Category Archives: bass fishing

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.

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 …

Too Close for comfort

Roman_Red350Nearly every periodical teases me with some gizmo whose description promises revolutionary change and awesome functionality, and price tailored to a member of the Saudi royal family.

Like you, I have a weakness for gadgets made from the protective titanium bathtub of a decommissioned Warthog, but my budget can only support the early plastic variants of decades past, and am therefore forced to avoid eye contact with my peers when scuttling from creek to welcoming tailgate.

More than once I’ve scratched my head thinking of our fly fishing demographic and the statistics of Who We Are, and would love to claim a bit more education and disposable income than most of the sporting fraternity. On the down side, we still have trouble grasping the notion that an ounce of graphite scrim applied to a spinning rod doesn’t make it base or common, and when slathered onto a fly rod mandrel – doesn’t enhance its value to rival a red diamond, or a pristine copy of Action #1.

Why a bait casting or spinning rod containing as much boron or graphite as a fly rod is one tenth its price, and why we don’t rise en masse to hurl crates of Sage and Orvis into the Boston harbor has  forever eluded my understanding.

All that extra education squandered as we majored in beer drinking with a minor in Sociology or Psychology, and skipped those important Physics classes that would have given us balance and scientific wisdom.  Worse yet is none of them “people” studies sunk home – given the chill with which we relinquish our hole to our brother angler.

When all seems darkest and I resolve to swap fly rods for flower arrangements (to upgrade my friends and peers) the Internet washes up a bit of lightness to restore my mood, akin to Styrofoam at high tide …

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… the $450 bass lure.

I was reading a bass forum on the usefulness of the new (Dyneema) braid was in bass fishing. Most of the participants commented on its fine diameter, and one fellow pointed out the 100 pound test was equal in diameter to his old 20 pound dacron standby – and had the added ability for him to hand-over-hand himself down the line to fetch lures.

As you might expect there was a flurry of questions, and he revealed his newfound obsession for Roman – Made lures from Japan, and as most were $150 – $450 each, he opted to swim down and retrieve them when snagged.

While I admire his sudden frugality, I wasn’t buying the overall story. Anyone throwing $500 dollar bills in Harm’s Way is doing so for the rush of endorphins that come with your losing the entire food budget for the month.

I figured he’d likely had a track or football scholarship – one of those unfortunates that peak in college, have a short NFL career, and are attempting to salvage the adrenalin rush of lost youth.

In summary, the one class in Psychology I was required to take at City College Harvard … suggests that I require at least one group to point fingers at and question their fishing sanity. The notion of us fly fishermen BEING that group, is of course, unthinkable.

A celebration of our myopic and irrational

I’ve always been fascinated how physics, logic, and religion alternately hold sway with anglers, and how quickly we drop one to seek a convenient explanation from the others.

Given the fervor of our practitioners, fishing may also hold a goodly number of lay theologians; those whose use of deities are limited to epithets, and those who couldn’t endure the restrictions of religious study, and opted for a sociology major instead.

Only historians, theologians,  and anglers discuss derivations of ancient events and derive modern theories that explain the unexplainable – and like religion and history, most attempts at learned angling discussion flare white-hot, as our ranks are home to   half wits, zealots, and the unyielding.

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Bass anglers and fly fishermen are the worst of the lot and the least cognizant of their behavior. Add together a bit of religion, arrogance, science, and stubborn, suspend disbelief and ignore physics, and you’ve got something that describes their angling theory and behavior.

… and as I listened to a pair of bass fanatics agree on the only three colors of rubber worm needed to catch bass, I was reminded of our version, the “Adam’s Guy”, and how ardent he was that “ …the Adam’s is the only fly worth fishing , and I catch all my fish using it.”

With an ear cocked to the debate on rubber worms, (which had turned from discussion to a more congratulatory tone) I noted that while the obligatory “fist-bump” was in order, both had confessed to owning a garage full of the unloved color spectrum. Most being blamed on destination purchases – based on bait shop banter, and the balance from YouTube videos (and magazine articles) featuring snuff-dipping felons manning tinny microphones apologizing for winning everything while flinging, “… drop shot, with a Dirty Plum Senko chaser.”

Naturally us long rod fanciers pick on the Bass crowd with great glee, but they’re a mirror of current fly fishing theory. Both groups are equally insufferable in their misapplication of knowledge, both assume the outrageous cost of their tackle makes up for their lack of study or practice, and most lack real knowledge of their surroundings or their quarry, and are content to quote whatever dog-eared rag they’ve stacked by the crapper.

I suppose the fly fishing crowd can claim a moral victory in that they don’t despoil lakes with fossil fuels, but the reality is our leader packages, discarded indicators, and candy bar wrappers are a close second.

Bass fishermen giggle at us because of the nosebleed costs of fly rods, but don’t consider they are uncomfortable without a half dozen rods pre-strung, and how the combined cost of all those reels and terminal gear equal or exceed the cost of our rod.

As both groups represent a relaxing hobby gone terribly wrong, its interesting neither dwells on the actual cost of their catch, as both insist on releasing everything before they’re weighed. This is a convenient mechanism, given any serious study on the subject will be waved in their face by their Better Half, and used to stifle any sarcasm regarding drapery treatments and domestic expense.

All this imprecision results in shaky estimates and gross exaggeration of catch rates, which we gleefully relay to our confederates with clipped syllables that brook little discussion.

“Mr. Adam’s” is equally unwilling to discuss his myopia, and while it may not serve him well hiring a guide to fish a strange river, as he’ll scorn any patterns presented by his handler, it won’t lessen his ardor at force feeding every nearby dimple with his notion of perfection.

Mr. Adams being right … as even a single suicide fish will buttress his theory beyond credibility. He’s conveniently ignored the notion that the Only Fly theorem can be explained by the Commutative Law of Mathematics – which describes why the angler who uses only a single fly for their fishing will catch all their fish on that fly.

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This is known in scientific circles as a “truism” … a fact that cannot be argued regardless of the amount of alcohol consumed.

Fly fishermen insist that a massive gold bead on the front of a mayfly imitation actually imitates a mayfly, which might be true if mayflies rode motorcycles and the more numerous Diptera passed a helmet law . This learned scientific notion a derivation based on the original fly being a realistic imitation – and the addition of glitter, opalescent rib and bulbous shiny helmet making the original work even better.

Other realities are never discussed, as they make a mockery of everything us anglers holds dear. How fish only have a split second to eat – before the insect consumes more calories to catch than it’ll contain when eaten … and how even the wildest of bloodlines will eat a cigarette butt should it be presented upstream and at a dead drift …

… downstream presentation making it a vile thing – akin to trash.

The most damning notion is how many male-dominated (male-originated) sports share the same mythology. Like the fable of the Well Chewed Fly; despite a dozen undamaged replicas in the box a damaged fly increases its allure with each fish hooked, regardless of deteriorating appearance.

Crash Davis: I never told him to stay out of your bed.
Annie Savoy: Yes you did.
Crash Davis: I told him that a player on a streak has to respect the streak.
Annie Savoy: Oh fine.
Crash Davis: You know why? Because they don’t  … they don’t happen very often.
Annie Savoy: Right.
Crash Davis: If you believe you’re playing well because you’re getting laid, or because you’re not getting laid, or because you wear women’s underwear, then you *are*! And you should know that!
[long pause]
Crash Davis: Come on, Annie, think of something clever to say, huh? Something full of magic, religion, bullshit. Come on, dazzle me.
Annie Savoy: I want you.

– from Bull Durham

Religion and fishing have numerous literal links. Jesu Christo and his over-limit angling habit being the most obvious. Both avocations share legions of zealots – yet fly fishermen have yet to detonate a vest in a public setting, suggesting their fervor, unlike the religious variant, has practical limits.

My theory is that all truly talented fishermen are guilty of irrational behavior and myopic outlook, as it’s the armor needed to endure icy waters, extreme temperatures, and  the lack of hygiene of our fishing buddies. We’ve always considered these trials as proof of our devotion, as they are so off-putting to our detractors.

Like celibacy among priests, anglers require suffering to endure the unknown, and both the Meaning of Life and Why Fish Eat, are intangibles and destined for debate until climate change or Thermonuclear devastation makes both moot.

Part 3: I got your frog right here (next to this big foam cup of Earthworms)

Anyone that’s fished for any length of time can channel unflinching optimism, but “too good to be true” is a bubble burst upon us many times. On the outside we’re cocksure and tough, on the inside all that optimism is tempered with reality.

… and now, moments away from losing my first fly in Bass Paradise, having listened to the story of its birth and resurrection, that same inner demon is tugging at my sleeve suggesting, “ … it’s hot out, maybe you should have been here last week.”

Schooled by adversity, I’m not used to flinching in the face of awesomeness.

And it was plenty hot already. As a guest I didn’t set departure and arrival times, and midday temps were scheduled for triple digits, so I eschewed the float tube for the breathable waist-highs (review coming later), and marched out on the first earthen finger …

Bass and Bluegill were visible all around me, and starkness of my pear shaped frame sky-lined against blue sky sent everything living into a panic of flight. Big wakes peeled away into the tules or buried themselves into the neighboring weedy growth, and all I could do was note my “dried tule” camouflage might be hell on geese, but wasn’t fooling fish at all.

With visions of sugarplums dancing in my frontal lobe, I added one of my Massive Protein flies onto the leader. Assuming the fish were measured in yards and therefore only flies representing stray dogs or unattended children would be worthwhile.

Nothing.

I removed the Massive Black Hole of Tungsten off of the leader and opted for the more sedate Eye Searing Crayfish of Rubber-legged Death and flung that at them …

Nothing.

I’m conscious of the retired bass pro snickering to himself as he ties another willow sapling onto a bamboo stake. “ I’ve got to get these up high so the deer don’t eat them,” he says, “You probably want to throw a frog at them.”

He opens the back of his vehicle and on top of the pile of muddy boots, shovels, picks, and rusty chainsaw, are about nine pre-strung spinning rods each rigged with 30lb braid and a variety of baits. Freeing one of them he shows me what “frog” means.

I nod sagely, and produce my Letters of Marque, a fly box stuffed with spun deer hair poppers in a dizzying array of colors. I grab the biggest untrimmed Yellow and Olive, rubber-legged monstrosity and heave that at the fish.

Gurgle … Burble … Bloop. Nothing.

By this time my buddy is in his float tube in mid pond and finning around expectantly, and having similar luck.

The top water bait fails to motivate the fish, so I return to the Crayfish pattern. I’m cinching up the knot when I see a big shadow detach itself form the Tule clump next to me and sidle into a weed channel nearby. I figured Mister Fatty was lying in wait, and flipped the Crayfish out past him and gave it a tug …

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Apparently “Fatty” had the same weakness for hot orange and rubbery as did his cousins up at Lake Berryessa.

I spent the morning touring the lake and trying each of the areas defined by the earthen piers, but fishing was very slow, and I was thinking the drought had upended the feeding timetable a bit, and earlier would have been more appropriate.

As I made a full circle and stopped to compare notes with the proprietor, he offered up a rod and a big Styrofoam cup of earthworms. He motions to me, “let’s go catch some of these big Bluegill” he remarks, “I had a nine year old girl out here yesterday with her folks, and she caught fifty-seven without having to move.”

I grabbed the proffered rod and cowboy’d up. My host was unfamiliar with fly tackle and its efficacy and was doing his best to ensure I had a good time. I dropped that weightless earthworm in amongst the tules and quickly pulled a half dozen panfish out of their den. I handed the rod back and reached for the fly rod and downsized the bait to a trout sized bug and then proceeded to lay waste to the surroundings.

I cracked open the fly box and showed him our variants on panfish delicacies, and how each could be applied with great accuracy – so long as you donated a double-fistful to overhanging branches.

“Them brightly colored ones are a nice accent to your poppies, aren’t they?” I was a little reluctant to tug on his tules for fear of wrenching up all those painstakingly planted stalks. Apparently they are sunk in one pound coffee cans, and spread from that source into a traditional gaggle of plants.

I did have the luxury of catching a few while I had a willing cameraman, and as it’s not often my countenance graces these pages, so this one’s for Ma …

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Note the emphasis on grooming and cutting edge angling fashion.

Wading this pond was out of the question. Earthworks lack the integrity of natural substrate, and stepping off the path area meant sinking into mud. The kind of cloying greasy mass that requires you to hold onto your waders for fear of climbing out of them.

By afternoon the temperature was getting to be an issue, and a welcome breeze started blowing that caused everything to get stupid for about two hours.

Screams from the center of the lake suggested my fishing buddy was doing passably well …

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These being some of the largest bass he’d ever caught. Note the skinny abdomen on this slug, it’s a post-spawn bass that likely will weigh considerably more once filled out again.

Most of the fish we caught were recent spawners, given April and May is their traditional spawn time for this part of the foothills, which we confirmed with our host.

Big bluegill dominated most of the afternoon. Once the breeze put a riffle on the water the fish were much more aggressive. Most of these were about the size of your hand, which is prime size for putting a strain into a seven weight.

I did manage to catch one rarity. One of the breed stock of Black Crappy ate my Olive Leech, and while the fish is not rare in California, the builder mentioned he’d only planted a few breeders to see if they’d take root, and they had not been overly successful to date.

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I have always adored these fish – given their swarming numbers and aggression. They are fine table fare and likely will do quite well in all that overly warm, newly empty trout water.

I’d describe the outing as nothing short of fabulous. If we’d gotten there a couple of weeks earlier the weeds would have been a bit less pervasive, and the daytime temperatures more friendly, the bass fatter and more susceptible to being caught due to nesting behavior.

Any water managed for excellence is likely to draw an eager and appreciative crowd. It’s therefore heartening to know that despite inevitable changes to our environment and our quarry, from fragile salmonids to warm water cockroach, we’ll be undaunted … as opinionated and gear oriented as ever.

Part 1: Trophy Water Gentility, all the fart bars, sardines, and fly rods you can stuff into a Tacoma

When I’d first heard of it, I wondered whether it was a preview of what the future holds.

Our scientists grow ever insistent that in the coming decades Global Warming will reduce salmonids to 50% of their current range, and in that overly warm future, anything “at-risk” now will be lethal to our cold water bluebloods.

… and while we’re enamored of trophy trout and spare no expense to introduce them in even marginal conditions, at some point will the environment force us to shift from inbred salmonids to a Trophy “Cockroach” fishery, and might we ever hold them in similar regard?

I was fortunate to get a glimpse of the future this weekend. A local rumor of a city planner, turned bass pro, former tomato farmer, whose passion it is to create trophy bass ponds for private land owners.

Access being limited to a couple of local schools and their charity auction, which is about as exclusive as any rarified millionaire’s retreat. One of the fellows from work had stumbled upon the trip last year, and with my urging managed to snap up both of the trips offered this year, and I whined and moaned until he tired of my protruding lower lip and agreed to split the adventure.

boysuit… then, after weeks of enduring his vile torments, “ … my wife wants me to take the kids, instead …’, he relented. I would supply the flies, tie all his knots, and if the landowner questioned my schoolboy’s outfit (and matching bowtie) I would claim to be his son.

… the half wit version, naturally.

Proving that any fisherman worthy of the name would endure any indignity, or humiliation, for a crack at the Holy Water.

Honoring my part of the bargain was simple, only Bass Pro’s and fly fishermen lack a common language. When asked what the fish were biting on, the response was “frogs.”

Live ones? Top water deer hair flavor? Green, Yellow … what?

I was to find that my “dad” was a half wit as well, and “frogs” was to be the only intel to be had.

Wharhol.frogDutifully I spent the next week piling mounds of olive and yellow deer hair around the vise, possessed by every bit of top water fancy imaginable. I did normal, fanciful, exacting, and literal. I did frogs by Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol, Monet, and Jackson Pollock.

When I tired of imitation I would mumble like Bubba of Forest Gump fame, “ … frog leg, frog sandwich, frog soufflé, frog sushi, frog eye salad, caramelized frog …”

With fly boxes bulging with rubber legs and trimmed Olive deer hair, and house freshly cleaned of hair via rented leaf blower, I was beginning to feel that “well heeled” feeling, the invulnerability that comes with knowing that even if I stumbled and fell in head first, I would float to the surface in an oil slick of silicon and yellow dye.

Trophy water and private enclaves are typically a genteel sport, and despite the warm water quarry this would be no different.

The luxury of stuffing a vehicle full of every imaginable fishing necessity is foreign to us hardscrabble public water types. Wicker picnic baskets and exotic livery just get in the way of the bloodshed, yet I found myself delighting in adding every possible amenity; a float tube, chest waders, hip waders, and waist breathables. A car within a stone’s throw of the water meant four rods, four reels, a couple of room temperature hydration packs, apples, oranges, sardines, and fart bars, everything necessary to survive hostile environments, ravenous meat eating trophy bass, and with the sketchiest of intel …

Part II Tomorrow, We use worms …

Where we fiddle with worms and body armor

With the lawnmower disabled all thoughts of chores and responsibility were discarded in a hurry, and with only a scant few weeks remaining before silvery plankton eaters invade my waterways, I was intent on finishing up my spring project, rerolling the classic Texas worm rig into a fly.

Lake Berryessa being so close – and fish being visible and numerous makes for a good test bed. Clear water allows me to see the motion of the each faux rubber candidate, and visible fish allowed me to think victory as they approached – and defeat once they paused shy of eating the dang thing.

For “Dokter Frankenstein” only mass acceptance would be a surefire sign of a good design, as few tools in a bass angler’s arsenal are as consistent as a big purple jellyroll served with a side of egg sinker …

The wind was blowing a good clip on Saturday, and I’d planned on heavy flies and breeze, opting for a 10.5’ #7 Orvis I had purchased on eBAY some years back. It was a monstrous stiff rod, better suited for an #8, but was just what was needed to keep unwieldy flies from burying themselves in my hindquarters.

I opted for a Type VI sinking shooting head, as my plan was to fish the small coves that occur with regularity along the bank. As a right-handed caster I had to walk left to keep rod and line out over the water, and the cove indent allows me to cast to the other side and “walk” my “worm” down the far bank before stripping it back to me across the belly of the cove.

In these conditions you don’t have to cast far, as most of the fish are within 20 foot of the bank, getting the fly down to them fast enough is the real issue, and a real problem.

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The above picture showing a deep cove that allowed me to fish most of both sides, versus (below) a shallow cove that I could fish in a single pass down the bank.

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Mud plumes caused by wind and boat wakes keep me a bit less visible than normal, allowing me to splash around as much as needed when the bank is obstructed.

I was reminded of last week’s rib mash when I discovered the silver dollar sized hole I’d torn in the left boot when I slammed into the hillside. It was the shore-facing leg, and bothersome, but not as critical as the right boot which is planted deepest.

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Mix 15 turns of 3 amp fuse wire and 5.5mm bead to the front of a #2 wide gaped popper hook, and you’ve got the aerodynamic equivalent of the Spruce Goose, minus a few engines, and no ability to control its flight shy of the full head out of the guides to coerce the lumbering SOB away from an arse cheek.

Every puff of breeze brought an involuntary full-body clench, anticipation of impact shoved knees together, hat down to protect eyes and face, and cork grip white-knuckled knowing one of your limbs was likely in jeopardy.

I remember thinking to stuff my jacket in the rear pocket of the vest figuring it would staunch any bleeding. Arms were left defenseless as I’d be able to pry the hook out by sight, a back wound would have me operating by feel therefore needed additional protection.

While much refinement remains, the liveliness of the fly is without equal. But getting it to the water remains a bit problematic. The fish gave it a great reception, and I managed to catch both large and smallmouth on the fly in its debut.

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Five inches of tough polyester ribbon yarn make the tail portion indistinguishable to the action of a rubber worm. I just need to lighten the fly to make it more comfortable to cast. As it is now the last 20 feet of the retrieve the fly is ticking off the rocks as you draw it to you, so it is making bottom early and prone to snags.

Smallmouth430_Cray

The crayfish was a welcome change up for those coves with shallow water. The bright colors make it quite effective in the mornings, and a bit less so at midday. I used both in the morning, and stuck with the muted tones of my Olive “worm” for the bright sun of midday.

The lake is starting to show a few aggressive fish, but the main body of the lake remains docile. All the folks I talked to on the bank mentioned  the visible fish ignoring lures of any type, a condition the locals insist are characteristic of “pre-spawners.”

We’ll continue to refine this beast over the next couple of weeks prior to Shad showing, on the surface the pattern holds some promise.