Friday, September 30, 2011

Chopaka Lake Report: So Long, September

I closed out September with a trip to new waters. I finally made it up to Chopaka Lake, storied in Pacific Northwest fly fishing lore. It's not the easiest place to get to. The road starts there across the valley and continues for several miles winding up and up and around the mountain. It's rough as hell, and make sure you watch out for that first cattle guard, and for the log trucks rumbling down toward you filling the whole road. But just when you think your little truck is going to come apart at the seams, the road dips down into a high little valley, and there's the lake.

It's a pretty lake, and it's fly fishing only. That means there are lots of fly fishers there, especially on a Friday at peak season. I found plenty of room, though, and fish seemed to be everywhere.

From what I could observe, most of the fishers were trolling, paddling slowly along on the windy lake. So of course I started with the Bomber. I got a couple of bumps, but I'm pretty sure they were babies. I decided to paddle to the other side so tied on a green bead head nymph and started across. Halfway there I caught my first Chopaka Rainbow.

Once there, though, I went back to a surface fly. I started casting the Carpet Caddis up along the reeds and stripping it out. I caught this pretty fish, and another too small for a photo.

A squall came through, with strong swirling winds, cooler temps, and some rain. My rain jacket was still in the truck, so I thought I'd go get it. I tied on a black muddler and dragged it all the way across without raising a fish.

On the way back across, I trolled a red bead head leech, and then a black one. No action on those either. So I went with my hunch and tied on a brown muddler.

That worked. Just as I reached the dropoff a fish hit it. This was a better fish, thick and heavy.

I paddled up the reed line against the persistent wind casting the muddler in and stripping it out and caught fish pretty steadily for awhile. These were the best ones.

When the sun set behind the mountain I began to think of the jolting drive down the mountain, and decided I'd like to make it with some daylight left. So I began paddling back across to the truck. Along the way the wind settled down and fish started rising.

I tied on a flashback pheasant tail nymph and trolled it for a few minutes, then couldn't resist stopping and casting to rises. Some looked like nice fish. I cast the nymph out into the dimpled water and let it sit. I saw the take as a fish swirled on it. It felt like the best fish of the day, but it made another jerking run and broke me off.

I tried a Callibaetis dry and caught one more fish, a little one this time, as I paddled very slowly in.

I made it down the mountain with daylight to spare, and all the way down, as I bounced in the seat and held onto the steering wheel for dear life, I was thinking in the back of my mind of the dorsals slicing the calm surface back at the lake. I wondered if I had been seeing some of the famous twenty-inch-and-more Chopaka trout, and whether one of those had taken my pheasant tail.

Now that I've made the trip, I think I could make it in the dark. Next time I think I'll stick around at the lake and see if I can find out more about those trout.

So long, September. It was a nice way to go out.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Trout Lake Report: Bamboozled

I got a new rod over the weekend. Bamboo. But don't get too excited.

It's a Montague, one of the thousands, maybe millions, of split bamboo rods manufactured by the Montague Rod Company in Massachusetts from 1900 to 1955. Mine is a "Flash," one of the many model names used by the company, including "Trail, "Redwing," "Fishkill," and "Rapidan."

I picked this up at a charity auction for $50. Someone who knows bamboo rods told me he wouldn't go higher than that. When I got home and checked online I found one list which valued it at $150. That's not a lot for an antique bamboo rod until you consider that you could buy one in a dime store or a country store or a hardware store for five bucks or less in the beginning, and later for the astronomical price of $16.

It's not my first bamboo rod. I bought one a couple of years ago for twenty bucks, a Montague Clipper. But it's the first one I've owned that I can fish. The Clipper needs a little work.

Montague rods aren't exactly rare, but ones in good shape are getting harder to find. The most recent rods they made are already almost 50 years old. I was fortunate to find a good one--with two intact tips. I haven't been able yet to figure out when it might have been made, but my guess is that it's somewhere around the same age I am. That has a nice symmetry to it.

I was eager to get out and try it on the water, and Tuesday evening opened up. The rod is a nine footer and weighs a ton, but it throws a five weight line with a big, bushy fly just fine. Just as my friend told me it would, it casts s-l-o-w. One might say majestically.

There was a fresh wind blowing, and I was stripping a Bomber through the rolling waves. It wasn't long before the rod bent to a fish.

How many times has this rod arced over a running fish? How many fishers have held it in their hands and felt it quiver with the life of the fish? Who were those fishers? Where did they live, where did they fish?

This most certainly was not the rod's first fish, but it was the first fish I've caught on a bamboo rod.

But not the last.

We had a good evening together. My wrist got used to the weight, and the rod didn't even have to work very hard.  We caught many fish in the smaller range, and the best fish was probably a seventeen. (It escaped from my lap before I could get a photo.)

I'd like to see how it handles a fish of decent size and girth. Golden October is just coming into view, and it brings with it the promise of just such fish. I'll be out there, with my Flash.


On Wednesday I thought about the bamboo rod and, I confess, wondered what the fuss was all about. I was hoping to steal a couple of hours to steal back to the lake again, and I thought maybe if I did I'd go back to my "regular" rod--the graphite.

I know, the bamboo rod I have is not a finely tuned work of art crafted by the hands of an artist. I can't expect a factory-made fiddle to sound like a Stradivarius, or one outing with a manufactured bamboo rod to be an epiphany.

But, you know, it is bamboo. It wasn't extruded, it grew. Out of the earth. Naturally. As I thought of that long, whippy stick I remembered bamboo groves on Kauai waving slowly and majestically in the tropic wind. And I thought it looked real pretty when I saw it in the sun in the back of the truck.

So when I was able to get to the lake for a couple hours I naturally picked up the Flash.

It didn't feel so heavy anymore, and I began to find its natural rhythm. The fish were everywhere. Midges, caddis, and, I swear, honey ants, dotted the still surface. That rod gently laid down my little cinnamon ant, and firmly picked up fish after fish.

And I love that little pop it makes when you pull the ferrules apart.

I like this rod. It grew--and it's growing on me.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Yakima River Report: Maybe Next Time

I went to a conference over the weekend at a camp near the upper Yakima. So Sunday afternoon on the way home I stopped by.

It's a pretty stretch and I've fished it before under the same circumstances: in passing.

Squalls of rain were blowing through, and I saw a few Baetis and some October Caddis. I worked a Pheasant Tail through likely runs and pools with no takers, but caught a couple of small trout by swinging a little streamer and a beadhead nymph close along that tree-covered bank on the left.

There was more I could have done, but it had been a long weekend, I had a three and a half hour drive ahead of me, and home beckoned. So I stowed my soggy gear and hit the road.

Each time I've done this I think, "I really should come down here and give it the time it deserves."

Maybe next time.

Friday, September 23, 2011

"Reluctance," by Robert Frost

Out through the fields and the woods
And over the walls I have wended;
I have climbed the hills of view
And looked at the world and descended;
I have come by the highway home,
And lo, it is ended.

The leaves are all dead on the ground,
Save those that the oak is keeping
To ravel them one by one
And let them go scraping and creeping
Out over the crusted snow,
When others are sleeping.

And the dead leaves lie huddled and still,
No longer blown hither and thither;
The last lone aster is gone;
The flowers of the witch-hazel wither;
The heart is still aching to seek,
But the feet question 'Whither?'

Ah, when to the heart of man
Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
To yield with a grace to reason,

And bow and accept the end
Of a love or a season?
"Reluctance" by Robert Frost, from A Boy's Will and North of Boston. © Penguin, 2001. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Trout Lake Report: Beauty Fades

Where is September going so fast? Just goes to show: beauty fades.

It was a warm, windy evening. The fish hit the Bomber eagerly as it waked through the riffles, but it took me a long time to manage a hookup. After that it seemed easy.

I thought this Brown was a big one, then discovered it was foul hooked. Ouch.

A fish broke off the Bomber. Then the wind sat down. The fish went nuts, mostly small ones based on the many I saw leaping clear out of the water. I saw a few big Caddis in the mix of midges. I went with the Carpet Caddis, although a Griffith's Gnat might have served me better. I caught one hard fighter on the CC and was content.

And another beautiful day faded away.

Youth Sports Post: Isaiah On the DL

Well, Isaiah's left knee was killing him this morning after last night's game, so we took him to the doctor. The concern is a strained or torn ACL (Anterior cruciate ligament) and/or MCL (Medial collateral ligament). 

The prescription is to immobilize the knee for a week, no practices or games, and see if it improves. If it doesn't, then an MRI and further steps. So poor Isaiah is hobbling around on crutches now. He's not happy about it, but we are. Age fourteen is too early to mess around with permanent knee damage. 

My guess is that this was when it happened. Isaiah was returning a punt. That's his left leg stuck out there just before that big guy came in and hyperextended it.

He went ahead and played the rest of the game. I don't think he could have done that with a tear, so we're hoping it's a strain. Counting on it.

Meanwhile, Jeremiah plays on. That's him with the ball. So... you may still see a few Youth Sports posts now and then.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Youth Sports Post: Isaiah

If you will forgive a proud father, this is son Isaiah, Number 4, making one of his tackles in a win last night for the Junior Varsity. We know the professional photographer in town who takes all the sports photos, and she was nice enough to send us this one. I've gotta get one of those $5K camera rigs.

Isaiah is also the back up quarterback for the team, and he capped off a drive with a touchdown run. Not that I'm bragging or anything.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

"September," by Linda Pastan

it rained in my sleep
and in the morning the fields were wet

I dreamed of artillery
of the thunder of horses

in the morning the fields were strewn
with twigs and leaves

as if after a battle
or a sudden journey

I went to sleep in the summer
I dreamed of rain

in the morning the fields were wet
and it was autumn
"September" by Linda Pastan, from Carnival Evening: New and Selected Poems 1968-1998. © W.W. Norton & Company, 2009.