Golden trout consist of a trout species that I not only had not caught, but I barely believed really existed. They have achieved unicorn status in my mind. Their colors were so bold and unnatural that they didn't seem real at all. In spite of my doubts, I signed up for a trip that essentially almost guaranteed catching these elusive unicorns.
Golden trout are one of the few native species of trout found in California and are often found at elevations over 7000 feet above sea level. I don't think I have ever fished at that elevation or higher. Once we arrived at the campground at the 10,000 foot elevation, I had the choice of fishing the lake or the creek. I had seen a few rises when we rode by the lake so I thought I would try that. I put my 5 weight together and ventured to the shore of the lake. I cast to rises and had a couple of good sized fish come up and take a good long look at my fly but didn't have any desire to take a bite. After a few of these heart pounding moments, the rises subsided and I ended up sitting on the edge of the lake, taking it all in. When I felt it was time, I walked to the outlet of the lake and began following the creek.
As I made my way through the pungent sage brush, I casually dangled my fly upstream of me in a small pool. Within a second or two, a fish nose popped up and slurped it in. I raised my rod and grabbed my net, catching my first fish on Alger's Creek. I peeked into the net and saw my old friend, the rainbow trout. Here I was, on a special trip to catch Golden Trout at the right elevation, at the right waterway and the first fish I catch is clearly not what I came here to catch! Fishing sure can be funny sometimes. We work so hard to figure out how to catch fish and yet fishing so often is full of these unexpected moments. I laughed at the catch and myself. Then I released the rainbow and moved to the next little run. I dropped my fly into the creek and after a few passes a fish rose to take it and I set the hook again. This time the flash of yellow and the red line on the belly let me know that I had found a unicorn. I netted the golden, removed the hook and snapped a quick picture. As I let the fish go, I felt that this was going to be a really good couple of days fishing.
The weekend turned out to be stellar. I easily landed 30 to 40 fish each day. I became familiar with the colors and markings of the golden trout. The younger ones with their parr marks. The older ones with the smooth golden sides. I caught small fish and my largest fish at about 11 inches. It was an amazing weekend spent with some beautiful golden, scaled unicorns.
I went on an epic summer trip this year. It was a horse pack trip to fish for golden trout at Lake Alger's and Alger's Creek. When we rode up the trail to the 10,000 foot elevation, the only thing that I could think about was riding back down the steep, narrow, winding , granite steps and switchbacks. The trip up had been a little scary and breathtaking. The trip down was feeling downright scary.
I tried to just relax and fish. The fishing was amazing. I had never caught golden trout and the are downright surreal. The color and beauty of their body is so bright that it looks fake. The creek was full of fish and everyday I caught more fish than I can count. All of the fish were caught on dry flies and the takes were fantastic. The fish varied in size and the days of fishing and afternoon naps helped me pass the days until the ride home.
Our departure day arrived and my nerves grabbed ahold of me firmly. I made several trips to the privy which was no small trip up and down a hill. I fished a few last fish. I talked with my trip-mates and tried to distract myself from the upcoming journey down the mountain. The wranglers and the horses arrived to begin our journey. They asked if anyone was nervous about the ride and everyone in our group unanimously said my name. The wrangler in charge laughed and called me over to my horse. As he helped me on the horse, he looked me in the eye and said, "I got you." The steadiness of his gaze, calmness of his voice and the words he said instantaneously calmed me. Just then, thunder rolled across the sky. Tears welled in my eyes and the wrangler told me not to worry one more time as he mounted his horse and we set of on the day's journey.
The thunder continued to roll across the sky and the raindrops began softly. As the rain intensified, we journeyed across narrow trails with 1000 foot drop offs. The rain intensified into a torrent and the horses stepped through the trail that now looked like the creek I had fished. Lightening joined the thunder. First there was a 5 or 6 separation between the flashes of light and the sound of the thunder. The time between them got shorter and shorter until the sight and sound were instantaneously joined above our heads, My grip on the saddle horn was s tight it was painful to my hands. The wrangler turned around and said to me one more time, "I got you." Again I believed him.
The lightening and thunder began to move away as the hail rained down, leaving chunks of ice in my rock-steady horse's mane. The hail continued until we reached our halfway point. We got off the amazing horses and tried to remember how to walk for a few minutes. The wranglers got us back on the horses for the steepest part of the journey. The next section of trail was called "Angel Flight" and consisted of a series of steep granite and concrete stairs set against another seemingly unending drop off. As I was helped onto the horse again, the wrangler asked me how I was doing. I replied that I felt surprisingly okay. He said that the next section could be stressful and to just keep doing what I had been doing and then he told me one more time- "I got you."
We set off. I looked at his horse's hindquarters and tried to quell my stomach and fight the dizziness that hit me when my line of sight wandered down the drop off. We began the descent down Angel's Flight. Step by step we made it down. The horses were careful and the journey was completed step-by-step. The rain started in as we cleared the last concrete step. It began to pour making hearing difficult but I was able to make out the wrangler telling me "See, I told you that I had you. We are almost there and the worst is over."
I breathed a sigh of relief and sent a prayer of gratitude for the journey coming safely to an end.
We arrived at the stable and I hugged and thanked the cowboy that guided me down the mountain. I know he had done this for many people over the years and I am sure a bunch of people that are braver than I. I hope he knows how much comfort those three little words gave me. Those three little words made me brave enough to hear his calmness and follow his lead all the way down the mountain. Somehow, someway he knew just what to say- You could almost say that he really got me and that got me through the journey that day.
This day and age, you can find just about anything on the internet. You can watch videos and read articles about casting, fishing and tying. Some people have suggested that the internet will replace fly fishing clubs and organizations because they just won't be needed anymore. I really truly disagree with this prediction and I hope I am not wrong. Our club provides so much more than information. It provides connection- human connection.
Sure, you can learn to do lots of things alone at home staring into your computer. But you are running solo. While the lone wolf is a romantic figure in fiction stories, in real life, nothing really replaces a focused human interaction and fly fishing can be a powerful focus. Passing on the skills and experiences of fly fishing is almost tribal in nature. And, if done in an organized and focused manner, it is a powerful tool for the art of fly fishing and the fly fishing community.
For example, in this picture you see a large group of people at a casting pond. This is an all volunteer group of casting instructors gathered at golden gate casting ponds. They have gathered together to lead large classes for anyone interested in learning to fly cast. Show up and they will teach you on their own time. They could be out fishing. They could be practicing their own skills. But they are not doing those things. They are here, all day long, sharing their skills in fly casting and teaching.
I have been fortunate in my life to be involved in different organizations- many of which had a service focus. I had no idea when I started fly fishing the level of social dialogue and service orientation that is a part of the culture of fly fishing. In fact, I had assumed the exact opposite. I had in my head the idea of the older angler- probably wealthy and caucasian- with a bit of an attitude of judgement and condescension. I couldn't have been more wrong. Fly fishing is filled with people like those in this picture- smart, skilled, kind, giving and dedicated. Boy am I glad I was wrong. Fly fishing is fun, cool and a great place to meet and enjoy this amazing art on every level!
When I began fly fishing, I was lucky enough to go out on the Delta with Captain Jerry every month for two years. I had no idea how lucky I was. Jerry would tell me to pick a day and I would show up with lunch and gas money and we would fish for hours. We would hit stripers, largemouth and small mouth bass. We would fish subsurface and topwater. We fished rain and shine- sun and wind. Twenty, thirty, forty fish a day would keep me coming back while I was cutting my teeth on river fishing with slow success.
In a lot of ways, my personality is more suited for bass fishing. Bass are aggressive. I can cast loudly and aggressively to get their attention. The topwater blow ups are very different from the trout fishing I also love. Trout require stealth and delicacy- two words that are not used to describe me very often! I love bass fishing and was a little broken hearted when Captain Jerry gave up his guide license and sold his boat. I miss my time with my friend and I miss fishing for these crazy fun fish.
Now when I want to fish for bass I call my guide friend Bryce Tedford. Bryce is an amazing guide and as often as I can, I hire him to experience those fun days fishing for bass. I did this just last Friday with my friend Sara. We went out with Bryce and caught large mouth and small mouth- all topwater. We even caught a pike minnow topwater. The blow ups were exhilarating and we were all giddy with the fun of the day. We lost count of fish after 30 each and laughed and fished our way through the day. As the day was winding down and we started talking about lunch, I had an epic topwater blow up. The sizeable smallmouth attacked the popper but I missed the set. I immediately cast the popper right near him, mimicking a bait fish jumping up and back down- scurrying for its life. The smallmouth pounced on the popper and we hooked and landed a 3 pound smallmouth- easily the smallmouth of the day.
Bass are amazingly aggressive predatory fish. I really like fishing for them in my own aggressive manner. It is one of the ways to fly fish that I don't feel like I am fighting my natural tendencies. And this last fish of the day just reinforced my love for bass with his bang- and then return to devour the fly. Can't wait for my next chance to chase some bass!
When I was a teenager, my Dad would tell me to hang out with people I liked and respected. He said that we reflect those we spend time with. He said that if I hung out with "losers", I would likely act like a loser. If I hung out with focused and successful people, I would likely be focused and successful. My Dad is kind of a genius. I should probably hang out with him more...
This memory came to my mind the other day when I hung out with my friends Russ and Sara. Russ and Sara are my favorite power fly fishing couple. They are both smart, funny, skilled, kind and passionate about all things fly fishing. We spent a morning at a park, practicing different casting skills and challenges. I had a blast. I laughed. I worked through frustration. My skill improvement was palpable. I walked away knowing what I needed to work on next and was able to cross off several skills that were on my "to learn" list. It was a really fun day.
As I drove home, I thought about my Dad's advice and I knew that I was hanging out with some great influences. While I may never be as smart, funny, amazing casters as Sara and Russ are, I know I am a better person and angler by spending time with such wonderful people on a variety of levels. Here's hoping that in your angling journey, you find people like Russ and Sara to hang out with, cast with, and fish with. While fly fishing is a blast in and of itself, adding a few friends with amazing character just adds to the enjoyment. Ask my Dad if you don't believe me- He was spot on about this and so many other things in life!
When you look at this picture, you might think to yourself that this kid is too old to swim with a floaty. I have to tell you that if that is what you think when you look at this picture, keep reading because you are completely wrong. My son and I went camping and we finally went to swim at the big swimming hole. We went early and the day was not warm where we were. The swimming hole is well shaded and, while it gets warmer in the afternoon sun, this morning it was downright frigid. Only thing is that I didn't know that when I jumped in and swam across it.
It was shockingly cold. It took my breath away. I truly struggled to get across and sat in the sun for quite some time to warm up and gather myself. What you see in this picture is my knight in shining armor coming to my rescue.
Rocky jumped in too but he was smart enough to not swim all the way across the pool. Instead, he went back to where the trail meets the swimming hole. Once he made sure I was okay, he trekked the half mile back to our campsite to grab me some warm clothes, and yes, this pool float. He came back, jumped in without hesitation and kicked across to me. He then handed me the noodle and swam with me back across. He rescued me!
I would be lying if I said this surprised me. This kid is a very thoughtful young man. He has always had a kind heart. However, this was our first camping trip that I felt I was with a young man and not a boy. He is stronger. He hikes farther without complaint. He reached down to offer me a hand more than once while we hiked and offered to carry my stuff numerous times. He climbed and swam in places he would not have considered just last year. He is growing up and he is growing into a fine and thoughtful man. For that I am grateful. Not just in this circumstance when he took such good care of me but everyday when he helps around the house, does a kind and thoughtful thing for someone, calls his grandparents, checks in with a friend. This kid is a really great person and I am really lucky to be the mom of him!
I am not a pretty crier. When I cry, my face scrunches up, my eyes disappear and my nose runs. It isn't a pretty sight and it is happening now. My dear friend Mike Folden has been in ICU since March with a lung infection. His beautiful soulmate and wife, Tracy has diligently posted an update for all who love him everyday in the evening. Last night she didn't post and I had a knot in my stomach until my phone dinged at midnight. My stomach was right- Mike had passed at 9:55. My heart is broken and my eyes won't stop leaking.
When I first started fly fishing, I won 2- Echo 5 weights and a voucher for a free intro to fly fishing class at a random auction I went to. I came home and called to sign up for the class and nervously went. This is where I met Mike. Mike was the epitome of the heart of fly fishing. He was knowledgeable, funny and kind. We have fished so many times together since that class. Mike is the first person to take me shad fishing on the American and the Yuba. He has given me casting lessons and drift boat rowing lessons. I went to Montana with him this last summer and spent a week with him at his family's lodge on the Klamath this last fall. He wasn't just my guide or my teacher, he became my dear friend. He shared not just his knowledge, but himself and his life story. I heard stories about his devotion to his beautiful wife, Tracy long before I met her in Montana. He spoke of meeting her as a young teenager and falling in love with her from that moment. I met Tracy in Montana and instantly understood his love and devotion for her and envied their amazing relationship. It was amazing to see soulmates loving each other, fishing together, as much in love today as he described when they were young. My heart is broken for beautiful Tracy. I can't imagine Mike without her or her without Mike. My eyes won't stop leaking.
Several years ago when I got sick and survived by some unknown miracle. I remember the first time I saw Mike after I was well enough to get out. He saw me from across the room and quickly came towards me and gave me the biggest hug. He told me how glad he was to see me and that we needed to go fishing. He convinced me to commit to going on the trips we had talked about. He even changed the dates of the available trips to fit my work schedule. He told me I had more fishing to do and that we needed to fish together. I am so glad I went to Montana with him and fished his heritage waters on the Klamath with him- even when I really couldn't afford it. I would give anything to see him, run across the room and hug him and go fishing with him again. I can't believe I won't have the chance. I miss my friend so much already. My eyes won't stop leaking...
Every year since I started fly fishing I have always waited with anticipation for our local river to open after it is closed for spawning season. I miss the river like I miss a dear friend when they are gone from my life. I mark the days on the calendar and go back to my old friend as soon as I legally can. This year I thought I was going to have to wait longer because of life and its complexities. Then one day on my calendar shifted left and I was able to go back to the place I love- the place I learned to fly fish, the place that heals my heart and fills my soul. For me, stepping in the water is like breathing deeply. On this day, the smells filled my nose and lungs. I smelled the warmth of the foliage with touches of sage and coriander. Birds darted through the air. Two hummingbirds danced across my vision into a nearby tree. The treetops danced in the wind. I swear they looked like paintbrushes spreading more and more blue into the sky. Then there was the water. The flows on the river were actually decent and the sound of the current provided a background for the songs of the birds in the sky. The water was perfectly cold and my feet quickly shifted from warm to cold to a comfortable numbness. While my legs and feet were alive with the coldness, my shoulders were warmed by the sunshine. I let my hand drop to the water's surface and my fingers bridged the gap between the coldness of the water and the warmth of the air. The noise of footsteps drew my attention to the bank as a deer walked up towards me. As she saw me, she stopped and took a long look at me standing in the water and then turned and slowly walked away. All of this was just in the first few minutes in the water. I hadn't even wet a line yet. I hadn't even thought about fishing yet. I was just there, standing in my river, breathing in and out. I felt at home and completely at peace.
I took a few more steps and unhooked my fly from its keeper. I took a few more steps and let some line out. I took another deep breath and made my first cast. I was home...
I get to answer emails that come to the club website. This means that I get to respond to some interesting inquiries. Sometimes it is complaints and criticisms. I get to know club members. Sometimes I get to connect people who are fishing in similar waters. I learn a ton about where people are fishing, how it is going and I love it (except for the criticisms)!
Well, a few months ago we received an email looking for anglers to participate in a fish study on the Stanislaus River near Oakdale. I was super excited about this. I can actually catch fish in a certain section of the river there and I was excited to potentially contribute to a study on a river I love. Then another informational email came and it said that we would be fishing a section I have fished four times... but I have never caught a fish there. I have never gotten a bump there. I decided to opt out and leave the limited angler space to someone who could actually contribute to the study,
Fast forward to last week and the club received an all-call from the study organizer that there had been a last minute cancellation and they really needed a 4th angler. I replied that if no one responded, I would participate. The night before, another email arrived saying I was it and to be at the time and place listed in the flier. I kind of panicked!
I feel pressure to fish well when I am around others. I feel pressure as a woman to not be needy on the water. I felt pressure to not be an anchor on the study. I feel pressure to represent DFF too. I feel a lot of pressure and I put it all on myself. I was talking to a dear friend Saturday night about how I was anxious about fishing the next morning and, in his blunt and loving honesty, he told me to chill out. He asked me why I fish and I told him because I love being on the water. Fishing relaxes me and connects me to myself and my world. He told me to think about that the next morning. To love being on the water and share that with whoever I was to fish with. He is kind of a genius.
I got ready that night. Hopped in my car in the morning and grabbed a coffee and headed to the meet up spot. When I got there, I met 3 of the nicest anglers and 2 young and enthusiastic wildlife biologists. We rowed and fished and I caught fish! I was so relieved to land the first fish of the day! It was like someone opened the pressure valve and the rest of the day was spent learning from the other anglers, enjoying the day and catching some more fish. It was a blast.
I am so grateful to my good buddy for reminding me why I fish. I am grateful that I went on the study as an angler. I am really grateful that I caught some fish! I am hoping that the contributions of the anglers will help us keep this amazing river and its fish healthy for years to come!
I suck at stillwater fishing. I never really understand where fish are in lakes. I mean, in a river there are clues. Foam is home. Eddies filled with food. Rocks and structures provide breaks. The choppy surface of riffles and runs provide cover and food just rolling down a conveyor belt. I may not always catch fish on a river, but I have some clue where they might be. This is not true on a lake. Should I fish shallows or try to go deep? How deep should I fish? Should I stay close to shore or move away from the shore. It is all some great unknown. Add to that the fact that I love standing in a creek or river and I just haven't put my mind and efforts into stillwater fishing. I believe this is the reason why I hadn't caught a fish at White Pines in the last five One Fly Contests.
White Pines is a heavily planted lake. You can go most days around the planting of the trout and find kids and families catching fish pretty easily. I, on the other hand, have fished there every year since I joined the club and have walked away each time skunked. My fellow fishermen have been kind and generous with advice. Many have lent me their gear to try and help me along. I have received flies. I have been allowed to shadow more experienced anglers. I had even gotten a nibble or two but I had not gotten one in the net.
Fast forward to this last Saturday. This last Saturday was our first One Fly Contest since Harvey Hamlow passed away. Harvey was always a figure at the One Fly Contest. Not only because he was a skilled stillwater angler, but because he was also so very kind and generous with his time and advice. Harvey was the first one to smile and greet you. He would offer advice and take newer anglers under his wing on and off the water. Harvey has given me pieces of advice year after year, bringing me closer to success each time.
I felt like this year was a bit of an homage to Harvey. Every member of our club was kind and helpful to everyone on the water. First timers were catching fish and the more experienced were catching a lot of fish. The comradery was thick and everyone was having a great time. It was as if each of us was taking on a little of Harvey's example by reaching out to each other on the water with an encouraging word, a bit of advice and a helpful hint.
I know that this year it finally came together for me. I caught fish and it wasn;t just one. I caught 8 trout and more than that many panfish. I had a blast like I hadn't enjoyed fishing White Pines before. While my fishing drought ended and I was really pleased with that, I was even more pleased with watching Harvey's spirit of support and giving live on in the culture of the club. I hope I find the same next year and get that sense that Harvey is still near to us on the water and maybe catch a few fish while I am at it too... Harvey would sure smile at that!
When I started fly fishing, a constant piece of advice I received was to go fishing with someone who knew more than me so I could learn from them. Well, that was sure easy since I knew absolutely nothing five years ago! I was very lucky and got to fish with amazingly talented anglers who were kind and generous with their time. My skills have grown as my passion for fly fishing has continued to be stoked by time on the water. There are even times when I am fishing with someone who is just starting on their fly fishing adventure and I am somehow the person that "knows a little more" on the adventure. While that still freaks me out most days, I have found that the advise I was given when I started doesn't necessarily apply to me anymore.
It doesn't apply to me anymore- not because I have become some great angler- but rather because I have become so consumed by fishing that I have forgotten what it is like to step into the water with fresh eyes. For example, I was fishing the other day with a friend and an eagle flew over us on the lake. She let out an excited cry and shouted, pointing to the eagle as he circled us and flew low over our position. As the eagle silently rose and landed in a tree, I realized that if she hadn't alerted me to the eagle, I would have missed it because I was so focused on the water. It was that moment that I realized that there was a ton of stuff that I could learn from my friend- even though she was just scratching the surface of her fly fishing knowledge.
Fishing partners can be wonderful additions to one's life and experiences on the water. I don't worry about the skill level of my fishing buddies. I know that I will always learn something when we fish together- whether it is about them, myself, the river or the art of fly fishing. All I have to do is spend time with my favorite people doing my favorite thing.
I cannot tell you how excited I am for my birthday this year. Last year my birthday was a big one and COVID resulted in the cancellation of a big party celebrating the completion of my doctorate and turning 50. I turned 50 quietly, with phone calls from loved ones and social media well wishes. The calmness of the day amidst the uncertainty of the early days of COVID lockdowns was actually comforting and my young son did wonderful things throughout the day to make sure I felt special. I had candles lit and "Happy Birthday" sung to me at every meal. Handmade gifts and drawings spread throughout the house. It was wonderfully thoughtful and meaningful and appreciated. Here, a year later, I had plans to fish, eat at my favorite restaurant, fish, and order a special cake and spend time with my son. I lined up my favorite guide, ordered the cake, and picked out items on the menu to order.
The first bump was when my guide had to cancel. I am not going to lie. I was bummed. I regrouped and made another call to another awesome guide and lined up the day. I then realized my second favorite restaurant was on the way to my new destination. Plan B was in effect. The birthday celebration was ready. Just a week to go and the celebration that was cancelled last year was going to happen this year. I was sure of it- until I went jogging.
I have been feeling really good. I have been exercising and feeling strong. The workout for the day called for 10- 100 meter sprints and I was on number 5 and feeling great. That was until my right knee popped and I couldn't take a step. I ended up in the ER barely moving. The doctor laughed when I asked if I would be able to walk in a week. He said I would be lucky to be driving in a month. Birthday celebration cancelled again. Such is life.
I have a feeling that I will be celebrating quietly at home with my son- probably pretty similarly to last year. That is OK with me. My life is pretty phenomenal on a daily basis and these little bumps remind me to be grateful for everyday- not just once a year. I may try to make plans for my birthday again next year. I am not going to get too excited about the plans though. Life has a way of changing even the best laid plans!
We are so lucky that our club is absolutely filled with amazing and generous people with deep and full fly fishing and life experiences. This is an unexpected treasure to joining Delta Fly Fishers. When I joined the club, I hoped to learn to fly fish. Here I am, almost 6 years later, and I know more about myself, my environment, my fishing friends than I know about angling itself and this is a good thing. I have grown to understand how very different people with a similar focus can rally resources for a common good. I have seen bonds formed through fishing. Just this last Friday, I saw again the generosity of individuals willing to hand down a lifetime of learning without concern for reimbursement. Nancy and I went to Leo's to get a lesson in making his balsa poppers. Leo helped us create our own jigs and walked us through a variety of styles. He shared secrets and supported our efforts. We immediately went to the craft store and bought the supplies needed to create our own flies.
We invested in the items full well knowing that our flies would pale in comparison to Leo's. Leo has made thousands of these flies. He has fished them for years and has handed out almost all of them to others for the only price of hearing feedback on their effectiveness. Leo has put countless resources of time, money and supplies and he literally hands them out for free. Leo could have sold his poppers. People would have paid him well for them. Rather, he chooses to hand them out in the hopes that the lucky recipient will have their own adventures with his designs. I know I have had amazing days having bass blow up on his patterns and Leo and I often talk about these days while he teaches me how to create these flies.
What am I going to do with the flies I make? I mean, I have so many that Leo has given me I really don't need more. I also know the learning curve is pretty steep and the ones I am making now may not be good enough to even tie on and fish. But, I know that this knowledge is Leo's legacy and because I value Leo and all he has done for so many, I am more than willing to put forth the effort to try and master the skills as an homage to him and Delta Fly Fishers. Each of us fishes for our own reasons. But, in coming together and sharing all that is fly fishing, we carry on the traditions, literally from those that started this fly fishing club, well into the future. Maybe one day, if I work hard enough and fish hard enough, I can show someone how to make a jig and create balsa poppers and share the stories of fishing with my friend Leo when the bass hammered the fly just like the one I am showing them to make. I think being able to pass that experience on to someone else would make me as rich as Leo is- all from never charging a dime for any of the thousands of flies he has given away.
I love fishing. I love fishing by myself. I love fishing with others. I love fishing with men and I love fishing with women. Why? Because fly fishing seems to attract the most amazing people. It is a pretty good bet that if you go fly fishing with anyone, you will find a thoughtful person with wonderful tales of grand adventures. I know that has largely been my experience. When I go fishing with more than one person, I love to see the dynamics of the social interactions between myself and my fishmates. A prime example is two friends that I have had the pleasure of fishing with on the Trinity River recently- Scott and Big Tom.
These two guys have been friends and fellow anglers for some time. They guide and fish the same waters and some different waters. I love fishing with them. They are smart, kind, funny and intuitive. They also catch a lot of fish. I like that because when I am with them, I have the chance to catch fish too. However, the fun we have between fish is equally as fun as the fish. These guys are sharp witted and sometimes mercilessly engage in verbal banter with each other. It is fun but sometimes, as I have seen men interact with each other, it can be harsh from a woman's perspective. They love it and I have grown to understand it and enjoy it. I became acutely aware of the strong bonds beneath the banter on our recent trip.
My dear friend, Scott always jokes about landing a 30 inch steelhead on the Trinity. Every time we fish there, he says, "Today s the day I am going to catch my 30 incher!" We tease him mercilessly when he catches small fish (or no fish). When the catch is small, we laugh and say better measure that one- it could be the one! He takes it all in good measure and dishes out as good as he gets. The banter adds a wonderful flavor to the day. We laugh. We fish. We laugh some more. It makes for a really fun day.
When Scott hooked into a big fish this last Tuesday, we all held our breath. I could see the tension in Big Tom's posture as he watched Scott fight this fish and held the net in a ready position. The fish ran and ran. Scott fought it well and kept it from rushing into the current and kept it from a large snag that had provided the escape for a fish just prior to this one. The fish flashed in the water. We could tell it was big and beautiful. The color was deep. The fish disappeared into the river again and the fight was on. This went on for a while and, especially when the fish saw the net, he fought hard until he finally grew tired enough to stay at the surface long enough for Big Tom to slip the net under him.
This was the moment that I got a glimpse of the bond between these two men. To say that Big Tom was happy for Scott is an understatement. These two virtually exploded with joy. Big Tom was so happy for Scott and Scott was so happy with the fish. It measured a cool 29 inches. We set up a picture while the fish chilled in the net. Once we got a ton of pictures of Scott with the fish, Big Tom asked if he could take a picture with Scott and the fish. They were just so darn happy and proud of each other. It was a moment that brought tears to my eyes seeing the bond between anglers come to fruition with the landing of this amazing steelhead.
That moment, when I took that picture, I really understood the power of the fly fishing community. We tease each other. We laugh together. We explore waters. Sometimes we even catch fish. But, when we do these things together, we forge beautiful friendships and support each other in these amazing experiences. I am so very grateful to have been present on this day, with these two amazing people and this wonderful fish!
I am not sure what it is but there are a lot of Mikes in my fly fishing world. I guess there are a lot of Mikes in life in general so I probably shouldn't be surprised by this. I somehow have a bunch of friends that are named Mike that are my fishing buddies. My first fly fishing class was with Mike Folden who has been an amazing friend and angler since that day. My friend that we call "Taco Mike" because he owned a restaurant that we ate about a million delicious tacos at is one of my favorite people to fish local rivers with. Mike Mitchell is the first person to take me fishing on the Lower Sac. That was an epic day. If I open the contacts on my phone and type "Mi", a bunch of Mikes pop up and just about all of them are amazing fishing buddies of mine.
I just got a text from one of my friend Mike's wife. It was strange because it was on his phone. She said he is sick- really sick. He is in ICU. He is intubated. He is my dear friend and he is holding on to his existence at this very moment. My heart is on hold. I am anxious to hear of him improving but scared to hear anything for fear it is bad news. Mike has been a treasured friend and one of the most supportive angling friends I have ever had. I remember the first time I met him. His dad had just died a few weeks earlier. He shared his loss and that the best way he felt to honor his father was to share fly fishing with me and others. His father and grandfather had brought him up angling. His passion was a direct reflection of his family's heritage. He willingly shared that heritage with me and so many others over the past 6 years.
Mike and I have fished locally aa well as in beautiful distant places like Montana. I have fished with him and my other fishing friends. I have fished with him and his wife. I have broken bread with him. I have texted him questions about angling late into the night. I have gotten his drift boat stuck on rocks in the middle of the American River. I treasure everything about our friendship and all the wonderful experiences he has brought to my life.
I am sitting here praying for his recovery. I am eager to continue sharing his angling heritage with him. His illness reminds me to value the amazing people I am lucky enough to have in my life. It reminds me to value the moments I have on and off the water. Fishing has brought so many wonderful people into my life and for that I am so grateful. People come in and out of your life, but once you have fished with someone, there is a connection of common caring that is strong and feels unbreakable. I am looking forward to telling Mike this- hopefully soon as he makes his way through this illness we can sit on the water somewhere, share a conversation about how much he means to me and catch a few fish. I would give just about anything to have that happen again!
I fish every week. Sometimes I am not sure what drives me to the water. All I know is that I feel compelled to go. I generally fish on Sundays but this last week I had to take a day off from work and figured out a way to go fishing early before the demands of the day took over. I was floating in my float tube on the water, having an amazing fishing day. Then I felt it. The amazing feeling that drives me to fish every week. A little smile crept onto my face. My shoulders relaxed. A sense of contentment just overwhelmed me. I gently kicked my flippered feet and was just present in the moment.
You hear people talk about living in the moment all the time. People share advice about slowing down, not worrying about the future or mulling over the past. Just breath and feel that very moment. I took a deep breath. The smells of the water, fish on my hands, moist foliage filled my nose and lungs. I leaned my head back and gazed up at the clouds and blue sky. At that moment, I fully understood why I am drawn to go fishing every week. Going fishing feeds my soul like an illicit drug. Only instead of disconnecting me from reality, the experience strips my existence into its most fundamental form. It connects me to my environment and, quite frankly, to myself. I never feel more powerful, beautiful and capable than I do when I go fishing and it has nothing to do with catching fish. It has everything to do with being my unencumbered self, fully feeling and experiencing my own existence.
As I came to this realization, I lifted my foot up out of the water and saw my own reflection in the water covered surface of the black flipper. The sight of myself in the reflection made my smile deepen and I quickly snapped this strange selfie. Even though I have pictures of beautiful fish I caught this day, I think this picture may prove to be my favorite of the day. It reminds me of why I go fishing and the realization that it has nothing to do with catching fish.
My bucket list is pretty long- I am hoping to have time to get to all that I have listed on it. There is seeing the Northern Lights in person. Living in a tiny house. Staying at a fishing lodge. Fishing about 50 different rivers. I list each river twice. The first listing on my bucket list is to fish the specific river. The second is to catch a fish on that river. I was able to go and fish at a bucket list river today. Today I got to fish the Trinity. The Trinity was on my bucket list (twice) but I didn't think it would be the next river I crossed off that list. I have been making plans to fish the Feather, the Yuba and a few other local rivers first. But, as fate would have it, a quick text from a friend turned into a phone call turned into an impromptu fishing trip north. One day on the Lower Sac and the next on the Trinity. Our day on the Lower Sac was epic. We actually lost count of how many fish we caught. We started the next morning on the Trinity early and we were on the first boat on the water. I stepped into the water and onto the boat. As I picked up a rod and made my first cast, I mentally crossed the first "Fish the Trinity" off of my bucket list. We seemed to have the river to ourselves and set to fishing. It was a blast to fish with our amazing guide and my gifted angler friend. When I first started fishing out of drift boats, the day would often involve tangles and snags. Guides would have to anchor up and carefully untangle rat's nests that I had made. This day was different. The casting was cleaner. We did hang up on the bottom occasionally but that just meant we were in the fishing zone. One time I actually hooked a stonefly on my hook and we joked about bait fishing by accident. There were a few times that we cast a little too close to the bank and get tangled in a tree. Our guide would back row and we would rescue the flies and get back to fishing. Our guide would assure us that it was better to "Send it to Church" than to hold back on our efforts. He said that God would sort it out when it got where it was going.
Fishing- especially fishing hard involves some risk. Getting on the bottom runs the risk of getting hung up but that is where the fish can be found. Casting in "the zone" can put your hooks dangerously close to trees and brush. Sometimes you just have to send it to church- the river and the fish will decide what to do with it. I found out today that a few trees decided I took too large of a risk and a few rocks and submerged logs kept some flies. But I also found a few fish that sorted my efforts differently- and I was able to cross my second listing on my bucket list for this river a few times as I caught some fish on the Trinity today!
I have been experiencing a crisis of confidence since my recent fishing slump began. I had a few bad days fishing so I began to question aspects of my fishing skills. As a few bad days strung together, I began to question everything about my fishing. Then things that began as efforts to try different tactics turned into developing bad habits and fishing with a haphazard scatteredness. When my dear friend and I talked about this happening, he immediately knew what to do to help me out. He took me fishing.
I am super lucky to have people in my life who are amazing friends and even better fishermen. My dear friend took me out to the amazing Lower Sacramento River and put me on fish. He put me in the right spots with the right rig and coached me back to my former fishing form. I started the day by missing sets then began hooking fish. Then I lost fish I had hooked by struggling to properly fight them. Then I finally began landing fish. Concentration and frustration began to be replaced by laughter and relaxed smiles. The day ended with numerous fish to hand and a renewed confidence in my fishing. Nothing helps build confidence more than time on the water with an amazing angler who understands and cares enough to provide support and guidance. That is the magic of angling friends- they understand the benefits and challenges of the art of fly fishing and they are amazing and kind people. Since we had a bucket list outing planned for the next day, this preparation provided the perfect base to go into the next day of technical and challenging fishing well prepared for a successful experience. It reminded me of the old alliteration, "Prior and proper preparation provides for perfect performances." Now all we have to do is see how tomorrow goes. It is good to have friends!
I bought a new net. I bought a new net quite a while ago. I have gone through a bunch of nets. I struggle because I am short. A regular sized net hangs pretty far down my back and seems to catch on everything as I move through riverbank foliage. My net never seems handy when I catch a fish. I kid you not, I probably have about 10 nets in my closet that I have tried. They are all fine on some level but they all fall short for me on another level. Everytime I buy a new net, I always take note of the first fish I land with it. It has somehow become a bit of a superstition for me- that first fish in a new net. I kind of hold my breath until it happens.
Fast forward to my latest net purchase. It is a collapsible net and holds in a little pouch on my belt. I bought it quite some time ago. It had yet to hold a fish until yesterday. I had a good fishing day yesterday. The week before, I had hooked two or three fish and landed one but I had brought an old net. Today I brought my new net. I hooked about ten- but broke off the first nine. What was going on? At first I thought it was my poor knot tying skills. Then my rig broke off above my spilt shot. What? Everything was gone. Then I broke off at the fly again. Then at both flies. Then again above the split shot. I was not fighting the fish hard but things were completely coming apart. Then, in the most logical mental step my mind could muster, I immediately attributed it to my still new net. I tied my knots more carefully. I fought each fish with care. Each opportunity to get a fish in the net was treated with the utmost attention. Finally, as I was beginning to think about calling it a day and grabbing some food (and a drink), I hooked a mellow fish. He wasn't small but he put up little fight. Here was my chance! I gently brought him toward me. He took off and I let him run. I brought him back and towards the net. He slid right in. Only then did i realize I had been holding my breath. I kept him in the water and took the hook out. I snapped a quick picture and released him. I felt the weight of the curse of the new net lift off of me. It was over. The net was no longer new and I was sure my fishing would improve. Oh, and by the way, I am stopping on the way home and buying a new leader and replacing spool of tippet- just in case it wasn't the net. You can find me at home tonight sitting on my couch practicing tying my knots with a drink in my hand!
I was fishing in my favorite place in the world. For some reason, I was the only person there on an incredibly beautiful day. Trust me, I am not complaining- just surprised. I can kind of understand why. There are bigger fish in other nearby rivers. The flows have been miserably low. Fishing has been tough. Yet,I could spend everyday there without complaint.
I was taking my time fishing and really exploring all areas of the river. When fishing is slow for me in an familiar place, I try everything everywhere. I take this as an opportunity to explore areas I have not been in and fish waters that were previously unproductive. I also tangle in trees and hook underwater rocks and branches. I just remember a saying my dear friend told me when we would go fishing, "If you ain't tangling, you ain't fishing" and untangle, dislodge or break off and keep going with my day. I was fishing a slow run and methodically moving from close to me to across the river- even though I have always hooked fish on the far side of the river and never near me. (I have been trying to develop more consistently good skills instead of haphazardly trudging to and through waters.) As I moved a few steps upriver and methodically repeated the process, I hooked something on the bottom. Strange I thought. I have never gotten hung up here but I was hung up for sure. I thought, recent storms have shifted things around and pulled upstream to try and dislodge the hook from what I assumed to be a rock or log. Immediately, the biggest fish I have ever seen in this waterway shoots towards me and downstream, bending my rod by pulling my line as he went. My hook quickly came loose and the monster trout was gone. In typical fashion, my line popped up out of the water and wrapped completely around an overhanging branch. I just stood there processing what just happened. My brain replayed the event. I cast. I had a nice drift. I got hung up. I tried to dislodge. A giant fish was on my hook. Now I was tangled in a tree. Yup. That's what happened. I looked at the tree. I looked back at the water. I shook my head and laughed out loud. That was awesome! It was disappointing too but it was mostly awesome.
I ended up having to break my rig off on the tree branch. I stood on the side of the river and re-rigged my rod. I couldn't wipe the little grin off of my face. I had just hooked the fish of a lifetime for that river. I had also just lost the fish of a lifetime for that river. I had just had the most amazing experience at my favorite place in the world. It just doesn't get better than that!
Lately, when I have gone fishing, I have had a great and relaxing time. I kind of wander around, fishing here and there. Sometimes taking a nap or exploring an unfamiliar trail. The one feeling that I haven't felt drive my day is what I call, "The Hunter's Focus." In the past when I approach the water, I am dialed in and almost hyper-focused on the fishing conditions and whether I am catching fish or not. I problem solve and try different tactics until I catch fish. That is my purpose and my focus. After a few fish to hand, I begin to relax and enjoy my surroundings and the different pleasures of fly fishing and being outdoors.
This "Hunter's Focus" has been largely missing from my days on the water. Rather, I am more relaxed than focused. I am grateful to be present without necessarily measuring the success in my day with how many fish I catch (or even if I catch a fish). In all honesty, I am okay with this shift. I feel like people go through phases in fishing and going fishing serves different purposes at different times. With all of the COVID stay at home restrictions, fishing has become my little escape from my house. I am working both jobs from home. I am helping my son with his distance learning from home. We are eating every meal at home and the only place I really go outside of my home is grocery shopping and fishing- each once a week. The benefits of all this time at home have been immense. My son and I are closer than we have ever been before. We are eating healthier. Our dogs are super happy. My weekly fishing adventures have become my only real outlet that doesn't involve being home and my attitude towards fishing has shifted to reflect this.
However, this last weekend I got a little reminder of the hunting feeling that can be a part of fly fishing. I was on a river and there were some fish rising. Where they were rising made casting a challenge and getting a decent drift even harder. I found myself focusing in on the challenge of presenting that perfect fly. I would mend-cast and bend over in the water to follow my fly as it approached across the river. I think I was even holding my breath. I had several takes and hooked a few fish. I felt that old rush of success that used to drive all of my fishing efforts. It was fantastic!
In some ways, feeling that reminded me of the challenges and rewards that can be a part of fly fishing. It can calm and excite. It can serve as a distraction or a point of focus. I am so very grateful to have it be both in my life. When I need that relaxing getaway, you will find me relaxing among some sun-warmed rocks with a "no-care-in-the-world" grin on my face. When I am in hunting mode, you will find me focused on the task at hand. Either way, you will find me on a river just about every week!
I fish a handful of places. Most of the time I am there solo but I often run into other anglers. This last year with the COVID surge in people being outdoors, I have seen and met more people on the water than ever before. Many are new fisherman. Some are veteran anglers looking for new waters. Some are amazing anglers and others are just figuring it out. On a local water a few months ago, I came across 2 amazing anglers. They were friendly, smart and clearly passionate about fly fishing. We had a great chat, connected on Instagram and have been liking each other's pictures on Insta since.
Fast forward a few months to this last weekend. I went to a waterway that I haven't been to in over a year. The last time I was there I didn't do very well. I had not been there for some time and completely forgot the tactics that worked there. I kicked myself for not being more diligent about writing things in my fishing journal and set to figuring it out again. This is a waterway that can easily render 20+ fish days of big, beautiful trout. I was just trying to not get skunked. We arrived and found every nook and cranny had an angler or 2 already fishing. We killed time until things opened up. When we settled into a spot, there was already an angler fishing on the other side of the bank. This is an area that generally only fishes 2 people. The angler waved us in and told us to join him. This guy was roping in the fish. Fish after fish he landed. He readily shared fly information and was super supportive of any hit or hook up we had. We were having a blast. Then his 2 friends joined him. I thought for sure we would see trouble because I am a bit of a hurricane when I fish. The 5 of us fished and I hooked trees, tangled in other peoples' lines and even hooked a fish he already hooked. I waited for the angry fisherman explosion. I am still waiting. These guys were consummate gentlemen. They laughed off the foibles, helped where they could and the air of the day in this pool was that of a party. I remember fishing this spot many times but I don't ever remember having so much fun.
After I went home, I posted a picture on Insta and the 2 guys I met on the small local river a few months ago recognized me as that person from then and today. We had both thought it was the other but communicating that across the loud river was a challenge to try to make that connection apparent. We laughed when we finally made that connection afterwards and messaged back and forth how much fun we all had that day. I was again in awe of their angling skills and their amazing personalities. When I think back to other anglers I have met, so many times they are kind and supportive. Sometimes they are not. Sometimes their egos are fed with a competition to outfish everyone else at all costs. These guys however, were the epitome of confident angling. They have caught enough fish to not take it too seriously but take it seriously enough to help others experience success. These guys are the real deal and it is a pleasure to run into them on any water. Their encouragement and help aided me in ending my recent fishing slump and having a blast in the process. They have a formal group supporting new anglers on Instagram. Check out @nilesflycasters to see what they are up to and how you can support them. And if you are really lucky, you will see Josh and Brett on the water and have a party alongside them- don't get mad when they outfish you. Just watch, learn and have a blast!
I have been in a fishing slump lately. I still enjoy being on the water and look forward to my Sunday trips every week. However, I have been lacking what I call that "hunting drive" when I am fishing. I fish. I also sit on the bank and take a nap. When what I am doing doesn't catch fish, I may change the weight or length of my rig. However, I can hardly seem to muster the will to try fly after fly in pursuit of that tug. I am not sure what is happening with me. Going fishing is my sanity. I just don't seem to be going catching lately. I am in a fishing slump...
I have been addressing this slump by diving deeply into fishing related activities. My vise is on my kitchen counter. I tie flies between meetings or just when I need a little break throughout the day. My tying skills are showing the impact of the TOV (time on the vise). I have become enamored with rowing my friends around rivers. Getting to know my little raft has proven to be an exhilarating experience. My rowing skills are increasing with every trip. I am learning currents and how a boat behaves in the water. I took the raft out this last weekend and learned how to sit it in an eddie behind a rock while my fishing buddy thoroughly fished a gorgeous run. I can back row over and over and haven't even begun to feel any fatigue in my arms after 6 hour float. It is a new and amazing aspect of fly fishing that I am enjoying.
The fishing buddies that I am rowing around are not in slumps. This means that I am also working on my fish netting techniques. I love that part- Getting a fish in the net. I can feel myself holding my breath until the fish is safely netted and we can high-five congratulations. Keeping the fish safe and wet and then getting that awesome picture have also become new skills I am honing. You could say that by helping others, I am helping myself to work through my own slump. Whenever I feel down bout not feeling driven to catch a fish, I look at the flies I have tied, the pictures of friends with their beautiful catches and I am reminded that my passion for fly fishing is still deep- even if my catching is taking a break.
these are a few of my favorite things...
Just when I thought I had bitten just about every aspect of fly fishing, someone let me sit in an oarsman's seat and row a boat. I found it scary, stressful and exhilarating. I was trembling with stress and smiling from ear to ear at the same time. Never ever had I been so aware of the river. Her subtle cues and ways of moving became clues as to how to navigate her waters. Is that thing coming up a rock or merely a riffle? Where is the deepest spot to pass through a shallow? What is the best approach to a water feature? I became fascinated by the approach and "fall into" a line in the river. It was beautiful, strong, powerful and gentle all in the same stroke.
I immediately invested in an oar driven two-person boat. I couldn't wait to get on the water. Little did I know, COVID times would make the arrival of my boat later. I also came to realize the rowable waters near me are heavy with rafters during the summer. I waited for the boat to arrive and the river to open. Today was the day that I got to put my new boat in the water and row my good friend down the river.
I was nervous. I had dreams about anchors falling off and boats being lost to the current passengerless. But, when I awoke, we set off and had a beautiful day on the river. It took some time to dial in the handling of the boat. As a double pontoon, it is subject to the current quickly. The oars are smaller and less effective than that of a drift boat. Back rowing and dropping into a line is a skill I need to refine. Overall, I had a tremendously fun day. Did I mention that I didn't even bring a rod? I never cast a line. I rowed. I paid attention to my friend fishing. I tried to refine my oarsmanship. I read the river. I had a phenomenal day. I truly hope it is the first of many days that I don't catch a fish. The first of many days where I watch my fellow anglers roping in fish. The first of many days when I have oars in my hands.
My favorite place in the world is in pretty sad shape right now. There has been a master operating agreement that allows the flows to be lowered to a trickle. For over a month the water flow has been at horribly low levels. The river is filled with weeds and algae. You get whiffs of rotten egg smell from the standing water in certain areas. It breaks my heart. I can't bring myself to aggressively fish under these conditions. The fish are struggling enough under the miserable management of the operators of the waterway without me adding to their stress.
Even though I am not actively fishing the water, I still feel like I need to be present in the river. As strange as it may sound, I feel a relationship and a bond to this place and I am not someone who stays around just when times are good and easy. If I am connected to someone or something, it is for the good and bad. For every amazing fishing day I have had at this spot, I am willing to stand by her for days while the angling community bands together to work on behalf of this river's health. Unfortunately, politics moves slowly and rarely in the direction towards fish and river health. The river doesn't vote or contribute to politician's campaigns so it has little pull with the powers that be. I regretfully anticipate that the river will have low flows for a long time- or at least as long as the parties with vested interest and control say it will. Because of this, I have taken this opportunity to spend time on the river in different ways.
Sometimes I take my rod out and practice my casting. I have rigged up a little spey rod and have found some spots where I have room to work on my spey cast timing and form. Luckily these spots are rather secluded so no one sees my feeble attempts at this new-to-me casting strategy. Other days I work on my roll cast or play around with different set ups to see how they behave in the water.
The low flows have made the river super wadable. I have been able to venture and cross in areas I have struggled to access in the past. Even though I have spent numerous days on this river, there are still places I haven't explored. I have taken this opportunity to go where I haven't gone before. I am spending time moving through the water. I am seeing the river as more than a place that holds fish. I am learning her curves and valleys. I am seeing the impacts of other creatures. I explored a giant beaver dam that I can barely believe was made by such a small creature. I am picking up trash that I see. I am talking to hikers and other fishermen. I am exploring this beloved place. I am breathing it in deeply and exhaling a new familiarity of it. There are times that I find a spot and just sit down. I close my eyes and listen to the water. I inhale the smells of foliage. I feel far away- lighter almost. Other times I just stand in waist deep water and let my fingers trail along in the water until they get too cold to take anymore of the chill.
My heart aches for this waterway in her current condition. I want to go and pull the gates of the dam open- like giving a lifesaving breath to someone struggling to breath. I cannot. I know it doesn't matter to the river whether I am there with her or not but I do know that it matters to me that I am there. As fellow anglers work on her behalf, I will be there standing in her waters and doing what little I can to help- even if that means just being a witness to her condition.
Fly fishing has numerous subcultures. People often dabble in some and sometimes specialize in one. I love all things fly fishing so I dabble in all. I have become quite the consumer of tying, casting, fishing rods, reels and lines and all accutroment associated with fly fishing. However, I am the master of none- enjoying everything but specializing in nothing. As I have taken time to explore pieces and parts of fly fishing, I have met leaders in these subcultures. I have met Bud Heintz- our local fly tying master. I have watched Marty K. roll cast with delicate distance and accuracy. I have watched members explore the pro's and con's of rods, reels and lines with language I have to google to understand. I have spent time with Gary Turri, Sara Trenschel and Willy George marvelling at their line control during casting. As I have spent time with these leaders in their specialties, I have heard about special places and things in these subcultures. One of those places is the casting ponds at Golden Gate Park.
I have seen pictures and heard stories about the ponds. There have been movies and videos about casting days and competitions. I had never been there- mostly because I hate going to San Francisco. I only go there for work or to see my favorite band once or twice a year. I dread driving there and do whatever I can to avoid it. However, my friend Sara had offered to give me some pointers on my slowly developing spey cast and this was going to happen at the casting ponds. So I drove there this past Sunday.
I drove early into San Francisco hoping that the combination of COVID and an early morning arrival would alleviate traffic challenges. I arrived at a little parking lot hidden amongst the trees of Golden Gate Park. A short walk led me to the ponds. This classic and beautiful spot clearly had its draw. I wadered up, strung my rod and joined Sara in the pond.
Sara is a gifted caster and teacher. This is something she has worked hard at and nurtured over the course of several years of dedicated practice. It didn't take her long to teach me the spey basics and target gentle corrections on my movements. My cast was instantly transformed for the better. I practiced and watched people all around me working and practicing their casting. It was wonderful to watch.
I was particularly struck by Sara. She was the only woman in a group studying for their spey casting certification. Sara practiced, received feedback and performed right alongside of every person in the group. The ponds can be an intimidating place. Standing in the open in the water, your skills and habits are exposed to every person there. It is not easy to be publicly bad at something we generally do in the privacy of a river away from observing eyes. Putting yourself out there feels risky but has amazing benefits. Sara has become the caster and teacher she is through practice and feedback in this very public place over time. Sara epitomized what fly fishing can be for those who want to enjoy it- an opportunity to push yourself and develop skills in beautiful places. I am so very grateful to have joined her on this day. I can't wait for my next trip to the ponds!
When I take someone new fishing or fish a new water, I always say the same thing as I grab my net- "A net is sometimes a hopeful gesture." I think this is somewhat to dampen my expectations going into new waters or attempting to deal with the pressure of catching when taking someone fishing. Putting the net in my pack suggests that I expect to catch fish and saying my little saying lowers my expectations. I find that if and when we actually catch fish on that day, the lowered expectations result in increased joy at a catch and met expectations if we don't.
Recently, I have been fishing pretty well. My net has been getting a workout and it has been great. I haven't just been imitating the examples that served as the cornerstone of my early fishing days. I am exploring and trying new things. I have been having a blast and growing in confidence. Where I loved being on the water before, I feel so at home now that I find myself in a bubble of contentment and happiness that I could never even adequately describe with words. Catching fish and using my net has been a wonderful aspect of the experience that I have become accustomed to- I have come to almost expect it recently. Yeah- it has been a bit since I have been skunked!
I have tried a number of nets and net attachments. They have all been adequate but none have felt right. If I hang the net on my back, it catches on branches as I hike. If I hang it from my hip pack, I am so short it drags and hits my lower legs. If I tuck it in my pack, I can't reach it when I need it. I have tried all sorts of nets- short and long, retractible and loose. Recently I came upon a foldable net and thought I would give it a try. Maybe this would accommodate some of my net challenges. It could sit on my side- easy to grab. It would be folded up so it wouldn't catch on brush and trees. I received it last week. I practiced folding it- which actually took me some time to figure out and I put it on my hip pack, ready to get it wet and put that first fish in it.
I went to where I have been catching fish regularly. For several weeks I have caught fish consistently here. I was brimming with confidence as I set out on the water. That confidence slowly eroded as the day passed without so much a a bump. How could this happen? Here? What happened?
As joyful as fishing is, it can also be humbling. On this day I was appropriately humbled. My new net remained dry and clean. There was no need to pull it out and have it snap open. There was no need to fold it up and put it away. On this day- my first day using my new net, it turned out to be just a hopeful gesture attached to my hip pack. No worries. Eventually it will hold a fish- just not today...
I am going to be honest with you all. I take horrible pictures and videos on the water. I blame my really short arms. They make it hard to get focus... Just kidding! Often it is because I feel rushed to get the fish released healthy and as unstressed as possible. I use a net and keep the fish in the water as much as possible to mitigate the negative. I try to take a photo pretty quickly and don't always stop and check before releasing the fish.
Oh yeah- the "release" of the fish. I am really bad at that too! I specialize in unintentional releases quite often. The fish wiggle out of my hand before I get a picture. Usually this only happens if the fish is exceptionally beautiful or large or the only fish I catch that day! Today I was fishing and I caught a little fish. He was cute and I snapped a picture. Then I caught a beautiful 12 inch fish on a little river. That is pretty big for this river. I thought it would be cool to get a release video of him swimming away to share on these musings. I held him in the net while I pulled my camera out and set it to video. I bent over the net and pushed the start button on the camera. I reached down to gra the fish, saw his beautiful image on my screen and released him back into the water. Perfect! I was glowing with pride. Beautiful footage of a beautiful fish to commemorate my beautiful day. I decided to sit and relax and pulled up the video I had just taken. All there was was 2 seconds of video that showed my net and the water. No fish. No release. Nothing. What a bummer! I set off to fish again to see if I could have another go at my goal.
I fished a bit more and caught another sizeable fish for this tiny river. I got a picture and footage of this one. It was one of my classic fish in my net picture and fish leaving my hand videos. As I often fish alone, I have lots of pictures of fish in my hand, fish in my net, fish swimming out of my hand. You get the picture! Not too many pictures of much but the fish. This is cool with me as fish are incredibly beautiful. They have a casual beauty that makes me catch my breath as they move in the water and the light. Without even trying, they glimmer and shine as they gracefully move until they disappear into the water. I am grateful for their beauty as they look amazing in the pictures that even I take- at least the fish I get in the frame!
A few years ago Dena and I attended the Women's Angle in Redding. This was the first time that I attended a women's focused fly fishing gathering. I was blown away by the number of women anglers there. I was overwhelmed by the fact that women were the instructors of all the classes. There was a bunch of fly fishing knowledge, empowerment and passion present that day. While they didn't repeat the event the next year, I found it to be a transformational experience for me in believing that fly fishing really is open to women. Special acknowledgement to The Fly Shop in Redding for putting on this event!
Fast forward to an email letting me know that the women leaders in the fly fishing industry were forging new ground by putting on the first virtual fly fishing expo and the target audience was women. "Celebrating Women in Fly Fishing" promised women presenters, women focused presentations and access to companies owned and developed with women anglers in mind. They did not disappoint! There were presentations on self defense and empowering other anglers. There were presentations and interviews about the historical figures in women's fly fishing including current and local female pioneers. Women specific waders and gear were presented. Starting small businesses was highlighted. Inclusion in fly fishing was discussed. In addition to these topics, fly fishing skills were presented, casting tips shared and angling skills developed in this virtua setting.
All of this was wonderful. I walked away with more knowledge, more connections and some new ideas. However, the most pivotal moment for me personally was during the opening session on Friday night. I was late to the party because of family responsibilities but when I joined in and got settled, I looked to the participants' section on my Zoom window. I saw that there were 205 participants. 205 women anglers from all over the world were tuning in on a Friday evening. I could see that there were women like me who were making dinner while we watched. There were women of all shapes, styles, and colors on the screen. I got a little teary eyed. When I looked at the screen of participants, I saw aspects of myself in some form or another in the participants on the screen where I had not really seen this from the fly fishing industry itself. Don't get me wrong, I know the hot woman holding the fish sells magazines and gear, but I don't see myself in her. Yet, I saw myself in the participants on Zoom. We are out there. We are all over the globe. We are not alone!
As a female angler, I feel that I joined fly fishing at the beginning of an incredible movement in support of women anglers. Orvis started its 50/50 on the water while I was learning to fish. Seeing a woman at the club meetings was a joy. DFF had about 5 women members when I joined. Now we have over a dozen just a few years later. We would always greet and support each other at the meetings and on the water but DFF is super special because I have always felt supported as an angler. But, seeing a woman on the water was noteworthy due to its rarity. I often wondered if seeing another woman angler would become so commonplace that I would fail to note the angler's gender. Then something super cool happened today...
I was looking for the perfect gift for an angler in my life. With Christmas fast approaching, I was engaged in furious google searches for the perfect gift. If you know me at all, you know I love giving gifts. In fact, I love giving the perfect gifts. I will spend crazy amounts of time searching for, making or procuring the perfect gift for someone in my life. This day, my search for the perfect gift was a real struggle. I found something like what I was looking for but not exactly what I was looking for. Then I found exactly what I was looking for but it was not available. Then I watched about 18 YouTube videos about the topic. I had an idea but it needed some fine tuning. When I looked up about 90 minutes later, I decided to call Mad River Outfitters who had created several of the videos I watched.
I called and spoke to a highly knowledgeable worker at the shop. We talked back and forth about options, anticipated arrival dates, Christmas ordering deadlines and fly fishing in general. It was a great interaction with someone who was clearly informed and passionate about fly fishing. Needless to say, I dig their shop based upon that solitary conversation with its employee's knowledge and level of customer service.
It was only after I hung up that I realized my conversation partner was also a woman. I had initially failed to note the gender of the voice as I was so wrapped up in the conversation. She was awesome and she was not awesome because she was female. She was just plain awesome. I love that. Fly fishing passion should transcend characteristics like gender, weight, race and I believe it does with most people. This individual was a great example of just plain fly fishing awesomeness. When I started fishing, the odds of a woman calling a shop and speaking to a woman would have been pretty rare. I love that just a few years later, it feels so natural that it is barely even noteworthy. Here is to the day when I see a woman on the water and think- "Wow- there's a great angler." instead of "Wow- there is another woman angler." If this morning's phone conversation is any indication, it may be closer than we think!
Life is funny. In some ways it just repeats itself over and over until a period is finally put at the end of a sentence. The simple act of putting a final punctuation on something can lift a great weight off of one's shoulders. So many things can be left unsaid once that period is written. Life can shift to a new trajectory when the soul is unencumbered by anchors of the past.
As a period has been put on a long, beautiful and torturous sentence in my life, I am curious to see how it impacts my memories and thoughts. So often when I am on the water, my mind goes back to times of joy and sorrow. I can find myself laughing and smiling at the past. I can also break into tears remembering broken promises and sadness. The banks of the river always seem to hold me close but never hold me back from feeling these feelings fully and deeply. There is nothing more healing than standing in the current, feeling the water wash by my legs and hands with a cleansing hope and acceptance. The ability to work through things on the water is one of the reasons I love fishing alone. I feel most alive alone in the river. I feel my feelings so clearly and experience my memories so vividly.
I am eager to get on the water and see how this newly added punctuation will treat my memories. I wonder if I will smile more and cry less or the opposite. All I know is that when I am on the water, I get closer and closer to loving exactly where I am at in my life. I am eager to write the next sentences in my story and I am equally eager to flesh through the new and old lines of the story of my life while standing in a river...
That is the perfect word to describe how I feel when I fish- joyful. I was able to go fishing on a new waterway with a new friend who guided me to fishing success. I learned so much from him and eagerly thought of when and where I could apply what I had learned on other waters. I had a realization that this was the first time for me that I looked at a new waterway through the lens of my previous experiences on rivers. So many times over my fishing years, I would walk up to new waters and stare with a blank look at the unfamiliar water- unsure of how and where to start.
Today, I saw the beautiful structure of the river. Runs, riffles, deep pockets and bends all beckoned to me to place my fly in them. I recognized my familiar waters in this unfamiliar river. This was huge for me... I fished with a comfort that I normally only feel on my favorite home waters.
Now I don't assume that I can walk up to any waterway and catch fish now that I have had this realization. However, I do feel that I have the confidence now to walk up to an unfamiliar water and try to fish it. That the "deer in the headlights" look that I get when I freeze in overthinking what I should do is hopefully a thing of the past. I now see structure and familiar rhythms of the river where before I was too overwhelmed to move.
There is only one way to see if my new-found confidence is established. I need to find some new waters and walk up to the bank. Only then will I know if I see the river and grin in anticipation or freeze like a deer in front of an oncoming car!
there is nothing like homewaters. I know I have written numerous times about this waterway. Each time I hope I convey how special it is and how it makes me feel every time I get to venture there. I write about it often because I get to go there often. In fact, I was corresponding with a dear angling friend and he shared this amazing list of places he has and is going to fish. It reads like an angler's dream. I shared with him that I am feeling as though my son is reaching an age where I am not eager to leave him for length of time. He is getting onto the teenage years and time seems to be flying. I don't want to miss a moment and I also don't want him to feel like he isn't my number one priority. As I shared this realization with my friend, I wrote that I would be completely satisfied if I could only fish this one waterway for the rest of my angling days. This place is that special to me.Today I was able to go there- to my favorite place in the entire world. It is a small, local river. Many club members will know what river I am talking about immediately. Some will not. I refuse to advertise it's name on social media. It is where I learned to fly fish rivers. It is close to my home. Most of the time I am the only one there. It has fish and I love it there. Being there feeds my soul.
Everytime I drive to this spot, my level of relaxation increases. As each landmark comes into view and the familiar bends in the road arrive in front of me and disappear behind me, I am mixed with anticipation and impending calmness. When I finally get to the river, a sense of returning home permeates my being. Stepping into the water is like breathing a sigh of relief. I find myself drawn to this place when my life is stressful as well as when it is blissful. It is like my beacon home. I never tire of being there. It fills my soul and washes me clean.
It is my hope that everyone has something in their life that serves them as this river serves me. Someplace or someone that grounds and elevates them at the same time. A place of such familiarity that they never tire of being in its presence.
I was introduced to spey casting this last year. I took a lesson and then put my blooming skill to work on the Klamath fishing for steelhead. It just goes to show that just when you think you are gaining mastery of fly fishing, you realize that you have just scratched the surface. So, in effort to work on my spey casting skills, I took a small fiberglass spey rod out to my favorite local river to throw a few casts. I should probably mention that this river is a pretty small river. I usually fish it easily with an 8 foot 4 weight rod. However, there is a section that is wider and flat- not really an area that I would normally fish but something that would be good for practicing my cast.
I started casting and worked on my technique. As I ironed out some problems, the length of my cast increased. I went from just casting the shooting head to feeding line until I was easily casting 20 more feet than when I began. Feeling good about my fledgling skills, I moved into an area that I knew held fish.
I began casting, marvelling at the distance I was able to cast. I was casting into areas that I had never been able to reach before. However, I wasn’t catching fish. I wasn’t even getting bumps. This was strange as this place was one of my go-to fish catching spots. I thought for sure that a longer cast would put me in places to catch fish I just couldn’t reach otherwise.
Just then, I flubbed my cast. It fell short of any cast I had done- by quite a bit. And then I felt it- a fish bumped the fly. I cast short again and felt another fish. Again and again this happened. In my effort to cast farther and force that technique into this spot on the river, I had spent all of my time fishing over the fish. While I was out there to work on a skill, I wasn’t disappointed. My spey cast was better than when I had started that day. But, it was a good reminder to myself that farther isn’t always better. Casting for distance has its place. But, often we are tempted to display our casting skills and this results in missing opportunities to catch fish that are literally right in front of us. I know for me, I learned more than how to spey cast a little better that day- I was reminded that an effective angler adapts to the river and looks close before looking far. It is funny how the river will teach us these skills if we just let it…
I am always a little jealous of my son around this time of year. Every year to celebrate his adoption day, I give him a Lego advent calendar. As the gift that keeps on giving, starting December 1st, he opens a door on the box and finds a little Lego treat every day. Sometimes a little figure. Sometimes a small item to build. The advent calendars have a theme. Some years it is the holidays. Some years it is Star Wars. He loves it and looks forward to it every year.
My sister in law did a grown up version for my brother. She made a box with 25 spots and in each one she put a beer. He got a different beer each day for the month of December. I am sure he appreciated this as he works for UPS and the month of December is soul-crushingly intense and busy there.
I was looking for a gift for a fly fishing friend and thought that a fly fishing themed advent calendar would be a fun item. Not finding anything like it online, I tried my hand at making one. I downloaded a do-it-yourself advent calendar pattern and attached a fly behind each door. After some problem solving to keep the flies from falling or being crushed, I was pretty happy with the outcome. I ended up making a few for anglers in my life. I found it a little embarrassing that I could put together 5 advent calendars containing 25 flies each without putting a dent into my fly collection… I may have a problem!
I can hardly wait for Thanksgiving to hand them out. I hope that the recipients open a door each day with the anticipation similar to my son. I hope the flies they find under the doors get fished and catch fish for them. I can’t think of a better present this holiday season!
When I first began fishing, I used to hate the fact that I had to take put my rod together, run the line and build my rig. I equally dreaded taking apart my rod, take off the reel and put everything in its place. I envied the gear fishermen who grabbed their rods and set off to fishing so quickly and threw their short little rods into their backseat and headed off after fishing. I would look for some way to avoid this preparation ritual every time I fished. I would feed my flies through the ferrules in my rod to avoid taking them off of the line. I would try to take my rod apart without taking the line off. Veteran fly fishermen would laugh at me and tell me that I was going to break my rod because of my laziness. They were right. It wasn’t long before I snapped the tip off of my favorite rod for this very reason.
I am sure part of this was a personal worry that I wouldn’t be able to replicate my set ups with any accuracy as a newer angler. I also tie terrible knots and, to this day, I still don’t tie knots I trust fully. Getting ready to fish used to be torture to me. It was something that I rushed through in my eagerness to step into the water.
As I got ready to fish the other day, I realized that the preparation for fishing has become a treasured ritual for me. It has shifted from a necessary torture to a calming and focusing process that helps me set my mind for my time on the water. The process of putting my rod together, setting the reel and feeding my line serve as steps in setting up my gear for success. I no longer wonder if my rig is set up correctly as I now have more trust in my ability to adjust depth style and flies on the water. Now, when I complete the ritual of preparation that is fly fishing, I am ready to fish. And when I take everything apart at the end of my fishing day, it puts the perfect seal on my experience. Everything goes in its place. As I take the flies off, I think about the choices I made during fishing. As I take the line and reel off, I think about casting and drifts. As I take my rod apart, I think about how lucky I am to get to fly fish. I jot my experience in my journal. I also start to think about when I can next go fishing.
The steps of preparation have become a valued process of focusing and decompression for me. It has shifted as I have spent time on the water and embraced the challenges and joys of fishing. I feel like a true angler in a way I didn't before. When I struggled to embrace the process, I felt like a fly fishing imposter. Now I feel like my passion and enjoyment of all things fly fishing have given me validity in the art and experience of fly fishing. Now, I relish the steps of getting ready to fly fish- every single step!
Today I went to the spot where I first fished on my own. I mean really fished by myself. I had fished here with others and had it dialed in. The rod, the fly, the line, the spots to cast from. Where the fish were and how the current and seasons impacted the fishing on this section of the river had become a part of me. It is my favorite spot on earth. I want my body's ashes dropped in the big hole at the base of my favorite run when I depart this earth. I fell in love at this spot. I had my heart broken at this spot. I came here and healed myself at this spot. I have spent beautiful days here with family and old friends. I have made new friends here. Anytime my soul is heavy or my mind is cluttered, I can come here. The waters wash away all of life's troubles. All becomes right with my soul again.
Having a chance to take my nephew Bowen fishing is an unanticipated highlight of being an angler. I started fishing because I was hoping for a way to connect with his older brother, Robert. Robert was at the age between teenager and adult and we would sit in awkward silence when we were together. He had 3 interests at the time- his girlfriend (now wife), cycling and fly fishing. I tried the cycling and found that I had little talent or ability to safely maneuver a bike- well, just about anywhere. I adored his now wife already. So that left fly fishing. So I took up the sport/art and immediately fell in love with every aspect of it.
Fast forward a few years and my other nephew Bowen expressed an interest in fly fishing. I had been fishing long enough that I was able to outfit him with some of the basics as he left for college in Arizona. Before he departed for school, I was able to take him fishing. I took him to one of my favorite places in the world. It is a spot of amazing beauty. I have fished here with friends. I have had long and meaningful conversations with people whom I respect and admire. I have even had my heart broken here. It is a sacred spot to me. And, did I mention, there are beautiful wild trout there? Putting Bowen on trout there was possibly the highlight of my year.
Bowen went off to school. He studied. He explored Arizona. He fished. Then the Corona Virus happened and he came home to do distance learning for his junior year of college.
For me, that meant that I would get to show him a few more fishing spots near us. We got to go last weekend after restrictions lifted and our schedules meshed. I took him to a beautiful little spot that usually produces at least a few fish. We explored. He got some bumps but didn’t convert any of these bumps to a fish to hand. I was becoming desperate to get him a fish and the fish seemed to know it. We came to the last hole. We came to the last cast. I gave him some instruction. “Cast it in there...let it drift. You aren’t fishing yet- let it get down to the bottom. You are fishing... now.” And wouldn’t you know it, a fish hit right when I said “now”. He landed it and we snapped a picture. He was all smiles and so was I.
That moment helped me realize that Bowen wasn’t the only one who had learned over the past year. A year ago, I wouldn’t have known what to tell him to do or be able to foretell the strike like that. Sometimes in life there are moments that serve as marker to help you measure your growth and progress and that was one for both of us. It was a great day fishing with my nephew.
Now if only I could get him and his brother out there at the same time, my Auntie heart would runneth over...
I am an obsessed angler. I try to fish twice a week as often as I can. I love fishing with new and old friends. It seems that fly fishing attracts some amazing people and, since trout live in beautiful places, this combination makes for wonderful days.
The one person who I wish I could get to fall in love with fishing but hasn't so far is my son Rocky. He hates fishing. He hates it when I go fishing. As a single mom, this leaves me in a bit of a jam. So I feel like I am forever in search of some sort of balance in my life.
An example is us going camping. As I type this, I am sitting next to a beautiful tributary of the North Fork of the North Fork of the American River. It is a pristine spot with the crystal clear water flowing-right past our campground. The sounds lulls me to sleep at night and the rising fish beckon me to the water all day long. But, As you heard, Rocky hates fishing. So I have to try and find some balance while the two of us are here. We play board games, make s'mores, build epic campfires and talk. Then, when the fish are rising to the point I can't resist, Rocky times me. I get 45 minutes to step into the water and fish. He lets me know when my time is up in this reversal of "You can have some time to play" parent-child dynamic. "Aww Rocky! Can I have a few more minutes?" I ask. "Just one more fish?" "Okay", he answers. One more fish and then back up to the campsite for another round of Uno. More time with my beloved son. Another amazing day of just trying to find some balance.
Topwater fishing, whether trout or bass, is based upon reaction. The fish emerges from below, most often unseen, and takes the fly. The angler has to react in time to set the hook. The set must be at the correct angle and speed. Too soon and the angler takes the fly away from the fish. Too late and the fish is onto the ruse and knows that that tasty morsel is just a trick of feather and fur.
As the angler, sitting and waiting for the take can be its own experience. Trying to maintain a ready status over time. Hunger, distractions and a million other things can dull the readiness and cause the angler to misreact at that moment.
Fish rarely give second chances. One miss step and the opportunity is unlikely to return. Humans can be this way too- easy to grasp at what they want in the moment and quick to turn away at the first sign of trouble.
Both the fish and the people are good teachers of life lessons. If you get a fish to give you a second chance, you had better be ready. If you get a person to give you a second chance, don't screw it up- life rarely gives you third chances.
Everyone has family on some level or another. At times it is family we are born to but do not choose. Other times it is family we choose but are not born into. Sometimes we are lucky and it is family we would choose that we are born into. I am incredibly fortunate that my life has many of these family members.
From my parents and sibling to my niece and nephews, I would choose each of them if I hadn't been lucky enough to be born into their family. My beloved son, the child of my heart, couldn't be more my family- even if he had been crafted of my body instead of from my heart and soul.
I have extended family that I hold dear too. Amazing people that have existed on the periphery of my life- providing me with roots, support and love in times of joy and times of need. Always a phone call, visit or celebration away, they add hues of love and support like a beautiful layered sunset.
The only bummer to having all of these wonderful people in my life is that I don't get to see them as much as I would love. A great example of that is my cousins, Brett and Katie. They are amazing people- fun loving, kind, hardworking and loving. We have all experienced transitions in our lives that pull us in different directions pursuing our joys and life challenges.
You can imagine my excitement when my cousin Brett and I scheduled an evening fishing session amongst our busy lives. We set out with Captain Bryce on the Delta and the fun started instantly. Given the chance to reconnect, catch beautiful fish, be on the Delta and be cared for by our awesome guide made hanging out with family even better.
I am so lucky to have family that loves the outdoors. I am so lucky to have family I would choose. I am really lucky to share fishing with them.
I have been away from my home waters for a few weeks. While I have been fishing in beautiful and new places, there have been many moments in which I have yearned to be on my favorite home waters. It is like seeing a familiar person who brings you comfort and joy. I was ready for a homecoming. After settling in at home a few days, I took my nephew to my super secret fishing spot. As I entered the first pool, I didn't catch a fish. As I entered the second pool, I didn't catch a fish. And the third and fourth were the same. I couldn't believe it. I had brought my nephew because I can catch fish here- only I wasn't catching fish today. I felt terrible. We had a few bumps but didn't land anything until the 5th pool. At the 5th pool I got it right. I turned the rig over to my nephew and sat and watched him land about 5 fish. It was awesome to be home...
I had my first saltwater fishing experience while on vacation in Maui last week. I did my best to prepare by taking a special casting lesson and practicing my casting before I went. I am not sure anything could have prepared me for the actual experience.
First off, you need to know that I am terribly afraid of the ocean. I saw the movie Jaws at the age of 7. I used to get scared in my own pool at home when I was a child. My fear is irrational and I know it. Knowing it doesn't keep me from feeling the fear though. I think this is part of why I haven't fished in saltwater yet. That is, until last week.
We had arrived on Maui on Friday evening. My fishing guide was booked for Tuesday. Monday night he called and let me know that the winds were forecast to be too high for fly fishing so we rescheduled for Thursday. This gave me a chance to swim in the ocean a few times with my family.
Thursday came and I met my colorful guide at 7. Captain Jon Jon is a bit of a local celebrity. He is on kayak fishing shows and runs the only guide company on Maui.
Our session began with an assessment of my casting. After a brief beach casting session, we moved into the kayak and set out on the water.
Captain Jon Jon spotted fish and directed my casting. I did my best to get it out there where he said. We had a few chases but no takes. The reef we were fishing combined wading amongst rocks and on uneven ground with handling waves all while casting. Turtles swam around us. We explored chances for a few hours and the wind began picking up. The waves breaking around us began knocking me over. Jon Jon told me that we should head in- that the wind was too strong. He said to take one last cast and we would call it- even though we were empty handed.
While I was disappointed to be fishless, I was a bit relieved to be getting out of the water. I was exhausted from motoring the fishing kayak, dealing with the waves and my arm was sore from casting. I chucked the fly as far as a I could and was ready to call it a day- when the fish hit.
The fish ran me into the backing. Not just to the backing but almost through the backing. This was repeated another 5 times. We finally landed the bonefish and snapped a few pictures before high tailing it to shore. We rode the waves in the kayak like a surfboard. On the way in, Captain Jon Jon told me that half of the people he took surfing don't land a fish. While I would have been satisfied with the ocean experience, knowing that gave me further appreciation of the experience.
Great guides are magic. Fly fishing guides tend to be pretty amazing people. They are knowledgeable, kind, patient, funny and in tune with their environment. I am a bit addicted to guides and trips with guides. They help me become a better fisherman, a better steward of the waterways, and provide amazing experiences that I wouldn't have found on my own. I was looking forward to a McCloud experience like that when I booked Chuck from Wildwaters. Initially we had talked about fishing the Conservancy. However, when Chuck showed up that morning he asked if I would be open to a different adventure. He said he had a good feeling about the Upper McCloud and had his boat at the boat ramp in hopes I would be willing to go that direction with him that day.
Chuck is an amazing angler who has guided this water for a long time. If Chuck says we should go to the Upper McCloud, then we go to the Upper McCloud. So- we went.
Chuck launched the boat into the emerald colored McCloud Reservoir. We jetted up the arm towards the Hearst property. We landed the boat just next to the spot where Mud Creek joins the Upper McCloud. Mud Creek is fed by glacial melt. This time of the year, the color of the water is an amazing turquoise because of the volcanic ash in the glacial water. That water meets the spring fed Upper McCloud to provide a 44 degree trout haven. Chuck had me walk and wade this section. Then he drifted the boat down the river-like arm of the reservoir while fish slammed my fly. When we got to the wider part of the water where the current disappeared, we fired up the engine and repeated the procedure for the entire day. I fished dries to risers, indicator fished in different spots and roped in amazing and beautiful fish over and over again.
This is an area that is only accessible by experienced jet boat operation. This is something that only an experienced guide can make happen. So grateful for Chuck and his guidance in making this amazing experience a reality.
When i fished the Upper McCloud with a guide, we were just moving towards the end of the day by finishing up a drift down the current of an arm of the McCloud Reservoir. We ended up along an inside bend of a wide swath of water. As we came around the bend, my indicator started taking a dive over and over. Fish after fish hit my flies in this honey hole. Mind you, this was after a wonderfully fun and successful day of fishing. We were ready to bring it in for the day but just couldn't tear ourselves away from this spot just quite yet.
The catching didn't take any necessary skill. The biggest challenge was not looking away from the indicator as it didn't sit for very long before a take. Fish after fish after fish after fish almost paid homage to our guide putting us in the right spot and the right time. It felt almost too easy.... That is not the norm in fly fishing.
As we motored home after my arm finally said enough and the sun began to disappear over the mountains, we talked about how rare it can be to have that experience. We also talked about how wonderful it was. While it didn't take any of my skill to catch all those fish, it did take skill and knowledge from my guide. I just got to feel what it was like to catch a ton of fish. Let me tell you, it felt good!
Being a fly fishing guide has to be a challenge. It is taking something you love and making it your work. It is easy to lose what you love by doing this. Something about it is tough for me to swallow. You literally take people to your favorite spots and show them how to catch fish there. Guiding a waterway you love probably feels like a bit of a betrayal. I imagine it is easy to get burnt out on the hard physical work, the challenge of getting people fish- especially if they don't listen, and the loss of hands on fishing as it becomes more of a spectator sport.
However, when I took my nephew fishing on the Truckee with one of my favorite guides, I was struck by the power of being a fly fishing guide. My nephew is new to fly fishing. He is smart and eager. He fishes wherever he can but is learning on his own. That is a tough way to learn. The learning curve is steep and guidance really helps make it more palatable. He has been doing it on his own for a year. So, for his birthday, I set up this guided fishing trip to give his skills and experience a boost. I was awestruck at the interaction between he and our guide, Matt. The impact that Matt had was profound. I realized that Matt did this all the time. He forged new anglers. He taught the large and small skills. He instilled the respect and care of the fishery. While he was giving away his experience and knowledge, he was also forging a legacy few of us could ever imagine.
I will be lucky to help a handful of people get started in fly fishing in my life. My son, my niece, a friend here or there- they will be my fly fishing legacy. For our guide Matt, his legacy will be far reaching. People will honor his experience and knowledge well into the future. I imagine that my nephew will hand much of it off to his future children. I am Matt's legacy. Everyone that fishes with him will move forward with a piece of him and his beloved river to fish forward into the future. What a legacy to leave!
I spend a lot of time on the water. I generally fish twice a week. You can set your clock by it. If I am not fishing twice a week, it is because I am fishing more often on a special trip. I have been putting a bit of time on the water. And yet, it still amazes me that I catch most of my fish by accident.
I go to fish a section or spot and the fish are not necessarily where I think they should be. Rather, I hook a fish when I am bringing my line in to recast, or sliding it along to check my flies, or taking line out to get ready to fish, or any other time I think I am not quite fishing- that is when I catch fish.
It is actually quite funny. I tend to laugh out loud when I realize the fish is on my line.
Given the amount of time I spend on the water, you would think I would be better at fishing than I am. But, I am not. Sometimes it feels as though every fish I catch is a fish of a thousand casts. I wonder if one day I will figure it out and catch fish with intention? I don't know. But, I do know that I catch more fish than I used to catch. I also know that if I just keep getting my line wet and getting out there, I am bound to learn lessons from when I catch fish- whether it is by accident or not!
I think getting trout to take a dry fly is the ultimate in fly fishing. Getting a fish to leave the safety and security under the water and expose themselves to increased danger by breaking the surface is amazing. Getting a wild trout to do this is even better. Getting a wild trout to rise when there is no hatch, no other fish rising and you don't have an exact match to the local bugs is epic. This is what happened at the Conservancy for me last Sunday. Nothing like a wild on the dry! #thatslomoletgothough #shastabows #natureconservancy