50 Shades of Tepid Reflexes

With fishermen as superstitious as sailors and baseball players, I recognize my poor showing this year is manifesting itself as a burgeoning streak of good Karma. While never sure whether it’ll take the form of hundreds of fish caught, a single hundred pound fish, or simply finding a Ben Franklin crumpled next to the curb, the only absolute is my knowledge it’s coming …

PurpleBerryEssa

That’s because all of the hiking along the lake, all of the careful monitoring of wildflowers, bass and spawning beds, the sneaking over hummocks hoping for top water action befitting fly gear, have been pipe dreams.

Four trips up to the lake were too cold, too blustery, or too off color to even see fish activity in the shallows, so I kept thinking next week, or the week following. Now it’s the week following that – and I’ve returned fishless yet again, but things are starting to stir – a few spawning bass are visible, a few scoured spots suggesting mating activity, and a few more warms days offer a chance to cash in on that Karmic debt.

I’m learning as much about lake ecology as I’ve learned about streams so there is a silver lining. Drought really muck things up for years, both due to their arid nature – and what it does to terraform exposed bank that challenges fishing once the lakes refill.

All that weed growth evaporates as the lake lowers and each bed is extincted once it reaches the surface. Foot and animal traffic powders the newly exposed rubble and dead weed bloom, and fine dust replaces the aggregate washed clean while submerged. When the lake refills the bank is akin to Mars, completely dead and featureless. Weeds take months to sprout and all that windblown dust that spread itself last year leaches out into the water with the slightest surface activity.

That’s a fancy way of saying, fish early before boat traffic.

All the forage fish that used weeds for cover are absent, likely using what remaining beds that remain submerged despite last summer’s relentless baking. As the lake has come up nearly 25-30 feet, that’s a lot of dead zone that’s absent forage and therefore fish.

Which makes fly fishing, with it’s inability to sink quickly, a real disadvantage.

Fortunately Mother Nature drives bass to spawn in the shallows, so despite obvious problems from drought and rapid refill, once the fish move inshore with a vengeance, there’s plenty of sport for all manner of tackle.

But that appears to be next week … or the week after …

I did get a welcome respite from blustery and fishless bank wandering to fish the California Delta via bass boat. It’s the first time I’ve fished in the matrix of canals and waterways that feed San Francisco Bay via the Sacramento River, and as all of them were still swollen with runoff and tides – it was cold and off color.

Boat640

… some of that murk can be seen under this gleaming , carbon spewing Steed of Angling Awesomeness. While wandering lakes is invigorating  to both life and limb, I figured I’d earned the carbon credits to have my arse skipping above the waves without feeling like I’d squandered all them decayed Pterodactyls …

With a stiff North wind for competition I learned the mysteries of flinging 5/8 ounce Spinner baits to an elusive audience. Elusive, due to my hook skidded off of lips, tongues, gill plates, and anything else in the path of lure inhalation, leaving me cursing and untangling gear from the knot of tules that should have been massive hungry bass …

bertolero6pounder

.., like the beast pictured above. This is my gracious host, Leroy Bertolero, showing me how to use a sharp hook as it was intended.

With each fish giving me the Finger, and as I tuned tackle and checked hooks for sharpness, I was still content. That reservoir of Karma that I’d built with all those fishless miles of lake, I knew was growing ever deeper.

DeltaStriper

I did manage to land one of my tormentors. Apparently Striped Bass lack the armor of their freshwater cousins,  and the hook found purchase. It is one of the beauties of fishing the Delta’s brackish water, as both fresh and saltwater fish inhabit the same environment.

As I’d proven useless as an angler – by “unbuttoning” all my earlier fish, it was timely that the 250HP carbon guzzling beast refused to lift itself into plane on the way back. Needing BALLAST in the bow, my host looked about for any Useless Weight and by mutual agreement I perched on the nose on the way home.

BowBallast

An interesting perspective to be sure, but it was still thrilling to be so mobile when you’re used to pedestrian speeds. Then again, given my inability to stick anything solidly, it was an exercise in my finding new ways to swear – while “long lining” everything I touched.

Seduction of the Innocent

-WARNING: There are no dripping fish depicted below-

It’s every Poppa’s fervent wish, and every Significant Other’s deepest desire, to instill the love of the Out of Doors in their spouse or children.

Unfortunately, we are in such a rush to do so we tend to be heavy handed, insensitive, and miserable about instruction, as we’re so heavily invested in the outcome that we have no patience for anything less than superlatives.

I know,  as  I was asked (and often paid) by both parents and boyfriends to assist in training their latest “squeeze” or grandchild to shrug off mosquitoes, ignore thousand pound bovines blocking trail, sharp hooks, balky loops and unforgiving breezes, and how to bask in the afterglow of a harsh sunburn … All those Badges of Courage that mature the initiate into the hardened angler.

For me, it was akin to curing Cancer,  the Impossible Task, yet the lure of certain defeat was always a goad to try different approaches with each new candidate, hoping to find that singular lure that would draw them into the sport just as we had been.

The “Father-Son Bonding Trip” was always the easiest, as any gathering of Maleness begat competition. Once the kid had six or seven more fish than Dad, they were pliable and giggling … as, “I whipped Poppa” tales were great things to relate to Ma upon their return.

Gals – on the other hand – have always been a tough sale. Bug repellant smells like hydraulic fluid (and stains clothing), and the lack of a bathroom (with all necessary locks,  shutters, and blinds) never truly warmed the participants to the outdoorsy venue.

Girls are sturdy and can put up with all manner of hardships, but most don’t care for suffering like guys do. Steel wadded through fish lips as well as their own discomfort (icy cold, blistering heat, blood sucking insects, etc.) does not motivate them to relay these tales with pounding of chest – something male members of the species relish as proof of courage.

The “Red Breasted Warbling Splatterer” option always resonated. Where the guide takes the client’s minds off their own misery and points out Mother Nature’s finest visual spectacles. Flowers and songbirds are as big a hit as air conditioning and white wine – and I never missed an opportunity to trot out all four … often simultaneously.

… and in all those outings I realized that one day it would be my slack-jawed offspring that I’d be instructing – or my gal that I’d have to introduce to the Woods – and how would I do so differently?

I call it “Seduction of the Innocent”  – named after the great Comic Book trial of the 1950’s, wherein the angler introduces his hobby in a non-threatening manner, hopefully linked with something known and friendly …

Actual gripping a rod or fishing comes many trips later – once they’ve been lured close to the rocks by the Siren’s sweet song …

Bassflower1

In this case the subject has a consuming passion for wildflowers and breakfast – that she doesn’t have to cook herself.

Note that she is warmly dressed and waterproofed (with my new Columbia rain jacket), shows no signs of suffering whatsoever, and the vehicle is within spitting distance should she need rescue …

Bassflower2

Now the panorama expands to show the fishing angle. There are no rods or tackle visible, as she’s being treated to flowers and food absent any agenda on my part  … (blush). This hour of absolute awesomeness is solely for her, as her pleasure is the main event and the proximity to water is merely chance.

There is no mud on her clothing, no ice chests spilling ice and beer, no overly loud Rap music to compete with the calls of Quail, Goose, or Pheasant … nothing to interrupt the Majesty of Nature.

… and yes, for a few short moments I have to duck into the brush and bite on my forefinger – knowing that I am missing out on some spectacular fishing – all for the promise of future blessings and possible companionship …

bassflower3

While I understand the flowers look stunning, yet so would a massive swirl engulfing my deer hair popper. In this careful rehersal I recognize it is our impatience that is our undoing, and this brief gesture will go a long way to many more hours afield.

Impatience is the Enemy.

Us guys are always in such a hurry to hook our quarry within a single weekend that we lose sight of the endgame. Keep her fed, dry, and within shower distance … admire a few posies and gasp in admiration at the perennials – promising to till the backyard accordingly, and then lie in wait in the center of the web until she suggests, “it wasn’t so bad…”

Phishers of Men

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As fishing involves pals, pals bring beer, and beer feeds bravado, there’s always a wager about which fellow will return home as the Outdoorsman Supreme, the fellow who retains bragging rights until he risks his crown on the next trip …

There are plenty that take part in the “first, biggest, and most-est” ritual; some with little intention to follow up on the boast, yet just as many take this pledge all too seriously, rising early and fishing late to take advantage of every opportunity.

Living at the apex of the food chain imparts a certain arrogance in all this,  and were we plucked from  our campsites by a hotdogs with hidden treble hooks, like fish, we might be a bit less boastful of our intentions – or a bit quieter while in the woods.

It turns out that’s exactly what’s transpired.

While we’ve not had fishermen disappear from their beds or fellows drag themselves back to the campsite mumbling about plasticine Big Macs tempting them on the trail ( each fitted with a 3/0 stainless), it appears we’ve been predated upon without our knowledge.

As the nature of the conversation I had with an agency representative implied litigation was forthcoming, and as I’d just as soon avoid same, allow me to be a bit cagey…

It appears a fishing website purporting to sell fishing licenses for all fifty states is about to be shut down, as it was solely used to collect the credit cards and personal information of fishermen. This “Phishing” web site was seeded to rank highly with Google search, so that the unwary might query for “fishing licenses online” and think they were transacting with a vendor or agent for their various Fish & Game departments.

It appears that California at minimum is on the warpath to close the site, but the damage is done already. No licenses were received, and all PII (personally identifiable information) data and credit cards entered are at risk …

No. I’ll not link to the site – nor reference it by name. These types of sites can link hostile code in an ad or a web page, and I’d be serving you all more trouble … 

I think they get bragging rights however, as the rest of us got owned.

We shake off the preseason stiffness

The nature of scouting is like pre-season exhibition games, you’re working out all the kinks from what should become a well oiled machine.

Of late we’ve received a generous amount of moisture – keeping most of us fishermen indoors and pining away, while Mother Nature rights all her drought wrongs. I manage a scout trip each week waiting to see spawning bass in the shallows, but they’re a bit like Punxsutawney Phil, and not budging from deep safety.

Like an exhibition game, I watered the left sock from the dog bit waders I’d forgot about last season. Some strolling innocent failed to leash his aggressive canine, and I got a “through and through” on my left Achilles.  I remember standing there watching him yell ineffectually at the animal, as it attempted more damage – then his stunned look when I butt-stroked his darling quadruped, who disappeared up the trail yelping in a pained frenzy.

The waders were replaced easy enough, but the next trip had a shortened lunch due to the stash of last season’s  “fart bars” being  stale and the sack of dried peach slices being gangrenous . The beauty of Spartan rations is there’s nothing to melt, nothing completely unpalatable or rancid, but if it fails to look prettier once washed in the lake, it’s likely not worth the risk.

Lake water improved the stale protein bars, but I buried the peaches – figuring to do the watershed (and those living in it) a favor.

This weekend we forgot a rod, which always has a silver lining for the forgetful SOB that grabbed the wrong one. I’m winding up my best imitation of Robert DeNiro, “No, you can’t borrow my extra rod” speech from the Deer Hunter, knowing that loaned tackle guarantees the forgetful SOB will be catching everything  while my tackle remains untouched and I protrude lower lip …

…likewise for the dog – as now that he was done crapping on everything, he realized the human that had denied him his customary “shotgun” seat, meant he’d be splitting my beef jerky with two humans, and now the both of us were pouting.

FrankSmallmouth

It’s the only fish of the day – and Life has imitated art,  meaning one of the above is a smallmouth … The other is an dog owning ingrate that denied his loyal pooch precious dried beef-like substance …

… now I have to live down the gleeful pronouncement that I was blanked, and I’d had a can of “whoop-azz” unleashed on me.

Which is fair.

All that chalky blown dust that covered the banks last year is now underwater. One or two bass boat wakes later, the lake water is brown as fresh runoff.  Which means the fish can’t see flies nor lures after 10:00AM, so you get your fishing in early.

Seduced by the menu Photo

menuburgerEating the damn things has never adequately explained our zest for rising before dawn and spending the day waist deep in icy water.

I’ve always assumed that as our ability to hunt and gather is trodden upon by the more Urbane branch of Homo Metrosexualis,  whose tiny dog barks menacingly from their apartment window, whose owner is indifferent to Nature as the call of handheld electronics is twice as compelling, forces us Outdoorsmen to funnel our aggression into stomping life out of things smaller than us.

An inconvenient truth, given how we’ve attempted to make our sport politically correct with the, “we don’t eat them anymore” mantra.

A decade of reality shows celebrating People Behaving Badly and more recently, Presidential debates that are anything but, suggest Man may have reached a tipping point, his intellect on the wane and his base nature rules the day.

The research into how fish interpret and integrate sensory information, led by School of Biomedical Sciences ARC Future Fellow Dr Ethan Scott, could improve understanding of how humans combine senses like sight, touch and sound to create a complete experience.

With science now examining fish and their senses to understand Man’s interaction with his surroundings, it offers anglers a unique insight into behavior they see from our quarry yet mirrored in society at large.

Like “schooling” on freeways, “bottom feeding”  the Internet for amusement, and “rising” at anything feminine at the bar; first at the unusually well formed insects, and as the hours and drinks pass, the classic “smutting rise” for spin-sters, cripples, and anything else described as,  “… a ten at two.”

Those of us not capable of stalking and killing our own food return from the field to hunt in restaurants.  It should be no surprise that both fish and humans prefer fast food, as a mayfly spun through a riffle is as elusive as the menu picture of a savory meal – both promise much and are elusive to capture …

Turgid tomatoes, lush green lettuce, crisp onion slices, melting cheeses, and bubbling meats buttressed by soft breads; things that exist at the peak of ripeness, rich in color, damp with moisture, and  lure us like a majestically tied artificial. Proportions perfect, torso chiseled and regal, dancing on the water prior to leaping skyward,  wings taut, upright,  and drying rapidly. …

FattyAP

… and like our pellet fed surrogate, we fall for the SOB just just as hard.

Tasty awesomeness rolls over the lip to vanish in a dose of reality, as sodden paper bag borne of plastic tray delivers the congealing  lumpy turd through the driver side window.

Red tomatoes now mushy and pale, lettuce trending into the yellow-olive and drooping into the greasy unmentionable leakage from the patty of meat-like substance.

Our senses are fine, and while we recognize the lumpy thread whip finish or gleaming gold bead isn’t part of a mayfly, like the fish we’ll consume the gelatinous mass anyway. … hoping some hidden spice mixture alters “Powerbait” into a feast fit for royalty.

The rich reds, and damp greens of the menu vanish in favor of the the “well chewed” imitation – which arrives sandwiched between Clinch and Split Shot .. (or the canned peas and imitation Ice Milk.)

Assuming that pollution in streams is a rough approximation of  tomatoes grown for toughness rather than flavor, and vegetables picked green and ripened under the reefer’s fluorescent glare, there’s something fair in all this.

Learning of our willingness to suffer and explaining another’s plight in similar terms may shed light on the way we think, but the visuals aren’t so much the issue. Our willingness to settle may neatly explain both the well chewed fly and how anything made from Dog hair and Owl feathers rivals blister packed cheddar … or the attractiveness of an offshore-tied Parachute Adams.

The Notion of Blood, Angling’s Sacred Cow

imageOne of the things I find fascinating about fishing is how angling success is never a mystery, and how post-trip, prowess afield can be explained by local religion, mythology, or science.

“Science” being only of recent invention, given how religion and mythology were the sciences of angling’s antiquity.

As I young man I was fascinated by full dress Atlantic Salmon flies, how the traditional feather wings of Europe evolved into elaborate rituals of intertwined plumage from rare jungle birds.  I found them both daunting and impressive and spent many hours attempting to master their construction, as they represented the ultimate test of a tier’s skill.

Despite my fascination with their construction, I was never able to rationalize how fish that populated the Northern Hemisphere had such an unbridled lust for feathers or meat of things living South of the equator. As I pored through the hoary tomes of the period;  works by the venerable Pryce-Tannatt and Kelson, it was revealed that the Salmon, being the noblest of all fishes, dined only on Butterflies, which made these lures require such brilliant colors.

While consistent with bug lore, as described by the current angling “scientists” (Swisher and Richards, Schweibert, Caucci and Natasi, etc), none of these old books mentioned the presence of enormous swarms of butterflies necessary to sustain the many thousands of large salmon that spawn in Northern Europe and live to return to the ocean …

… which was my first brush with the mythology of our sport, as I was convinced their “science” horseshit – yet was aghast that an entire generation of anglers would swallow this fanciful explanation without complaint.

As I developed as an angler, I was to learn that despite our notion of “how things work”, popular opinion is often debunked horribly by successive generations and more current Science, and this has been the case since the dawn of time.

I was thinking of this as I read the latest bit of science-fancy on salmonids …

Of our “sacred cows” perhaps the most widely accepted is the notion the color red is irresistible to fish of all species, as it is the color of blood, something that unleashes the predatory nature of fish, making them less wise and much easier to catch.

"We’ve discovered an enzyme that switches the visual systems of some fish and amphibians and supercharges their ability to see infrared light," said senior author Joseph Corbo, MD, PhD, associate professor of pathology and immunology. "For example, when salmon migrate from the ocean to inland streams, they turn on this enzyme, activating a chemical reaction that shifts the visual system, helping the fish peer more deeply into murky water."

While the research is still in its infancy, the ability to shift vision from the blue-green of saltwater to the muddy flows of Winter, may be assisted by this ability to see the shortest wave lengths of light containing  red and the infrared spectrum.

I have wondered about this same phenomenon whenever I see a stream or river turned into a muddy torrent by rainfall, how do they see – and where do they go to avoid logs and debris?

While much of that information still eludes us, the Good News is the “biohacker” community  insists that if you gorge yourself on liver and Paprika you can see in the Infrared spectrum too, the obvious downside is your breath will be reminiscent of a lion’s arse

… Likely it’s the same crowd that said we should smoke banana peels back in the Sixties.

Dances With SODDEN TENNIS Balls

I keep telling myself that learning a lake in mid drought is akin to building sand castles in the surf; just about the time you mark the downed timber and rock piles – some unseasonable storm erases all traces of beaches and islands, and you’re left poring over photos to see what topography remains within casting distance.

Then again, us fishermen have always kept wisdom and logic at arm’s length, enlisting its aid only when it suits us. Standing in a downpour in icy water doesn’t suggest we’ve engaged our frontal lobe with much sincerity, given our reliance on superstition and the occasional hunch to tell us when fishing is especially good …

… and as my partner in crime was four legged and in need of exercise, meant that the unseasonable temperatures be damned, and 109 was just as fishy as 92, and unless I emptied the pooch in someone else’s backyard, I’d find his IED’s in my grass.

ABoyAndHisDog

In September and October we covered about 55 miles of shoreline – 25 miles of unique shore and the balance retracing our steps back to the vehicle. We found four different colors of tennis balls, three sizes of Frisbee, eight full bottles of beer, six colors of discarded brassieres, sinkers, weights, plugs, and lures, 3 pound iron balls, trolling planes, flashers, dive weights, broken rods, boat parts, folding lawn chairs, shopping carts, and unveiled numerous angling misdeeds … all the while avoiding snakes, quicksand, bog mud, and over zealous Bureau of Reclamation rangers – intent on shackling my pal on the end of a tether.

dawn_oakshore

The trick was to get clear of the pavement before dawn, allowing us unfettered access to all those miles of newly exposed lakebed. Soupy ground and ample mud coupled with the distance to open water kept the casual vacationers close to the car, with the rangers alternating the application of bandages or lectures, depending upon the infraction.

While short-lived, the early bite often produced some nice fish – as it was too early for the boating crowd and the noise and wake action that followed.

BigSpot

The low water conditions exposed a great deal of clandestine terraforming on the part of the bass boat crowd. Long chains of Christmas trees anchored with cinder blocks and rope had been dropped in many of the coves around the Oak Shores area of the lake. Stacked rocks and piles of tree limbs had been sewn into strategic areas only reachable via boat. My assumption was the numerous tournaments hosted by the lake were the root cause of all this carefully constructed structure. Once sank and marked on a GPS, it would make for a nice advantage over visiting anglers less industrious.

Bug activity was minimal and provided only food for the resident Threadfin Shad. While I’ve identified the Hexagenia Limbata on the east side of the lake, and due to its size is likely to be forage for prowling bass, the more accessible west shore shows no traces of the big mayflies, nor was there any surface activity other than leaping carp in either morning or evenings.

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Only a solitary white caddis fly appeared on the east side, and while it daubed its way across the weed beds ovipositing, only small shad attempted an intercept.

whitecaddis

The lack of winged insect life confirmed that Lake Berryessa is primarily a baitfish style fishery, where anything resembling the silvery threadfin shad is fair game. Outside of midge swarms, I encountered none of the traditional winged lake fare. No damselflies, mayflies, or dragonflies, only the solitary olive bodied white caddis (shown above) that was available in fair numbers, but without any fish keying on them to make their imitation viable .

4" Threadfin Shad washes ashore

Above is a sample threadfin shad that had floated ashore. This sample was about 4” long, and looked like it had been mouthed by something larger. Most of the shad I find are between 2” –4” long, and account for the morning feed – as large bass chase schools of shad into and out of coves and weed beds. It may also explain why the 1/4 and 3/8 ounce silver Kastmaster was the most numerous lure decorating all the exposed tree stumps.

KastMaster is the most numerous found lure

Of late the fishing has died completely. The weather grows a bit cooler and the change in season is likely causing everything to shift around again. I’ve taken to “prospecting” weed beds and drop offs with a big top water plug. It allows me to move briskly along the shoreline while occasionally drumming up large fish.

… more importantly, it leaves one hand free to fling muddy tennis balls down field, keeping the pooch amused between meals of unidentifiable decaying things.

Drought exposed bank is not a nice linear hike.  At distance the bank looks like an unbroken line, but when rounding the edge of an island, immense bays can be hidden that must be circumvented to proceed further down the shoreline. By the same token the return hike is often “as the Crow flies” – which is considerably shorter than the morning walk outbound.

As we got our first light dusting of rain yesterday, I’m keeping the fingers crossed that this Winter might erase much of my earlier work cataloging shoreline and the physical features of the lake. More importantly, if El Nino delivers on its promise, I may have a few other spots to fish next season.

The fire ravaged area at the dam gives pause to my optimism given even dry years result in the slopes above the highway slipping down onto the pavement below. Without vegetation to hold back all that loose rock I may need to find another locale that can be accessed should Winter spill water abundantly.

A Man in Search of a Verb

The only crime in fishing worse than being caught with live earthworms in your vest by your pals, is telling a fishing story poorly.

The formula is fairly simple. There must be some hardship introduced by the environment, there must be some inadequacy of your tackle overcome, and the fish must be large enough to predate unwary children or small pets, and only your unflinching heroics saves the day.

Which is why I’m in such a quandary, as I lack a proper verb.

fish_stories

Sunrise was just illuminating the lake when the hound and I stopped at an area known for morning bait activity.  The precipitous angle of the bank and depth of water made fly fishing uncertain, so I pitched a drop shot rig into the deep water and was rewarded with the unmistakable thump of a bass.

It was small bass to be sure – no more than nine or ten inches, but  it rocketed from twenty feet deep to the surface in a single frantic burst of energy. As I reeled to take up the slack, I thought it odd that a fish known for fighting the angler for every inch was suddenly a foot and a half in the air, and appeared to want to stay that way …

… re-entering the water, the bass skittered toward me and then vanished in a bathtub sized swirl.  Having had the same once-in-a-lifetime experience in saltwater, I flipped the bail open and started the methodical … One Mississippi, Two Mississippi …

…anyone that’s fished for Stripers knows that bait with spiny fins or sharp gill plates are typically swallowed head first, and the squeal of the drag is them taking the bait and mashing it into submission, before swapping ends and swallowing the result.

… so I continued to count as I watched the line move deeper into the lake.

Reaching sixty-five, I re-engaged the bail and hoped for the best. The rod doubled over and the line started making those wonderful harp chords that greet a peel with the drag set properly. I assumed the fish was larger than the 10lb mono my spool was crammed with – but with ample light tackle experience and luck, and patience, I had a slim chance to bring this cannibalistic leviathan to hand.

Six minutes later I had the fish turned and I wasn’t losing any more line, but we’d only fought to an uneasy draw. The fish showed no signs of tiring as it attempted to wrap me around anything nearby, alternating with simply sounding and sulking.

My heroics were short lived, as the line suddenly went limp and I assumed I’d been heavy handed at an inopportune moment and It had broken me off. Instead, I reeled in a 10 inch bass much the worse off for the fun had at its expense.

… and so lies my conundrum. I never put steel to the fish so I can’t claim to have hooked a 10 lb bass, played sounds weak and will beg the follow on question, fought is technically correct but is akin to starting a story in the middle – rather than the beginning, and dallied with sounds vaguely feminine and has little place in such a outdoorsy epic …

A great tale without an active verb is merely a whimper. I’ll think on it more before attempting to enthrall coworkers with the retelling  …

TOP GUN, The Best of the Best

IdontalwaysbuyOn rare occasion I actually reread my past work, and am reminded what sounded so good in concept often ends in some rant at anyone with the audacity to change fishing in the slightest.

It’s the nature of Oldness to insist the sport is perfect, and the nature of Boldness to point fingers and call us antiquated old pricks …

Neither side is in the right humor to realize both thoughts have merit, as age and youth are the “Crips” and “Bloods” of the sporting fraternity – destined to war over the choice “corners” of our beloved pastime forever.

As I always assumed infirmity and Alzheimer’s mercifully kept us old guys in the minority, making my occasional outburst on the injustice of the Thousand Dollar Fly Rod, the rise of the Metrosexual, nymph fishing versus “high-sticking”, and the dominance of the military-industrial complex of fly tying jobbers … just the blathering’s of a doddering oldster…

… but I was wrong, instead – I find myself in rarified company, Top Gun –  the Best of the Best, the Fedayeen of Anglingthe four-percent of anglers who bought a fishing license in each of the last ten years.

Out of the pool of roughly 33 million people who fish each year, only four percent of the licensed anglers purchase a fishing license every year (10 out of 10 years). The largest proportion of anglers — 49 percent — purchases a license only one out of 10 years. Almost as many — 47 percent —purchase a license in more than one year but lapse in between purchases.

It seems the statistics and pollsters of Madison Avenue have been turned on their head. Southwind Associates released a report on angling and hunting, that claims half of us don’t buy a fishing license and those that do are “fair weather fishermen” buying them for a single trip, and the reason our numbers are constant from year to year is the “churn” rate, the “other half” buys them when we don’t …

Annual churn rates are lowest, about 39 percent, among the 55-64 age group and are highest, about 55 percent, among anglers 18-24 years of age.

… which gives me some nose-thumbing privileges over the bearded shock troops of Youth …

Younger anglers face a number of factors that compete for their time including family life, school, work, and other recreational pursuits. Older anglers who might have more free time as work obligations lessen can face health issues that limit their ability to fish.

While health issues might prevent us from fishing, as we sun ourselves on the park bench we’ll redouble our decibel levels claiming  everything you’ve done to the sport is morally wrong.

… while we make sport of your limp wrist and tailing loop.

Putah is on the wragg, and I wander in Bathwater

Took a pre-dawn run up to Berryessa again this week, just to fiddle with a few things and survey the damage from the Wragg Fire.  This area is fairly important to the San Francisco Bay area, as it contains Putah Creek , the closest trout stream to the hordes of anglers living in the City.

I don’t fish it much as the Lake has my full attention, and the mile or two of creek open to the public is overrun with anglers even on weekdays. As it is home to New Zealand Mud Snails, I cut a wide berth just to avoid inadvertently tracking the little pests into the pristine unclean of my local watershed.

Putah_Creek_Wragg2

The Wragg Fire burnt everything west of Putah Creek and Lake Berryessa proper. Those of you familiar with the area probably remember the Butts Fire (2014) burnt everything east of the creek, so the entire watershed has now been mown clean.

The picture above shows the creek just below the Canyon Creek Resort stretch. All the visible slopes have been burnt over, and the foliage is turning color as the trees die from the fire that swept through their understory enroute to the crest.

Dense timber typically burns quite a bit hotter and vaporizes both grass and trees, some of that can be seen down near the creek as well as the ridges above – like the dark patch on the ridgeline to the right, above.

Winter rains coupled with little remaining vegetation can push a significant amount of sediment into the creek, as there’s nothing to hold it in place on the slopes above. With both sides burnt over, and the rumor of a drought breaking El Nino effect possible this winter, the creek may be in for a slug of sediment.

Warm as Bathwater

Lake Berryessa proper is as warm as bath water. This being the tail end of August and the temperatures running fairly constant 90’s, any bite on the lake is short lived, but the lure picking has made up for the lack of fish, and each trip yields a pocket full of treasures.

lure_eating_log

This is typical of what I’m stumbling across. Hip boots give me an edge over the beer drinking bank crowd, as their eyes start to defocus after 10AM, and us sober types can edge them out with our ninja-like dumpster diving skills.

It’s akin to swiping golf balls off the golf course, instinctively you’re tensing up waiting to hear some fellow claim, “I just lost that, it’s mine!”

Despite the warm water and sputtering bite, pre-dawn is always worth a few fish. I am still fishing 20-30 foot deep, as the fish are preferring the colder temperatures that come with depth rather than panting in tepid near the surface.

berryessa_largemouth

I have been working on an amalgamation of fishing types to score consistently, something I’ll reveal once I get a few patterns refined better than they are now. Note the low light of the above picture, as most of the fish are coming between 6AM – 8AM, and when the light is on the water, the bite dies promptly.

I did manage to find a model forage fish for me to duplicate. A bit worse for wear, but it looks like a Shad (Threadfin?) of some type. Most the surface activity tends to be on the Northern side of points extending into the lake, and to stand and watch will reveal schools of bait and bass taking advantage of their density.

Berryessa_Shad

Once full daylight is on the water and the party barges and ski boats launch, the waves from their wakes will raise plumes of mud in the water off these selfsame points of land. The bait head for the discolored water as the predators can no longer see them distinctly. It’s akin to fighter planes using clouds for cover.

While streams and their ecology seem easier to catalog, I find the same skills in observation and the frequency of visitation are just as useful teasing the lifecycles of larger water. Come Spring, when the bite lasts all morning, it’ll be important to note those cloudy plumes hold the forage fish, and pulling a marabou streamer out of the dirty water and into view … should yield big benefits.

… and if it doesn’t, we’ll continue to add to our lure collection …