Tag Archives: Fly Fishing

The Skunk BEING Off the Boat

It’s something we share with baseball players; the Obvious Funk, the hitless streak – where reading all the books, and tying all the flies, and all them hours afield and all that practice results in repeated blankage … no hits, runs, nothing left on …

Unfamiliar turf to be sure. I found myself starting with forlorn, moving to melancholy, which quickly became resentment as the streak continued.  As my lower lip began to resemble Pinocchio’s nose and my suffering intensified, I realized that “getting bit” was akin to Popeye’s Spinach, how without the ability to torture things smaller than me, I was a caricature of my former self.

I’d love to blame Southern California voters, or Republicans, or some faceless nemesis  in human form, but my adversary has been so much bigger than me that I can’t envision a standup fight, so much as a duck and weave – and hope I can outrun the SOB. As mentioned ad nauseum,  weather and its after affects have shuttered most of the fishing in my area. Drought extincted the small water – or warmed it enough to kill everything  in it. Drought emptied the reservoirs, and their subsequent filling has left them unstable and unproductive.

I’d hoped my annual shift to Shad fishing would buy me a precious few months of solace, but after each trip I returned despondent and empty handed – which after a few hours always became a source of mirth. Us alpha predators being  gifted with an overly active optimistic vein – which converts sulking and self pity into  new flies, new resolve for exploration, and the adrenalin to get up at 5AM and submit to additional piscatorial ridicule.

Like last year exploring Lake Berryessa, this year I’ve been moving through all the access points into the American River as it moves through Sacramento and the outlying burbs. Not being a native, yet working in Sacramento, my coworkers are assisting in pointing out which access lead to the nudist beaches, which are the most prone to car hijackings, which have the beer parties and all the underage talent, and how the northern accesses are the affluent neighborhoods and the southern accesses less so …

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My adoration for shad has me fishing alone, as the few fishermen I know in the area simply don’t care for them much.  This makes exploration of a new stretch of the river extremely slow, but it is beneficial in soothing my wounded ego.

I use a “10 and 10” style for covering water. Ten casts and then ten steps, which is a slow but surefire way to find the deep holes the fish inhabit in between egg laying.

Most of my fishless outings end with me living vicariously through the long lines of spin fishermen catching them with floats and flies. I find watching others catch fish is akin to  Methadone for opiate addiction, not the same … but takes the edge off.

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This morning I tried a new spot and as I surveyed the mile or so of water visible to me – all those books and false casts whispered, “if I were a fish I’d live right … here.”

… no one was more surprised than I was when I set the hook.

Fatty Eats frog meat

It was the prudent thing to do. Prior to scaring hell out of everything by sky lining myself hop-skipping across all that erosion inhibiting rock, I flung that big weedless frog past the debris field of dumped roadbed just where the boulders disappeared into deep water.

Naturally there was something big and mean waiting for something small to do just that, and my morning was shattered by an aerial display worthy of a steelhead.

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I figured it was one of two options; either he’s given up on rain and was learning to gulp air, or was intent on all those bikini clad college girls drinking and screaming from mid channel.

While the college gals were friendly enough to make me suck in my gut, I figured the return voyage would feature a lot less sweaty and “Gone Wild” – and more sunburnt and heaving … over the side.

The Sheriff thought so too, and his boat followed the flotilla at a discrete “binocular” distance. He was “fishing” too … kind of like the shadowy edge between rock and a hard place …

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As this is peak irrigation season – and were in the grips of drought, I have been curious how the local impoundments are being drained for water deliveries to farms.

They’re already talking about Folsom Lake going dry by September, and both Berryessa and Oroville are reeling due to drought, so each trip I eyeball the banks to get a feel for releases. The above photo shows the more than 200 foot distance between underbrush and current lake levels, and the encroaching brush that covers the exposed banks as the water recedes.

It’s our fate that “fly eating” foliage pops up to cover anything older than a couple of months, and fly fishing is limited to the points of coves where a back cast can parallel the bank. While far from ideal, we’re spared the shredded flesh and indignity of a Blackberry thicket.

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This is “Meathead” from work with a nice Spotted Bass, who graciously instructed me in the finer points of “drop-shotting” bass. I gave him the “frog” and insisted he dump his inexpensive and highly functional tackle for something that costs ten times more and can’t sink very fast.

Neither side had a convincing argument yet both had moments.

Most of our fish came from 20-25 foot of water (as measured by casting gear), and outside of the “Fatty” going for a top water offering, most were eating on the slopes of points close to the bottom.

I returned the following day with both fly rod and drop shot rig, and tossed large minnow imitations when the water depth was friendly, and practiced drop-shotting when perched over deep water.

We’d seen balls of Shad and bass giving chase, but those eruptions are temporal and never sustained. Just about the time you change your fly both predator and prey are gone.

I’ve got a few ideas on how to better imitate the fish, but I’m puzzling over the notion of a drop-shot bait being used on a fly rod – and whether I can dress something with a similar action.

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I got one Spotted Bass on Sunday. I figure he collided with one of those Party Barges that were parading past – and got disoriented enough to want to eat.

I wasn’t complaining much at the sudden attention – and it was nice to see fat healthy fish in their element, rather than gasping Carp in a mud bucket.

Drought, thorns, and Branch eating Frogs

The problem with declining water levels and the increase in exposed bank is finding out the floral equivalent of the Common Cockroach, the Blackberry vine, actually thrives in drought.

Drought is supposed to be the Great Equalizer, and any thoughts of a soft landing when skidding down the bank, is quickly dashed by the gaping holes in waders, the streaks of blood on palm and exposed flesh, and the sickening reality that cockroaches thrive in adversity, and are immune even to my curses.

Drought and receding water levels has made the journey between foot path and water’s edge uncertain, and in many areas, outright daunting.  Even if you’re lucky enough to gain the water’s edge upright and intact, back casts are nearly impossible due to the height of the exposed banks and their liberal cover of fly eating foliage.

Skinned knees and shredded waders are now commonplace, and I’m tired of fragile breathables and shredding heavy plumber gear, and have opted to swap out my gear entirely.

As shallow tends to be lifeless, I’ve been bypassing my normal haunts in favor of anything deep that hasn’t had the oxygen boiled out of it, and may host a few fish willing to eat.

Deep water means lakes and impoundments, and neither plays to the strong suit of fly fishing – given how poorly our gear sinks. Water less than ten foot deep is about the limit of our fishing, and while that makes us productive in the shallow edges of bays and inlets, we rarely can compete with other tackle types when the fish are deeper still.

My “exploration” rig is now a casting rod and weedless frog – and hiking boots instead of fragile waders. A 5’ bait casting rod threads through Blackberry brambles more efficiently than a 9’ fly rod, and most of my overly warm water is covered in algae and weed, so my weedless frog is a huge upgrade from flies.

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More importantly, I can wing the frog from safety – and not have to fight my way down to the water’s edge to gain casting space. (Note the double hook riding up onto the back of the frog, imparting complete immunity from fouling on weeds and “cheese” mats.)

“Cheese” and wind-driven duckweed compound the fishing even further. Drought has reduced the water volume and summer temperatures cause the floating mats of vegetation (Cheese) to bloom sooner – and swallow entire waterways. Afternoon breezes push the floating duckweed into thick mats on the windward side of the impoundment – and flies simply bounce off the vegetation or are immediately fouled and useless.

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Normally this envelopment occurs in August, but the the absence of Winter and the unseasonably warm Spring have give the vegetation a couple months head start – and I’m running out of open water.

In the above photo, I can cast the frog over the Cheese and walk it back over the mat of vegetation without fear of snagging anything.

This spot yielded a couple of “tail slaps” from an unknown species, and in between picking my way through thickets of Blackberry, managed to observe one lonesome 3” bluegill along with what appeared to be something feeding on the vegetation, which I assumed was carp.

I returned the following morning with fly gear and the duckweed had closed the open waterways above. I managed a bit of fishing on the far side around the downed timber, but that was fruitless given the far bank is a ten foot drop to deep water.

While I had high hopes for Largemouth, this may be a bluegill only area – and they may be quite small to boot.

Dyneema and the Demise of Monofilament

The interesting bit of switching to conventional gear is learning of the changes in the tackle since last I tossed a plug in anger. The biggest change being Dyneema braid, which has largely replaced monofilament line in both casting and spinning gear.

The new braid is a learning experience given that 30lb test has the diameter of about 8lb mono. That means an unwary angler can  shatter his rod if he’s not pulling straight back to free a snag, or could slice fingers if he were a damn fool and wrapped it around anything but a stick.

This type of braid possibly brings new life to older, smaller capacity fly reels – as you can fit a hundred yards of 30lb or 40lb test, where Dacron’s thickness might not make backing possible.

The same line is used on spinning reels as well. Most of the spool is wound with the equivalent diameter monofilament, and the last 100 yards with the braided line. 

I re-equipped my conventional rod with 10 pound monofilament backing  and 100 yards of braided Dyneema rated at 30lb test. The mono backing lessens the strain on the spool the higher rated line is capable of adding. This material requires an Albright knot to join the mono to the braid, and a Palomar knot for tying lures and flies onto the end. The line cuts itself quite easily as if using conventional knots like the Clinch, or similar.

It’s a bit heady to drop the lure into the brush on the far side on an errant cast, rip the branch off the tree, then tow the entire mass across the pond to be sorted out without fear of harming lure or line.

Us fly fishing types are not used to announcing ourselves with such environmental authority …

… and if you’ve not bought bass tackle in awhile, you’ll understand the importance of these new braids. Lures cost $7 –$20 each, and it’s my understanding that hard core bass fishermen use 65lb test braid to ensure the hook straightens and the lure returns home safely.

What’s really needed is a weave of that same braid covering for my waders. While it’s nice to be dry and absent a pant’s leg full of cold water,  it would be nicer to navigate both snakes and thorn bushes in full Kevlar.

Olive Marabou meets NASCAR

In the past, I was the fellow scrambling away from the approaching bow wave, shaking fist at V-8 wielding interlopers insistent on warbling through full Doppler enroute to some distant zip code.

Yesterday I was the portly fellow astride all that horsepower – ignoring the angry epithets and screams of our victims as our rooster tail washed the peasants off their isolated beaches and rocky points, while we belching 8 cylinders worth of carbon footprint into the drinking water supply of California’s wine country.

Knowing we’d decimated any chance of  the 2015 Chardonnay winning medals, and with all the ecological carnage in our wake, what was needed was to stomp life out of a few fish to feel complete.

I got lucky and was invited to fish with a professional angler, a competitor in both local tournaments as well as the B.A.S.S. (Bass Angler’s Sportsman’s Society) circuit, who knew more about largemouth, smallmouth, and spotted bass than anyone I’d met, and more importantly – was willing to share that knowledge with a fly wielding sissy.

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Note the solitary fly rod in the above 45MPH dash across open water, contrasting sharply with the 10 pre-strung rods on either side of the Captain’s chair in the bow. As I snapped the shot I’m thinking of Michael Douglas’s “Gordon Gecko” speech and modifying his quote to be, “enough tackle so’s not to waste time.”

… and the first pearl of wisdom dispensed dashed any hopes I had of jettisoning job and spouse, as I found out how “rich” never describes the tournament fisherman, “optimistic” or “lucky” might be better suited, and “broke” a quick second.

Any fly fisherman with the nerve to wander through a bass tackle catalog can’t help but recognize the hard core bass angler is a kindred spirit. Only degenerate gamblers, fly fishermen, and ardent Bass anglers are capable of dropping an entire paycheck on things they can’t explain to “normal” humans – and not think anything amiss in so doing.

Tackle boxes filled with things that rattle or squirm, colors like  Raspberry Red, Lemon Yellow, and Orange Orange, acres of jellified gummy animals, and Pork rind in Frog, Begonia, and Mottled Asphalt.

Where we insist on blowing several hundred on a single rod,  they buy eight or ten of the cheaper flavor, whose total cost is about equal to our own. We change spools and they change rods, and with a mobile platform containing plenty of storage, they can make the contents of our fishing vest (and the dollars squandered on its contents) seem puny in the comparison.

But of all the wondrous arsenal of tools demonstrated, it was mobility that was most foreign to my terrestrial fishing, and likely the most tempting to misuse. I wondered how many fruitless casts would it take before a V-8 wielding angler launched himself on a high speed intercept for somewhere else … and at 4 miles per gallon, how long could he do so before his spouse questioned his financial acumen.

With all these questions bubbling to the surface, and each angler seated within talking distance of one another, I was pleased to find bass anglers are prone to conversation and are far more sociable and well adjusted then fly fishermen.

Fly fishermen race each other out of the parking lot and only snarl a greeting if forced into eye contact – especially if two fellows choose to fish in the same direction. Bass anglers offer you cold drinks and a sandwich and cast to the best lie when you’ve got both hands full. The end result is similar, but the game is friendlier and you’re more tolerant of your fellow Man.

I liked that. The light banter of anglers coupled with the conversational tone due to the short distance separating us made any lull in fishing less burdensome.

I enjoyed both the similarities and differences of our two cultures, and threw flies when the water was friendly – and plugs when it wasn’t, and soaked up as much knowledge of my quarry and its habits as I could.

Economy of motion was the most apparent – as the professional angler’s focus is on the seconds they shave from a cast, from playing fish, netting them, and storage in the live well. More casts in an eight hour period means more opportunity for catching fish – with a single fish often being the difference between placing in the money and not.

“Single fly Theory”, wherein the angler has the utmost confidence in his offering and uses it to the exclusion of all else has a parallel in bass fishing, as we threw only three different baits for the entire day.

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Nor could you argue with the end result, as this Berryessa Largemouth proves most handily. The angler is Leroy Bertelero, a big fellow, over six feet – making this huge bass smaller in the comparison.

While the similarities between the two groups outnumber the differences, the nature of professional fishing can’t help but intrude on the pleasure aspects of our craft.

Catching fish for money is a noble concept – akin to all other money sports like tennis and bicycling, but the tournament aspect makes fish doubly precious, and where we curse when we lose a fish – the tour angler takes additional steps never to do so.

Most of the reels were loaded with 50lb Dyneema braid, with short monofilament leaders of similar pound test. Considering your average bass to be somewhere within 3 – 5 lbs., you’d think that overkill.

In comparison, our pleasure fishing and notion of selectivity almost always results in our lightening our tackle – and counting coup for landing fish that weigh more than our tippet. Tournament anglers need the opposite, the ability to hoist the bass out of a tule thicket – laden with grass – without fear of repercussion.

It’s something I puzzled over briefly before winching my quarry over the gunwale. There is a certain luxury in horsing your fish into a live well with minimal effort, likely making it easier on the bass in the long run. A bit less excitement than we’re used to given how a big fish cartwheeling on a light tippet makes us so religious, and our prayers so fervent.

Awesome experience, good company … by next weekend I’ll be back among the peasants (if they’ll still have me), and just as eager to extend digit when hit with the chill of boat swell.

More Pain then Wadding a Sharp Hook through Gristle

With every Californian intent on their Memorial Day Exodus, I lounged against the garage jamb and waved as my neighbors wadded their protesting kids and worn camping gear into anything capable of towing something else, then followed their neighbors onto the Interstate, all in a mad rush for the woods.

Having competed with this angry mob many times in the past, and knowing the lack of water would compress anglers even further, we opted to splurge on the local private bass water . We knew the cost of a full day’s fishing was much less than the gas, food, and campground fees we’d absorb if we donned our “Mad Max” garb and chased Charlize Theron (and everyone else) up the interstate enroute to the Parched Pristine.

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… not that Miss Theron isn’t worthy of chasing, its the notion that frayed nerves, squealing tires, and campground backing accidents, resulting from too many people crammed into too small a resource, are never a recipe for decompression and relaxation, rather they have the opposite effect.

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But an entire lake filled with voracious gigantic bass, off-limits to kids, unruly pets, and powerboats,  and rimmed with wildflowers and framed by beautiful weather, followed by a fine meal of rice balls and grilled Spam, that’s the makings of workplace water cooler legend.

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To compound our good fortune, our guess as to the lake’s readiness was perfect, and “should’ve been here last week” was forgotten in the howl of,  “gotta be here goddamn right now.” No sooner then we were clear of the vehicle and armed, we were assaulted by hungry bass intent on eating flies, fingers, floating tippet spools, and anything else exposed to the water.

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Morning till noon was the big meal bite, using larger, slow sinking flies resembling frogs or tadpoles. When that slowed the fish shifted to smaller food, Wooly Bugger style flies in drab colors. We caught fish all day long and yielded the water grudgingly around 5PM.

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I’ve seen plenty of manicured trout water; everything from the rough hewn management of a “sugar daddy” conservation group like Cal Trout, to clubs meant for wealthy capitalists like Rising River Lodge and the Bolibokka Club.  Each has its own personality and appeal, but grooming the lake to achieve a singular vision of bass fishing is  quite unique in my experience. Every bush, sapling, and flower individually planted to yield a specific effect when mature –including rafts of dead timber and tules planted around the periphery and lake center.

The notion of mixing wildflowers with fishing makes for an interesting duality. On the one hand the bright colors and gay borders are akin to fishing in a garden, but they assist in stabilizing the earthen mounds from eroding into the lake.

Most certainly the fishing takes priority in your enjoyment of your surroundings, as it is superb, but being able to take your spouse along without having to entertain her may be worth even more.

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I keep thinking that with this as the destination for the first exposure to fishing – wives and girlfriends might seriously contemplate the pastime versus their traditional baptism … shivering as mosquito bait.

No sympathy from me …

With all this amazing good fortune, I found my mortality by midafternoon. My host showed up in his truck and watched me land a fish, and commented, “…you’re doing pretty well, every time I see you – you’ve got a fish on.”

I showed him the left thumb, scraped raw from “lipping” bass, and then unglued my feet from the suction of loose mud at waters edge, avoiding pressure on the blister on my knee from crouching on the side of berms avoiding being “sky lined” so as not to alert my quarry,  and he chuckled. “You’ll get no sympathy from me …”

Can’t say as I blame him – nor was I looking for some, I just had the cathartic realization that fishless fishing has its share of aches and pains, yet even when moon’s align and the Cornucopia spills open, there’s blisters aplenty … and only the wound locations change.

That evening as I hobbled to the bathroom, I did some mental math. Landing a fish requires three squats; the first when kneeling on the berm when casting, the second when extricating your mending line from Poppies and bankside debris, and the last when you squat to lip the fish at water’s edge. Figure (with the Bluegill) you land 140 fish in a single day, and you’ve neatly explained the blisters on both knees and why you groan like Grandpa when you get off the couch.

So you like tormenting the fish then …

Back in the 1980’s I worked the night shift in one of those cold edifices that shadow Market Street. As I left one morning waving at my fellow workers, I noticed a quiet looking number with a shy smile in the company of one of my female coworkers.

The next day the lady I worked with asked if I’d consider a blind date with her pal, to which I readily agreed.

To make the story short, I found myself on an East Bay lake, with no fishing tackle, attempting to look interested  in my companion, while fish cavorted about thumbing their collective nose at me. She was a nice gal without any interest in the out of doors, and I tried my best to appear engaging and personable.

As I was wont to do, I attempted to couch my confession into my best “Mac Daddy” moment. I mentioned I enjoyed fishing and the woods, and spent lots of time there. She responded in Big City fashion, how, “.. she would never eat anything caught out of the water as it was likely unsafe ..”, unfazed by her ignorance about where fish lived, I opted for the “catch and release” gambit …

“Yea, I let them all go, actually.” As I pick an imaginary speck of lint off my sleeve, expecting her to think me a swell fellow and consummate sportsmen. Rather than swoon in rapture as I was expecting, she replies, “.. Oh, so you like torturing them?”

(No lady, that’s what this date is all about, really.)

This same scene played in my conscious mind after this weekend’s debauch. Realizing that age and overindulgence are combining forces to ensure that should the fishing be either good or bad, I’m taking more abuse; lumps, scrapes, contusions, and actual blood loss – than the goddamn fish are.

No. I don’t enjoy tormenting fish … I have a yen to be tormented by them. Through my own actions of pursuit and capture I inflict much more pain on myself than I ever do wadding a sharp hook through gristle.

I just … need a nap … before I do it again tomorrow …

Somewhere between tenkara and Hardy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exploring what little damp remains

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part 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 …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the best was yet to come …

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

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

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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.