Category Archives: Brownlining

Somewhere between tenkara and Hardy

It positioned me on the fringe of acceptable, but I’ve always felt comfortable there given my insistence that a hobby should cost less than a 30 year mortgage. A twenty-nine dollar fly rod and my prized,  eleven dollar “Red Rocket” reel made my ensemble cost less than fifty bucks … and at that price most of the “debutants” I was rubbing shoulders with were shunning me for not propping up my portion of the economy.

… but not before asking what fly I was using to land all them fish, naturally.

The reel was a trifle exorbitant, given that I had to buy six feet of extrudable nylon to use for the venerable “click-pawl”mechanism, and the postage from Amazon was another five, so the reel was ninety seven cents worth of powdered corn husks and six bucks worth of nylon scrim.

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As I’d always stocked my vest with non perishables should a misstep leave me stranded on a trail somewhere, knowing the reel was once plant proteins and equivalent to a Wonka Everlasting Gobstopper, I knew a broken leg meant while awaiting rescue I could gnaw on the spool for precious proteins.

Calories not withstanding, us candy-assed “technological fishermen”, with our fixation on precision engineering and expensive materials from aerospace and the military, have never really thought through the physics of what we do and the cost benefit of what we carry.

Tenkara-style fishing has adequately demonstrated a reel isn’t critical to fly fishing. For eighty percent of us, our quarry is a nine inch, pen raised, pellet eating, softie – not likely to peel line for a city block or give us more than a few head shakes before we stomp life out of it.

It shouldn’t be overly surprising that hot plastic shat via computer nozzle can construct complex shapes whose tolerances make a simple storage device with a classic drag. “Ruby Red” and “Lemon Yellow”,  won’t earn any envious glances from the parking lot throng, and may even draw a few snickers, but parking lot loyalties have always shifted to whomever is catching fish, despite their initial fixation with form and fashion.

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One of the fellows from work had printed out a prototype using Eclectic Angler’s plans, and while fluorescent green PLA was a bit hard on the eyes, the action on the reel was sound. The prototype is about the size of an LRH Lightweight (or Medalist 1494 1/2) and can hold 50-75 yards of backing and a WF-5F.

I was quite pleased with the reel and its simplicity. While reel companies fuss over titanium and composites it’s nice to return to the bare essentials – if for no other reason than to understand how  tackle has evolved into software; new features added without thought for the quarry, the physics, or the ROI.

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Considering 3D printers are flirting with the $400 price tag already, this capability is likely to be mainstream fairly soon.  While the 3D reel is not likely to replace your existing trove of tackle, I would think it a great way to introduce your kids to fishing. An old rod coupled with a new technology yielding a flashy reel may stimulate your kid into giving Dad’s pastime a try – perhaps even making a life long impression.

Where these will really shine is the casting club’s twice yearly casting classes. Marry these with a couple dozen Chinese manufactured double tapers from eBay, and you can teach the public without fear of theft or breakage.

The problem of the few is how they keep getting fewer

There’s enough latitude in “fishless fishing” to blame lack of success on a plethora of unsavory possibilities. Water too cold, fish too lethargic, too warm, too bright, drunken revelers heaving glassware, boaters heaving breakfast, or simply the flies you knew were going to work don’t … and won’t ever.

With my constant dickering with patterns my fly box differs from one week to the next. Having the right fly at the right time is the hope – but more often it’s having the right fly with the wrong action, poor sink rate, or wrong color.

The lake fish have been giggling at my expense, so I opted to sooth my battered ego on shorter water, where some of my fly tying misdeeds could be observed along with the quarry.

The culprit was easy to spot. The new Flashabou Mirage I’d added to the sides of the pattern were so gawd-awful bright as to make me blush. My minnow imitations looked stiff and the Mirage made them so blindingly apparent that everything scattered away from the flies like they’d been scalded.

The local reception was likely a mirror of what I’d been getting at the lake, but with a Type VI shooting head and extra weight, all that frantic fish scatter had been invisible to me.

There’s nothing wrong with the Flashabou Mirage material, it simply announces itself like a New Orleans harlot, something well suited for salt water or depth, but inappropriate for lake fish not yet on the prod.

Knowing the creek was entirely “thin water” and will dry up this year, I took Meat on a scout trip to see where the Winter scour had left the deep water. The Siphon hole had a new tree laying halfway through the run – and a second tree had dropped into the run below that. This would be welcome in any normal year, but instinct suggests with a drought this intense, it will shade only the occasional rattlesnake.

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I trimmed off most of the gaudiness from my test flies and was rewarded with the occasional fish. “Winter” conditions are always sparse on fish due to the flooding that occurs, and while our last quality rain was a few months ago, what fish remain are few, scattered, and small.

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Fine for us fellows intent on testing flies. Hungry visible fish are always the best option to refine experimental patterns for general use – or find out that some brilliant idea is less so, and only fish on the brink of starvation are vulnerable to your latest efforts.

Exploring what little damp remains

Tracking down “little blue lines” on a map hasn’t proved fruitful of late, given that which was once blue … is now overly warm or dried up completely.

Having come over the hill from Santa Rosa last week and skirting the edge of Lake Berryessa, I noted a lot more bank was visible, yet Putah Creek still had ample flow despite scarring from the Monticello Fire of early June.

Olives, Pomegranates, and walnuts are compelling, but I’d played the  “Domestic Goddess” for most of the last month – it was high time aprons and fruit Pectin played second fiddle to a wisp of fiberglass waved in anger.

Last year I had fished Putah Creek from above, through the UC Davis campus and south of Interstate 80, and while access was plentiful due to sprawling campus, the water was sheathed in oak woodland which alternated with brambles, thickets, plowed fields, and blackberry bushes. So parking nearby was easy – yet achieving the water without injury proved much less so …

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Wading being a mirror of the terrestrial experience – given the perils of interlocking wader-killing underwater limbs, slick clay patches, and rotting vegetation that appears firm until it isn’t.

Opaque olive water may be off-putting to the trout crowd, but it’s a welcome sight to us “frog water” aficionados that recognize a combination of tough access, obvious bouquet, and discolored water, are hallmarks of the “new Wilderness” … ignored by fishermen, scorned by dog walkers and joggers, and home to unknown fisheries and homeless encampments.

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… and while everyone else roars past oblivious to the dark line of trees hiding the creek from traffic, it’s not without its moments ..

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… and even if the bulk of its inhabitants were of the five-inch class, there were indications that an occasional resident reached larger dimensions. Naturally, they would only make an appearance when sliding across the slick clay yielded a tree branch through a wader leg – as only outright suffering makes wary fish less so.

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A point debated by my fishing buddy, whose obvious delight at basking in the sun while monopolizing the only real estate permitting a free and unfettered back cast, overcame his lust for larger fish.

After clawing my way through alders, clinging underbrush, and gingerly negotiating a homeless bunker complex, the idea of resting without peril next to the babbling brook was most attractive.

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 2: A couple of backhoes and some dampness, right?

Arnold Palmer made a handsome living designing golf courses, and were you lucky enough to get drawn for Powerball and decided not to take the kids out of school, opting instead for a moderate lifestyle replete with small wineries or something private on the lot behind the house, exactly what would it contain?

Considering a large farm complex already owns backhoes and Caterpillars and those skilled in their use, any lull in tomato growth would give you the opportunity to reposition those assets for your dream pond.

A couple thousand gallons of diesel later, and you’ve scraped a big hole in the ground, but it’s dawning on you that’s the easy part …

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Now you’ve got to decide how deep it is, how much will evaporate in a single season, do you want to fish it from shore, do you plant trees, do you want to wade it or use a float tube, and what kind of fish can it support – and how many?

I took the opportunity to interview the fellow responsible, as he was a friendly cuss and proud of his work. This was his third such project, about 1.5 miles in circumference and nearly 12 feet deep at the deepest edge.

No naturally occurring water sources, not large enough to require concrete or reinforcement, just a simple earthen dam as recipient for all the dirt carved out from behind, and a simple spillway system allowing any runoff to meander through a short natural area prior to finding the tomato canal below.

Well water fed the organic tomatoes next door, and a simple ditch dug between the closest well and the pond ensured the area could be refilled as needed (for the price of additional diesel).

With a hole in the ground and a water source you’ve got a muddy liability that in no way resembles a premier fishery, so you’ve got to add weeds, tules, trees, brush, shade, sunken timber, underwater topography, broken branches, brush piles, duck weed, milfoil, algae, grass, and everything else Mother Nature provides naturally.

… and note we’re nowhere near adding fish yet …

pond1

Everything in these pictures, every spec of growth, planted by design to provide the eventual final shade pattern for the water. Every grass bed, every tule clump, every willow seedling, and every tree bordering the periphery, hand selected for the shade it’ll provide and the stabilization it brings to the machined earthworks.

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… every finger pier constructed with its wooden chair and steps leading to the water’s edge. All of them carefully staked off at the high water mark to ensure each pier at constant height to the waterline, and every plant placed in the area chosen to stabilize the dirt walking area so wind erosion wouldn’t erode the topsoil off each bulwark.

The owner is in his eighties and losing mobility, so the design incorporates the ability to seat yourself in productive water with minimal effort. Wooden steps and hand rails allow access to the water’s edge, and seating is provided at each cleared fishing area.

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The dead timber is all staked to the bottom to hold it in place, and branches are sawed halfway through then broken to provide branch snarls in the water. Broken but not severed so they hold their position until years of decay eventually dissolves them.

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After a year or two of hard work on the banks and shade, covering the bottom in life-giving weed is child’s play. Weeds provide the dissolved oxygen in the absence of running water, yet controlling them is not so simple, given that water level, temperature, and ambient sunlight change their growth patterns seasonally.

During summer as evaporation lowers the lake and water temperatures rise, algae and weeds blossom, and quickly cover the impoundment unless treated chemically.

The proceeds of our paid trip were to assist in defraying the costs of another application of weed killer. Dispensed manually, the chemical operates only in the areas its applied, allowing you to sculpt and channelize weed beds.

Bass love to lurk and ambush, and providing the cover to predate is part of a healthy fish ecosystem.

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Wildflowers follow each earthen finger out to its seating area. The flowers anchor the topsoil to the structure as it’s prone to erosion. Each earthwork has a mixture of tules, saplings, and flowers to provide wind cover, initial anchor of soil, and then the long term benefits of reinforcing tree roots, and the wind protection offered by its canopy, and shade.

Now that banks offer cover and shade is available, and a mix of weeds line the bottom, you can introduce bugs and forage fish. Mosquito fish to control the mosquito larva and provide forage for anything larger, then Bluegill to eat those – each introduction needing permits and the blessing of Fish & Game. If you have a creek feeding it you have one set of problems, and if you have a wetlands it’s another set of triplicate. If your thing empties into someone else’s thing, it grows even worse.

… and then finally, when all of that stuff is living and thriving, when you learn the delicate dance between water, its temperature, its life-giving carpet, dissolved oxygen, shade, and tasty fish and bugs to eat, you can introduce the Quarry.

Tomorrow – Part III The part you’re salivating over, the fishing

I wasn’t the only turkey in the parking lot, just the most photogenic

american_turkey300Once fully immersed I remembered how I’d sworn to replace my neoprene waders last season.

The tiny holes I’d been unable to track down being the causal agent. That irritating hole right in the billfold area that ensured your wallet and its contents were soaked, the right foot seam that had decayed to instability and was now dampening my sock, and the mid calf fabric leak that ensured everything between wallet and sock was similarly cooled.

Those being “character” leaks, bearable yet adding just enough suffering as to be retold at the campfire each evening, and ensures the patched and weathered exterior of now-porous waders continues to grant “parking lot cred”, that which separates the seasoned angler from the novice …

… yet, it was the Unforgivable Leak that had sprung last season that had sealed this pair’s fate … that mid groin hole that soaks the crotch and extends down the left leg, ensuring you are unfit for public exhibition.

Having skipped the Trout Opener in favor of working, and this being the first wader-clad scout of the year, I was prepared to work the kinks out of my gear, my cast, and my physique, but had forgotten the all-important Vow of Newness from the prior season.

Muscle memory neatly draped the running line over the fingers of the left hand, the shooting head sang out of the guides with only two roll casts and a single back cast, and what little rust that accumulated from seven months of enforced Shad idleness was quickly dispelled. I was feeling the kind of optimism that only a new fish and a new season can bring – unseemingly effervescent yet rooted to Earth by the spreading chill in my pants leg.

My optimism rewarded by the sudden tightening of the line on the swing, and the rod dipped abruptly and reel started its siren’s wail I figured this might be one of those rare nexuses of good fortune I’d alluded to with my earlier karma of bruised ribs and torn waders.

The unyielding mass suggested otherwise, however. Rather than dozens of voracious Shad skewered on a single hook – it was the beginning of my “American River Around the World”, wherein the aspiring angler attempts to catch one of each of the sodden clothing categories; Shirt, Pants, Hat, Swim trunks, or Other (unidentifiable).

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This trophy was a 39 inch length of Other, possibly of the picnic tablecloth genus. It fought well, yet was not overly acrobatic. I added hat and tee shirt shortly thereafter, but of Shad there were none.

… but Iron Crosses grew everywhere … and as the next swing tightened it snagged something heavy by the arse, and as the reel started giving line it’s telltale screech drew a gaggle of morning dog walkers to the bank to witness my struggle with one of the American River’s Golden Salmon.

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“Golden Salmon” being the brown water label for Sacramento Sucker, and this fellow was about seven or eight pounds and most welcome. It was considerably more festive than the earlier struggle with the Tablecloth, and granted enormous “street cred” with the crowd behind.

They couldn’t see the shad fly buried in the fish’s arse that lent it “wings” (the reddish object in the belly shown above).

Naturally, I did my best to explain to the crowd of well wishers that it was both toothy and venomous, and how I’d saved the neighborhood – or at least its pets and small children …

But the best was yet to come …

Now that I’m a cause celebre’ I’m accompanied back to the parking lot by a vigorous crowd, and was stunned that my sedate little parking area had mushroomed into the headquarters for a “family 5K run.”

… which means I have to disrobe in front of a cast of thousands, and my newfound compatriots are suddenly arm’s distant as it appears I’ve peed myself …

I was acrobatic in my flight from the area … much to the giggles of the kiddies.

Chill and with a hint of Stank

Some would call it the predatory nature of fisherman, sifting through  bank side debris analyzing clues left by Nature, or flung objects from the road above, all mixed with the discards from Mankind’s passion with the out-of-doors.

If fishermen are involved we’re certain to be considered a flinty-eyed predatory lot, able to tell genus and species by a partial track in the mud. The reality is more pedestrian, our examination of the bank merely a defensive mechanism ensuring our footing is sound … we know what the water contains and are reluctant to get any on us.

The ratio of crushed beer cans versus broken beer bottles suggested Carp and Catfish responsible for the empty packs of #4 and #6 bait hooks, amid the mashed creamed corn cans and charred remnants of 12-pack cardboard. Outnumbering all else, however, was “mystery fish” bait; earthworm cartons, partially submerged or fluttering gaily amid the blackberry bramble, and legion in number …

From the bridge above, I’d watched the lawn chair crowd bundled for warmth and intent in their fishing. I was hoping someone would get lucky and I’d be able to positively ID my quarry. Anything capable of luring sober men from the warmth of bed, whose rarified palate warrnts the plastic game bucket that accompanied each angler,  must be quite a fish.

Murk water neither looks nor smells pleasant, and any fish removed from same has to have a table quality approaching Godly to overcome its oily origin.

… three feet of leader and a bobber, hurled into the center of the watercourse to trail weightless in the current. Panfish came to mind, but without visual confirmation I was left scratching my head as to the Main Event.

The upstream landowner had attempted to domesticate the flow of anglers by playing the environmental card, “Habitat Restoration” featured prominently on tree trunks, but all he’d accomplished was ensure the broken toilets and piles of lathe and plaster stayed in the makeshift parking lot, instead of littering the bank enroute to the creek.

Blackberry bushes are far more effective a barrier than appealing to a sportsman’s sense of honor, as the opportunistic horde doesn’t appear interested in making a sordid little creek less so. The broken concrete rip rap, sunken cars, and tangle of railroad trestle ties dominate the structure in mid-current, giving the earth worm cartons something to flow around enroute to the Sacramento proper.

It’s an outdoorsy trait, with us “sports” caring for the environment, but never caring enough to return to the car with what we brought, leaving a trail of shot shells and forgotten leader dispensers like a plasticine slug trail in our wake.

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Mornings are cold and brisk, and while I loiter for additional clues and keep an eye on the competition, I’m following the Army Corp of Engineers flood control dikes and the murky water they hold in check, hoping to find some overlooked and unloved spot that eat the finish off the fly line, and hasn’t been swathed in discarded plastic.

Most of the fields are dry and the canals that feed them contain very little water. Only those farmers that sublet their fields to duck hunters or hunt themselves have standing water.

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In turn, those same blinds provide us with “white water” which is a mixture of foam accumulation and aeration, giving the illusion that amid the discarded tires and rusting farm implements, something worth eating may prowl opportunistically …

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We’ve lost plenty of flies and found much of interest, but we’ve seen no visible fish activity and caught only Mistletoe. I assumed that to be a subtle message from Them As Lives Below, suggesting I kiss something of theirs … less clean.

Above is one of a dozen different flies I’m testing. Nothing worth naming, but the idea of a scented “Rattlin’ Salmon Egg” causing the magazine censors a bit of apoplexy warms me greatly …

The lack of water allowing us to see clearly

Outside of amusement for me, the purpose of all these unloved and untrammelled canals is to move water away from its natural drainage and force it into the dry portions of the Central Valley floor. With California’s lust for water intensive crops like rice and tomatoes, nearly every rivulet draining the coast range has been rerouted and reused many times over.

… which explains its gray-brown opaqueness.

Yet with the past couple of posts and the research we’ve undertaken on fish behavior and senses, there is still a bit more we can learn from our adversary that may maximize our ability to fish this unloved taint.

There are two basic types of waterways on the valley floor, man-made and “man-enhanced.”

“Man-Made” is self explanatory, someone takes a backhoe through the rich loam and flushes water through the scratch that results. “Man-enhanced” being something that started naturally, like a drainage or depression, and was augmented by a back hoe to make a larger waterway capable of greater capacity.

Some are lined with plastic membrane and the rest are not. The plastic prevents absorption of the water as it travels, and assists in slowing the gradual collapse of the banks into the main channel. This being a land without rock, nothing holds its shape for long.

Both types require periodic dredging to remain useful, the difference being the duration between backhoe visitations.

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The above is an unlined trench. Note the flat and featureless bottom. The cement structure drains the canal back into the owning waterway, whereas the dry fork leads to the golf course further downstream.

Examining the bank in the above photo we can see that the water level never exceeds 18” – which is the distance up the sides the water has scrubbed the ground clean of foliage. If we were looking into the water from the bank above we’d be unable to tell how deep it was, and therefore might spend time fishing it thinking it deep enough to support fish.

I had reconnoitered this structure before thinking it might also serve as a natural Crayfish trap once the summer flows recede, but the few claws that I found suggested the surrounding shallow water is essentially lifeless.

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Another shot further upstream. A featureless flat mud bottom that is slowly filling in with bank erosion and the sediment burden the water carries.

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This small ditch is about 12 feet wide and at the moment is about 6 inches deep. It’s about half the size of our golf course trench above, is about the same depth when full, yet is home to fish in the 15” –16” inch range.

… that’s visually confirmed fish, including two corpses in the weed pile removed from the grating below. Naturally they’re fish that you’d as soon drive past enroute to someplace cleaner, but “cleaner” is closed until April, and this is free and will keep you false casts and wind knots year round.

I’m standing where the water is pulled into a wastewater treatment facility, so the source of why fish live here is obviously at the other end. The Sacramento river is the closest natural waterway, and about three miles distant, and if the two connect that would be the source of my fish.

In between waiting on the UPS driver for the odds and ends I’ve ordered to properly exploit the watershed, I’ll focus on what tidbits of knowledge I’ve gleaned …

The water is shallow and the bottom is muddy and flat.

Any cover that holds fish will be organic and likely visible from above, as constant dredging removes anything more substantial.

Flies should be lightly weighted and should vibrate or rattle when pulled through the water …

… and scent is a plus yet not a priority.

My quarry is likely anything wearing feelers, as well as the omnivores like Suckers and Pikeminnow, things that grow big on brown water food groups, decayed goat, Lawnmower and the occasional mayfly.

Why you’re a prick if you fish a Copper John

Considering that Science is a stale read, I livened up my research by poring over pages of BASS forum datum, searching for “cable guy” wisdom on the use of scent on baits.

BASS fiends are more fun than fly fishermen, but only because they have so many more hang-ups (and such thin skins) …

Mention to a fly fisherman that he “coaches soccer,” and you get that screwed up face suggesting the joke was lost on him, whereas the bass crowd is already climbing over the bar intent on your arse …

In short, science suggests scent in fish is somewhat synonymous with taste, and it makes perfect sense. In humans scent is particulate matter mixed with air, and taste is particulate matter dissolved in spittle. Each sense being chemically discrete and can be experienced without the data intruding from one to the other.

Fish “smell” particles dissolved in water and their “taste” is the same medium, so the two senses have overlap.

The physics of water and scent is reasonably obvious. The rush of water downstream carries scent and forms a plume from the source of the dissolved solid. Lake water has much less of a current and therefore the scent area is a slowly widening circle from the source of the particulate.

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Naturally my slow moving ditch water has neither appreciable current nor is it completely stagnant, so the chemical trail of any bait tossed within its banks will be slow in spreading.

That’s the good news.

Science drops the bombshell by suggesting polluted waters affect smell drastically, and even fish exposed in migration can suffer many weeks of scent impairment. Among the most drastic pollutants are metals, heavy or otherwise.

The worst of the worst being copper, which should send a cold chill up any fisherman’s spine …

Copper is most frequently deployed as an algaecide or fungicide. Significant amounts of copper in the water column result from farm field runoff from crops that are water intensive like rice or tomatoes.

As we’re discussing those drainage ditches that bisect California’s Central Valley, we know that copper is deployed wherever there is rice fields, which comprises about half the state.

Naturally its the Northern half – which means all that copper is in the Sacramento, and pushed down to Southern California via the aqueduct, and spat into San Francisco Bay after permeating the Delta.

Copper is apparently linked to the decline of California’s Coho salmon population given its ability to destroy taste and smell in salmonids, making them unable to detect waterborne predators like Pike minnow, Otters, and everything else the southern water districts conjure up as a Jihadist of salmon.

So while you’re buying all that antimony because you can no longer bear to throw lead into the creek, consider your use of copper wire ribbing and how many fish are bumping into things because of your errant back casts and the rusting Copper John’s left in your wake.

Even worse is how Copper is being used to mitigate Didymo … and in so doing, will play havoc on everything downstream.

The Bass crowd are adamant on the merits of Anise, Garlic, Eau D’ Earthworm, Shrimp, Shad, Herring, and Crawfish. Naturally, they don’t spend a lot of time offering science to back up their assertion that Bass adore Garlic, but they can claim it makes their own hammy hands smell less like human.

… and fish hate human … along with tobacco, urine, bubblegum and a smoking fry pan …

In short, scent is among the senses used to detect prey, as bugs and minnows, crayfish and frogs, all have a chemical plume downstream of them, assisting a fish in opaque water to located them by following that plume upstream to its source.

Polluted water means fish can smell less, but as murk water is a fly fisherman’s Achilles Heel, cannot be ignored as a source of attraction.

Bass anglers mention that both aerosol and liquid scents seem to wash off faster than the “sticky jelly” variant, so it sounds like we’ll be getting our hands dirty …

Where “Teddy” becomes “Gordo”

Every angler vows to hone their skills in Winter so they won’t miss a beat come Spring, but practicing at the pond is less exciting than imagined, and as cold as Winter can be, only those with a yen for multiple species find the conviction to brave icy water.

I know, only because I have to convince myself to fish in the murk water in the best of times, and when conditions are less than odiferous optimal, even chores look attractive by comparison.

With midday temperatures a bit higher than freezing, I spent more time looking than casting, but as daunting as my task appeared I know I have considerable more of this …

bridge420

… than clean water.

These many hundreds of miles of despoiled opaque water hold plenty of fish, but requires we face the Demons of the Sport, something no self respecting fly fisherman will do when there are lawns to mow – or less troubled spots to fish.

We all know fly fishing has three horrible weaknesses; we can’t sink stuff fast enough, we can’t attract stuff that can’t see the bug, and we have plenty of fellows that insist anyone attempting the other two is a spin fisherman and should be shunned.

Being comfortable with the “Bull in A China Shop” role, I think the “Teddy Gordon” role is about played out, and most of the frontiers left in our sport involve one of the three above.

Fortunately all them tea-guzzling Orvis types bought into the bead-head phenomenon, so we were able to slip brass and tungsten by them without ruining their sport too much, even if they are as dangerous to us as they are to the fish when hurled with a six-weight …

… and while our flies sink a bit better than the fuse wire variant, our offerings neither stink nor rattle, so they don’t enjoy much murk water success.

I’ve got spinner blades and rattles and have broken faith with the rest of the crowd with my absorbent cotton chenille, “super sinking stink flies,” destined to mine the fetid ooze with as much gusto as an AuSable Wulff dances through the riffle water …

“What I done this Winter” is likely to be murk water heresy, so it may be time to avert your eyes.