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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 …

Defining the Fishless Fishing Trip, making poppa proud

Can Man survive if there are no fish?Proof positive that I’m in my dotage, as I begged off a fishing trip; something never before considered, something I’ve always dreaded, and something my Poppa would point to as proof of maturity.

In my (likely OUR) youth, I went fishing so long as there was water, enough gas money to return to our originating zip code, and there was rumor of fish or fishing present.

My dad would see the frantic late night preparation, restringing rods, wadding bologna sandwiches into the same pocket as the bait, and would shake his head solemnly.

Another damn fishless fishing trip … When are you ever gonna learn?

Naturally I would protest mightily of our combined angling prowess, how this trip was completely different than any prior outing, and furthermore … (meekly) … would he be so kind as to drive us there?

It was always a mystery how Pop could spot the fishless fishing trips from the productive outings, but I figured it related to the company I kept – how the neighborhood was slim on Mensa candidates and damn few knew a Nail Knot from a Poke in the Eye with a Sharp stick.

But hell, half the fun was the Out of Doors, and while the fishing might have been on a pier, beach, or piney wood,  it still beat watching Star Trek reruns or doing chores.

Ten thousand fishing trips later – I’ve learned many things. Firstly, I can drive my own self, so the Meekness got kicked to the curb along with Humble. It is a known truism among us Professional Timewasters that only supreme confidence in the fly – and by that extension, confidence in our skills, and the quality of the rumor we’re acting on separating Real fishing trips from the pretenders.

Many thousands of trips have taught us that fishing is like Poker and if our comrades and their behavior are examined, often yield “tells” that mean the difference between a bluff and the pat hand.

If the pal organizing the trip (for the last couple of weeks) calls to confirm the night before, and after your bed time, chances are you’re looking at a fishless fishing trip.

If the nature of that call has so little detail about where to meet, what to bring, and when to show – that your spouse will be unable to direct the police to your corpse, chances are you’re embarking on a fishless fishing trip .

If the fellow owning the boat calls the deckhand, “Gilligan” or “Little Buddy”, you might be considering a fishless fishing trip.

If the tackle you’re directed to bring is “everything”, you are participating in a fishless fishing trip. “Everything” being equivalent to the “Doctor AllCome” blaring out of hospital speakers, and your erstwhile pals are going to let you figure out what the fish are eating, then borrow everything resembling that from you.

If the fellow that learned of this little known secret place insists he hasn’t told anyone and speaks in whispers, you’re headed for a fishless fishing trip. What it really means is the spot belongs to another pal who swore him to secrecy, and you’re about to become an accessory to murder.

If there are more “friends of friends” between the person owning the property and your pal (who swears he has permission), than the number of Degrees of Separation between you and Kevin Bacon, you’re on a fishless fishing trip. Six Degrees of Separation is the limit for knowing Kevin Bacon, and any relationship more distant is purest fantasy.

If the boat you’re using hasn’t been started since last Winter, you’re on a fishless fishing trip.

If the “hot fly” that guarantees the day’s festivities was revealed by some codger at a local gas station, you’re on a fishless fishing trip. Any dumbshit knows that a fly that lethal requires the benefactor to preserve one for posterity. Instead, they’re giving you that “Aw, Shucks” look as they finger your Ginger neck, claiming it was, “ …like this, only more Brown.”

If the number of large ticket items borrowed from you outnumber the fellows going, you are on a fishless fishing trip.

If you have to ask your pals if they have a fishing license, you’re on a fishless trip. Anyone not buying their license on January 2nd of the calendar year is a poser of the highest calling …

If coolers of beer are part of the gear carried to the water’s edge, you’re part of a Band of Brothers engaged in an exciting outdoor adventure that may include serving girls from the local tavern, but there is neither spouse nor fish in your future.

The Achilles Heel to any modern marvel

As I read through the latest ICAST summary on how technology is improving fishing, my initial reaction was very predictable … like all codgers before me I snorted and swore mighty oaths as to how the Planet was going to Hell …

image… then I remembered doing that same dance when they elected “Gee-Dubya” the second time, and as the Planet hadn’t ended abruptly then – I started seeing some of the humor in all of this.

The lure of Technology has always been our passion of what it might mean rather than what it actually does well. While it may have obsolesced Bobby Fischer and the Abacus, it certainly hasn’t yielded the Paperless Office – nor has it stopped AT&T from sending me a bill for one penny, when the cost to mail it was 43 cents.

I suppose my generation, and those before me, sought the Great Outdoors and the Manly Pursuits as a means of “unplugging” from kids, spouses, and careers, so it’s not surprising that I sputter and flirt with the apoplectic at the thought of requiring a cell phone to catch a trout.

Whether it’s Elon Musk and his LEO’s (low earth orbit satellites) or Google and their stratospheric balloons, it won’t be too much longer until every crevasse and canyon has tolerable reception.  Flexible solar cells are commonplace already, so SIMM’s and Columbia will jump at the opportunity to add some thick, hot, layer of silica into our vest and hat,  so we can perspire profusely while looking fetchingly urbane …

We’ll have drones with GoPro’s scanning the surface for working fish,  and lures that make noises like trout copulating

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… and with all this technology and water-resistant innovation, we’ll get to look forward to interruption from timewasting buddies, political action groups, census takers, and our asshole pal that said he was going to go … and then flaked when his wife reminded him of his familial responsibilities.

“Hey Bob, catch any?”

“Ted – hey, can you call back later, man … the hatch is in full swing and I … fuck, missed one … “

“I knew it. I knew you weren’t going to catch anything, glad I stayed home – Oh, later Man … wife’s calling … [click]”

Rather than being incensed at the notion of having an “electronic leash” tying me to the mundane, the source of my mirth being  despite all the advances in technology and aerospace materials that enable this modern communication miracle, the incredibly important message that interrupts your evening hatch remains unchanged for codgers and millennials alike :

“What’s up?”

Nada. What’re you doing?”

Nothing. Hey you got any dope?”

Technology may well revolutionize fishing and life in general, but human nature and timewasting pals are impervious to both megabits and megabytes, and are Kryptonite to any technological Superman.

It might have been that “red sea” reference

At some point a fellow simply has to wonder if he’s offended God.

Last week’s pitiful post on hot temperatures, oppressive drought, gasping fish uninterested in eating, and my attempt to remain positive in the face of overwhelming adversity, framed by my resolve to return this weekend to repeat my earlier adventure.

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Now I have a new problem.

Roads closed, only 5% containment, and the fish thumbing their collective nose at me again …

I figure a plague of locusts are next, but that might not be all bad ..

Imagine what they found when the Red Sea Parted

It’s the consequence of attempting lemonade when handed lemons, no matter how sour. Uncooperative fish, warming water, triple digit daytime temperatures, lingering drought, and a hound that requires exercise, each serving to make an outdoorsy type clamp on his hat and carry his rod if just for the exercise …

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… then again, a nine footer makes a perfect weapon to filch decaying “dollar bills” off the tree stumps,  Considering your average plug is about $8, there’s a pile of “dead presidents” represented here.

As I spent much of my youth “dumpster diving”, this is akin to the wreck of the Atocha. Replace the hooks and buff anything shiny with a bit of steel wool, and you won’t feel the bite of teaching your child to fish – given all the tackle he’s returning to a watery grave was rescued from there earlier.

The volume of worm weights and sinkers, rubber worms (whose colors have long faded) and decaying blades from Kokanee trolling is beyond counting. Large stumps have absorbed so much tackle pulled into them from the shore, that there is a leaden debris field on the lake side of each stump, where the sinkers fall once the hook rusts away.

All you can carry, and all you need is hip boots and a dog looking for a walk.

A bit over half a mile and an unknown depth

I suppose a few would describe themselves as “lunker hunters” … thrill seekers who curl their lip at everyday fishing, whose passion is hunting fish that ignore the cholesterol content of Chironomids and groan as they break the surface for a dry fly.

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Not my cup of tea precisely, but as my shortcomings are legion, I shan’t sully their sport.

Paying eight hundred dollars for the location of a world record fish, is another thing entirely …

On the one hand, it’s well documented that anglers are incapable of estimating length and girth, and no matter how many times they cross themselves and insist on “being struck dead,” five pounders are two pounders, and nothing “South of the Mason-Dixon” is anywhere near twelve inches…

… and while we admire the entrepreneurial spirit of the advertisement, we are forced to rely on the owner’s questionable judgment, failing eyesight, and sobriety level when he saw his Moby Dick.

Then we’d have to assume that if we drained a large lake of water, we wouldn’t find anything bigger than the current record, making this fish truly “one in a million” Awesomeness.

Smart fish can get big without any contact with humans. They can live a long life, die, and once their bloated remains sink to the bottom, vanish entirely.

Any beast of size in the ocean is either ate by us or a pack of something smaller. I’d suspect every truly large lake has one or more fish at world record weight, most are fileted by the propeller of some drunken water-skier and never make our radar.

On rare occasion they swallow a toddler in the shallows or wash up dead on some beach and give the locals bragging rights.

Then there’s the “catching” part.

Any fisherman worth his salt will likely admit to catching more than most, but none of us have much experience in catching a specific fish.

“The most recent studies tend to indicate higher rates of dispersal and homing behavior.  At Lake Rideau, Canada (1996-1998), fish were displaced from 1 to 10 miles.  After 2 weeks, average dispersal distance of bass was only 440 yards.  However, 37% of fish eventually returned to their original capture site (all were displaced less than 5 miles).  A study at Chesapeake Bay, Maryland (2000) indicated that 64% of largemouth bass had moved at least 0.3 miles within a week.  The average final dispersal distance of bass was 6 miles from release sites and 95% were at least 0.3 miles away.  Even though fish were displaced 9 to 13 miles from capture areas, 30 to 40% of bass returned to initial capture areas.  At Lake Martin, Alabama (2005), bass moved an average of 5 miles from the release site after 10 weeks.  After 2 months, no fish were in close proximity to the release site, and all fish tracked over 3 months returned to within the same general area of capture.”

- Todd Driscoll, Texas Fisheries and Wildlife

Assuming that bass move as described, and we “should’ve been there last week,”  we’re searching a radius of 0.6 miles of lake for some couch-bound fat kid that wakes around noon …

I’m thinking I’d troll a trot line and hope for snaggage .. and hide the hole that 6/0 treble made with mascara …

Fatty Eats frog meat

It was the prudent thing to do. Prior to scaring hell out of everything by sky lining myself hop-skipping across all that erosion inhibiting rock, I flung that big weedless frog past the debris field of dumped roadbed just where the boulders disappeared into deep water.

Naturally there was something big and mean waiting for something small to do just that, and my morning was shattered by an aerial display worthy of a steelhead.

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I figured it was one of two options; either he’s given up on rain and was learning to gulp air, or was intent on all those bikini clad college girls drinking and screaming from mid channel.

While the college gals were friendly enough to make me suck in my gut, I figured the return voyage would feature a lot less sweaty and “Gone Wild” – and more sunburnt and heaving … over the side.

The Sheriff thought so too, and his boat followed the flotilla at a discrete “binocular” distance. He was “fishing” too … kind of like the shadowy edge between rock and a hard place …

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As this is peak irrigation season – and were in the grips of drought, I have been curious how the local impoundments are being drained for water deliveries to farms.

They’re already talking about Folsom Lake going dry by September, and both Berryessa and Oroville are reeling due to drought, so each trip I eyeball the banks to get a feel for releases. The above photo shows the more than 200 foot distance between underbrush and current lake levels, and the encroaching brush that covers the exposed banks as the water recedes.

It’s our fate that “fly eating” foliage pops up to cover anything older than a couple of months, and fly fishing is limited to the points of coves where a back cast can parallel the bank. While far from ideal, we’re spared the shredded flesh and indignity of a Blackberry thicket.

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This is “Meathead” from work with a nice Spotted Bass, who graciously instructed me in the finer points of “drop-shotting” bass. I gave him the “frog” and insisted he dump his inexpensive and highly functional tackle for something that costs ten times more and can’t sink very fast.

Neither side had a convincing argument yet both had moments.

Most of our fish came from 20-25 foot of water (as measured by casting gear), and outside of the “Fatty” going for a top water offering, most were eating on the slopes of points close to the bottom.

I returned the following day with both fly rod and drop shot rig, and tossed large minnow imitations when the water depth was friendly, and practiced drop-shotting when perched over deep water.

We’d seen balls of Shad and bass giving chase, but those eruptions are temporal and never sustained. Just about the time you change your fly both predator and prey are gone.

I’ve got a few ideas on how to better imitate the fish, but I’m puzzling over the notion of a drop-shot bait being used on a fly rod – and whether I can dress something with a similar action.

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I got one Spotted Bass on Sunday. I figure he collided with one of those Party Barges that were parading past – and got disoriented enough to want to eat.

I wasn’t complaining much at the sudden attention – and it was nice to see fat healthy fish in their element, rather than gasping Carp in a mud bucket.

Drought, thorns, and Branch eating Frogs

The problem with declining water levels and the increase in exposed bank is finding out the floral equivalent of the Common Cockroach, the Blackberry vine, actually thrives in drought.

Drought is supposed to be the Great Equalizer, and any thoughts of a soft landing when skidding down the bank, is quickly dashed by the gaping holes in waders, the streaks of blood on palm and exposed flesh, and the sickening reality that cockroaches thrive in adversity, and are immune even to my curses.

Drought and receding water levels has made the journey between foot path and water’s edge uncertain, and in many areas, outright daunting.  Even if you’re lucky enough to gain the water’s edge upright and intact, back casts are nearly impossible due to the height of the exposed banks and their liberal cover of fly eating foliage.

Skinned knees and shredded waders are now commonplace, and I’m tired of fragile breathables and shredding heavy plumber gear, and have opted to swap out my gear entirely.

As shallow tends to be lifeless, I’ve been bypassing my normal haunts in favor of anything deep that hasn’t had the oxygen boiled out of it, and may host a few fish willing to eat.

Deep water means lakes and impoundments, and neither plays to the strong suit of fly fishing – given how poorly our gear sinks. Water less than ten foot deep is about the limit of our fishing, and while that makes us productive in the shallow edges of bays and inlets, we rarely can compete with other tackle types when the fish are deeper still.

My “exploration” rig is now a casting rod and weedless frog – and hiking boots instead of fragile waders. A 5’ bait casting rod threads through Blackberry brambles more efficiently than a 9’ fly rod, and most of my overly warm water is covered in algae and weed, so my weedless frog is a huge upgrade from flies.

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More importantly, I can wing the frog from safety – and not have to fight my way down to the water’s edge to gain casting space. (Note the double hook riding up onto the back of the frog, imparting complete immunity from fouling on weeds and “cheese” mats.)

“Cheese” and wind-driven duckweed compound the fishing even further. Drought has reduced the water volume and summer temperatures cause the floating mats of vegetation (Cheese) to bloom sooner – and swallow entire waterways. Afternoon breezes push the floating duckweed into thick mats on the windward side of the impoundment – and flies simply bounce off the vegetation or are immediately fouled and useless.

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Normally this envelopment occurs in August, but the the absence of Winter and the unseasonably warm Spring have give the vegetation a couple months head start – and I’m running out of open water.

In the above photo, I can cast the frog over the Cheese and walk it back over the mat of vegetation without fear of snagging anything.

This spot yielded a couple of “tail slaps” from an unknown species, and in between picking my way through thickets of Blackberry, managed to observe one lonesome 3” bluegill along with what appeared to be something feeding on the vegetation, which I assumed was carp.

I returned the following morning with fly gear and the duckweed had closed the open waterways above. I managed a bit of fishing on the far side around the downed timber, but that was fruitless given the far bank is a ten foot drop to deep water.

While I had high hopes for Largemouth, this may be a bluegill only area – and they may be quite small to boot.

Dyneema and the Demise of Monofilament

The interesting bit of switching to conventional gear is learning of the changes in the tackle since last I tossed a plug in anger. The biggest change being Dyneema braid, which has largely replaced monofilament line in both casting and spinning gear.

The new braid is a learning experience given that 30lb test has the diameter of about 8lb mono. That means an unwary angler can  shatter his rod if he’s not pulling straight back to free a snag, or could slice fingers if he were a damn fool and wrapped it around anything but a stick.

This type of braid possibly brings new life to older, smaller capacity fly reels – as you can fit a hundred yards of 30lb or 40lb test, where Dacron’s thickness might not make backing possible.

The same line is used on spinning reels as well. Most of the spool is wound with the equivalent diameter monofilament, and the last 100 yards with the braided line. 

I re-equipped my conventional rod with 10 pound monofilament backing  and 100 yards of braided Dyneema rated at 30lb test. The mono backing lessens the strain on the spool the higher rated line is capable of adding. This material requires an Albright knot to join the mono to the braid, and a Palomar knot for tying lures and flies onto the end. The line cuts itself quite easily as if using conventional knots like the Clinch, or similar.

It’s a bit heady to drop the lure into the brush on the far side on an errant cast, rip the branch off the tree, then tow the entire mass across the pond to be sorted out without fear of harming lure or line.

Us fly fishing types are not used to announcing ourselves with such environmental authority …

… and if you’ve not bought bass tackle in awhile, you’ll understand the importance of these new braids. Lures cost $7 –$20 each, and it’s my understanding that hard core bass fishermen use 65lb test braid to ensure the hook straightens and the lure returns home safely.

What’s really needed is a weave of that same braid covering for my waders. While it’s nice to be dry and absent a pant’s leg full of cold water,  it would be nicer to navigate both snakes and thorn bushes in full Kevlar.

Olive Marabou meets NASCAR

In the past, I was the fellow scrambling away from the approaching bow wave, shaking fist at V-8 wielding interlopers insistent on warbling through full Doppler enroute to some distant zip code.

Yesterday I was the portly fellow astride all that horsepower – ignoring the angry epithets and screams of our victims as our rooster tail washed the peasants off their isolated beaches and rocky points, while we belching 8 cylinders worth of carbon footprint into the drinking water supply of California’s wine country.

Knowing we’d decimated any chance of  the 2015 Chardonnay winning medals, and with all the ecological carnage in our wake, what was needed was to stomp life out of a few fish to feel complete.

I got lucky and was invited to fish with a professional angler, a competitor in both local tournaments as well as the B.A.S.S. (Bass Angler’s Sportsman’s Society) circuit, who knew more about largemouth, smallmouth, and spotted bass than anyone I’d met, and more importantly – was willing to share that knowledge with a fly wielding sissy.

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Note the solitary fly rod in the above 45MPH dash across open water, contrasting sharply with the 10 pre-strung rods on either side of the Captain’s chair in the bow. As I snapped the shot I’m thinking of Michael Douglas’s “Gordon Gecko” speech and modifying his quote to be, “enough tackle so’s not to waste time.”

… and the first pearl of wisdom dispensed dashed any hopes I had of jettisoning job and spouse, as I found out how “rich” never describes the tournament fisherman, “optimistic” or “lucky” might be better suited, and “broke” a quick second.

Any fly fisherman with the nerve to wander through a bass tackle catalog can’t help but recognize the hard core bass angler is a kindred spirit. Only degenerate gamblers, fly fishermen, and ardent Bass anglers are capable of dropping an entire paycheck on things they can’t explain to “normal” humans – and not think anything amiss in so doing.

Tackle boxes filled with things that rattle or squirm, colors like  Raspberry Red, Lemon Yellow, and Orange Orange, acres of jellified gummy animals, and Pork rind in Frog, Begonia, and Mottled Asphalt.

Where we insist on blowing several hundred on a single rod,  they buy eight or ten of the cheaper flavor, whose total cost is about equal to our own. We change spools and they change rods, and with a mobile platform containing plenty of storage, they can make the contents of our fishing vest (and the dollars squandered on its contents) seem puny in the comparison.

But of all the wondrous arsenal of tools demonstrated, it was mobility that was most foreign to my terrestrial fishing, and likely the most tempting to misuse. I wondered how many fruitless casts would it take before a V-8 wielding angler launched himself on a high speed intercept for somewhere else … and at 4 miles per gallon, how long could he do so before his spouse questioned his financial acumen.

With all these questions bubbling to the surface, and each angler seated within talking distance of one another, I was pleased to find bass anglers are prone to conversation and are far more sociable and well adjusted then fly fishermen.

Fly fishermen race each other out of the parking lot and only snarl a greeting if forced into eye contact – especially if two fellows choose to fish in the same direction. Bass anglers offer you cold drinks and a sandwich and cast to the best lie when you’ve got both hands full. The end result is similar, but the game is friendlier and you’re more tolerant of your fellow Man.

I liked that. The light banter of anglers coupled with the conversational tone due to the short distance separating us made any lull in fishing less burdensome.

I enjoyed both the similarities and differences of our two cultures, and threw flies when the water was friendly – and plugs when it wasn’t, and soaked up as much knowledge of my quarry and its habits as I could.

Economy of motion was the most apparent – as the professional angler’s focus is on the seconds they shave from a cast, from playing fish, netting them, and storage in the live well. More casts in an eight hour period means more opportunity for catching fish – with a single fish often being the difference between placing in the money and not.

“Single fly Theory”, wherein the angler has the utmost confidence in his offering and uses it to the exclusion of all else has a parallel in bass fishing, as we threw only three different baits for the entire day.

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Nor could you argue with the end result, as this Berryessa Largemouth proves most handily. The angler is Leroy Bertelero, a big fellow, over six feet – making this huge bass smaller in the comparison.

While the similarities between the two groups outnumber the differences, the nature of professional fishing can’t help but intrude on the pleasure aspects of our craft.

Catching fish for money is a noble concept – akin to all other money sports like tennis and bicycling, but the tournament aspect makes fish doubly precious, and where we curse when we lose a fish – the tour angler takes additional steps never to do so.

Most of the reels were loaded with 50lb Dyneema braid, with short monofilament leaders of similar pound test. Considering your average bass to be somewhere within 3 – 5 lbs., you’d think that overkill.

In comparison, our pleasure fishing and notion of selectivity almost always results in our lightening our tackle – and counting coup for landing fish that weigh more than our tippet. Tournament anglers need the opposite, the ability to hoist the bass out of a tule thicket – laden with grass – without fear of repercussion.

It’s something I puzzled over briefly before winching my quarry over the gunwale. There is a certain luxury in horsing your fish into a live well with minimal effort, likely making it easier on the bass in the long run. A bit less excitement than we’re used to given how a big fish cartwheeling on a light tippet makes us so religious, and our prayers so fervent.

Awesome experience, good company … by next weekend I’ll be back among the peasants (if they’ll still have me), and just as eager to extend digit when hit with the chill of boat swell.

More Pain then Wadding a Sharp Hook through Gristle

With every Californian intent on their Memorial Day Exodus, I lounged against the garage jamb and waved as my neighbors wadded their protesting kids and worn camping gear into anything capable of towing something else, then followed their neighbors onto the Interstate, all in a mad rush for the woods.

Having competed with this angry mob many times in the past, and knowing the lack of water would compress anglers even further, we opted to splurge on the local private bass water . We knew the cost of a full day’s fishing was much less than the gas, food, and campground fees we’d absorb if we donned our “Mad Max” garb and chased Charlize Theron (and everyone else) up the interstate enroute to the Parched Pristine.

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… not that Miss Theron isn’t worthy of chasing, its the notion that frayed nerves, squealing tires, and campground backing accidents, resulting from too many people crammed into too small a resource, are never a recipe for decompression and relaxation, rather they have the opposite effect.

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But an entire lake filled with voracious gigantic bass, off-limits to kids, unruly pets, and powerboats,  and rimmed with wildflowers and framed by beautiful weather, followed by a fine meal of rice balls and grilled Spam, that’s the makings of workplace water cooler legend.

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To compound our good fortune, our guess as to the lake’s readiness was perfect, and “should’ve been here last week” was forgotten in the howl of,  “gotta be here goddamn right now.” No sooner then we were clear of the vehicle and armed, we were assaulted by hungry bass intent on eating flies, fingers, floating tippet spools, and anything else exposed to the water.

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Morning till noon was the big meal bite, using larger, slow sinking flies resembling frogs or tadpoles. When that slowed the fish shifted to smaller food, Wooly Bugger style flies in drab colors. We caught fish all day long and yielded the water grudgingly around 5PM.

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I’ve seen plenty of manicured trout water; everything from the rough hewn management of a “sugar daddy” conservation group like Cal Trout, to clubs meant for wealthy capitalists like Rising River Lodge and the Bolibokka Club.  Each has its own personality and appeal, but grooming the lake to achieve a singular vision of bass fishing is  quite unique in my experience. Every bush, sapling, and flower individually planted to yield a specific effect when mature –including rafts of dead timber and tules planted around the periphery and lake center.

The notion of mixing wildflowers with fishing makes for an interesting duality. On the one hand the bright colors and gay borders are akin to fishing in a garden, but they assist in stabilizing the earthen mounds from eroding into the lake.

Most certainly the fishing takes priority in your enjoyment of your surroundings, as it is superb, but being able to take your spouse along without having to entertain her may be worth even more.

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I keep thinking that with this as the destination for the first exposure to fishing – wives and girlfriends might seriously contemplate the pastime versus their traditional baptism … shivering as mosquito bait.

No sympathy from me …

With all this amazing good fortune, I found my mortality by midafternoon. My host showed up in his truck and watched me land a fish, and commented, “…you’re doing pretty well, every time I see you – you’ve got a fish on.”

I showed him the left thumb, scraped raw from “lipping” bass, and then unglued my feet from the suction of loose mud at waters edge, avoiding pressure on the blister on my knee from crouching on the side of berms avoiding being “sky lined” so as not to alert my quarry,  and he chuckled. “You’ll get no sympathy from me …”

Can’t say as I blame him – nor was I looking for some, I just had the cathartic realization that fishless fishing has its share of aches and pains, yet even when moon’s align and the Cornucopia spills open, there’s blisters aplenty … and only the wound locations change.

That evening as I hobbled to the bathroom, I did some mental math. Landing a fish requires three squats; the first when kneeling on the berm when casting, the second when extricating your mending line from Poppies and bankside debris, and the last when you squat to lip the fish at water’s edge. Figure (with the Bluegill) you land 140 fish in a single day, and you’ve neatly explained the blisters on both knees and why you groan like Grandpa when you get off the couch.

So you like tormenting the fish then …

Back in the 1980’s I worked the night shift in one of those cold edifices that shadow Market Street. As I left one morning waving at my fellow workers, I noticed a quiet looking number with a shy smile in the company of one of my female coworkers.

The next day the lady I worked with asked if I’d consider a blind date with her pal, to which I readily agreed.

To make the story short, I found myself on an East Bay lake, with no fishing tackle, attempting to look interested  in my companion, while fish cavorted about thumbing their collective nose at me. She was a nice gal without any interest in the out of doors, and I tried my best to appear engaging and personable.

As I was wont to do, I attempted to couch my confession into my best “Mac Daddy” moment. I mentioned I enjoyed fishing and the woods, and spent lots of time there. She responded in Big City fashion, how, “.. she would never eat anything caught out of the water as it was likely unsafe ..”, unfazed by her ignorance about where fish lived, I opted for the “catch and release” gambit …

“Yea, I let them all go, actually.” As I pick an imaginary speck of lint off my sleeve, expecting her to think me a swell fellow and consummate sportsmen. Rather than swoon in rapture as I was expecting, she replies, “.. Oh, so you like torturing them?”

(No lady, that’s what this date is all about, really.)

This same scene played in my conscious mind after this weekend’s debauch. Realizing that age and overindulgence are combining forces to ensure that should the fishing be either good or bad, I’m taking more abuse; lumps, scrapes, contusions, and actual blood loss – than the goddamn fish are.

No. I don’t enjoy tormenting fish … I have a yen to be tormented by them. Through my own actions of pursuit and capture I inflict much more pain on myself than I ever do wadding a sharp hook through gristle.

I just … need a nap … before I do it again tomorrow …