With fishermen as superstitious as sailors and baseball players, I recognize my poor showing this year is manifesting itself as a burgeoning streak of good Karma. While never sure whether it’ll take the form of hundreds of fish caught, a single hundred pound fish, or simply finding a Ben Franklin crumpled next to the curb, the only absolute is my knowledge it’s coming …
That’s because all of the hiking along the lake, all of the careful monitoring of wildflowers, bass and spawning beds, the sneaking over hummocks hoping for top water action befitting fly gear, have been pipe dreams.
Four trips up to the lake were too cold, too blustery, or too off color to even see fish activity in the shallows, so I kept thinking next week, or the week following. Now it’s the week following that – and I’ve returned fishless yet again, but things are starting to stir – a few spawning bass are visible, a few scoured spots suggesting mating activity, and a few more warms days offer a chance to cash in on that Karmic debt.
I’m learning as much about lake ecology as I’ve learned about streams so there is a silver lining. Drought really muck things up for years, both due to their arid nature – and what it does to terraform exposed bank that challenges fishing once the lakes refill.
All that weed growth evaporates as the lake lowers and each bed is extincted once it reaches the surface. Foot and animal traffic powders the newly exposed rubble and dead weed bloom, and fine dust replaces the aggregate washed clean while submerged. When the lake refills the bank is akin to Mars, completely dead and featureless. Weeds take months to sprout and all that windblown dust that spread itself last year leaches out into the water with the slightest surface activity.
That’s a fancy way of saying, fish early before boat traffic.
All the forage fish that used weeds for cover are absent, likely using what remaining beds that remain submerged despite last summer’s relentless baking. As the lake has come up nearly 25-30 feet, that’s a lot of dead zone that’s absent forage and therefore fish.
Which makes fly fishing, with it’s inability to sink quickly, a real disadvantage.
Fortunately Mother Nature drives bass to spawn in the shallows, so despite obvious problems from drought and rapid refill, once the fish move inshore with a vengeance, there’s plenty of sport for all manner of tackle.
But that appears to be next week … or the week after …
I did get a welcome respite from blustery and fishless bank wandering to fish the California Delta via bass boat. It’s the first time I’ve fished in the matrix of canals and waterways that feed San Francisco Bay via the Sacramento River, and as all of them were still swollen with runoff and tides – it was cold and off color.
… some of that murk can be seen under this gleaming , carbon spewing Steed of Angling Awesomeness. While wandering lakes is invigorating to both life and limb, I figured I’d earned the carbon credits to have my arse skipping above the waves without feeling like I’d squandered all them decayed Pterodactyls …
With a stiff North wind for competition I learned the mysteries of flinging 5/8 ounce Spinner baits to an elusive audience. Elusive, due to my hook skidded off of lips, tongues, gill plates, and anything else in the path of lure inhalation, leaving me cursing and untangling gear from the knot of tules that should have been massive hungry bass …
.., like the beast pictured above. This is my gracious host, Leroy Bertolero, showing me how to use a sharp hook as it was intended.
With each fish giving me the Finger, and as I tuned tackle and checked hooks for sharpness, I was still content. That reservoir of Karma that I’d built with all those fishless miles of lake, I knew was growing ever deeper.
I did manage to land one of my tormentors. Apparently Striped Bass lack the armor of their freshwater cousins, and the hook found purchase. It is one of the beauties of fishing the Delta’s brackish water, as both fresh and saltwater fish inhabit the same environment.
As I’d proven useless as an angler – by “unbuttoning” all my earlier fish, it was timely that the 250HP carbon guzzling beast refused to lift itself into plane on the way back. Needing BALLAST in the bow, my host looked about for any Useless Weight and by mutual agreement I perched on the nose on the way home.
An interesting perspective to be sure, but it was still thrilling to be so mobile when you’re used to pedestrian speeds. Then again, given my inability to stick anything solidly, it was an exercise in my finding new ways to swear – while “long lining” everything I touched.