time can become something to be filled. Rooms may remain vacant and unused. Hours or days can be occupied reading those books, blogs and articles, or that time can be devoted to doing something that’s enjoyed.

Our time has been spent exploring, taking on a new hobby, re purposing space throughout the house; most of the time doing so together. Last fall’s adventure discovering new places not too far from the cabin will hopefully become part of all of our future visits. One new(ish) hobby is target shooting, something that hearkens back to my growing up years, but has grown to encompass a refinement of skills. Karen took up a new course of study a while ago; I’m exploring — more formally — certain interests, including Javascript and creative writing. I hope to get out on the motorcycle a bit more.

Sure, I turned 50 this year, but like many birthdays it was like every day of my life so far; marked by subtle transition rather than a sudden transformation.

The preceding years were largely artificially constrained by scheduling imposed by schooling, not something I resent, but impactful nonetheless.

Now, I’m looking forwards to more closely following the rhythms of nature.


2 Comments

practicing for retirement

From the start, we knew it’d require a different mindset. Not since our honeymoon 10½ years ago had Karen and I spent more than three or four days at the cabin. Eight days, however, clearly presented an opportunity for adventure; exploration at our own pace.

Potty-Mouth Wine

Potty-Mouth Wine

I did spend a couple of days fishing, but our destinations most days were only decided the evening before and sometimes only that morning. Our internal alarm clocks — or at least mine — meant I was up by oh-dark-thirty every morning, but that left plenty of time for a full breakfast if desired.

More than anything, we wandered; around town (Twain Harte) and through hill and dale. The higher elevations were colored by fall foliage while below 2,000 feet the grass of the oak woodlands was a pale gold.

Our day-long loop through Copperopolis, Angles Camp and Columbia took us through these distinctly different habitats, past the Sierra Conservation Center (aka prison) and over the very low New Melones Reservoir. In all my years in the area, never has New Melones looked less like a lake and more like a canyon than it did last week.

A map won’t tell you that Copperopolis has something of a split personality. The “real” Copperopolis — near Reeds Turnpike — was established in the 1860s and is a bit unique in that it was founded near a copper mine, not gold. But just north, near Hwy 4, is what looks like a Hollywood set plopped down in the middle of nowhere. It reminded me of the town of Lago, in High Plains Drifter; without the red, of course.

The buildings in Copperopolis Town Square tap historical architectural design of the mid and late 1800s, with retail shops and restaurants surrounding a small park with a gazebo, landscaped fountain and flag pole. Allowing for the fact that we were visiting on a Wednesday, during the fall, it was still quite vacant. It’s clearly designed with a pedestrian focus, including park benches, stone masonry walls and faux old-fashioned gas lamp posts. It was a nice enough place for a leisurely walk, with a stop for a root beer float in an old-style ice cream parlor.

The town square is nice enough, but peeking behind the curtain — actually one block off the main street — reveals paved streets complete with sidewalks and lightposts but devoid of homes; just dirt lots. While folks there will tell you Copperopolis Town Square is a phased development, I couldn’t help but wonder if these vacant lots were remnants of the recession. After all, developer Castle & Cooke did break ground on Copperopolis Town Square in April 2006.

Our loosely outlined plan was to stop in Angels Camp and Columbia before returning to the cabin. One suggestion: Don’t visit Angels Camp on a Wednesday; it seems as if half the businesses were closed.

The drive from Angels Camp to Columbia was interrupted, however, by my sudden veering on to Red Hill Road near Vallecito. During the summer I met a young man dispensing tastes at Mammoth Brewing Co. and learned in the course of conversation that his family owned Twisted Oak Winery. He was taking a break from the wine business to learn about beer, and after I mentioned the cabin in Twain Harte, he suggested a stop at the Twisted Oak tasting room in Murphys. I didn’t know the winery was in Vallecito until I saw the sign.

It was clear this was a place where the folks didn’t take themselves too seriously; the posted speed limit on the driveway is 9 mph. One wine label says it all: “*%#&@!” (described as a potty-mouth Rhone-style red blend). It’s a friendly place, and laughter pairs well with wine, so we lingered, bought some wine then headed on down the road.

We covered about 80 miles that day, agreeing to expand the circumference of our exploration the next time we can take the time to slow down.

It became clear we were enjoying ourselves and spending our time wisely when my sister emailed to ask if we had retired and not told her.

Not yet. But it sure was nice to spend a week acting as if we have.


2 Comments

when every leaf is a flower

Big Trees & Fall Color

Big Trees & Fall Color

I, for one, believe the best adventures of childhood were often found in the backyard or within one’s immediate neighborhood. As adults we learn of the wider world, of places that are ancient and historical, mysterious, full of wild lands and animals. It’s true, but a life lived yearning to visit these places can let the wonder right outside our door slip away unnoticed.

It was expected that this week at the cabin would entail local exploration, the type of exploration allowed only by ignoring the clock and following a path chosen in the few moments before our next step.

So it was that Karen and I found ourselves at Calaveras Big Trees State Park, after, of course, stopping along the way to pick up seasonal favorites: apple cider donuts and fresh-pressed cider. I was familiar with the area, which is about an hour away from the cabin, but only as an extension of my search for new fishing waters, namely Beaver Creek and the North Fork of the Stanislaus River. To explain briefly, Calaveras Big Trees was created to preserver two groves of some of the most massive giant sequoia trees. (Not always the tallest, but volumetrically the world’s largest trees.) These are Sequoiadendron giganteum, the inland relative to the perhaps more familiar coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens.

The morning was spend wandering among these enormous trees, looking upward until our neck muscles complained during a hike that covered a few miles. But if the sequoias were the big stars of the show, big leaf maples and dogwoods were the flashy supporting players; this time of year decked out in shades of red, yellow and orange. Their dazzling colors proving that “Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.”1

Pictures are worth more words than I could possible write, so below is a gallery, a glimpse of what we saw.

1 Albert Camus


Leave a comment

don’t know what to expect this trip

It’s been a bad year for water in California. The April opener was one of the best in years thanks to low water levels.

Next week we’ll see for ourselves what Eastern Sierra rivers and lakes look like four months later.

One guide recently referred to Bridgeport Reservoir as a “pond.” Bridgeport is so low that its outflow into the East Walker River has been tainted by algae — algae that usually floats closer to the surface of the reservoir — and now the river is regularly off color and weedier than usual. Lake Sabrina in the Bishop area is so low that the front (manmade) lake no longer exists. The level of Crowley Lake is better than might be expected, but low enough to concentrate fish in the deepest areas.

The route taken by myself and guys from the club will be dictated by the Rim Fire. Hwy 120 remains closed. An expectation that the fire might not be fully contained until Sept. 20 doesn’t lend any clarity as to when it might open.

That’s not a big issue for me. I usually head over Sonora Pass via Hwy 108, with stops at the West Walker River, Little Walker River or Molybdenite Creek.

Thankfully, there will be water to fish when we settle in at Tom’s Place Resort (which certainly isn’t the resort you might think it is). The Upper Owens is supposed to be in good shape. The Middle Owens is flowing at an unseasonably high level. I may head to the high country, visiting alpine lakes and streams where I hope the fish are already preparing for a long winter.

However it works out, there will be lies told over beer and good grub.


7 Comments

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.