Category Archives: Brownlining

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 …


… 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.

Rumors of scarcity were overblown someone else exerted a prior claim

Having just finished the National Wildlife Federation’s report on global warming, and how half of our cold water fisheries will vanish in the next eighty years, I was content that the conservation issue was destined to be hot topic for the next several decades.

If it matters, I vote for smallmouth bass as the neo-nobility …

At the same time I was equally determined to find out why my lukewarm fishery was chosen to be extincted in the next eighty minutes, and without benefit of additional discussion.

So I checked the upper river …


Plenty of water, nothing appears amiss other than the constant roar of gunfire from the morning’s dove hunt. Both doves and I were content to stay on the edge of the highway and watch – while hunters blasted jays, sparrows, and starlings, as they were all “gray” and sporting a long tail, and therefore fair game.

Then I checked the park area, two miles below the dam and some 25 miles further downstream …


… and even that was lipping full of water, fish, fellow anglers, and even cormorants.

Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize I’ve been victimized by canal diversion, rather than any drought related reduced dam flow. The water is diverted below the dam, sent through assorted farms, rice fields, golf courses, and tomato fields, then restored to the channel about five miles below the newly dewatered Dead Zone…

The same zone that used to hold all the really big fish and deep water, and now holds only big rocks and deep dust.

… and explains why repeated exposure to the water downstream makes me want to scratch body parts. It’s likely to have been treated with fertilizers, anti-fungal agents, and warmed to lethal temperatures as it drains all that boron, selenium and arsenic out of your organic veggies and into that dogleg Par 5, behind the club house.

If a Big Mac and fries is characterized by the sudden blockage and subsequent fatal aneurism, my health-conscious salad having been strained through a couple of fairways and a tomato plot suggests my doctor is advocating a slow, Zombie-esque  demise.

Which isn’t the re-invigoration he describes will result from distancing myself from the fatty and caloric, but with all the maladies I’ll be contracting from local lettuce it’s likely to make his remaining years Golden as Hell …

Never as compelling as Broccoli Dip

That casual dinner conversation where you were introduced as … “likes to fish”,  which you hastily amended to “likes to fly fish”, given how you felt it necessary to separate yourself from the lawn chair crowd …

You knew how odd your pastime was going to sound to the uninitiated, as you’d explained the attraction many times, and as the passion rose in your voice and the crowd began to edge away, you realized how weird and unfathomable standing in cold water willingly must sound.

Especially when you added the mating rituals of bugs and how you have to scrub your prophylactic breathable condom so you can contain its contagion to the current watershed and none other  …

Sure they looked at you funny, mostly because you lost them at “eighty dollar chicken hackle” … and they started to backpedal when you sprayed spit discussing the Southern California water lobby, and when they heard you spend a thousand dollars on a fishing rod, realized the hostess’s Broccoli Dip was exceptional – and how they’d better get more before it simply vanished …

Now the Worm turns, and I put you in their shoes, offering three simple pictures to you, the uninitiated, to illustrate their plight …


Behold the grandeur that is California’s Central Valley, the eleventh largest economy in the World, producer of a third of all produce served in the United States. I call it home (of a sort) fish every unloved brown rivulet it contains, and is a world completely foreign to the rest of you “fly fishermen.”

Above, behold tomatoes …


Sunflowers …


… and alfalfa …

Imagine yourself whizzing by enroute to some high dollar, high elevation venue featuring noble salmonids, greasy roadside breakfast fare, Spartan camping, and containing real dirt and frequented by real wild animals. This is the rich adventure worthy of holding the office crowd spellbound at Monday’s coffeepot recital …

Assume there’s more to those pictures than meets the eye, and as you shuffle your Chardonnay from one hand to the other, consider they might contain a world of information known only to us sweaty fat guys whose footprints soil these sordid watersheds …

The question: From the above, What can you tell me of the local fishing, and should you suit up (assuming your car broke down) and go fishing ?

Like your audience struggled when you mentioned denuding rare songbirds, and letting all your catch go – now you can take a few strides in their shoes.

Assuming it’s going to 103 by afternoon, and we’re showing you pictures of aquatic insects and discussing mating habits of their winged variant, what can you tell me of the below snapshots?


Sunflowers again, no beehives and the rows of males mown to remove them from the harvestable females …


More tomatoes, whose leafy greens are turning to rust …


… and almonds.

Question: With this new three, and armed with a brief treatise on Latin, and still smarting from the mating habits of bugs and the thousand dollar “buggy whip”, (doesn’t our hostess’s Broccoli dip looks so much more inviting?)  what about the fishing now – and why now versus earlier?

Simple. Water.

In the first three, the diversion ditches are lipping full due to the pumps drawing from either groundwater or the river, most everything else is being siphoned into canals to feed distant and dry land, and the river is a memory as its gone due to irrigation. If it’s 103 out the river is lifeless as it doesn’t contain enough water, is hellish warm and the fish are alternating lethargic or panting.

In the second three, the water has been turned off to allow crops to ripen for market. The female sunflowers will dry completely in place, the tomato fields are turning rust-colored due to the shrinking foliage and exposure of ripening red tomatoes, and the irrigation sprinklers have been pulled from the almond orchards, with no trace of their passing.

The diversion ditches are bone dry, the pumps are silent, and the river is full of lukewarm water and fish with roman noses possessing great appetites for flies. The 103 degree temperatures are shrugged off as there’s ample depth of water to absorb the heat without it removing the oxygen.

… and in pausing for breath I note the queue at the dip bowl and the nervous glances of those just out of earshot …

The reality as soiled and sweaty as the waters I fish

Any thoughts as to the nature of my silence, and whether it involves hordes of fish, secret fly patterns held from your gaze, and hidden shad streams teeming with hungry fish – are pure fantasy. 


Instead, for the last couple of weekends I’ve put those precious fly tying fingers in Harm’s Way, extricating a couple hundred pounds of tree stump from my backyard.

While the Secret Shad stream has a ring to it, the run has fizzled out bringing an abrupt end to my forays into semi-clean water. While the debris and cast off underwear remain fairly constant between the urban watershed and the brown water I frequent, I’ve noticed that “relatively clean” means the package of Pampers strewn on the bank was never used …

The brown watersheds aren’t quite so lucky, and understandably less photogenic.

But the welcoming stench of decay means there’s no respite from summer’s heat, as the creek isn’t siphoned from the icy bottom of a larger lake, and the most you can hope for is trodding over hot and radiant enroute to something tepid and deeper, whose occupants cling to concealing shadow.

This is a bit more surgical than flinging a shad fly and hoping for the Eat, and the dozen flies I left in overhanging brush were blamed on shovels and callouses, and how paying someone a couple of decades younger might have been the better idea.

With tree nearly extracted I opt to play possum with eager and hungry gangs of Pikeminnow – which pounce on anything that breaks the surface, and interfere with my getting the fly past them and into the dark shadows that hold the big smallmouth.


With temperatures hovering around the century mark we’re back to water packs and dried fruit even on the early trips, as ample hydration and sugar keeps the feet nimble when giving the local rattlesnakes a wide berth.


… and amid all those lost flies and small fish strikes, you occasionally pry something out from the downed timber that makes the epoxy creak in protest.

Making them steely stump-honed muscles just what’s needed to subdue the locals and their lust for stutter-stepping Olive Marabou.

Snakes, why does it always have to be snakes …

King Solomon’s mines were no different, immense wealth hidden away by inclement terrain, protected by idol worshiping cannibals and unspeakable terrors, whose existence was part fact and part fable.

I’m thinking along these lines as I hear the Yolo County flood control officer tell me of the Central Valley’s “lost trout stream”, whose canyon a narrow scratch through waist-high tick-laden scrub, flanked by impenetrable sheets of rock whose reflective capabilities amplify the stifling heat, whose trail-less slopes offer unsteady footing for deer and the most practiced outdoorsman.

… that being the Good News …

… and while this self-same official confesses they don’t fish, they are adamant they took a family member there who caught trout just prior to being chased from the ravine by hordes of Rattlesnakes unleashed by enraged Buddhists.

Buddhists, why does it always have to be Buddhists

The thought of a splinter cell of camo-clad Buddhists gives me pause -what with Karma being the kissing cousin of an Angler’s Luck, something even the most rational, level-headed, and scientific angler will tell you is something never to trifle with

… and while I might scoff at private property, barbed wire, and enraged land owners packing weaponry, the notion of being luck-less with rod in hand suggests throwing streamers at a balky lawnmower might be as rewarding.

rattlesnake_creekThen there was that bothersome “infested” word she used, “… the canyon is infested with rattlesnakes …”

Which doubled my enthusiasm given that how many and how big the trout were is always proportional to the danger present, and as only headhunting cannibals can rival angry Buddhists, ticks, and snakes snapping at every exposed extremity,  means I’ve stumbled on the Lost Dutchman – the Flying Dutchman, and Noah’s Ark – all captured on the greasy folds of a hastily narrated paper map.

Given that John Muir gave no hint, Audubon was afraid to commit an image to paper, and Father Serra crossed himself and returned to the coast, the trout are likely both wild and lonesome,  especially so given their remote location and inclement surroundings. Quite possibly they’ve given up insects all together – relying on a diet of rock-scalded rabbit and white rice, perhaps even bits of human flesh, as no one that has seen the creek returned alive … except the Yolo County Flood Control employee, and since she don’t fish can’t be considered people

Committing all those directions to a hamburger wrapper and retracing that tortuous path in 4-wheel low, resulted in one long distance glimpse of my quarry from the ridgeline above. I was warned that it was too early to fish as it is still discolored by Spring runoff and three times its traditional flow.

I dubbed it Rattlesnake Creek, and while I can surely make it down without loss of life, getting back up is liable to be hellish – not to mention all those skinned extremities from rock hopping down the narrow canyon, or passing out from the heat while attempting to add waders, vests, and tackle to the mix.

rattlesnake_swim_good… and if to make matters worse, as I stood in mid current framing a potential scenario where I might attempt the outing alone (as my fishing pals are unadventurous and complete pussies ), I had one of the rattlers that infest my Little Stinking swim up and attempt to share my waders. A reminder that they swim just fine – and even perched on a rock in midstream safety would still be an issue.

But only because Rattlesnake Creek is a trout stream, if it was full of Smallmouth, them snakes would fear the water more than my ponderous tread ..

… if it was full of Smallmouth, I’d be scared to go too …

You won’t find this at the Fly Fishing Film Tour, and with good reason

I was thinking it was one of many hundreds of reasons why fishing in agricultural waste is superior to its rarified blue water cousin …

Outside of the obvious, how there’s plenty of brown and damn little blue, how brown is close and blue far, brown being cheap and blue expensive, and how blue water fans scrub their boots and waders out of fear for the environment, and we scrub anything wet for fear of what we’ll introduce to our garage …

… and while the Blue water crowd pouts at water bottles and the isolated candy wrapper, us brown water types “dumpster dive” the high water mark for West Hollywood Classics, knowing even our litter is dirtier than the trout stream equivalent.


Which is a comfort for a fishermen out on a morning he knows to be too cold, in a river swept clean of fish, with more miles of carrying the fishing rod versus using it.

Nothing like coming home to a warm fire and the questionable embrace of “Super Naturals” – featuring a bevy of round-bottomed Valkyrie, each bursting with … ample … uhm … stuff.

No, I’m not going to link to the site – it’s liable to BLIND the dry fly purists.

… and the New Year is like the Old Year, only dirtier …

It was our love of Frappachino that likely proved our undoing …

While engaged in another heated discussion on where to fish this weekend, I mentioned that I had produced some out-of-the-way spots that all had appreciated – and perhaps it was their turn (being natives to the area) to show me some of the watering holes known only to the hardened local fishermen, those willing to trade a little sweat-equity to scramble furthest from the beaten path …

… and all I got were blank looks and how’d they’d rather pay then walk. Coughing up twenty or forty bucks to lounge on the bank of some hatchery embankment isn’t liable to put the bark on anything.

… which is their way of saying that “bark” ain’t what it once was …

As I watch the Oft-Crapping-Pooch snarl menacing at darkened underbrush, I am reminded there are fishermen in the older “Pioneer” vein, and there are those that claim the heritage, but lack the urgency to blaze trail, preferring to wait until there is a taco truck in the parking lot or neon sign pointing at the Really Good Fishing.

Which is not a condemnation of the current Outdoorsman, rather it’s my observation of the perils of continuing gentrification, evolution of the species to a higher order and calling.

Little Meat and I delight in braving thorns and barbed wire, thumbing our nose at “No Trespassing” signs, medical waste, law enforcement, and illegal agricultural chemical dumps, but only because we know the Really Good Fishing isn’t some pristine stream or icy blue lake, rather it’ll be some overlooked freeway off ramp graced by some fetid trickle and punctuated with rotting couches.

… and a Happy New Millennium to you too …

The Undiscovered Continents of our youth no longer exist, most have been uber-marketed to guys with a taste for mortgage debt and umbrella drinks, which used them shamelessly. Many are already decline, some gentle and some precipitous.

The Outdoorsy-types that follow in our footsteps will have to embrace the sprawl of the rural-urban interface, and find their sport where others fear to look or tread.

For the observant angler, evidence is everywhere

Unspoiled isn’t in the urban dictionary, rather the best fishing will be limited to those spots impossible to reach, smellier than most, sports a homeless encampment, or patrolled by law enforcement, everything else being  exploited by the urbane “glamper” crowd.

Anglers will have to hone skills tainted by exposure to the Pristine, as the clues that line the banks of your rapidly-warming, icy trout stream are not shared by the valley floor.

Empty Pautzke’s jars, the whitened carapace of Styrofoam worm containers, the snarl of tippet caught in the underbrush, and omnipresent energy drink containers, all give testimony to quality fishing in trout country.

But the Rural-Urban Interface lacks these tell-tale clues, and those seeking the best fishing must be able to read “sign” – the litany of naturally occurring floating debris that a man-made water flow leaves in its wake.

Above is the rotting corpse of a 15” sucker – which you would have missed except for the skinless tennis ball that caught your eye …

… and while you mentally wondered which court was upstream and whether it was an unruly forehand lob or simply a bad serve that sent “Mr. Wilson” into the creek, that dead fish proves Fish Live Here.

ThinBrownLine on a Map

“Here” being another unloved thin brown line on your freeway map, likely not having seen an angler in two or three decades.


Likewise for this nameless little depression, now swollen with rain water and agricultural runoff, and in need of a thorough working over with a sink tip and some flies that push a lot of water.

I know how these warm water, dirty venues cause the Frappachino Fisherman to blanch, but in 2013 and beyond, riffle water will come in many shapes and sizes, and the only truly important thing is that it imparts lots of oxygen into the flow – ensuring the environment is capable of supporting the “clean” bugs like stoneflies and their ilk …

I got your riffle water right here, Mr Bead Head

… the valley version of riffle being about four feet long – and a mile wide.

Wonder what lives here …

One thing is certain however, I’m done sharing with pals, as these unloved gems that I’m visiting can only support a rarified few – those willing to suffer scorn and fingerpointing, those few stalwarts that recognize adding chocolate to coffee is the first in a long line of genteel sins leading to soft couches, saran-wrapped trophies, and the stern admonition of their physician.

We aren’t as svelte as all that – nor is this Colorado

As soon as I mentioned the waves of famished fish eagerly casting themselves in the path of anything Olive, I knew I’d overstepped the boundaries of both physics or logic and brought unwanted voodoo magic into the mix.

Fishing being a simple exercise in Chaos theory most days, but if you promise anyone anything about the day in advance of the reality, you’ve hexed yourself completely, and Einstein and all his theories no longer matter.

And we fall for this ritual time and time again, simply because most of the retelling is done Monday at work – and any sharp pain as the pin is passed through the doll is assumed to be lunchtime gas or that second donut …

… so we delight in stretching truth or predicting how well we’d do if we all skipped work – and the curse wears off by the subsequent weekend, with us none the wiser to all that dark evil we’ve conjured.

Travel Writer makes like Colorado only more squeamish Naturally, I mention to TravelWriter how me and his Dog, which is no longer his Dog as it ignores him completely, have been faring and how he might want to hone his skills on some aggressively eating fish – and I have to listen to how much better the guides were as they rowed him through most of Colorado, versus the fart bar and lukewarm bottled water I’m serving on my stinky little creek …

And if that’s not enough he adds insult to injury by snapping my profile – which suggests the 26 pounds of lard I’ve removed from my frame through Herculean husbanding of calories, would be best served by another 26 pounds of lard yet to go …

Neither lean nor svelte, just overhang

Note my ever-present shadow, rooted to my side in case I need to be defended against hamburgers, whose recent discovery that not every home insists on dry kibble, where weekends can be woodsy adventure versus shackled to the garage, and in better homes Taco Bell is served on fine china even …

… and while fishing was off compared to the last couple of outings, we still got bit regular, just not regular enough to make the occasion memorable enough to brag come Monday morning.

Outside of swarms of small Pikeminnow on #20 dries, whose unwelcome hex will have been voided by my next visit to the creek.

While much has been made about all the fish we released, it’s what we kept that makes all this exercise worth while.

Fat of the Land

Me and Dogbert played along until our fellow angler turned his back and we made off with a goodly assortment of plunder. Walnuts, pears, persimmons, and fresh chard lend precious vitamins to any meal, especially the greasy, leaden variety I’d promised to preserve canine loyalties.

Brown water conservation, rags to riches in a single season

My mysterious benefactor appears to be the apron work on the bridge upstream. The source of thousands of fish my little creek is suddenly burdened with – as well as why it’s still flowing in October when it should’ve dried up in July.

It's a dog's life, especially in the front seatIt’s a sudden embarrassment of riches, hundreds of fish in every pool, visible largemouth bass – when they’ve always been a rarity, and oodles of hyper-aggressive Orange finned Bull Trout outracing both Bluegill and Smallmouth to the fly.

Sophistication is a hint of sparkle with a marabou tail – a recipe befitting a hundred fish day, assuming you don’t mind most being six inches or smaller.

Given the creek was barren in the Spring, and with only four fish counted in as many miles and I’m thinking the hell with trout fishing, where a couple of degrees temperature or a few milliliters of toxin denudes most of a watershed.

If we ever stopped to add the millions spent in care and feeding, all the  restorative spawning gravel planted, alder and willows to shore sagging banks, and substrate that can’t abide the press of an angler’s feet. Parking lots and paved roads, flush toilets, guides and drift boats, fancy flies and gossamer tippets – and all for a fish that’s mostly shat from a pipe after being fed Twinkies …

Hard to believe I ever doubted this creek’s survival, given its history of tomato tailings and fertilizer. Seeing this plethora of gamefish in a single season makes a fellow eager to spend his precious conservation dollars on a fishery showcasing hardy warm water species, that welcomes invasives, can tolerate a couple degrees of temperature increase, and can live off a diet of benthic scum and crushed water bottles.

Agressive as hell and expects no quarter 

Us fly fishermen have backed a freshwater loser these last couple of centuries, and the knowing is suddenly tough for me to swallow …

Pikeminnow Unlimited wouldn’t need yearly dues nor memberships, unless we opted for starched uniforms and well dressed lobbyists serving aged Cubans and Homarus Americanus to uncaring politicians.

… nor would I care much for what your soles were made of – as most of the locals know, it’s what’s on them that matters most.

The Cyprinid Finger, How Stupid Big Fish continue to ignore me

There’s a point where swear words are completely ineffectual and only  snagging can express your true feelings for a balky adversary. With small fish it’s the thrown rock that creeps unbidden into your psyche – but with the big brute measured in kilos, only a large treble can restore lost honor.

Watch my latest offering pass unmolested

While most of you have some small traces of scruples, I do not.

I spent the early part of Sunday hidden in the tules lining the bank making casts to large, fat, fish in excess of 15 lbs. After failing to even make a fish pause, I ransacked my collection of itty-bitty flies for a 4/0, and finding none – mentally calculated whether it was possible to construct the equivalent with dried grass and a couple hundred #8’s …

It was something primeval … old school, and had nothing to do with conservation. I’d release it after I was done, but only after hitting it a few more times with a rock.

So much for the carp fishing, I matched wits with them yet again and came up fishless.

I moved further up and did quite well, hooking and long-lining a nice smallmouth, and landing the first big fish of the season -  a super aggressive Pikeminnow with a taste for his master’s boot …

Some shreds of composure returning, by my standards, you see it as further depravity

… and we caught the rare “Orange Finned Bull Trout”- popular among those that fancy adipose fin photography …

The Orange Finned Bull Trout

Especially popular amongst the unfortunate anglers whose primary quarry gave him the Cyprinid Finger, despite pockets full of test flies and sure things.

Note: I’ll be doing extensive work related travel between now and Christmas, so posting will be shortened and brief, and only part of each week. This gives you a welcome breather – and allows me a bit of time off from the relentless invention of news that you would as soon do without.