Saturday, July 31, 2010

Fishing Report: Fire In the Sky

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There are a couple of big fires burning more than a hundred miles away to the southwest of us. The smoke plume is high, so high we haven't smelled the fires yet. But last evening we could see a secondary blaze as the sun set through the smokestream.
The lake was quiet; the sky was on fire.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Fishing Report: A Fishing Paradise

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The other afternoon I took Jeremiah and his friends Juan, Brian and Fernando to a local bass lake. It's called a bass lake to distinguish it from the trout lakes that dot the area, and--so they say--because it has some nice bass lurking in its depths. There are certainly many people who come here with their big, shiny boats, Ugly Sticks, and giant tackle boxes full of lures and soft baits. At least one of them has assured me that he's caught five pounders out of there.
As for us, so far the biggest bass we've caught have been about 5 inches long, like the one Jeremiah caught on this trip. And we catch those only because they happened at that moment to shove aside the teeming little bluegills that afflict the lake.
But that's my jaded view. For the boys, this is a fishing paradise. On a hot day like the one when we were there they can fish and swim--and swim while they're fishing. And catch fish hand over fist. That's what they did for a solid five hours, and they've bugged me ever since to take them back.
Nice. Very nice. I will take them back sometime soon. The great thing was that for the first time they all baited their own hooks and took off their own fish. So there's a chance I could take my rod and do a little fishing of my own. Maybe I could pull up one of those lunkers. At the very least I could add my catch of bluegill to the stringer. This time Juan and Brian and Fernando took the fish home. They insisted that their Dad keeps all the fish, even the little ones, and even if that's not exactly true it can't hurt to thin out the population a little. But of course I think maybe I could catch some bigger ones, enough for us to take home, fillet, and fry up.
Happy boys catching fish, me catching fish, maybe a fish fry--come to think of it, that's a pretty good definition of a fishing paradise.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Tree With the Lights In It

"When her doctor took her bandages off and led her into the garden, the girl who was no longer blind saw 'the tree with the lights in it.' It was for this tree I searched through the peach orchards of summer, in the forests of fall and down winter and spring for years. Then one day I was walking along Tinker Creek thinking of nothing at all and I saw the tree with the lights in it. I saw the backyard cedar where the mourning doves roost charged and transfigured, each cell buzzing with flame. I stood on the grass with the lights in it, grass that was wholly fire, utterly focused and utterly dreamed. It was less like seeing than like being for the first time seen., knocked breathless by a powerful glance. The flood of fire abated, but I'm still spending the power. Gradually the lights went out in the cedar, the colors died, the cells unflamed and disappeared. I was still ringing. I had been my whole life a bell, and never knew it until that moment I was lifted and struck. I have since only very rarely seen the tree with the lights in it. The vision comes and goes, mostly goes, but I live for it, for the moment when the mountains open and a new light roars in spate through the crack, and the mountains slam."
--Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Fishing Report: Long, Strange Trip

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What's wrong with this picture?
If you look closely you can see the truck peeking out of an incongruous place instead of sitting under the big Ponderosa. That's the unsettling view I had as I finally paddled out to fish.
It began at about 2 o'clock when I got to the lake and decided to head to the north end. There was a wind out of the northwest, leaving lots of tempting sheltered water up there. I drove up to the big pine and, as is my wont, I began the maneuver I've successfully completed hundreds of times: turning around in the road to face back the way I came on the lake side of the road. It's simple really, just a half turn to the left, backing up to allow sufficient turning radius, and then swinging back the other way and coming to a stop by the side of the road.
So what happened? Let this be a lesson to us all: we are all just a moment away from moronitude.
When I felt the rear tires slipping off I gunned it. The truck settled in for a stay.
All I could do was wait for a Good Samaritan with a big rig and a chain. This is way out of cell phone range, and a ten mile walk back to get within range. Not a good plan on a 100 degree day. So I unloaded. I took a few pictures. I even went down to the bank and cast a leech for awhile, and had the Otter swim under my line. But I missed the first truck that came by. I hustled up the bank as fast as I could but he was already past.
So I stayed up under the tree in the shade. A gentleman came by in an SUV and offered to give me a ride somewhere. I declined and he wished me luck.
Then along comes a big three quarter ton pickup with a ranch logo on the door, an old guy driving, and four or five strapping young ranch hands packed in the stretch cab. I figured I'd be out in five minutes. "This wasn't so bad!" I thought. You know how it goes. We all think we deserve the easy way out.
I stood by the road, I raised my hand, the old guy looked at me, and drove right by. Never fail to take into account the Bastard Factor.
A little later a woman in a van stopped. She offered to drive the truck while I pushed, which was nice, but would have been useless. Then as she got back in her van she called back, "Do you have water?" I did, but I appreciated her thoughtfulness.
I waited some more and watched little tiny fish jumping way over there in the sheltered water along the far bank.
A young guy came by in a small truck. He also offered me a ride, and asked if I had water. Maybe I was starting to look like Walter Huston's old prospector in Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
It had been two hours when the first guy came back the other way. This time he offered to let me use his Onstar voice phone, but we were out of range for that, too. So he took Kim's number and said he'd call her when he could get a signal. His name was Rick. Thanks, Rick.
Since I figured Kim would know to come get me at dark, I went ahead and went fishing.
I was still on the truck side of the lake maneuvering around the weed beds casting surface flies to jumping trout when I heard someone call my name. Yep, there it was again.
He drove on up to where he could see me and called out, "Kim sent me to pull you out!" I paddled all the way back to the truck where Mike was waiting for me. His wife Nancy worked with Kim last year, and they live right up within 15 minutes of the lake. He hooked a log chain on the truck frame, took a wrap around the trailer hitch on his four wheel drive, V6 Jeep, and yanked me out.
Thanks, Mike. And thanks again, Rick.
Now that's more like it: the comforting view as I paddled back out at 5 o'clock.
It was a beautiful, hot day. I saw something I really like, but didn't get close enough for a very good shot. The Goats Beard seeds, like big Dandelion fluff, land on the water fluff down with the seed stem sticking up. More often than not there will be a Damselfly perched on the seed taking a ride.
I cast a Cricket up against the bank for awhile and caught the first fish of the day, a little guy who hit it as it skittered across the water.
A big shadow passed over me and I looked up to see this Eagle landing on a high perch to dry out. I've never seen an Eagle do this before. He let his wings hang and preened.
I fished around the north end and over to the west side, trying a variety of surface flies with no luck. The sun was hot and bright off the water, and the wind had died.
I moved down to this stretch, and tied on an elk hair Caddis. I saw a good fish launch itself out of the water just a little way off, so I paddled closer, set the Caddis down right where he had jumped, and let it sit.
Up he came, a big splashy rise, and a good fight with me paddling hard to keep him out of some weeds.
I held him in the water for a long time, and when I let him slip away I could tell he was still struggling to stay upright. I watched for him but couldn't find him, so figured he had righted himself and was alright.
Later I was casting a nymph under an indicator. On one cast I noticed something white down in the water under the line. I paddled closer and saw my fish lying belly up on the bottom six feet down. I decided I had a responsibility to do something. At the very least I would keep the fish and have him for dinner. I know that puts a lot of turtles out of a meal, but it seemed like the right thing to do.
I tried to snag him but that didn't work. So I held the line in my left hand, the rod in my right, and reached down with the rod tip and got a loop around him and lassoed him up. He was still alive, but he was past reviving. I hope there's a heaven for trout, or trout in Heaven.
Some say not to fish the lakes in the heat of summer, that any fish caught and fought in the warm upper layer of water will die. My experience is that most fish revive quickly and swim away strongly. This is the first mortality that I've seen firsthand, though I admit that there may have been others I was not aware of. But that's when I think of the turtles and the Eagle. Mortality is a part of the life of the lake, and would be whether we were there or not.
I fished into the cool of the evening with the nymph and indicator rig.
I caught another one. I took a quick photo and got him back into the water and he revived quickly.
Dusk began to settle in and the wind began to kick up again. By the time I trolled back to the truck in the dark it was blowing hard. I caught one last fish on that trolling run, a small one, and released it in the water.
It was so good to climb into the truck, fire it up and sail home. But what a long, strange trip it had been.
P.S. That pretty fish was pretty good.