Saturday, March 31, 2012

It Begins

As I write this it is Saturday, and still March. But April is just hours away, and with its coming this lake will be officially open. If I could, I'd be there tomorrow. But my first trip will have to wait until Monday.

Remind me to get a new license. The old license expires today, and tomorrow there will be a late model pickup with a DFW insignia on the door patrolling the shores, and a nice, courteous warden will be writing lots of tickets.

There is no trace of ice on the lake, and the water is clear and cold. Perfect for the stockers that have already been unceremoniously hosed into their new home.

This is the far western end of the lake. Further west just a few miles from here the eastern edge of the Cascades shrugs into the sky, and the Pasayten Wilderness Area begins.

But I'll be content for this month to paddle out by those willows and fish the dropoff. Later, after April 28, I'll head for another wildlife area and the Browns and Rainbows of Trout Lake, or the Brookies of one of its sister lakes; or climb the rough logging road into the foothills to fish Chopaka for its fabled Rainbows, or go on to the gateway of the Pasayten to catch pristine Redbands in the sparkling, tumbling mountain streams.

On Friday, when these photos were taken, our corner of the world was enjoying a brief, 60 degree reprieve from the chilly, wet weather. It was back in all its dismalness when we woke up this morning, and will be with us for the next week. But on that glorious Friday when the sun could shine full on the awakening earth--and on us, coatless and T-shirted--we could feel it in our bones: Spring is just a thin cloud cover away from bursting into full bloom.

And so it begins.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Youth Sports Post: Character Building

Another day, another soccer game. Isaiah's JV team took the field Thursday against a formidable opponent. The weather was also formidable. This is what had already passed north up the valley.

And this is what was still rolling up on us from the south at game time.

It rained and it blew and it was cold.

Worse, Isaiah and his team got schooled. I lost track of the goals the other team scored, but it was at least five or six. Maybe six or seven. Our team only had two shots-on-goal. Isaiah managed to get one of those. It was a real test of their character to keep trying long after it had become a lost cause. But that's exactly what they did.

It strikes me that when you're young you don't have that "life is short" pragmatism that comes with age and experience. You still have lots to prove, to others, and to yourself. I remember going out for track when I was Isaiah's age. There were long, grueling practices in March when we just ran, for miles. I hated it. But I didn't quit.

I'm at the age now, though, that I do have that "life is short" pragmatism, and I make choices all the time about what I do based on whether it seems like a waste of time or not. I confess that on Thursday, shivering on the sideline, it passed through my mind that I had already gotten some shots of Isaiah, and that chances were good that he wouldn't score a goal or be a hero, so I could probably go on home, get warm, and get back to some things I needed to do.

Yes, I have that pragmatism. But I also have a son. And I am a son. I remembered, and I knew what I really needed to do. I, too, still have some things to prove, and some people to prove them to. So, like Isaiah, I stayed to the bitter end.

It was easy for me, compared to what he and the team went through. I don't expect him to thank me for it. I doubt he even notices anymore that his parents are always there. But I'm sure he would have noticed if I had left. And I think I know how he would have felt about it.

Sometimes a kid needs an example in all that character building, whether he knows it at the time or not. And sometimes, when you are privileged to be that example, you find that your character needed a little building up, too.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Out Like a Lion

What we have to look forward to for the next few days.

The Best Star of All

We've had more than our share of chilly, overcast days around here. The average daytime temperatures have been hovering around 50 degrees, but the clouds and the wind and the rain (and the snow they're calling for over the next two days) are having a chilling effect on our spirits, too.

Wednesday afternoon was more of the same, with a blustery south wind whipping up the valley. Then suddenly it was as though someone flipped a cosmic switch. I went outside to see what that dazzling glow in the sky was. It was the sun.

It wasn't long before the next round of overcast blew in, and when I went out after dark the wind was prowling and the stars were nowhere to be seen.

But it was good, very good, to be reminded that the best star of all is still up there doing its work, bringing the warm days back to us.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

"River," by Pat Schneider

A delicate fuzz of fog
like mold, or moss,
all across the river
in this early light.
Another day, I might
have still been sleeping.

What a pity. How the stars
and seas and rivers
in their fragile lace of fog
go on without us
morning after morning,
year after year.
And we disappear.

"River" by Pat Schneider, from Another River: New and Selected Poems.
© Amherst Writers & Artists Press, 2005. 

"Trutta," From Flymage

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

River Report: The Whitefish Curse

I had another good time at the river Monday afternoon and evening. It was one more cool, wet day in a long string of them. We have been hoping that March would go out like a lamb, but it looks like it will remain leonine for the foreseeable future.

Still, it was a beautiful Spring day. I fished the Bridge Run, and once again found fish.

Unfortunately, they were Whitefish. I know I said I like to catch them, but not to the exclusion of other species. I couldn't seem to avoid them, and it began to feel like I was the victim of a Whitefish curse: for the rest of my life the only fish I would ever catch would be Whiteys. (Shudder...)

But I don't believe in curses, and, let's face it, Whitefish have their own kind of weird beauty. And these were good, heavy fish.

That snout of theirs looks rubbery on the outside, but it's bony on the inside, and it's not any too easy to extract the fly.

I decided to go in search of other fish--any kind other than Whitefish--and waded across under the bridge and fished the run behind the pylon on that side. In other years I've seen Steelhead jump in there, and I caught a nice trout up at the tail one year, but I found no fish of any kind today.

Except for this one. My guess is that it's an Eagle kill. It's good to be reminded that Whitefish are an essential part of the riverine ecosystem, and that they're helping sustain a healthy population of Eagles and other predators and scavengers.

I wandered upstream to the head of the island.

I fished both directions where the river splits around the island, paying particular attention to The Glide, but the low water has rendered that stretch too shallow to be much good.

So I spent most of my time looking up. The sky was full of Violet Green Swallows. I love those birds and their joyous flight.

I have recently posted photos of deep space with its myriad stars and galaxies, but this photo of a whole galaxy of Swallows over the river is just as awesome to me.

 I took one more pass through the Bridge Run before wading out, and hooked a little Smallmouth. I had tied on a classic Muddler and, small as he was, and big as the fly was, he hit it with everything he had. He came off before I could hoist him out of the current and get a photo.

But, thank goodness, he broke the Whitefish curse.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Keeping Up With the Latest (Mind Blowing) Thing

The other day I posted the Hubble Ultra-Deep Field image, which, as of 2004, was the deepest image of the universe ever taken.

Check out a new image posted March 23 on EarthSky.

Image credit: UltraVISTA/Terapix/CNRS/CASU 

Have a look at the most detailed infrared image ever taken of a region of space large enough to be representative of the distant universe. The image, from the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) VISTA telescope, reveals more than 200,000 galaxies, including the most distant seen to date in the early universe. These objects formed less than one billion years after the Big Bang. The new image was made by combining more than six thousand separate images – equivalent to an exposure time of 55 hours.

The large white objects with haloes are foreground stars in our own Milky Way Galaxy. A host of other galaxies can be seen, from relatively nearby galaxies which appear large enough to discern their structures, to the most distant galaxies, which appear as red dots in this image.
Click here for a BIG UltraVISTA image. Makes a killer desk top.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

River Report: Liked, Loved and Lost

The river ran clear, cold, and low on Friday.

I worked the Bridge Run and found some fish right away. I had a strong hunch what I was dealing with by the way they pecked at the swung fly. Rainbows and Smallmouths take the fly and hook themselves. You usually have to work a little and set the hook yourself when you're dealing with Whitefish.

I was taught as a kid in Idaho to consider Whitefish--and Squawfish, and Chiselmouths--as "trash fish," and we routinely tossed them up on the bank when we caught one. I never stopped to think that I was raised by Trout Snobs, but there you go. I suppose that has a lot to do with why I have zero interest in "Golden Bones" today.

And what is a Chiselmouth?  Here's a pic:


These days I actually like Whitefish, or at least like catching them. And I released this one. Whitefish like this one, and the couple of others I hooked and lost, require some finesse to get on the end of the line, and they give a good account of themselves. I've found pods of them feeding on top, and they'll readily take a dry, providing lots of fun, and--the way I, a Trout Snob, look at it--good practice for the real fish.

Like the one I hooked next. Way at the end of the run I finally had a solid take. The fish came straight up and cartwheeled high above the water. When it hit with a big splash it was gone. I'm pretty sure it wasn't a Steelhead, but it would have been the best Rainbow I've ever caught out of this river.

I loved that. And, as they say, better to have loved and lost....

I rested the run for awhile and let the sun go down behind the ridge before wading in and giving it another go.

But the fish were gone, or my finesse was--or my luck. But that second time through always feels good. You feel acclimated to the water and the wading by then, and you stumble less and cast more efficiently. You feel like a fisherman, and, if it has to be, that's reward enough.

It was almost 8:00 when I got home, and I had been on the river for five hours. Now that--finally!--is fishing.

Friday, March 23, 2012

I Can See Clearly Now

It seemed like another busy week, but I'm beginning to see clearly what the problem is. After a whole winter of basically being available to everybody, it's time for me to set those limits again: I'm available this much time, but the rest of the time--sorry--the trout need me.

My wife understands this by now, sort of. I'm not saying she's happy about it, but she knows full well what will be happening. She was asking for more of my time for this and that a couple of weeks ago, and when I showed just a bit of perfectly understandable hesitance, she exclaimed, "But you know you'll be fishing for the next six months!"

She said it like it was something bad. Meanwhile, I was completely gone for a few moments, standing there with a silly grin on my face and a far away look in my eyes. Boy, did that sound good just then.

I just checked the regs to make sure, and I could see it there clearly. Yes, it's really true; the early season lake opens on April 1. That's just eight days away.

For now, though, I've been keeping my eyes on the river. The murk of last Monday is gone. The river looked blue and sparkly as I drove over the bridge, but I swung through the park when I was in town on Thursday afternoon, and walked down to the boat launch to take a close-up look. Yep. Look. It's clear. There are rocks down there.

So I think I can see my way clear to head down to the river on Friday. I'll have to blow off a 4:00 work commitment, but that won't be a problem. Besides, it will be good practice for when the lakes open.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Blow Your Little Mind

Someone turned me on Wednesday night to the Hubble Ultra-Deep Field (HUDF). I've seen this image before, without really knowing what it was. Well, according to Wikipedia, this is "an image of a small region of space in the constellation Fornax, composited from Hubble Space Telescope data accumulated over a period from September 24, 2003 to January 16, 2004. It is the deepest image of the universe ever taken."

Gaze upon your universe, Earthling.


Now, here's where it gets interesting. This image captures 10,000 galaxies, and reaches back 13 billion years to a time approximately 400 to 800 million years after the Big Bang.

And here's where it gets mind-blowing. The image covers a tiny patch of sky which, before HUDF, appeared to be basically empty, and which equals roughly one thirteen-millionth of the total area of the sky. One thirteen-millionth of the total area of the sky!  

The known universe is 78 billion light years across, it's expanding at an ever-increasing rate, which at its farthest reaches can exceed the speed of light, and it's chock full of a myriad of galaxies and an unknowable number of stars.

Think about that the next time you tie a #22 emerger on a 7X tippet.

(Download your own HUDF image HERE.)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Sweet Combination

Spring and spring creeks. Now that's a sweet combination. My brother John and I are already making plans for this season's expedition to the Henry's Fork. Then, while browsing through the digital stacks at the Internet Archive on the first night of Spring, I came upon this book by John Shewey. Again, sweet.

Here's a Henry's Fork yarn from the book for your entertainment and edification. (Ah, the good memories of those near-death experiences!) May it help ensure that your own hopes for the new season will spring eternal.

* * *
That same year I hooked the largest trout I've ever encountered on the Harriman Ranch on the Henry's Fork. In the process, I overcame plenty of adversity. Big black flying ants and a smattering of Callibaetis were on the menu that day. I located two large trout feeding vigorously in a slick on the far side of the river and just upstream from one of the deepest parts of the Harriman section.

I would have preferred to cross the river and approach from that side, but I couldn't risk doing so with several other anglers in the area, any one of whom might wade in on those fish before I could position myself. Besides, I would have had to go well out of my way to find a suitable crossing.

Knowing the river deepened over there and knowing I would be in for a tough wade, I started well upstream from the trout. I waded 40 or 50 yards before getting anywhere close to effective range. By that time I was up to the bottom of my shorty vest and the river bed steepened exponentially from there.

Twenty-five feet away, the trout continued feeding rapaciously on the ants, patrolling feeding lanes about 18 inches wide. Between me and the fish sprouted a large weed bed. Normally that weed bed would have been a blessing, providing me enough cover to sneak up on the fish, which occupied a rather fast slick comprised of myriad swirls and seams.

That was my intention--to use the wall of aquatic weeds as cover and to sneak within 12 feet or so of those trout. Child's play. The next two steps put an end to that strategy, however, with the first taking me to wader-top depth and the second plunging me to my collar bone in cold spring creek water.

Thoroughly soaked now, I had to back off a step because the current nearly swept me down river. So the weed bed now became a problem. My line would land on top of the mat of weeds when I cast to those fish, leaving me with only a couple feet of drag-free drift.

I was only slightly upstream of the trout and I knew that a steep downstream presentation would eliminate the weed bed as an obstacle, but would leave me with a 45 or 50 foot cast. No matter, though--unless I wanted to start the whole wade over again--because I could barely budge upstream in the deep, fast water. I had no intention of wading back toward shore and painstakingly beginning my approach anew, especially since I knew those good flying ant hatches could be rather fleeting affairs.

So I decided on a big-time pile cast with an upstream mend. First I added five more feet of tippet, freshly coiled from its spool. Then dug my feet into the gravel and carefully false cast well away from the fish to measure the amount of line I would need. I drew a deep breath then shot a wide loop across and slightly upstream, aiming the cast skyward to bring the leader and line down in something of a heap. As the line settled, I reached as far upstream and out as I could and then threw a second upstream mend after the line hit the water. The line came to a standstill on the mat of weeds, but that extra five feet of tippet landed in perfect coils on the current seam just beyond, some four feet above the nearest trout.

All I could do now was wait as the fly drifted downstream, hoping I had provided enough slack line and leader to allow the ant imitation to reach the trout before drag set in. Under no tension, the fly drifted to within inches of dragging when the lead trout rose confidently. And a good thing because I could have never made a second such presentation without spooking those trout on the pick-up.

Landing that trout was a different matter. Suffice it to say that I successfully waded downstream through one of the deepest pools on the Ranch (floated through or flailed through might be more accurate). I even found my hat down by Osborne Bridge later that day.
* * *

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Welcome to Spring


It's official. Spring is here. The vernal equinox--the moment when the sun crosses the celestial equator--happened at 10:14 PM Monday night for us here in the West, which was 12:14 AM today for those of you in the central part of the country, and 1:14 AM for those of you in the East.

Welcome to Spring. Sigh of relief, all together now: "Ahhhhhhhhhhhh......."

If weather permits where you are, you may want to take notice of the sun. It will rise due East, and set due West.

"Spring," by Mary Oliver

    a black bear
      has just risen from sleep
         and is staring

down the mountain.
    All night
      in the brisk and shallow restlessness
         of early spring

I think of her,
    her four black fists
      flicking the gravel,
         her tongue

like a red fire
    touching the grass,
      the cold water.
         There is only one question:

how to love this world.
    I think of her
         like a black and leafy ledge

to sharpen her claws against
    the silence
      of the trees.
         Whatever else

my life is
    with its poems
      and its music
         and its glass cities,

it is also this dazzling darkness
      down the mountain,
         breathing and tasting;

all day I think of her—
    her white teeth,
      her wordlessness,
         her perfect love.

"Spring" by Mary Oliver, from New and Selected Poems. &copy Beacon Press, 1992. 

Ready for the Abundance of the Warm Time

I made another pilgrimage on Monday, this time to Trout Lake. Opening day is still 39 days away, but the ice is receding as the sun and wind and water do their work. The water level is way down, so I could walk on ground I will be fishing over this summer. Last March the lake was already mostly ice free, and I even saw a few fish working. No fish this time. Just a beautiful Spring lake on a beautiful Spring day, getting ready.

South End

 "The Nursery"
(A small pond connected to the south end by a small channel.
I have explored it, but have caught only small trout there, hence its name.)

The Channel
(This is the main channel between the North and South ends.)

The North End

Like these Muleys, I'm tired of the slim pickings of Winter, and ready for the abundance of the warm time.