Category Archives: Fly Fishing

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

My Carbon footprint is more a muddy boot track

After spending the morning listening to the throaty bellow of twin Evinrudes echo off canyon walls, and admiring the resultant rooster tail that accompanied each watercraft’s emergence from the launch area, I’m thinking the average boat wielding Bass fiend may be a victim of his own mobility.

I’m perched precariously on a 30% slope carefully fan-casting to anything I can reach, and the flotilla of corvettes and beer barges pause just long enough for a couple of casts before mashing gas pedal and disappearing to greener pastures.

I can’t blame them for enjoying the adrenalin rush, nor the wind in their hair, I just think them a bit giddy knowing all that watery real estate has neither crosswalks nor stoplights, and there’s nothing quite like announcing your presence with authority.


Lake Berryessa is only a scant twenty minutes distant, allowing me to swing by periodically to see whether the Bass are on their beds and burble some poppers to see if the top water bite has started.

While the pitch of the exposed bank can be hell on ankles, the lake was is excellent shape given the drought, with only 30 feet of bank above the waterline. You can walk around the margin pitching flies into the shallows pretty effectively, so long as you walk in the direction that keeps your casting shoulder pointed towards the water. That keeps leader and flies out over the water instead of bouncing off bankside rocks and brush.

All the little coves and depressions along the shore line give you ample opportunity to fish, with one side invariably shaded and others featuring weeds or the occasional downed tree. I wear a pair of lug-soled hip waders to give me a bit more range of motion, as I can stand in the water where it’s flat, and provides a bit of separation from the bank ensuring you keep the fly over fish, instead of scrambling around unhooking it from accumulated brush and rocks.

The Bass are most certainly on their beds, but appear more intent on mating than eating, so it appears a trifle early yet.


The above shot shows a smallish (2 lb) fish and her beau hovering just off the bank on the bed. I trundled a crawdad imitation past the pair without them acknowledging me or the fly. The larger fish is around six pounds, and was worthy of nervous lip chewing on my part. (I am unable to determine sex reliably, but I marked them with a best guess based on observation of behavior.)

As today is the start of a general warming trend, I’d suspect the coming weeks hold potential for some spectacular fishing.


I did manage to find a few fish early, before the boats starting rocketing about and while shade dominated the coves …


All of the fish had a weakness for my ribbon yarn Crayfish (#2), built with a fistful of long fiber iridescent cactus chenille that I dyed for shad flies, married up with a generous dollop of ribbon yarn and rubber legs.


A pair of large black bead chain eyes mounted in the tail position ensure the fly sinks dramatically, which is useful when fishing the deep water that a canyon lake presents. A simple pattern that take about the same amount of time to lose as to tie, ensuring the handful lost in fish and brush are not overly missed.

Felt soles and Dirty Feet exonerated of Didymo bloom, say it ain’t so …

feltsoleThere’s new evidence published today that’ll have the fishing community in a tizzy, given their common belief that unclean anglers and felt soles are the root cause of the intercontinental spread of Didymo.

The article, “The Didymo story: the role of low dissolved phosphorus in the formation of Didymosphenia geminata blooms,” cites research done in both Canada and New Zealand (by their respective governments) that suggests anglers have little to do with Didymo blooms.


Specifically, it mentions the linkage between our feet and the spread of Didymo bloom has proven less of an issue since the original indictment, “On the Boots of Fisherman” was published in 2009.

“The analysis of these data entitled, ‘On the Boots of Fishermen: a History of Didymo Blooms on Vancouver Island, BC’ was published in Fisheries (Bothwell et al. 2009), with the statement:

….all of the evidence suggesting that recreational fishermen
have played a role in the movement of Didymo regionally
and globally is circumstantial.

Nevertheless, the publication was widely accepted as an
important step in initiating management actions aimed at
controlling the spread of aquatic invasive species. Yet,
the explanation for the spatial and temporal occurrence of
blooms of D. geminata as the result of human vectors was
based on coincidental timing.” (my italics –KB)

Unfortunately us fishermen don’t get a free pass to trod crap through the watershed, as the article plainly suggests that we might have introduced the lifeform to the continent, but introduction of the diatom doesn’t provide the environment for it to bloom.

“However, while the presence of cells is obviously prerequisite, introduction alone is not the cause of bloom formation.”

Instead, the research suggests four factors are attributable to the natural occurrence and reoccurrence of Didymo, and are man-influenced issues consistent with exploitation of the planet and unrelated to shoe hygiene per se ..

“… we propose four mechanisms operating at
global or regional scales that could potentially result in a
decline of Phosphorus, i.e., oligotrophication, entering fluvial systems.
We outline the following as hypotheses of the potential
ultimate causes of D. geminata blooms: (1) atmospheric
deposition of reactive nitrogen resulting from the burning
of fossil fuels and urbanization; (2) climate-induced
shifts in the timing of snowmelt and growing season that
decreases P(hosphorus) inputs to rivers; (3) N(itrogen)-enrichment of landscapes
during agricultural and silvicultural activities that result in
greater retention of terrestrial P(hosphorus); and (4) a decline in marine derived nutrients, particularly P(hosphorus), resulting from widespread depletion in spawning salmon. Although these processes do not apply to all regions, they are not mutually exclusive and could act synergistically. These processes are in need of further investigation for their role in driving blooms of D. geminata.

Rather than demand the revocation of your state’s felt sole ban, and the subsequent restoration of your favorite footwear, note the final sentence of the above quote, “further investigation is needed.”

I caught hell the last time I mentioned the issue, and am likely going to do so again, but it just proves my initial beef that crowd-sourced science via fly rod, pitchfork, and public outcry, is typically a bit less exacting than that practiced by the fellows in white lab coats.

Wherein “reduced dressing” refers to your sudden lust for an Xtra-Strong 12

The local farm journal is bemoaning vines and trees budding earlier than normal. Early nut and vine crops are a bigger issue given the drought and the increased salinity of the Delta, whose waters are tapped when rainfall is absent. What little fresh water currently flowing from the hills isn’t enough to push the salt water back towards San Francisco Bay, and pumping brackish water is not an option.

I mentioned in an earlier post that the drought would advance the calendar of nearly everything; stoneflies gone before Opening Day, most hatches early versus their traditional schedules, and much of the Sierra fishing like August once June arrived. This from past experience of similar trauma in the Seventies, and how painful were the lessons learned.

While most focus on the high country and it’s Pristine, I’m already gearing up for the Other White Meat, Shad, and how the run, such as it is likely to be, will be small and arrive early, and how we’ll be further constrained by river closures, and last minute gear changes none of us seem plan for …

Chatting with the dam operator from last week’s outing, I was curious on how much they were releasing and what were their plans in the event of a windfall of moisture. “Eleven …”, says he, “We’re currently releasing eleven feet per second, and have no plans to release more until we fill the lake behind …”

With the drought-based closures of California’s more prolific fisheries due endangered salmon and steelhead – and with the potential for the Shad run to be smaller, shorter, and sooner, it’s likely that whatever 2014 has in store could be a “hot mess.”

… all fishing will be banned through April 30, 2014 on the American River from Nimbus Dam downstream to the power lines crossing Ancil Hoffman Park.

Excerpt from the Sacramento Bee, March 7th 2014

… late April – early May usually debuts the run, and if water conditions make them arrive sooner, they’ll be moving through the river without us doing more than watching.


Nimbus Dam and Folsom Lake (above), source of the American River.

The above shot of Folsom is prior to the most recent spate of showers, but we’re still absent the multi-day pounding rain that saturates the ground and generates runoff. Current flow in the American is 500 CFS, which is about 10% of what it should be – and about 20% of what it is when the fish are aggressively invading the river.

It may be time to ditch the Spey rod and grab the one hander. Distance won’t be an issue given the river shrinkage, and a sink tip may be better than a full sinking head in many spots. Don’t be surprised if smaller and “less bright” is the preferred rig, as you’re likely to be pawing through the bins hoping to see #12’s instead of the customary 6’s and 8’s.

As I fished mostly size 8’s last year, I’m looking at reducing the weight and dressing, opting for a dimutitive collection of bugs on 2X Strong, standard shank, 10’s – 12’s.

Bead chain can’t get much purchase on shanks that small, so if you use them be mindful the finished fly will spin with finger pressure and have a tendency to unwind and fall apart. A Model Perfect bend and single smaller bead – or 2AMP wire wrap – may be much better than the classic chain, both in weight and its resultant durability.

I’ll add some tips on reduction in a future post.

Murk Water and the Vesicles of Savi

Counter to what we’re taught with traditional angling, we don’t run out to buy a vest and a thousand dollar rod simply to fish the vastness that is the murk water.

Rather, we’ll be channeling a lot of Arthur Conan Doyle, and learn the weaknesses of our quarry and his environment, knowing we’re not likely to be holding aces when fishing water with little or no visibility.

“Brown Water” is not brownlining, brown is merely a convenient pseudonym for a body of clay-rich and filthy … the presence of enough suspended sediment to make sight essentially useless.

Our normal fly tying arsenal of eye-searing colors and tinsel Bling is useless when visibility is so scant, as neither the hottest of Oranges nor the flash of iridescence can be seen under any light condition.

Yet those who’ve dipped salted clams for Catfish and other bottom dwelling bewhiskered species can vouch for their being well fed, suggesting fish acclimated to this environment have little issue finding food in opaque water.

It’s plain that something other than visuals draws predators to their prey, and it’s likely that the commotion of a struggling fish might travel further underwater than its visuals. Larger food items are likely to have a signature swimming motion allowing predators to quickly pounce on known items due to their swimming rhythm.

A mud burrowing mayfly may struggle enroute to the surface, but its small size is liable to have a proportional disturbance, which would have an insignificant signature compared to a larger baitfish or swimming frog.

Murk water has plenty of hatching insects, but hatches and surface bugs doesn’t yield the same swarm of opportunistic feeders. The rhythmic dimples we see with clear water species and bug hatches are the result of sight feeding and share no parallels in opaque water.

The science of fish and opaque water (or the impenetrable blackness of low light) is completely fascinating, and suggests that fish have as many as three tools to locate prey without relying on visuals.

First, it may surprise some that fish actually have ears, and their range of hearing (detectable frequencies) varies considerably among species. Scientists classify fish as “hearing specialists” – fish with an ability to hear a greater range of noise frequencies, “hearing generalists” – fish that can hear better than average, and regular fish, like Salmon and Trout with only marginal hearing.

Therefore, for most ?shes that rely on hearing only through particle stimulation mechanism, their hearing ability is limited to a narrow frequency band (less than 1000  H z) with high sound pressure threshold (as high as 120   dB at the best frequency). Such ?shes are hence termed  “ hearing generalist ”  species.

It should be little surprise that many of our dirty water fish like Carp and Catfish are among the hearing specialists.

However, fishes in the superorder Ostariophysi (e.g., cyprinoids, characoids, and siluroids) have a specialized mechanical coupling structure (i.e., the Weberian ossicles) that connect the gas bladder to the inner ear (Furukawa and Ishii 1967 ). Hence, vibrations caused by the passing sound to the gas bladder are transmitted to the ears and hearing abilities are enhanced. Because of their extended hearing frequency range (up to 8000 Hz in certain catfish) and low thresholds (60 dB in goldfish), these fishes are called “ hearing specialist ” species.

In addition to the ears of fish, a fish can also detect vibration in the water around it via its lateral line. It turns out this organ is poorly understood among ichthyologists, and while there is much thought and conjecture, there is a great deal of unknown about its function. What we do know is it is host to numerous types of receptors and its complete range of capabilities is still unknown.

The lateral line has mechanical receptors able to detect vibration in the water around it, akin to a second type of “hearing”. Less well known is the ability of the lateral line to detect electrical fields, the ability to discern the presence of a living organism due the change in their surrounding electrical current.

All organisms produce electrical currents. A variety of aquatic organisms can detect these currents with specialized neurons. Such electrical sense has been found in a number of invertebrates and many aquatic vertebrates including sharks, fish, and even mammals such as the duckbill platypus. Electrical senses are important in turbid waters such as muddy rivers or the vicinity of a bleeding victim after a shark takes its first bite (scarlet billows, through the water ….). Often, the electrical sense neurons are concentrated near the head or in a structure that is placed in contact with a muddy bottom, such as the barbels on the chin of a catfish (which also have chemoreceptors), or the bill of a platypus. Other organisms go so far as to create their own weak electrical currents (modified muscles can do the trick) and actively search out prey.

As turbid water emits “noise” both audible and vibrational, consider your average trout stream to be an exceptionally noisy environment. Water flow around obstacles creates vibration as does current when it scours streambed and propels rocks and debris downstream.

Like light, high pitched noise (high frequency) travels the shortest distance in fluid. So if we’re tiptoeing around the creek and bark our shin on a stone – emitting a girly-nasal-screech will scare less fish than a throaty epithet …

And were we to pull all that murk water auditory science into fly design, we’d want larger beads in the rattle than smaller beads to make the noise as deep (low frequency) as possible, we’d want as many things sticking out of the fly as we could to cause vibrations when yanked through the water, we’d want the thing weedless as we have no idea what peril we’re throwing it at, and we’d want it to throw a dab of static into the water column to alert predators that it has a heartbeat versus some shoddy silicon wiggletail …

… and smell, smell would be nice …

Great Expectations of the Florida Strain

havishamIt was like the lady said, “the only people able to fish mid-week are college students and millionaires.”

I lacked the nerve to tell her that a third option existed. One that ensured her lake was fished by more pedestrian types, but as she’d afforded me a glimpse of the doings of “one-percenters,” and while my social position was closer to “wait-staff on holiday”, I couldn’t help but aspire to the manor-borne.

… and as she grilled me on whose boat it was I was in, its lack of CF number and absence of parcel markings, how my orange “guest” ribbon was smothered by the fishing vest I wore, I wasn’t so sure the manor was something to be desired … now that “Mrs. Havisham” had given me a glimpse of the lake and her daily inquisition.

She relented somewhat when I admitted to being a guest, and thankfully I remembered the name of my host (whom I’d just met through an intermediary), and she allowed as how I could fish the lake after-all, now that my pedigree had been established.

I now shared the same trepidation as Pip felt when he relinquished the grip of Joe Gargery and the gate of the Havisham household clanged shut behind him.

It was true, I was in the grip of Great Expectations given the history of the venture and the stories of the fish that lived there.

It had been a Christian enclave or camp sometime during the 1950’s, and as the visitors became fewer the camp had shuttered its doors, but not before stocking the lake with Florida strain Largemouth Bass imported by the Pensacola Fish Company. Back in that day the average fish size had been nearly three pounds, and the owners of the facility had kept close tabs on the health of the lake to ensure its population remained vibrant and viable.

Now that the lake had changed from private enclave to a small neighborhood of bankside parcels, each homeowner was charged with ensuring guests adhered to neighborhood regulations and the community conservation ethic.

It was a bit of refreshing change knowing the community was intent on preserving both lake and the fishery.

I was equipped with a large badge that had to remain visible at all times, I was required to release all fish caught, and made responsible for all the gear I had to portage into the area, to make sure the environment remained clean and litter free.

Naturally the badge clattering on my waistcoat drew every errant coil of fly line like a magnet, and it took me awhile before I could find a plainly visible locale that wasn’t in the path of a double-haul.

The same clipped-to-the collar locale “Mrs. Havisham” took umbrage to earlier …


The lake was quite pretty. Banks dotted with the occasional canoe or rowboat (no powered craft allowed), a shallow impoundment whose deepest area was no more than twenty feet. Mid-August is not the best time for reconnoitering a new bass lake, as fishing is limited to a brief bite in the morning and similar in the evening. Its location in the Sierra foothills meant daytime temps were only in the mid-Nineties, versus 100° and greater in the valley below.

“Fish greater than 10 pounds are common,” is what my host told me. He mentioned his son having landed one recently whose mouth was large enough to contain both his clenched fists …

… and while I did the customary mental translation, dividing by two and subtracting a couple of pounds, that still represented a good sized fish.

I was hoping my earlier suffering had paid my way to great fortune, despite the inhospitable mid-summer temperatures and unfamiliarity of my surroundings.


I sculled about the lake exploring while listening to the throaty growl of Mrs. Havisham’s inquisition of another boatful of anglers out of sight near the center island. One fellow having the audacity to protest he was neither student nor wealthy, but was on sabbatical from Starbucks and his pal worked the late shift at the local hardware conglomerate.

This seemed to satisfy the “Lake Police” and she returned to her deck and the company of a decaying wedding cake and a brace of mean-spirited hounds.

I couldn’t help think she was far more fearsome than the Fish & Game could ever be, and with both dogs in tow – could board and sink any interloper.


Here’s proof of the fishing, a small specimen framed by the contents of my “large fly” box. Rubber legs and earth tones proved to be more effective than my typical cast of red crayfish with their lemon-yellow and orange-orange highlights.


.. and something a bit bigger. Which gave a good accounting of itself wrestling me in the timber lining the bank, and I lost plenty of flies getting the cast back into those welcome shadows. August is like that, fish unwilling to chase, but willing to eat if it’s dropped on their doorstep.

Note the near-absence of the customary black marled lateral line. These fish were nearly all dark olive, with only the light belly to break up their camouflage.

Fishing private waters should always be accompanied by a small token of esteem for your host. Of late I’ve been fortunate to secure local access to a number of small impoundments, and most get a double batch of Peanut Butter Arkansas Traveller’s, and a second bag of Oatmeal Raisin, it’s a culinary one-two punch that few can resist.

Rumor has it my return visit is now assured.

… and if he was napping his wife said she’d let me fish so long as I had an armful of baked goods. I’m thinking I might be able to lure the Lake Police with a similar offering, knowing how even dogs change to a more reasonable disposition when tempted with a cookie …

I may attempt this again in mid-May … lots of cruising fish visible and the Spring top water bite looks to be something special here.

That’s a Gnarly Viognier, Bro

It’s part of the Californio “Coming of Age” ritual, wherein you chat with Poppa over your responsibilities as a Man, and unbeknownst to you the miracle of your birthright requires you be tanned and blonde, love raw fish, and speak like Jeff Spiccoli. The lecture concludes with the understanding that as I live in one of the Great Wine Regions of the Northern Hemisphere, I would be required to jettison the Childish Toys of my Youth (Schlitz Malt Liquor) for the love of a piquant Chardonnay.

… Duuude.

It wasn’t as bad as all that however, white wine excels at washing down a Twinkie ..

I did have to learn when to use “fruity” versus “oaken,” however. Misuse of one meant some self styled “Marlboro Man” took instant offence, and was also high on the list of instant fistfight if you lived in my corner of San Francisco. I eventually did develop a taste for aged grape juice and have always marveled at how the palate recoils at one age and is pleased at another.

Of late we’ve endured many weekends of unfishable weather, and have traded the “wide open spaces” for a wide open air conditioner. Indoors and cool being foremost given my brief attempt at fishing in 109 degree weather had me lightheaded shortly after leaving the parking area.

Much of the triangle of brown grass bordered by Hwy 505 and Interstate 5 is becoming a hotbed of wineries and olive orchards. Most can’t be seen from the road, but as you whizz by enroute to Hat Creek, Fall River, or the Upper Sac, you’re in proximity to neatly ordered rows of expensive grapes.

Route 3 Vineyards is a couple miles from my house, and as I prefer supporting local products over the rarified Napa vintners, I bought a Wine Club membership so I can perch on their verandah and make all the appropriate learned lip smacking noises …

At one of their gatherings I wandered over to watch a fellow ladle grilled meat into a soft taco, and noticed the pond serving as the vintner’s water supply. “How many cases do I have to buy to get pond privileges,” says I, in between pursing my lips while sipping “fruity” and “oaken”  …


“None,” was their reply. Although whether fish existed was somewhat in doubt. Vintners being more interested in yeast and tannin in liquids, fish being better served as accompaniment to a beverage, versus swimming within its depths.


The above quick foray was done when it was 105. Little Meat is fresh from the water and had the good sense to pant in the shade, the rest of us simply threw enough flies to satisfy our honor, then beat a hasty retreat for free liquor.

One friendly field hand spoke a mixture of Spanish and English, mentioning, “Tortuga”, “Carpe” and “Catfish” living in the pond (turtles, carp and catfish), and while I found plenty of minnow evidence, we didn’t have much chance to explore, the lure of chill glassware and the oppressive heat making us opt for “Orvis” versus “Death Valley.”

I suppose I could attempt “Brownwater Merlot Guided Flyfishing” but the damn ascots will just get in the way.

I am a known whiner and slayer of Rose Bushes

I figure the Fishing Gods ignore whiners even when they’ve paid their earlier dues without complaint. I suppose lucky and unlucky have a minor role, as does Karma, but there must be more than simply the number of times you go fishless that turns their gaze benevolent, rather it’s in the degree of suffering endured and having made amends for being so full of yourself on your last successful foray.

… then again The Gods could simply grow weary of your constant swearing.

I swore my mightiest oath in the face of a pending three day weekend. If by mid morning the fish corpses weren’t piled deeply at my feet, then I’d put that mighty arm to work clearing brush from the backyard, turn that wrist flaccid in the face of a quarter acre of lawn mowing, trimming rose bushes, and the sweaty eternity that is stump removal.

And as each dawn broke I was waist deep in the American throwing heavy and monotone, extra heavy and gaudy, tiny and bright, big and drab, or beaded and eye searing.

… and each noon found me with a pitchfork and a growing pile of organic debris by the curb.

I endured the catcalls from the bankside revelers, stalled traffic from the hordes fleeing civilization, the mounds of sweltering garbage stacked around stuffed trash receptacles, and the stick throwing dog walkers, each intent on exercising “Cujo” – the wet and overtly hostile quadruped ignoring his stick and intent on taking a bite out of my ass.

I managed to land one pair of medium purple thong underwear and a brace of Orange soda, whose misfortune it was to tangle plastic holder with my weighted shad fly.

As I made the lonely walk back to the car each morning I resolved to try it again in a different spot, knowing that eventually my suffering would begat some form of divine intervention …

… which I gratefully used up when that drunk careened out of the ditch and across a couple lanes of traffic attempting to knock me into the center divider. Suddenly it was okay that I hadn’t been bit and my afternoon would be a symphony of pitchforks and dry grass. The welcome boost of acceleration squeezing me between guard rail and  oncoming SUV, just prior to his impacting the rail before caroming back into the ditch from whence he came.

I watched the thick dust cloud from his end over end grow smaller in my rear view, knowing that the Holy Blessed Mother of Acceleration had not failed me in my moment of need, and the matched pair of Orange Soda was the opening benediction of whatever grace was my fate.

I pulled out of the driveway the following morning not sure whether to simply admire the big pile of debris, rub all the aching body parts involved and opt for a donut, instead of making the pilgrimage to the river.

I opted for more piscatorial pummeling, enduring the clammy waders and pin prick hole on the right arse cheek at mid-wallet. Yesterday’s leak now a chill reminder that eventually my luck would meet Karma, and both arrows might eventually point skyward …


… which occurred about 90 seconds after wading in at the new spot, and the initial tangle of chilled Amnesia was undone in time to set hook on a shad intent on surveyor’s tape …

It’s that rare moment when a strip of brightly marked tape fluttering on a surveyor’s stake makes a light bulb flash in the mind of the onlooker, which isn’t genius by any stretch given his propensities for fly tying and hoarding.

… but the shellback on a Czech nymph tied for Shad?

Divine Intervention making anyone look good, no matter how weak of mind, or strained of idea …


This is tied on a blued 3XS (short), 2XS (strong), kirbed hook, giving the impression of a smaller fly but with a bit of extra hooking ability given the offset point. It certainly proved to be effective as even the spin fishermen on the far side started to mutter at my good fortune.

It’ll be their turn next week and I’ll pay for any immediate successes in Spades …


I spent the morning swearing off all forms of tool usage as the blisters they raised interfered with my double haul, especially so given the corpses of “dried grass” accumulated at my feet.

A couple of four pound hens will do that to you.

Where we attempt to divert your attention hoping you won’t notice we haven’t caught anything

Despite three fruitless trips and stinging only a single fish, I’m confident that Shad Fishing Died for Your Angling Sins.

A long winter of tying drab and dull, your “light” reading a mix of dusty tomes featuring metatarsals and pronotums, and you’ve exhausted both social venues and social networking and are conspicuously absent any cocktail invitations.

Your banter is free of celebrity gossip and your brow furrows over the finalists on American Idol, you’re prone to mumble, and coupled with a fetching hint of mothballs from your only sport coat, you can’t sustain eye contact with a nervous hostess as you can’t tear your gaze from her fish tank.

… and after months of isolation with Internet forums and that aging stack of fly tying magazines by the Crapper, you’ve bought their false prophets and notion of the One True Sport.

Trout fishing.

Replete with its aromatic tobacco, dimutitive flies, expensive tackle and long stemmed glassware, practiced by those strong in the ways of credit card debt.

You’re insistent that a large gold bead on your nymph has a parallel in Nature, a pre-emergent pronounced thorax, and while you struggle to pronounce “4mm, slotted, and Gold” in Latin, are just as insistent nymph fishing requires a floatational aid to make it more like Dry Fly fishing, elegant, gentlemanly, eliminating guesswork and a couple centuries of nymph fishing lore in the doing.

“Fling and swing” replaced by an upstream presentation, and should some timorous fellow suggest it reminiscent of the Unclean Sport, bait fishing, it’s an “Indee-kay-tor” versus “bobber” and how dare he insinuate otherwise …

… and now that darkened basements and the shameless exploitation of furbearers is out, your fascination with the “bug-like” thing is no longer quaint or charming, rather you’re linked with pressure cooker enthusiasts and egghead Chechnyan separatists. Our former, “ill at ease” with joggers and the cyclists suddenly an unpopular legacy now that BB guns and our leftover tins of black powder are under a societal microscope.


In contrast, Shad is the festive “Other White Meat” fishery – like Bass and Carp, a landscape where periodicals fear to tred, and its practitioners have firm sweaty handshakes, buy their rods on EBay, fashion their flies of Christmas tinsel, and non-tapered monofilament …

… that’s “mono-fila-ment” not “fluoro-carbon” – only asshats and Momma’s boys fish $22 tippet …

Empty beer cans line our rapids, castoff underwear festoon the brush and drunken college students holler encouragement as they wallow through our tepid water to throw up somewhere downstream. Shad fishermen embrace society and its many foibles rather than flee to the upper elevations and its gentrified antisocial notion of Pristine.

Shad fishing being the Mardi Gras of fly fishing, with brilliant tinsels, florescent, opalescent, and iridescent, mixed with chrome hooks, shiny toilet chain, gleaming gold beads, ALL designed to act like split shot and sink our fly like a leaden sonofabitch.

There’s no extended pinkie in our fishing, no privacy, no hushed bank of spectators intent on watching some fellow melt into hysteria when his BB shot and non-biodegradable bobber loop fetchingly around a distant tree branch. Neither do we complain about updrafts when explaining why our fly is imbedded in our arse cheek, or tree branch behind us.

Instead we hear the big gaudy SOB whistle towards us and duck while giggling mightily, knowing we’ve cheated Death – and how that interloper wading in behind us won’t be so lucky …

A tepid water introduction, compliments of a sharpened treble …

Shad fishing is for people that count fish, that club baby seals, that wax eloquent at the prospect of laying waste to hundreds of His creatures, who would rather torture and maim than kill and eat cleanly.

Our fishery, as brash and sordid as it may sound, doesn’t require us to tiptoe around concerned about we brought with us, what may have hitched a ride from our garage unbidden … we’re reticent to get into our water more afraid of what we’re about to step in …

A Fish so boney and unloved as to have never been eaten, never considered for table fare, and never commercial grown for anything other than fertilizer. Yet despite its peasant nose, wild, sea run, and having the pedigree of sport fish prized the world over.

Beats hell out of a fish spat “wildly” from the end of a hatchery nozzle, that dines wildly on floating plasticine dough or dyed salmon eggs –whose misfortune it was to he “shat” into water at elevation – and therefore conferred “wild” like a second virginity.