Tag Archives: Brownlining

… and you hunch over to protect all the sensitive bits

While I’m not entirely certain what felled me, the romantic version involves the rushing of air overhead, a flash of yellow, and then the snarl of a bright yellow plane climbing for altitude. It’s the Brownliner’s version of hearing the squeal of skidding tires in an intersection, yet instead of the sickening crunch that follows, we get the oily vapors of some nameless chemical descending from above.

While crop dusters are part of the watershed, the guessing game resulting from being dusted ranges the full gamut. Plane screams by overhead and chemical follow; by midweek either the thinning spot on your head has filled in noticeably – complements of fertilizer, or is thinning further, due to Paraquat.


You’re never sure whether the guy saw you and mashed the nipple to cover you in something he thought hilarious, or it’s your luck that made you emerge from the undergrowth just in time to take a shellacking.

I spent a week scratching most of my nether half, from crown to ankles, so the Math is fairly simple. Half the time it’s fertilizer and the other half is something to kill crop pests, and all the time they’re unwelcome.

Or it was that new concentrated purple-label Tide that smelled to high heaven. It’s even scarier to assume something that’s supposed to clean you up is more caustic than airborne Bug B Gone …

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.


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.


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


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.


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 …


… 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 …

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.

Weather and temperature conspire, but at least I remembered the rain parka

Nothing like a three day weekend to come face to face with wanderlust. One day to do something responsible, one day devoted to NFL debauchery, and the last to piss away adventuring.

That’s my new “politically correct” term for walking around with a flyrod hoping that something other than exercise is on the menu.

A break in the weather afforded me the opportunity to check on Sacramento steelhead fishing; from the bridge I’d assumed a cluster of fellows waving flyrod’s meant something with fins was on the menu, none were in evidence, it was a spey casting clinic put on by a local shop.

I was afforded the rare luxury of watching unfortunates arse deep in too-cold water flinging stuff at even colder water, now I know what I look like to the casual dog walker.

The blue sky ran for cover, taking me with it

That’s the reoccurring theme in all my fishing of late, weather and temperature conspires to keep me fishless, with only the burn in calories to show for all the legwork.

The Little Stinking always offers a good hike, in expected fashion the weather held until I was 3 miles above the vehicle, then the rain started. I hadn’t seen a fish during the entire journey and had the foresight to take the rain parka so I meandered back to the car without mishap.

That’s my Pikeminnow, dammit

I had to examine the film I shot with the same care as the “Zapruder” footage, but I had seen a fish without knowing it. The Merganser armada was fighting over one of my treasured Pikeminnow, I couldn’t hold a grudge as they burn far more calories keeping ahead of me than I do keeping up with them.

At least somebody caught something.

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It’s OK you didn’t miss a thing

In stream structure, the biggest fish prefer GM products thoughFor them as resolved to do more fishing in 2008, you were slow getting out of the sack and I beat you to it. You missed nothing, although it was reminiscent of a scene from “I am Legend.”

Thick layer of frost on the ground at 0600, colder than blazes (for California) and I had to let the windshield defrost enough to be function before hitting the road. No humans on the road, nothing stirring at all, just the way I like it.

Another fishless prototype I had two dozen experimental flies to test on fish, mostly copper wire creations, as I had received 18000 feet of 36 gauge Ultrawire from an electronics supply house. I always liked the “Copper John” fly, and made up some caddis and mayfly imitations using mostly copper wire.

I’m testing a theory, actually just confirming some laziness on my part. Rather than make a “bead head” version of a traditional pattern, I wanted to see the aerodynamic and fishing qualities of using a traditional pattern and stringing the bead on the leader – not attaching it to the fly at all.

Seems silly to have to tie the same flies twice, once with the bead, once without – and being a minimalist (lazy) by nature, it seemed like a hell of an idea.

He figured the Mice may be slower after so much celebratingI hadn’t been downstream in a couple months, and figured my battle with “Old Nondescript” could wait another week, there was still about 2 miles of river I hadn’t seen between my access point and another further down.

Nothing stirring, no fish activity of any kind. I could see an occasional fish huddled on the bottom unmoving, so I flung copper stuff at branches and headed south.

I’ll spare you the picture of the dead goat in the middle of the river, and the floating tabby cat (who had seen better days), it just served to remind me how “below the bridge” is the debris field for everything that doesn’t sell on Ebay.

The “strung bead” theory works fine, it casts just like a beaded fly, seems to behave well underwater, so that was a happy conclusion to the physics portion. I still hadn’t raised a fish so my copper flies were still in “beta.”

I covered the two miles down to the other gravel elevator with nary a nibble. The fish were asleep and I started heading North to the car. I found a couple of nice pools and saw nothing in them, so I took the hint.

Outside of “Corky” the floating feline, the only live critter was a monstrous owl that sat in the tree above me, giving me that vaguely disinterested look as it puffed itself into a round ball. It was too cold for him as well.

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Singlebarbed as Charismatic, our Grape Koolaid is made from Creek water

Kelvin occupied with a local residentIt’s over now, another Singlebarbed reader has got the “pooty” on him, and while the Brownline stain may come off his waders with a little soap, his soul is another story.

This is Kelvin, Singlebarbed reader, former Blueliner and aficionado of the pristine reaches of Lassen National Forest, now eschewing his old haunts in favor of a little Pikeminnow love.

I’m feeling a little bit like the Pied Piper and a lot like Jim Jones, somewhere in all of this is a good fringe religion, a Rolls Royce, and a tureen of Grape Koolaid.

Kelvin thinks I’ve been stretching the truth a bit on the crap water angle, as he saw the Little Stinking as something far prettier and cleaner than I had described.

The horse stables hadn’t pumped muck into the creek for a couple of weeks now, and the water was in good shape. The wind was a bit blustery, the dry fly fishing suffered accordingly, and after the rain clouds blew through the fishing started to perk up.

The Fly Fisherman Cover shot

The Carp are still missing in action, and the smallmouth were largely absent, plenty of large Pikeminnow prowling about – they were fixated on the spinners in the water, almost to the exclusion of all else.

Pikeminnow exhibit a strange behavior that I haven’t quite figured out; a half roll while swimming that seems completely out of place. I figured it was the steady diet of toxic waste – kind of like a nervous tic, only the aquatic kind. You’ll see the silvery flash of the flank of the fish as they rotate 90 degrees while swimming.

Initially I thought it was a feeding pattern, but after watching this all morning, I’m not so sure. If I start doing the same maneuver while walking then I’ll know it’s the water…

We covered a couple miles of creek and managed to seduce the occasional fish. The fishing was not spectacular, my guess is the storm that had hit the area the evening before was the culprit.

 Say Hello to my Not So Little Friends

Nothing beats a visible quarry, this is a pod of good sized Pikeminnow that we teased for a bit. The occasional bass added to the parade of fish, most kelvin-hat.jpgwere in the 16-18″ range. These fish are in 4 foot of water and would flee as soon as the fly impacted the surface. Kelvin and I wore them out as they ran from my fly – straight into his – and vice versa. If you can’t catch them, might as well drive them nuts…

Every pilot has to earn his wings, for being a good sport Kelvin was awarded the SingleBarbed “Finger” hat, for some it may be a transition into manhood, mostly it’s for entertainment purposes. Any guy wearing this chapeau, you can point at – then flip off, he got the Brownline on him.