Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Does Size Matter?

For me it doesn't--unless I have a big one. Then I get out the measuring tape.
Well, I had a big one Sunday night. I didn't bother to measure it then, but I've been looking at the pictures, and got curious.

I went out to the float tube in the truck and measured that upper edge of the stripping basket that runs along the length of that big boy flopped across my lap.
It runs 24 inches from clip to clip.
Just sayin'.

A Crazy Leap Into Summer

Sunday afternoon was a trip up to a mountain lake with family and friends. Some said the lake would still be too cold for swimming. It was--for the adults that tested the water.
For the kids, no problem.
So here, in a few pictures, is the essence of Summer.
Even if you aren't going to jump into a cold mountain lake, I hope you're finding ways to just let go and take a crazy leap into Summer.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Sunday Fishing Report: Like The Old Days

There's a lake I call Cutthroat Lake. It's stocked with Lahontans. It has some problems aesthetically: cattle, turtles, swimmers, homes--including a development of luxury homes going in on one end, traffic on the road that runs along its length, and occasional squatters who tend to trash the camping area.
But..it has cutthroats. Big, beautiful cutthroats. And it's a "restricted gear" lake, meaning basically a single barbless hook, which translates for the most part to flyfishing.
I also have a soft spot for this lake. When we first moved here and I was scouting the local lakes, I had some amazing times on this lake fishing from the bank. I would stop by over the Noon hour to find blizzard hatches of Callibaetis and eagerly rising trout. Or I would stop off in the late afternoon and find big cruisers slurping up Damsels two feet off the bank. Or I would stop by in the evening and find big fish who would kill a Hopper pattern dropped essentially at my feet.
I've caught fish up to 22 inches here, and I've been spooled here. But I've also been disappointed here. Recently I have not found the hatches I did that first season, and the fish seem to have changed their feeding patterns since then. But I keep coming back to check it out, hoping that I might hit it at the right time once again.
I was there a few weeks ago during the afternoon. It was beautiful, and the shorelines were teeming with Damsels, but I couldn't find any trout.
On Saturday evening my work took me up to the vicinity of the lake, so I stopped by around 8:00 and fished from the bank until dark. It almost felt like the old times. There was a breeze, but it was from the south, leaving a big calm stretch of bank on the south end of the lake. Caddis and Callibaetis were hatching--not heavy, but a bona fide hatch, and little trout were snapping them up. I caught one of those little guys on a little Adams. But it appeared that the big boys were leaving it all to the little guys.
Then, in the twilight between 9:30 and 10:00, a good fish came by 6 feet from the bank doing the gulper thing. I was happy to see it. I tried to lay my fly in front of him but without success. I waited for another good trout, or for that one to come back around again, but activity seemed to be slackening, and it was almost too dark to see the fly. But I let it sit out there in the feeding lane.
I should have been paying attention. I was looking somewhere else when I saw a rise out of the corner of my eye. Not a big rise, or a noisy rise; just a gentle, lazy rise. I thought, "That was close to my fly. Looks like a good fish...where is my fly, anyway?" So I moved the rod to find the fly and realized that good fish had come out of nowhere and taken my Adams. Too late. I felt the hook almost find purchase, and then slide right out of his mouth. That was my last shot that night.
Tonight, after a very busy day, my work once again took me up near the lake. I had loaded the float tube, intent on going back to see if I could make amends. I got to the lake around 8:00 again. A couple guys were loading their boat as I put the float tube in the water. One was an old timer (older than me) who had apparently done better than the youngster (younger than me.) He said he'd caught one he figured at 23 or 24 inches. "I was getting my hits on a Purple Leech," he told me.
There was a smart breeze blowing, this time from the north. That usually bodes ill on this lake. But it could always die down. So I tied on something purpley and leechy and started to troll while waiting to see what the breeze would do.
I was moving down the shoreline when I saw a good fish come up and take a caddis right up at the bank. I stopped and cast and stripped, covering that area, but didn't see or feel him. So I resumed trolling, and there he was. He didn't slam the fly; he just took it.
I was glad I had a 4X tippet on.
It took awhile, but I got him in the net. The old timer had seen my net and said, "Your net's too small." It was, but it held him.
A very nice fish. Over 20 inches, it's safe to say. I might even say it was over 22 inches.
While I was working him in the wind had picked up and was blowing strong. I took another loop trolling but caught nothing else. But I went home happy.
It felt like the old days.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Thursday Fishing Report: What, Again?

Yeah, again.
It was Jeremiah's turn this evening. Everything was looking real good when we got there.
The wind had been from the south all day, so I decided to put the canoe in at the south end of the lower lake where it's usually sheltered under those conditions. It was plenty calm there, and fish were beginning to rise. It even looked like the wind would die down altogether and give the fish a chance to show Jeremiah what a real "bite" looks like.
We had time to try big mayflies, of which we saw none hatching, and then change to a Griffith's Gnat, which closely imitated the little white flies coming off. We had some rises tantalizingly close to Jeremiah's fly, one a classic back and dorsal rise. Later, Jeremiah would tell Isaiah about the "red fin" he saw.
Then the breeze picked up and began to blow from the west. Then it swirled around and began to blow from the east. The water was getting choppy except for a strip still sheltered on the east bank.
So I pulled anchor and we headed over to see if anything was still rising there. We decided to have Jeremiah troll the Gnat while I paddled. Several times he told me he thought he had a fish on. I told him to wait. Then he had a real hit. He jumped and shouted "I have one!" Then it was off, and he sat there with that classic look of disbelief and puzzlement. "What happened?" he asked me. "Why did it come off?"
I wish I knew. Oh, I can speculate, and theorize. But while fishing with the boys clarifies what I do know about trout and flyfishing, it also confronts me with what I don't know. When I fish with them I realize how mysterious it all is, really. I like that, myself. I've met technicians and scientists and engineers on the water, people who seem to think it can all be reduced to an equation. Usually they're more than willing to enlighten someone as ignorant and superstitious as I am.
No thanks. I prefer the Mystery.
Jeremiah's trout was on for only a second, but in that second he learned something about fishing--and about that mystery.
But right then we were just feeling encouraged. Then, the breeze shifted to the north and the east bank got choppy. So we just kept on trolling.
Right after I took that picture I heard the wind coming from the north, and a wall of wind hit us, turning the canoe and scaring Jeremiah. He decided we should head to shore before the wind tipped us over. I had a hard time turning the canoe into the wind, but managed it, and we paddled in.
He hopped out immediately and seemed relieved to be on dry ground. He found a dead trout in the wind-tossed willows and began trying to fish it up with a paddle. Not what I had in mind, but fun for him.
Then he got this idea that a dead fish like that would almost certainly attract bears, which would be hard to hear as they crept up through the willows, because of the spooky wind. So he decided he was ready to call it a day.
The wind showed no sign of letting up, so I agreed. Jeremiah insisted on carrying everything up from the canoe to the pickup, maybe because he knew I was disappointed and wanted to do something for me. He's a good kid.
I was a little disappointed, but I'm learning that these things are all a part of the mystery, and that it's best to take it in stride. So we had fun on the way home talking about BB guns (Jeremiah really wants one, and I have lots of BB gun stories from my checkered past) and counting deer.
We found this little herd of bucks and stopped to watch for awhile as they circled and feinted and crowhopped, and went through the motions of the mortal combat they will engage in as mature bucks in rut. Jeremiah really enjoyed watching them. He took this picture.
We counted 26 deer by the time we got home, which broke the record set by me and Isaiah the night before. Jeremiah liked that.
So the wind blew, we caught no fish--and we still had a great time.
What, again? Yeah, again. Thanks, Mystery.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Wednesday Fishing Report: We Got "Squirreled"

I took Isaiah to the lake this evening. The wind had blown like crazy all day, but by 6:00 it was beautifully calm. So we loaded up the canoe and headed out.
When we got there I carried the canoe down to the water. I always take my hat off when I do that--it gets in the way--and Isaiah tried it out. Nice look.
We put in at the channel and paddled north some distance along the bank to the area the boys and I fished the other evening. I was convinced we would have a better shot at some fish there. Everything was looking good; we saw a few Drakes and Callibaetis, and there were fish rising.
We anchored where I had caught several fish last Friday, and, just as then, they were beginning to work ten or fifteen feet out from the willows.
Isaiah was using my rod, and went to work himself to get used to casting a fly rod again. He was doing a good job, getting the fly out there a ways. He had on the Bat Caddis from lastnight, and I tied a Drake on his rod. We would see which the trout were going to prefer tonight.
Then the wind picked up and the fish went down.
It's one thing when the wind does that to me. It's another thing when I'm trying to give one of my kids a positive fishing experience for once. Is that too much to ask? I take it philosophically (mostly) when the wind blows me around the lake, but I get ticked off when it happens to my kids.
Isaiah took it all in stride, though. We were still having fun. But the point is that he doesn't know yet what he's missing.
Soon, though, he was getting tired. He's been working in a friend's orchard this week, so he had already put in a good day's work before we came to the lake. And there were simply no rises to be seen anywhere in the windblown water.
Sigh. Time to go.
So I changed his fly to a juicy looking nymph and we pulled anchor and headed for the truck. It was a long way, into the wind--my shoulders told me I hadn't paddled like this for awhile--and he trolled the whole way. I kept hoping....
Oh well. We were having fun, and he talked the whole time about, you know, things; like sports, and puberty, and his work in the orchard, and puberty, and what he was going to do with the money he earned, and puberty....
I'm remembering now the constant hyper-awareness of every change in your body, and that constant underlying worry that somehow you're the first kid ever that's NOT NORMAL. Isaiah doesn't realize yet how normal that is.
We loaded up the truck. It was good to have Isaiah around to help.
As we pulled out on the road it felt strange to be leaving before dark, but it was a beautiful evening. It was good to see the world in a different light.
We counted over twenty deer on the way home, and found this Bull snake on the paved section of the road. We didn't know for sure what kind of snake it was until we stopped and checked, just as another car ahead of us had done with another snake. There is a fascination that compels one to want to know if it's a Rattlesnake or not.
In the midst of our conversation in the car I mentioned the fact that we had been skunked. (I guess I'm a sore loser; couldn't just drop it.) Isaiah said, "No, we were squirreled." So I asked if he meant that we'd lost our nuts. He thought that was funny.
It's a puberty thing.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Tuesday Fishing Report: Not What I Expected

Well, I caught three today: one trout and two bats. One of the bats did the old bat kite routine; very entertaining. The other just flopped in the water. Both received the long distance release.
I'm pretty sure that's the first time I've caught more mammals than fish on one trip.
It was a warm, windy day. I finally stopped on the way to the lake to take this picture. I should have taken it earlier in the season when there was more snow on the mountains, but I was usually in a hurry, and often the weather conditions weren't ideal. It has also occurred to me that the guy living in the trailer out of sight behind the shed might not want me walking around taking pictures of his place. Some people living off the beaten path have been known to shoot first and ask questions later.
I decided to fish in an area of the lake I haven't been in yet this season. I launched at one of my well-used access points near the channel. Ten feet away up in some weeds against the willows this Brown was on the feed. I think he was on Damsels, which were thick there; he would more often than not come clear out of the water snapping them up. I cast a mayfly to him (an older pattern I tied up last year) and he couldn't resist. I'm glad, because he was the only fish of the day.
I then paddled across the channel and down along the south bank of the upper lake. This is a beautiful stretch with tall pines running down from the mountain right up to the bank. I've had some good days here in the past, and many times this year the boats have been stacked up along this stretch. I was thinking it must have some good Drake hatches.
I tied on a new fly I tied this afternoon. It's the same as the one I described in a previous post, except for a light brown body ribbed with yellow floss.
I found another fish working up against the bank and cast to him. He came up, but I missed him. So I worked on down the bank and back again, casting as close to the willows and logs as I could. I had some splashy hits, but no hookups. Little guys. But, you know, those splashy rises are fun.
Then the wind picked up. So I found a little cove and took a break. I don't do this as often as I used to; I must be more driven these days, if that's possible. I backed the float tube into the weeds and kicked back to wait for the wind to settle and fish to begin working. It was nice.
Eventually the wind did settle, and gradually calmed. I saw a few Drakes, thinking they were the harbinger of a hatch. But no; that was it. Hmmm. Wonder why? Other things were hatching like crazy, though: little tiny mayflies, some medium mayflies, and some caddis. Mostly, though, there were midges. Millions of midges.
A fish came up in the little cove where I was and took a Drake. OK. I cast my Drake to him. Over and over. But he didn't even give it a sniff, and just stopped coming up. Then some fish began working out in the deep water.
I paddled out there and gave it a shot, but had no hits. My guess is that they were on the midges. So I tied on a caddis. Now, that's worked before, but not tonight. Tonight I'd see a fish come up for one or two or three slashing rises, and by the time I'd get my fly near him he'd be gone, and then come up again 50 feet away going the other direction.
Still, I fished on until it was almost too dark to find my channel. That, of course, is Bat Time. They loved my caddis. Couldn't leave it alone.
As is so often the case, the day was not what I had expected. But I wasn't skunked, I had lots of fun, the lake was beautiful, I found the challenging fishing stimulating, and the bats were, well, unusual.
I guess if fishing was always what I expected I'd get bored and take up golf.
So thank goodness it wasn't.