Making Hell a Few Degrees Cooler

No parallel exists in fly fishing, and it’s another of the reasons I’m celebrating the differences between trout and bass and the lore and ritual of each.

Summer doldrums for trout fishing means a brief flurry of activity in the morning, and similar in the evening, with midday spent drinking or womanizing. With reservoir fishing for bass, it’s a bit of activity in the morning, lot’s of physical activity during midday, and a nap come evening.

Terraforming is part of my work for next year’s fishing. Building structure into an area that sees a lot of fish already, that will give them ambush points and cover to linger and become residents. Nothing beats knowing what you’re fishing over, and where the big fish sleep at night…


I put in two walls after the morning grab, about 25 feet of rocks and timbers about30 inches tall. As I visit this area each time, I’ll add to the walls and add a few additional walls further along the shoreline.

This makes a known fishy area able to retain more fish, gives the bait and the predators more places to hide, allows me to cancel my gym membership (next time bring gloves), and makes the midday hours productive instead of walking around blind casting.

… and it makes me feel a whole lot better than sending a check to an angling organization hoping they don’t spend most of it on the chairman’s salary. Improving fish habitat yourself means I get better fishing next year, and I’m making amends for a lifetime of torment I’ve inflicted on my finned pals.

The idea isn’t mine, there’s evidence of a lot of terraforming going on by bass anglers. Rings of Christmas trees roped together and anchored with concrete, rock and brush piles on the banks, it’s plain that the boating fraternity (and tournament crowd) don’t mind getting their hands dirty for their fishing.

Me, I’m simply hoping the ring of Hell I’m headed for is a few degrees cooler than it might’ve been, nothing noble about it.

Big Water, Bigger Fish, and What I done this Summer

After several decades of piscatorial success, it’s difficult to realize the only certainty is you can catch some fish with regularity, some are the result of good fortune, luck, or happenstance, and the balance can be explained by throwing a Big Mac and hook in front of a lot of foot traffic.

… it’s likely to be stepped on quickly,  scorned by those that have eaten recently, yet eventually consumed by some unfortunate that is either too desperate or in too much of hurry to care much about the marks left by other’s soles …

That notion haunts my summer, as I recognize I’ve veered onto the path less traveled, and found myself  in the deep end treading water.

My first failing was realizing that trout have occupied a place of great prominence because of their surroundings and the stunning mountainous areas they can be found. As a foe, they are largely predictable –and are are weakened due to a steady influx of federally funded variations that are less wary, climatic conditions that are less conducive to their survival, and the crush of forces present in the wildland-urban interface.

My second failing was thinking that the skills I’d spent so many decades accumulating while fly fishing for trout – would serve me in good stead when fishing in less pristine environments … some of those hard won skills transferred nicely,  many did not.

The science is the same, the reasoning and deduction, the mechanics of casting, the understanding of flora and fauna and their lifecycles are unchanged, but the physics of tackle, water, and how the quarry makes use of terrain and cover all have to be rethought. Most importantly, how to overcome the adversity of large bodies of deep water and their ever-present wind. How to get flies within visual range of an ambush predator …versus throwing exacting imitations at fish that move from safety into the open to feed on the same set of insects at the same time each evening.

Pure Heresy for most trout fishermen, but for those of us that delight in suffering unimaginable tortures, big open water is an area fly fishing has never dallied with  – and with good reason. Our tackle and its physical limitations, our unspoken preferences, and the genteelness of our pastime are ill suited to this environment.

Fly Tackle and its limitations

The weaknesses of fly tackle are well known.  Long limber rods that are magnificent at preserving fine tippets and reducing shock, but cannot punch an 8 inch long, soaked rabbit streamer into  even the slightest breeze. Wet marabou or fur strips combined with lead wire and heavy beads, strung on a heavy gauge 2/0 or 3/0 hook, and even experienced casters begin to blanch in the face of a breeze …

Sink rate is abysmal with fly tackle. The large diameter fly lines sink at a different rate than the monofilament tippet and heavy fly, and with each element of backing, line, leader, tippet, and fly, strange shapes are introduced between rod tip and hook point that add slack. Hook sets have to be exaggerated to move all that sunken line into a straight line capable of pushing a large hook through lip gristle.

Large open water has its own weather system, and an airless morning is promise of a stiff breeze in the afternoon. Casting physics means even the heaviest leader cannot sustain the weight of the large streamers and bulky poppers, and all casts (except those downwind) collapse at the transition from fly line to leader. Big wind resistant poppers work against the caster – as the properties that ensure they float – also guarantees their instability in flight. Big and bulky, guaranteed to puddle leader and prey to every gust of wind – rarely landing much beyond the fly line tip.

Terrestrial anglers are forced to fish in the direction that blows the fly line away from the body, as neither rod nor leader can control the instability of  a large fly buffeted by a stiff breeze. After a few encounters between large hooks driven through larger arse cheeks,  self preservation overcomes one’s lust of fish flesh.

Worse is that none of fly fishing’s quiver of tools can reliably determine depth, the kind and type of bottom substrate, nor cover enough water to prospect a large body of water with thoroughness. Fly anglers rely on a combination of bankside detritus and visual inference to surmise what they’re fishing over, and deep water isn’t always predictable given its opacity, the varied weed types, grasses, and sunken objects that may be present.

Not knowing what you’re fishing over also means you don’t know when to return there during periods of receding water. Disabled shopping carts and old Christmas trees are potential eyesores, but they provide surface area for weed growth and hiding places for minnows and other food, which draw in the big fish to linger.

Snobbery and the Proper Tool for the Proper Job

For large bodies of water the deck is already stacked in favor of the fish, so why handicap yourself by insisting on fly fishing purism? Big open water is perfect for fly anglers, but only after you know enough about the environment and your quarry to make the intersection of fish and fly tackle optimal.

Last year I spent the summer “drop shotting” the western side of Lake Berryessa, from the dam to the Pope Creek arm.  “Drop Shot” fishing is simply constructing a leader containing one large shot and one 4.5” plastic worm, and walking that bait back to you once flung into the lake.

Each time that large split shot touched bottom it told me how deep the water was at the spot. Since most of my time was spent on the points and contours, I quickly learned where the deep water was versus the shallow flats.

My visual inspection of bank and substrate entering the water was enough to clue as to whether the bottom might be sandy or rocky, but adding the drop shot data told me how deep it was and whether there were underwater timbers, weed beds, or rocky boulders and ledges.

What was down below I snagged – and often. When I recovered the tackle it would have weeds from weed beds, or simply break off when snagged on timber. Watching the line pay out while chanting, “one thousand, two thousand, three …” gave me an approximation of depth, and if I caught fish it taught me what was down there, and occasionally by inference, why.

Fly fishing is not part of a triathlon for good reason. All of the rigmarole associated with line management and wading means fly fishing is a slow process for scouting big water. Throwing weighted lures and big plastic top water baits isn’t affected as much by wind,  and an angler can cover a couple of miles of shoreline with an easy gait, where a fly caster has to constantly pause and strip out or reel in all those coils of line necessary to cast and retrieve.


As a bonus to the data that different types of tackle provide, you’ll catch plenty of large fish, which is the hidden pot of gold of big lakes, they contain much bigger fish than small ponds or streams, and contain more of them as well. Where you catch them is as important as any other data element, given you’re looking to repeat that process with some consistency. Certain depths, or time of day, similar types of cover, anything that patterns where the big fish hold is essential to attempting to find them in other parts of the lake.

The outflow of Lake Berryessa is Putah Creek, which is the closest trout stream to San Francisco and the Bay Area. As such it has both New Zealand Mud Snails and is constantly pounded by an enormous contingent of fly fishing enthusiasts. None of which attempt the lake proper, and I’ve yet to see another fly fisherman plying the bank. I suspect it’s the big water as the source of their trepidation, given how many are wading only several hundred yards distant, yet none have ventured into the lake itself.

Bass aren’t like Trout, they’re moody, aggressive, and stubborn, sometimes all at once

We’ve all heard that Cutthroat’s are “stupid” and by comparison, Rainbow’s and Brown trout are finicky – yet all trout species share a great deal of similarities in their feeding behavior and survival instincts.

Bass species share some traits as well, but each species has unique traits that must be learned  to catch them consistently. In the comparison, we might think bass overly aggressive when contrasted with trout, but the real difference is their infuriating ability to be moody, finicky, sullen, and shy – sometimes all at the same time.

I’ve seen enough bass behavior to be humbled routinely, and have rethought everything I’ve heard about bass, given my experiences in the last couple of years.

Lake Berryessa contains three species of bass and two species of “mule”.  Spotted Bass, Largemouth Bass, and Smallmouth Bass  inhabit the lake, as well as two mule variants of Spotted Largemouth, and Spotted Smallmouth. Each mule resulting from the interbreeding of two of the three species.

Purebred bass can spawn again, but the mule bass cannot reproduce.

Bass decide not to eat and in the blink of an eye the entire lake appears barren. The infuriating part is they do this whenever you decide to go fishing, or when a storm front makes the barometer quiver, or when the Standard station up the highway runs out of Doctor Pepper. Understanding the psyche of this beast is likely to drive the rational angler to drink – and it’s a matter of enduring their fits of pique, versus truly understanding them.

Spotted Bass move around more than the other species, and can be present and absent within minutes. Smallmouth love rocky bottoms and rock outcroppings, and largemouth seem to be comfortable everywhere, except where you’re fishing.

The food chain is different, and you need to own big and blustery

While bass have access to many of the insects that trout covet, and it’s likely they dine on bugs when small, once they get larger their tastes run to fish, frogs, other bass, sunfish, small dogs, and unwary children. Bugs simply don’t provide enough protein to keep a large bass fed.


Fish like this don’t eat bugs, they eat 6 inch plugs fished noisily, with much commotion

With baitfish being the food staple, suddenly our traditional caddis, midge, mayfly, repertoire is largely useless as we’re pressed into learning threadfin shad behavior, bait balls, and where minnows sleep at night.

Structure and vegetation offer cover for small fish, but so does the muddy water churned off the sandy points by boat wakes, and the milky water resulting from the swells breaking when pushed by wind.

Big bass behave similarly to Stripers or similar ocean predator. They try to gather and bunch minnows against natural structure like bays and points, and then stuff themselves before the ball squeezes past them into open water.  Bait fleeing a big predator are visible as  minnows leap into the air, making the chase as visible as a rising trout.

The amount of surface commotion caused by baits is important. Big deer hair poppers get waterlogged, and chug through the water with less and less disturbance. Sinking flies are heavy as lead due to a combination of weighting, size, and waterlogged materials. Traditional bass flies leave a bit to be desired, as the size ranges they’re available in are too small. Custom ties are needed for big water, and closed cell foam, wine corks, or anything that keeps its noise level is preferred to the hair flies.

There’s little question that noisy flies that burble and pop are among the most consistent producers. The issue is their delivery and the understanding that large fish are often in shallow water based on the prey and their lifecycle.

A Summer of frustration and data gathering

Most of this summer has been spent learning all the details associated with successful bass fishermen, and watching them use conventional tackle designed for big water and bigger fish. The result has been a lot of frustration, a lot of perspiration, and great deal of fun.

Having spent a lot of my youth casting 3/8 ounce and 5/8 ounce plugs at the Golden Gate Angling & Casting Club (under the watchful eyes of Jon Ray), I’m finally getting to hone those accuracy skills  in anger – versus GGACC’s static plastic targets.

Certainly the scorched hillsides are less scenic than piney woods,  but they’re only a quarter tank distant, therefore cheaper, there’s a lot more of it, it’s less than an hour away, and I rarely see another angler, all things not found in the Pristine upper elevations.

Summation of a misspent summer:

Developing the tool suite to harvest environmental data is the first requirement of open water.

Knowing the foibles, weaknesses, and strong suites of  your quarry is the second requirement of open water.

Knowing where the fish are and why they’re there is the third rule of open water.

Insects are not a factor, learn minnow behavior and observe them in the quiet coves to learn their swimming motion, their feeding preferences, and where the hide (when you throw a pebble).

Don’t use a screwdriver to hammer nails. Adapt and incorporate fly fishing only in those areas where it’s able to perform optimally is the culmination of the all the above, and the desired end game for us aficionados.

Can Stink Bomb Be Far Behind?

plopplopFinally … fishing is saved.

I’ve oft wondered what would be the miracle technology that would restore fly fishing to living room prominence, and now via the miracle of BaitCloud, we can fling Alka Seltzers at each other and bask in the body count …

I keep thinking of how much safer it’ll be to wade treacherous currents knowing you’ll bob to the surface amidst a plume of ersatz Squid Bitz, or Sea Salt Crustacean.

With all the truly beneficial flavors in development; Garlic-mashed Pteronarcys, and Sriracha Earthworm, can Low Holing Stink Bomb be far behind?

Of late we’re no longer tormented about the far ranging impacts of Prawn-flavor_Number9, or whether Yellow_Dye #3 (which is released in quantity via Peanut Butter Caddis),  adds to the algae bloom,  or assists in feminizing trout. We’re still giggling about the trunk full of Stale Beer or Damp Diaper we can lob into the hole above the SOB with the nerve to take our spot …

The Toast of the Dawn Patrol

I heard more than a couple snickers from the “Dawn Patrol”,  those fellows brave enough to shatter the pre-dawn stillness with a couple hundred horses compliments of Mister Evinrude …

… of late they’ve shown a keen interest in the same “head and shoulders” bay-peninsula I’ve chosen for my latest bright idea. I call it the “fly-spin” rig, but rather than some all-in-one aberration I’ve merely opted to carry twice the gear.


The above depicts the calm part of morning, where I offload both fly and spin from the vehicle, then take a brisk mile-and-a-half hike to the fishing area – lugging all my provisions and drinking water with me. As I opt for the shoreline route instead of tromping through the low scrub, known for both ticks and rattlers, I have to parade past all the buzz baiters, the jig n’ pig types, the crank-baiters, the top water fiends, all of which are unawares their comments can carry a quarter mile or more .

Fly Rawd, what’see gonna do with that?”

As my mentor has been showing me how to find, seduce, and land, large bass with regularity, I’ve opted to translate all the plug and lure knowledge into fly tactics.

Every time we’ve managed to lure large fish to the surface I’ve glanced over at the electronics to eyeball the depth. As we ease past the shoreline of those areas I can reach by foot, I’ve noted which points and bays contain the 13’ –16’ of water that seems to be the sweet spot for big fish and surface baits. Anything deeper doesn’t appear to draw fish from the bottom.

This is no different from my San Francisco Bay saltwater days. Despite fishing for shark or perch, I always carried a few Pencil Poppers in case the Stripers pushed a bait ball into my area.

Lake Berryessa is the same type of fishery.  Big balls of shad are pushed into coves and anything within eyeball range starts hopping out of the water chasing 4” fish.

As these occurrences are both regular and fast moving, you want to have a big baitfish imitation loaded on the fly rod,  as the fish herd the bait against the shoreline – within an easy cast by fly despite the omnipresent breeze.


I’ve got a few 5” minnow imitations tied on rubber worm hooks, size 4/0. These hooks offer a nice “keel” effect that ensures the bait is presented uniformly and offers a jigging motion that accents all that marabou hung off the back.

I walk the entire “head and shoulders” shoreline carrying both rods. I can prospect much quicker with the spinning rod and a big Heddon Super Spook, and deploy the fly rod when the bait shows. The beauty of it is that the big 5” plug will cause the shad to go airborne when it nears the school, allowing you to find the bait regularly – then position yourself with the fly rod if they get close.


I managed a few fish on my initial outing, most were caught prospecting, and I managed a few grabs when one school made shore nearby … it was brief, intense, and made me want more.


I have some modifications that will assist the flies to perform better in the wind, and I’ll need to fashion a custom leader that will be about 3 feet long, with about two additional feet of 20lb tippet.

Fishing of this kind with all the breezes that crop up, the large flies and big hooks, means you need a set of pliers to remove anything that imbeds itself due to bad luck.

That’s a long walk back if you’re bleeding out due to the unforeseen flight characteristics of a multi-ought black nickel projectile.

Dame Juliana Berners, or at least Bill Dance

My mistake was assuming angling’s Sacred Cows were deserved of update.

Societal norms seem to be edging away from nobility and leaning toward PBB (People Behaving Badly), given the constant fare of reality shows punctuated only by political fits of pique, including references to genitalia and tweets musing on which candidate’s spouse is “hot or not.”


Those hoary Cornerstones of Angling, those ancient stone tablets upon which are etched angling’s most holy truths; “dollar for the first, dollar for the biggest, dollar for the Most,” and “if you kilt it – you eat it,” – I thought were hopelessly out of date now that fish come from McDonalds and “catch and release” is something you practice at a bar …

This weekend I was fixated on a top water plug watching it burble across the lake’s surface, and my phone chirped, featuring a picture of a smallmouth and the legend, “first fish, Smallie about 2 pounds.” It was from my fishing partner who had rushed ahead to fish a comely looking point and was now out of sight.

As we had agreed at our last accounting, the Hoary Ancient Stone Tablet Rule dictated fish that count towards an angler’s total must be accompanied by a picture or a witness.

But that was then, and this being now …

PBB fish

… I sent him back this obviously … er … lethargic candidate, who was hooked in acceptable fashion, and while the fight was lackluster, was released back into the lake with a flourish. I think the legend of my text went something like, “…  1-1, we’re even.”

As you’d expect my pal was incensed as his version of angling justice was inscribed by Dame Juliana Berners, or at least Bill Dance, and his indignation was apparent, “that fugging fish is dead!”

I could see his point. The eyes being opaque, most of the color being leeched from the torso, and the ample girth stemming not from  food – but rather trapped gas, which added fetchingly to the candidate’s visual weight.

… my recently crafted PBB rules of Angling, suggest the hookup was legitimate, the fight being less than desirable, yet the required photo was taken with all possible candor. I replied with similar PBB passion, “ … eat me, fucktard, it still counts …”

I was attempting a PBB witticism, but possess no skill in the subject matter. I can only assume something similar is what’s “bleeped” out of the television narrative.

American River Shad, More fish than Blisters

Attempting to map a large waterway during the brief ten weeks fish are resident is a mighty slow task – especially when doing it solo.

Most of your erstwhile fishing pals don’t care for an “oversized Herring”, and would rather do chores than help in your quest to learn a river. In most cases you’re at the mercy of the locals, often friends of friends and coworkers, who rattle off all the river accesses where they drank themselves silly during High School, and then relay gossip about the places mentioned by the neighborhood kid who fishes – and where he said to go.

I then dutifully follow up each lead, sometimes finding a nice stretch of Shad water – sometimes it’s something too swift or too deep, and only suitable for fellows tossing gear. That nuance in tackle is never possible from helpful bystanders, given they have seen fish caught but don’t understand any of the physics involved.

Many of the holes simply aren’t productive for fly fisherman, the river can be a bit too fast and you can’t get to the fish, or you can’t separate far enough from the bank to avoid the broom trees in your back cast, or worse, the crush of “friendlies”; pets and small children, means you have to keep your head on a swivel.

As half of Shad season is gone, and I’ve spent most of it wandering bike paths looking for river access, one eye cocked for speeding cyclists intent on impaling themselves on my rod, and the other mindful of the river and the occasional homeless campsite, I was actually exploring plenty and fishing very little.

… not quite the balance I had in mind. The solution was obvious – drop a little cash for a guided trip with an eye towards knowledge transfer, someone to point out all the holes and parking areas of the remaining section of river I’d not seen.

Having been a guide myself and knowing I can tailor the excursion towards knowledge versus fishing, I knew it would prove invaluable as regards the fish, their favorite holes, how to access them safely via wading, and where were the closest access points.

The notion of doing so while reclining on the silken pillows of  “Cleopatra’s barge” while sipping chilled Gatorade and nibbling room temperature Granola bars – being the rest of the attraction. I’m never sure how many oiled Nubian oarsmen it takes to propel a McKenzie river drift boat, but I was aiming to find out.


The granola bars were room temperature but their were damn few Nubians, just one good natured fellow oiled with a mixture of bug juice and sunscreen. This is Andy Guibord of Kiene’s fly shop in Sacramento, widely thought to be one of the best shad guides in the watershed.

As I had fished at Nimbus Dam, the access known as Sailor Bar, and had fished a lot of the middle stretches of the river as they ran through the suburb of Rancho Cordova, Andy drifted me from Sailor Bar down to Sunrise Ave, a couple miles of what’s considered the  “upper” river.

I figured to be a “low maintenance” client, given how I wouldn’t need to be taught how to cast prior to fishing, my only concern was not getting clever and imbedding a “bead chain special” in his forehead. I think we both feeling each other out until I made that first cast – then it was a steady patter of “lay a cast in at six-o’clock”, “again”, “now one at twelve o’clock.”

We tried striped bass in the upper reaches of Sailor Bar, I managed to land four schoolies in the  14” range, before sliding down through the holes at Upper Sunrise and coming face to face with my implacable foe, the American Shad.


The rig we used was new to me. All of the same brightly colored hues were displayed in the top fly,  including the time tested favorites in red, orange, and pink. What was new was  Andy added a second smaller Olive Caddis Pupa #12, as a trailer.

Shad flies have been getting smaller for several decades,  the most common sizes these days is a standard length #8.  Adding the smaller #12 was explained to me as the fish get more selective as the run progresses, the smaller fly being insurance as it swings through the school – presenting both radiant and somber to the fish, allowing them to be finicky or no …

I landed a couple dozen fish that evening and all but one ate the Olive Caddis.

That bit of wisdom was worth the entire trip, as I would use this same rig in the weeks following and it proved just as deadly when wading.  After that first outing I had a couple dozen “somber” caddis in my Shad box, and quickly handed out most to the fellows around me.

As I’m equipped with a half dozen new holes to explore and as many parking areas, the remainder of Shad season is proving far more fruitful. I’m fishing most of the morning and exploring only a bit, which is yielding far more fish than blisters.


… and this is why I find this game fish so absolutely compelling. It’s the only fish  you can see Dawn or Sunset painted on its side.

Lulled into Complacency by Fly Fishing’s Genteel Side

celoxNext time my pal gives me a “wave off” and tells me, “don’t grab it,” I’ll back away rather than be my normal, helpful, fishing -buddy self.

Us fly fishermen have the luxury (unless they live in Norway or Scotland) of assuming there’s only one hook in production and the fish has ate most of that …

Bass anglers have nine points in production and an overly large, aggressive fish may have ate one – but the remaining eight are about to insert themselves into  helpful human fingers (and palm) like Buttah …

“Chemically sharpened” is no longer an asset when they’re doing a “through and through” on your index finger, or based on a fish flop, suddenly under a fingernail like a bamboo sliver.

… leaving one helpful SOB wishing he was less so, now that he’s attached to something about five pounds that insists on violently flopping around the deck … towing all those precious fly tying fingers with it  …

Naturally the only way to extricate yourself involves pliers and you  donating whatever flesh is necessary. Then again, it’s massive man card points when you grit your teeth, yank the SOB out of your flesh then reach for the rod as the bite is still on …

Water cooler chest thump.  Goddamn Priceless.


I think this was the offending largemouth that I danced with earlier, in the grip of Leroy Bertolero, former B.A.S.S Champion. Leroy has been teaching me some of the intricacies of smallmouth, largemouth, and spotted bass, and his having won numerous BASS tournaments in California,  I am attempting to soak up his knowledge like a sponge.

I learned “Nine Fingers of Blinding Pain” Kung Fu this trip. Never to be repeated in this lifetime.


He taught me a bit on spinner baits on the Delta, now it was top water plugs and poppers at Berryessa. With a day of complete overcast and some gusty winds, I learned that inclement conditions can be a boon – drawing some of the larger fish out of the depths and into our laps.

… and yes, that is a finely crafted sub-one hundred dollar spinning rod at my feet …Bass Pro’s understand the best tackle is fit and finished with duct tape – and will not buy anything costing more than about $60 bucks, reel included.

My kind of folks.

Next step is to translate the lure selection and retrieve into flies, as the two are linked based on conditions. Windy days yield fish feeding in the lake’s “surf” off shoreline points, and overcast prolongs the top water bite indefinitely, which is music to any fly fisherman’s ears …

… but that’s assuming they don’t bury a 3/0 Clouser in their arse, without the pliers necessary to remove such a monstrosity.

See you in the Celox aisle …

Sell your Rod while YOu Can

My reaction was to slide under the desk and start looking for all that 9mm I had squirreled away for the Zombie Apocalypse.  At this late stage, a life spent torturing fish (and worse, documenting same) have earned me a rarified spot right up there with Osama Bin Laden and Uncle Adolph.

As scientists have been telling us for many years – fish do feel pain when hooked, only now they’ve discovered the worst, that they can remember who done this to them and can recognize human faces from underwater …

(Queue the Jaws soundtrack …)

“… have impressive pattern discrimination abilities, but also provides evidence that a vertebrate lacking a neocortex and without an evolutionary prerogative to discriminate human faces, can nonetheless do so to a high degree of accuracy.

Jesus. We’re screwed. The only truly good news is that fish don’t have either Hellfire missiles or drones, so fleeing the parking lot swathed in Hoodie and sunglasses may get you to the Interstate.


It’s tough to acknowledge that PETA was right all along, and while we’ll walk soft and sheepishly avoid their gaze, their smugness will evaporate when the first near-sighted Salmon detonates itself in the reefer of that Whole Foods delivery truck on the Causeway.

Fly tiers will be the first culled given that Chickens are looking to settle scores for a half-century of heavy handed anglers wrenching hackle off their backside.

“Chickens (Gallus gallus domesticus)19 and jungle crows (Corvus macrorhynchos)23 can also discriminate pictures of human faces”

The upside being all them stuffy “featherwing Salmon guys” are even deeper in the Hurt Locker.

A Colonoscopy is Better than Fly Fishing

ColonI was shocked by the violence of the outburst. How us “fly fishing guys were NUTS”, and how the speaker – a largemouth Bass devotee – would rather submit to a colonoscopy before EVER learning to fly fish.

I’m staring at an extended digit, which I assume to be the exclamation point for some hideous crime dealt by some pompous flyfisher …and the victims, the aforementioned gear-wielding bass fiends, being horribly traumatized as a result.

I could understand the vitriol if my fate was the company of fellows I didn’t care for – or the required fly fishing livery and mandatory smoking jacket were unsavory, but as I’m unsure what the source of the angst is – and whether the conversation will end in blows,  I’m  struggling  to envision what horrid crime would anger a fellow fisherman to the point of apoplexy.

I understand it better now.

As a reward for spending the weekend waist deep in cold water with not even a single bite, I was coaxed into a pilgrimage to “Mecca”, a.k.a. the Bass Pro Shop Outdoor World Boating and Tackle Megamall.

To suggest I was intimidated would be an understatement. No sooner had I broke the plane of the entry than I was hailed by a “Walmart Greeter” in store livery, and promptly herded past the acres of checkout aisles, test kitchen tidbits hawked by sweaty fat guys, and into the throng of people headed for the Big Aquarium of Tapped Glass – which was home to numerous large (and sonically deaf) fish whose fate it was to endure children banging on the glass – hoping to startle a resident into activity.

While I’m slowing to take it all in, I realize I’m that Old Lady blocking the soup aisle while poring over the sodium levels of Bean & Bacon versus the Chicken and Rice.  I am blocking the path to the Test Kitchen and the free samples of “Gut Shot Elk Butt” being foisted on the unwary. Those same folks that wrinkle their nose at laying a lip on fish from the Wild, now squealing in pleasure as Mother Nature dipped in sugar and deep fried makes the sumbitch tastes like a Twinkie ..

I managed to find refuge in an side aisle featuring a mixture of “my organ is bigger because I kill stuff” fluorescent tees, (which all the kids were in a tizzy over) mixed with the more staid earth tones of Sherpa gear that just came off the Matterhorn, whose drab sophistication Mom and Pop found enchanting.

I found a side eddy that took me past more glittering silver and gold spinner-baits than King Croesus’s treasury, and as I slow I begin to see price tags and comprehend where I am. I’m in “SevenDollarLand” where everything large or small, glittery or drab, wiggly or inflexible – cost seven dollars each.

Like Walmart, bins of merchandise dominated by sale banners and bold typefaces ensuring us old guys don’t have to squint before pantomiming our displeasure. Suddenly that tasteful bit of tackle we’re fondling is the “dipped toe” into many hundred’s of dollars in liability, and we find ourselves cornered by an angry spouse with no path to the hordes of squeezables in the Rubber Worm Garden.

I’m a fish out of water – uncomfortable in what should have been a religious experience. Organ music and choir warble gives way to announcements of lost children, debtor’s prison, and the screams of kids no longer interested in Dad’s pending decision between Deep Fuggin Craw and Yum Yum Yello Crankbait.

I’m cheek to jowl with many thousands of folks who have no interest in any of this other than the spectacle.

The fly fishing section was framed in dark wood and dim lighting, a welcome contrast to the bustle and garish colors of the Crankbait aisle.  Large price stickers announced the fly tying section as “Threedollarland”  – where spools of tying thread were $3.19, as were the tiny bits of duck’s arse, deer fetlock, and turkey down.

I hadn’t  thought the price tag mounted on the rear of a glassine envelope to be the fly fishing equivalent of “demure”, but I understand better now.

The shock of how much a new fly tier pays for materials  caused my eyes to water. Hackle has never recovered from the heady days of hair inserts, and the White River shop brand for Bass Pro was a small (and useless) handful of neck hackle reminiscent of India capes. At $13.00 per packet, a fellow could go broke tying a dozen dries.

I was more fortunate, given it was Shad season. I picked up a few fetching colors of pink and chartreuse tinsel, a packet of pink beads, a couple 10lb tippet spools (mono not flouro) and two spools of heavy white thread – and I was out the door at $31.00.

Nine flies later I wasn’t so impressed at my acumen …

Pricing a Royal Wulff was an eye opener. $14.00 for a packet of brown hackle, $5 for the calf tail, $4.79 for the Peacock, another $3.19 for red floss, and $3.19 for the thread, closely followed by $7 for a 25 pack of hooks, meant I was into the fly about $38 by the time I had everything.

Considering the hackle as the delimiter, maybe I could tie 9 good flies .. making the cost per fly about Four Dollars Each. As Bass Pro sells the damn flies for $12/dozen, we’re not likely to see the fly tying ranks swell much …

Ditto for the Thousand Dollar Fly Rod. As Momma and the kids stroll past the fly fishing section (with prices visible from the closest three aisles) we’re sending a powerful message to our recruit pool.

Tying flies as a means of defraying the cost of buying store-bought has always been one of the reasons for fly shop visitation and our continued support even during non fishing season. Like tippet, it’s one of the most common reasons for us to visit and toy with that new rod, or try on those new zipper front waders.

One megamall does not a trend make … but as our numbers are dwindling quite rapidly, and these “foreign” venues present our craft to thousands of potential recruits, far in excess of anything our small stores can muster, I was a bit surprised at my own reaction …

… and was an eloquent depiction of why my hardware mongering bass pals won’t even consider the long rod. A lesson punctuated by airborne spittle and much finger pointing.

The Skunk BEING Off the Boat

It’s something we share with baseball players; the Obvious Funk, the hitless streak – where reading all the books, and tying all the flies, and all them hours afield and all that practice results in repeated blankage … no hits, runs, nothing left on …

Unfamiliar turf to be sure. I found myself starting with forlorn, moving to melancholy, which quickly became resentment as the streak continued.  As my lower lip began to resemble Pinocchio’s nose and my suffering intensified, I realized that “getting bit” was akin to Popeye’s Spinach, how without the ability to torture things smaller than me, I was a caricature of my former self.

I’d love to blame Southern California voters, or Republicans, or some faceless nemesis  in human form, but my adversary has been so much bigger than me that I can’t envision a standup fight, so much as a duck and weave – and hope I can outrun the SOB. As mentioned ad nauseum,  weather and its after affects have shuttered most of the fishing in my area. Drought extincted the small water – or warmed it enough to kill everything  in it. Drought emptied the reservoirs, and their subsequent filling has left them unstable and unproductive.

I’d hoped my annual shift to Shad fishing would buy me a precious few months of solace, but after each trip I returned despondent and empty handed – which after a few hours always became a source of mirth. Us alpha predators being  gifted with an overly active optimistic vein – which converts sulking and self pity into  new flies, new resolve for exploration, and the adrenalin to get up at 5AM and submit to additional piscatorial ridicule.

Like last year exploring Lake Berryessa, this year I’ve been moving through all the access points into the American River as it moves through Sacramento and the outlying burbs. Not being a native, yet working in Sacramento, my coworkers are assisting in pointing out which access lead to the nudist beaches, which are the most prone to car hijackings, which have the beer parties and all the underage talent, and how the northern accesses are the affluent neighborhoods and the southern accesses less so …


My adoration for shad has me fishing alone, as the few fishermen I know in the area simply don’t care for them much.  This makes exploration of a new stretch of the river extremely slow, but it is beneficial in soothing my wounded ego.

I use a “10 and 10” style for covering water. Ten casts and then ten steps, which is a slow but surefire way to find the deep holes the fish inhabit in between egg laying.

Most of my fishless outings end with me living vicariously through the long lines of spin fishermen catching them with floats and flies. I find watching others catch fish is akin to  Methadone for opiate addiction, not the same … but takes the edge off.


This morning I tried a new spot and as I surveyed the mile or so of water visible to me – all those books and false casts whispered, “if I were a fish I’d live right … here.”

… no one was more surprised than I was when I set the hook.