Thursday, December 16, 2010

I Have Made The Pilgrimage, My Eyes Are Open

Well, after a couple years of almost making it, I finally made my journey to one of the West's fly fishing Meccas. Pyramid Lake.

Steeped in lore, resplendent with with large Cutthroat, and unique in it's fishing. It doesn't take long, living where I do and being a fisherman, before the name Pyramid is heard uttered. Be it in hushed tones and knowing smiles, or by chest thumping bellows, you will hear about Pyramid Lake. One of, if not the last true strongholds of the Lahontan Cutthroat Trout. The biggest of the trout family, believed to have once grown in excess of 60 pounds, this is where they lurk. One of the interesting nuances of this place, as a fly fisherman, is the nearly compulsory use of a step ladder. This natural lake is almost entirely surrounded by sandy beaches, with a barren flat extending some distance out into the lake. The ladders are used by wading out until you approach the first in a series of ledges. Then you set the ladder down, climb up, and are out of the water and waves, with some altitude to enable the long casts necessary with a shooting head or fast sinking line. You can only hear so much, as a fisherman, before it is too much to bear and you have to see it for yourself.

Early Saturday morning, my buddy Brandon arrived and in the darkness we ironed out the logistics of fitting two six foot ladders, stripping baskets, a plenitude of fishing gear, and our sleeping bags into a two door Civic, with room left for two guys over 6'6". Outfitting the Civic for expeditions such as this is old hat for us, and we were quickly on our way, with a trunk lid bungeed down over a couple ladders.

This drive, although only a couple hours is a gorgeous slide show of the varied terrain in the Sierras. Our journey started in the low foothills of the west slope, open grasslands and oak groves. That disappears as you gain a little altitude and the hills get bigger. More and more you find yourself in beautiful coniferous surroundings which quickly give way to the famous granitic landscape so often associated with the Sierra Nevada. After cresting Donner Pass and dropping into the town of Truckee and the Eastern slope, the rain shadow effect becomes obvious and the terrain reminds me a lot of my home country in the Rockies. I love the high desert. Long views, sage, solitude. Donnor pass was beautiful, as ever. Some snow on the mountains, but none on the roads. After stopping at the Truckee McDonalds for some saturated fat and caffeine, we fought the urge to stop and ply the Truckee river and forged ahead to Reno.

The pock mark that is Reno was lost to memory as we pulled off of I-80 and found ourselves in the beautiful, spacious high desert of Nevada. Soon we entered the Pyramid Lake Paiute Reservation. Since I was a kid, the anticipation of seeing the lake for the first time has always thrilled me. As the strange robot lady on the GPS gave updates, I longed to see our goal. As we came up a slight hill, you could plainly see that there was a massive basin on the other side, and my first view of our goal was a captivating one. The early morning sun blazed through the clouds shining it's rays on a thing of beauty. I love desert lakes. The stark contrast of indigo blue waters set against a moonscape of sage and rocks is something that will never get old for me.

After a quick detour to the ranger station to pick up a map and our tribal fishing permits, we soon found ourselves driving down the highway on the western side of the lake gawking like Japanese tourists at Graceland. A few miles later we arbitrarily picked an access point and Brandon skillfully guided our trusty steed down the nasty little road to the beach. I stepped out into my own personal wonderland. The barren moonscape, the giant sapphirine puddle in front of me, and the onslaught of wet sage on my nose was sensory overload. What a place. I cannot imagine what it was like for John C. Fremont to lay eyes on this place for the first time, not expecting it. "Beyond, a defile between the mountains descended rapidly about two thousand feet; and, filling up all the lower space, was a sheet of green water, some twenty miles broad. It broke upon our eyes like the ocean." He was the first white man to see this place, as well as Lake Tahoe. There is a very real and very large part of my being that is green with envy.

Anyone who has ever fished with me knows how much I hate getting rigged once we get to the lake. When I used to bass fish all of my rods would be strung and I would be fishing before my partner could even park the truck and trailer. Fly fishing is a different ball game, and my desire to get to fishing is usually quashed by the tedium of getting all my gear ready to go. This was no exception. Extricating our gear and ladders from the packhorse ate up a bunch of time. Then you have to set up the ladders with nets and stripping baskets, get your waders and boots on, assemble rods, string lines, attach leaders, attach tippets, attach multiple flies. With giant trout swimming not one hundred feet away, the tedium of assembling all that junk was maddening! After twenty minutes of jacking around, we were soon ambling down to the water, albeit not very gracefully when tromping through the sand carrying a big construction ladder.

After wading out near the break, I finally got to set up, flip out a line, and take in the stunning beauty of where I was.

Within fifteen minutes, I heard that unmistakable sound of a flyrod being drawn tight and looked over to see Brandon's flyrod gone bendo on a fish. He soon scooped up a nice 18" Cutthroat and the expedition was on the board! I spent the next couple hours learning how to cast a 20ft shooting head made out of leadcore line, and missing a few fish. Brandon had his share of swing and misses as well, but we went fishless.

There were a few boats around, all trolling with conventional gear. One boat loomed a little closer than I would have liked, and I heard the sound of a drag screaming for mercy. "Way to go jackass, you're hung up, thats what you get for getting so close". Mrs. Jackass grabbed the rod and it soon became apparent that they were indeed not snagged. After a few minutes the guy dips the net over the far side of the boat and scoops his quarry. As he hefted it aboard, I looked over at Brandon seeing the same awed expression that I knew my face showed as well. It was a good fish. They were a little too far away to tell what was going on, but I heard them ask another boat if they had a big scale. They did not, but we did. We wanted to see this fish, so we waved them over to hang it on our scale. I jumped off the ladder and waded in a little deeper to catch the boat. As they pulled up, I was blown away. This thing was massive. The people were really nice. They couldnt get a stable weight on the fish, the gentleman was older and couldnt hold it very steady, plus a rocking boat makes it difficult to get a good weight on heavier fish. So I hung it for them, arms over my head to show them the screen. It went 14lbs 11ozs and they said that it taped at 34.5 inches. MONSTER! They couldnt reach over the side of their boat to release it very well, so I was given the honors. After a couple pictures, I am happy to say, it was on it's way, to fight another day.

Our confidence restored, and minds adequately blown, we went back to fishing. We fought hard, moving down the lake to another beach. We worked and worked, casting from 8 in the morning to nearly 5 o'clock that evening. Unfortunately, the day would end with me scraping in a single fish in the 18 inch range and a few missed strikes.

Despite the slow fishing, for some reason, we were still having a ball, and opted to spend the night and give it another go on Sunday. We drug ourselves to the Crosby Lodge for tasty burgers, beer in the can, and sat there in a zombified state until drunken karaoke finally drove us off. We drove back down to the beach we planned to fish that next morning, chained the ladders to the car, and watched a movie on Brandon's phone with the audio running through the car speakers. Fremont's expedition did not have that! After a restless night sleeping in the front seat of a little Japanese car, dawn could not come fast enough!

When it finally did, we found ourselves again chucking streamers, perched atop our fiberglass vantage points. It was a clear day, the wind was calm, and the fish were uninterested. By 10 a.m. we had one missed bite and no fish to show for our efforts, so we again packed up the ladders and headed to the Nets. The Nets is the most popular fishing spot on the lake, and can become quite crowded, so we had avoided it. When we arrived we were pleased to see only four or five guys stretched out across several hundred yards of beach, plenty of room. This beach has a very large flat, so we waded out about 75 yards before planting our ladders within reach of the ledge. This area is also a great spot to see the lake's namesake.

We fished streamers for another hour or two before I got frustrated and switched out the spool on my 8wt, changing over to my floating line and rigging a couple midges under an indicator. I had nearly given up on fish, so I was just planning on being lazy, only having to cast every 5 minutes or so as the wind blew my indo back to me. On my second cast, the indicator shot under the water and I set a little to hard into the fish, partially straightening my hook and missing the fish in the process. I of course thought I was really onto something with this midging business and suggested that Brandon do the same. That was how we ended the day, staring at bobbers, Brandon missing a solitary fish, and me getting not another grab.

So, we fished very hard for 2 full days, with only 2 fish between us. But somehow, inexplicably, we both had a very good time. I cannot explain it adequately, but there is something about this place. It is nearly mystical. It has a personality. Whatever it is, I cannot wait to take it in again.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Getting Ghetto With Science

Ive got a trip coming up in a couple days to fish the famed Pyramid Lake of western Nevada. For those of you East of Salt Lake City, I'll clue you in. Pyramid is a giant, alkaline lake in the high desert. It is one of the last remnants of a huge prehistoric lake known as Lake Lahontan. In that massive loch of yore evolved a great beast. The Lahontan Cutthroat Trout. Cut off from its mykiss ancestry by the last ice age, it evolved into an awesome creature. Growing in excess of 40lbs, this is the big boy of the Cutthroat world. Starting about 12,000 years ago, it began to desicate, leaving big dusty basins, small lakes, and limestone tufa formations in its wake. The only natural lakes remaining of this inland monster are Pyramid Lake and Walker Lake. Ive got a date with one of them.

This will conclude the superfluous verbiage section of this post.

Now! Lets get to the ghetto part!

Given the larger fish, prevelant winds, and long casts I'm gonna see, I'm taking the 8wt for streamer chunkin. Up until yesterday I owned one spool and a floating line for this bad boy. I need to be able to get down and cast long, so I decided that a shooting head was in my future. Being broke, a $70+ line was out of the question. After a quick web search and talking to a buddy, I decided that a straight up leadcore head and mono running line sounded good. CHEAP! The leadcore I bought was not labeled with grains per foot of course, so I had to figure that out myself. No problem, I have a very accurate postage scale that I used to use for mixing clear coats for my bass lures. Only problem is, I havent used it in a couple years and it has grown legs and walked away. Now I fully intend to take a long head out, cast it, and cut it down till it feels right. But I still wanted to know what I was working with. As it turns out, a coat hanger, a metal ruler, tape, and a quarter makes a perfectly accurate scale.

11.25 grains per foot. My 30ft head I have strung up now should weigh about 337.5 grains, which seems to be a shade heavy for a mod-fast 8wt. But I'm in the ballpark. We'll see how she casts at the pond tomorrow. Ghetto jury rigger till I die!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Let's get knotty.

Well, sitting around bored on the Saturday following Thanksgiving. Weather is nasty, and I havent been fishing for a while now. I thought I would share some of the knots that I think are real need to know knots with all of you guys.

Arbor Knot:

Perfection Loop:

Uni and Uni to Uni knots:

Palomar Knot:

Davy Knot:

Alberto Knot(Modified Albright):

These are some of my favorite, and most useful knots.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Another Round at the Little Truckee

This one is a little belated, but I made a quick day trip run to the Little Truckee with my girl. She was gonna fish this time so I outfitted her with an old pair of neoprenes and an indo rig, and off we went.

It was one of those days where it starts off kind of slow, then, before you know it, it continues to be slow, then in a flurry of inactivity, it ends slow. Krista struggled most of the day trying to relearn casting and mending. But she did an admirable job and by the end of the day was making beautiful mends just when she needed to. She didnt hook any fish, but thats ok, this place isnt really nice to beginners!

Throughout the day I managed a few grabs here and there, lost a couple, missed a few, and got to hold yet a few others.

At one point I was standing in the water minding my own affair when I saw a big King Salmon swim by. Caught me off guard and scared me a bit in close quarters. After the second or two that it took my brain to calculate this information and come to the conclusion that there are no salmon here, I nearly shit my pants realizing that it had to be a Brown Trout. A BIG Brown Trout. I lost sight of the bogey amid tumbling waters and a downed tree, but some minutes later it came out again. This time I got a real good look at him as he cruised by, giant kype followed sometime later by a tail the size of a DVD case! Good GOD! What a monster. Far and away the largest Brown I have ever seen in person and that is including fish at hatcheries and Fanny Bridge! All of 36 inches and certainly no less than 12lbs. Honestly, I feel that those are both pretty conservative numbers. This dude was grande. He was obviously just visiting from the lake and in full on spawn mode, plus you could tell that he was a little sketched out by my presence in such little water with him. I didnt bother him anymore and it was just very cool to see him up close like that! What a donkey!

After the sighting of the Brown November, I headed back towards the car and was calling it a day. I knew there were a couple redds that you could see from the top of the cliff, so I stopped and looked down for a sec just to see who was home. There were a few nice Browns doing their little dance but I scanned about 20 feet upstream of them and saw a pretty good one just hanging out in a seam. I was debating whether or not it was an actively spawning fish or one that was in eating mode. I stood there for a few minutes and saw all 25ish inches of it come up and suck down a big caddis! Game on!

I ever so gracefully slid/fell my way to the bottom of the cliff, scraping some unneeded flesh from my hand and ran some awkward casts over the top of it, to no avail. I was in really bad positioning and after a few casts I called it quits and headed home. Snagged a McRib which I thoroughly enjoyed. Then I felt like I had just loved a woman who was unclean and was ashamed of myself for a few miles. Sleep overtook me and my chauffeur delivered me safely home.Good times!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Some guys STILL have it easy!

Some of you will remember a few months ago I put up a post detailing a trip I took with my buddy Steve. He got his first Golden Trout with me. He is a world class trophy bass fisherman normally, but he had expressed some interest in fishing some moving water with a fly rod. I was all too happy to oblige him.

We finally managed to get a trip lined out this past Sunday. Our destination this day was to be the Truckee and Little Truckee rivers of Northern California. Both of these places are well known for their difficult and technical fishing. They are also known for their big fish. You time it right and you have a chance.

I lay in bed the night previous, dreams of Blue Winged Olives clouding the air and images of trout heads gently poking out and sipping a size 16 BWO Comparadun filling my sleepless mind. Eventually sleep came, and as is only the case on fishing days, I awoke happily to the sound of my alarm.

A short drive over beautiful Donner Pass and we soon found ourselves stringing rods and donning waders in the crisp air of a gorgeous fall morning. Not 100 yards down the trail from the car I spotted a giant brown trout, obviously on a redd. We both guessed it at about 7lbs. Oh man! We left the spawning fish alone of course, but it's presence indicated that big fish were definitely in the system, and not all of them would be on redds yet.

Since Steve was new to fishing with a nymph and indicator, I opted to set us up in a piece of mediocre water for his initial training. That way we were not spooking fish with errant casts, bad drifts, and the like. After giving him the quick run down, it was obvious that he got the gist of it. It is only a thing of logic and he grasped the general concept immediately. At one point a pretty nice fish came up and whacked his orange indicator. That got me hoping for fish on large October Caddis patterns, but that was not meant to be. After a few minutes of fishing that run, I moved him down to a run that always has big fish in the spring and fall. Sure enough, after only a couple seconds of peering down into the churning current, I caught sight of a big bronze and gold tail sitting right in the seam behind a rock. I lined Steve up with where to cast and mend, and he quickly had his sz 16 Micro Mayfly drifting right through Downtown Browntown. I had cautioned him that the big fish often eat the small bugs very subtly and he should watch for any hesitation of his indicator.

It has been my experience that when a bigger trout eats a fly that size, it will look as though you have just briefly dragged bottom, then they spit it. Mere moments after explaining this, his indicator did exactly what I had described. Steve lifted into a very perturbed large brown. With 5X tippet and a Brown Trout of about 5lbs on the line we knew we had to keep her out of the big fir tree laying in the water on the other side of the stream. Big browns are masters of the break off, and after about 10 seconds she started heading for the tree. His options were to somehow stop her, or lose her for certain in that tree. He made the right choice and palmed the spool, but she was just too strong for the light tippet. She left us standing, mouths agape, digesting what had just happened. Steve took it well, some high fives were exchanged, and we set out to get him bit again.

As the morning wore on, I caught a couple smaller Rainbows in the 10 inch class on a small zebra midge and Steve had a few bites that didnt stick. We worked our way downstream laughing at each other as we slipped on snotty rocks and I laughed at Steves constant catches of Willow Trout and Grassfish. Despite my repeated attempts at teaching him the Steeple cast his was unable or unwilling to do as instructed. But good times were had. By mid morning the sky had cleared and we were only seeing a few scattered Callibaetis. Occasionally you would see a trout nose poke out, but there really wasnt much action.

Steve scraped up a small brown on one of my emerger midges below an indicator and that got him on the board. By then we had worked our way as far down as I wanted to in this area, so we fished our way back up, with the added knowledge of the preferred lies of fish we had spooked. We got a little separated and I had the flies, so when I caught up to Steve he said that there was a nice fish rising repeatedly in some heavier water in front of him. I quickly had him change out his indicator rig for a Comparadun stlye BWO that I had tied up, replacing the deer hair with bluish gray Antron yarn. It was an untested pattern for me, but it sure as hell looked tasty and a pretty good match for the sparse bugs we were seeing.

For Steve to get into good casting position, he was unable to see the tiny bug in fast water. This was due to his extreme old age of 40 something with poor eyesight, and glare. So I sat down and played spotter for him, directing his casts. "5ft upstream and a foot to the left! Perfect! Upstream mend! Recast! Too far right!"

After a couple minutes she finally ate it and I screamed "HIT IT!". He set without hesitation and his true bass fisherman roots shone brightly as he snapped the 5x tippet on the hook set. I am blaming it on a bad knot and a overzealous hook set.

After that we bee lined if for my favorite dry fly run in this area. As I waited for Steve to catch up I immediately saw a very nice Rainbow rising with a pretty definite rhythm. I directed him into position and he started casting at it. It wasnt cooperating and Steve had soon ran a lime green fly line over every fish in the run and had done his best impression of a Wildebeast crossing the Zambezi as he splashed around everywhere. He soon grew weary of these "uncatchable" fish and moved his way upstream. There were more bugs coming off now, and I realized that it was a matter of time before this run healed and fish started munching again. After about ten minutes of sitting there watching, they had recovered and I knew the whereabouts of half a dozen of them. I cautiously moved into position and started casting to the closest fish so as not to spook them with my line. I spent the next 20 minutes watching dozens of rises, changing through a whole pile of dries, and never getting bit.

It should have occurred to me much earlier that the fish were focusing on emergers and ignoring the adults, but I am dense, so it did not. But once the realization hit me, I started digging through my dry box and I tried a couple emerger BWO's. They were at least getting looks now, even though they all ended up being refusals, but I was obviously on the right track to getting one of these fish to make a mistake. There was a large Rainbow that I had been toying with and it was sipping away at regular intervals. Sometimes it was poking its head up a matter of inches away from my impostor, but never more than glancing at what I proffered.

Finally I remembered that I had tied some parasol BWO's up for a trip to Colorado and they were still waiting patiently in my nymph box. This is not some particular pattern that I am aware of. Just something I cobbled together.

After tying on and greasing up the parasol part of the fly. I cast out upstream of our target audience. By this point these fish had me so demoralized that I almost didnt pull the trigger when she sipped on the very first drift. Game on! The 'Bow was feeding on the other side of the fast water from me and that is where it immediately headed to. Did I mention that sometime before this hookup I had switched to 6X tippet out of shear desperation for a hook up? Well, I did. Now I had a cheesed off Rainbow bulldogging around in some pretty noteworthy current, with a size 20 barbless hook pinned to its lip, and tippet that will break if you sneeze while tying it on. Fan-freaking-tastic! Suprisingly, she settled down pretty quickly and was content to just stay in the current and more or less do nothing besides counter my attempts to gain line. No maniacal runs downstream or for cover. Just a petulant refusal to cooperate fully. After a few minutes of putting all the pressure on her that I dared, I finally slid her into calmer water and my waiting net. She taped out at 21" and was a great reward for the hair I had pulled out trying to get one of these suckers to slip up and make a mistake.

I fully acknowledge this photo to be sub-par. But I wanted her back in the water quickly after her drawn out struggle. It is what it is.

I handed my rod off to Steve, little parasol still attached, and observed as he proceeded to miss three or four fish on it. After the scant Baetis hatch had died off completely, we decided to make the move and finish up our day in the canyon stretch of the Truckee River proper.

The evening ended rather uneventfully. Over a couple of hours I managed to triumphantly stick another 10" Rainbow on my freshly concocted attempt at an October Caddis nymph. Pretty barebones, but it worked.

That saw the end of our day. Not a ton of fish. But we got to play around with a couple good ones. As always, I had a blast with Steve and I think we are gonna be doing it again soon.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Black Clouds and Rainbows

My buddy and I planned a two day banzai run to the Sierras for this past weekend. We had the dates set quite awhile ago. As the date loomed near, so did one hell of a storm system. As per our usual modus operandi, we spat in the face of mother nature and decided to go for it. Initial plans called for day one to be on the East Walker and day two to find us plying the seams of the Truckee and Little Truckee rivers.

After a three and a half hour drive into Bridgeport, we found ourselves donning waders and stringing rods in the windy parking area at the base of the dam. We initially saw only one other vehicle, and I prematurely surmised that the weather had scared off all of the fair weather fishermen, and that we would have some elbow room. Wrong. The East Walker on a weekend in October without crowds? What was I smoking. Anybody who has fished the Miracle Mile of the East Walker knows how it is with the willows. You bust your way through the leafy mass only to see angler after angler. You turn around and try another brushy tunnel to the river. After quite awhile of fishing mediocre water because of too many anglers, we finally got onto one of my favorite stretches of stream.

One of the main reasons that I had chosen the East Walker for one of our days was to get my buddy Brandon on some fish. He only had one measly little fish to his name on the fly rod leading into this trip, and I wanted to get him on some fish, and more importantly, get him trained in the art of nymph fishing.

Upon finally getting on a good stretch of water, I coach him into position quartering downstream of a very nice seam formed by a good sized rock. After only about 10 minutes of coaching him on getting far enough upstream with his cast to allow his bug to sink, and getting him the basics of mending, his indicator snapped down and he lifted into a quality EW brown. He was all grins, even after the tiny Zebra Midge pulled free of his quarry's face. His confidence well in hand, within a matter of minutes, he managed to give another Brownie a tiny piece of lip jewelry and take it all the way to the net. A solid 17 inch brown marked his first East Walker fish, first quality fly caught fish, and first nymph fish. Success, the pressure was off of me to get him on something, and he had the confidence to continue getting bit regularly.

Ok, pressure was off of me to get HIM on fish, but as of yet, 2 hours into our day, I hadnt managed to get a fish to hand, despite getting bit and hooking several fish. I had been fooling around with the normal smaller bugs that usually produce for me there, and after awhile I decided to try one of the crawdad pattern flies I had devised for the Truckee and Middle Fork American rivers. Second drift through a pretty deep and heavy seam, the indo jumped down and I lifted into a very ticked off fish. I didnt get eyes on it for a minute or two, but it came up and rolled about 30 feet from me and I realized that I had my first good size East Walker Rainbow on the line! After a very fun, drag singing fight I managed to slide her into my too small net and get a quick snapshot and send her on her way. She was way too feisty to get an exact number, but certainly over 20 inches and very fat, clean, and healthy!

Our day wore on. Getting a few fish here and there. With Brandon quite thoroughly outfishing me, although most of his fish were very small. Like 6-7 inches. Never seen that on the EW! We each caught another rainbow, both of which were around 10 inches but very very pretty. Got a couple nice browns, but nothing bigger than my rainbow. The place stayed very crowded. There were three guided groups of 4 anglers each that made finding water pretty tough. But there were no real issues with being crowded by someone and all of the guides and clients were very nice and we had some good on the water BS'ing sessions with several of them.

By the time the sun hid behind the ridge, we were on our way to the Sportsmen's bar and grill for hot food, cold beer, and the last game between the Giants and the Phillies. The whole time trying to figure out what we were gonna do with some real weather headed our way the next day. With predicted 105 MPH winds coming over Donner Pass, we decided that perhaps the Truckee just wasnt in the cards for us on Sunday. We opted to crash in the car near Bridgeport Reservoir, fish the East Walker in the morning and then hit the East Carson on our way home.

Our morning session on the EW was pretty miserable with myself getting 1 little fish to hand, and Brandon getting a couple nice Browns and dumping several others including a pretty good size one. By 11, we were on our way down 395 and jumping over Monitor Pass to the East Carson. It was already completely blown out, lookin like Yoo-Hoo, so we audibled yet again and decided to fish the West Carson for as long as we could stand the blowing rain. We fished the Hope Valley for about an hour and a half. The WC was a little off color, but perfectly fishable. I managed two little rainbows to Brandon's zero and we called it a day. Pretty fun trip. There were plenty of elements that could have been much better. But I will take a big wild 'Bow out of moving water any day.

I am guessing that my backcountry exploits are done for the year. But there is a slight chance I might be able to make a ninja run up to my big Brown lake for one last hurrah. Other than that, I'm gonna spend the winter at lower elevations or on the EW and Truckee. There is even talk of Leopard Sharks on the fly at some point before my 2011 backcountry season kicks off. I'll keep you guys posted.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Fine Art of Fly Selection

Then I irritate myself over the matter of which fly to use, finally darting my hand blindly into the fly box. I come up with one I tied myself that imitates the effect of a riot gun on a love seat.
The Longest Silence by Thomas McGuane

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Great Debacle of 2010

I have wrestled with myself on whether or not to even put this up. I consider myself fairly competent up there, but this time, I blew it. Bad.

A few years ago, when I first got back into spending time in the high country, I heard about this lake. You know, one of those really cool spots in the high country. Hard to get to, big Goldens swimming around, that sort of thing. It sits high atop this big ridge, nestled snugly down in the only bowl. I have looked at it a hundred times on Google Earth and Trail Behind. Mind you, neither of these tools show the actual trail, but it is really simple. Walk up the bottom of the valley for 6.5 miles, turn, and go straight up the side of the ridge for another 1.8 miles and a couple thousand vertical feet of elevation gain. I have talked to several guys that have gone there, and heard what a great experience it is.

So, here we are, a couple seasons later, and I finally got my shot to get up there. I talked my lovely girlfriend into making the trek with me, even though she knew it was gonna be a pretty tough march back in there. Having looked at the lake a million times on topo's and having spent a good amount of time in that valley, I decided not to drive the hour out of my way to pick up a map. That's right, backpacking without a map. You can see the bowl from the car, you've been in the valley before, there is only one turn to make, what can go wrong? Right?

We finally hit our trailhead by about 2pm and made the immediate ford of the small river.

After a couple miles, we entered the newly annexed portion of the Hoover Wilderness,

We continued on, for what seemed like a lot more than 6.5 miles without seeing our trail take off up the hill. I started to become concerned that we had passed the fork. Finally, after nearly four hours, a fork in the proper direction presented itself, and we set up camp for the night. We planned to hit the lake the next day and return to this base camp for our final night.

We awoke early the next morning, loaded my pack for the day and started up the hill. For much of this hike we paralled this nice little stream, stopping often for ice cold water.

As we made our way up, I started getting this queasy feeling. We werent gaining enough elevation. I couldnt see where we were in relationship to the target bowl, due to all the trees and the deep little cut we were in. But we persevered. After awhile I was pretty sure that we had also hiked past the prescribed 1.8 miles. Then the trail opened up to this beautiful meadow.

Unfortunately, the beauty was severely marred by the realization that I had most thoroughly boned us. No fancy dinner, no boring conversation, just a good ole fashioned prison boning. I knew immediately where we were, and I knew that with the amount of time we had left, we would never see the lake. Regardless of how we went wrong, we just would not be able to salvage the trip. Truly a disappointment.

After delivering the bad news to my companion, we ate lunch, I fished, and she found a pretty sweet lounge chair.

Instead of twenty inch Golden Trout set against the moonscape beauty of an alpine bowl, I caught half a dozen of these.

So, tails tucked, we headed back down to basecamp. We arrived, I slept, she read. The mood around camp was not what I would call jovial. I had led my poor girl on a 20 mile goose chase and she was not very pleased. Needless to say, neither was I. After briefly entertaining the idea of packing up camp and hiking out in the dark, we thought better of it and crashed.

The next morning saw lifted spirits, if for no other reason than that the torment was about to be over. We made the hike out in a very quick 3 hours despite the fact that I was carrying a much heavier pack than I am used to. The hike out was actually pretty enjoyable.

There were big bear prints on the trail for most of the way down, and we entertained ourselves by alerting the bear to our presence. I wonder if bears find satirical imitations of Christian Bale's Batman voice alarming or antagonizing. Either way, I figured if one simple voice could almost ruin an otherwise great movie, simple woodland critters would find it repulsive as well.

We made it back to the car in great time, spirits high. We had a game plan to salvage the trip. It involved Jolly Kone hamburgers, Alaskan Amber Ale, the East Walker River, and a trip to the hot springs to cap it off.

Sitting in my favorite little puddle on the planet. 105 degree water, and this view. Add a cold beer and a beautiful woman, and I was a very happy man, regardless of how crappy the trip was for awhile.

Well, here comes the diagnosis of where we went astray. We stopped in Ken's and I bought that damn map that I didnt want to make a detour for. As it turns out, we were supposed to hike up the other fork of the river, on the complete other side of the ridge. Somehow, despite all of the research I had thought I did, that most rudimentary of facts had escaped me. I felt then, and feel today, like the biggest tool on the planet. I was so confident in what I thought I knew that I broke the code and didnt bring a map. It was not a matter of safety. We always knew where we were in relationship to the car, but that didnt help us get to the lake. Take a dang map people. You dont want to waste the time, energy, money, or relationship stability that I did because you dont want to take a detour and pick up a map.

Way to go, dumbass!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

If mink weighed 200lbs we would all be dead

Below the small dam that was erected on Lake Tahoe(douchebags!) there is a pretty good size pool filled with giant trout. Gawking tourists buy fish pellets and watch as 10+lb browns and rainbows come up and get em. It is a pretty cool little spot, there is no fishing within 1000ft of the dam, and as near as I can tell, those fish never really leave the safety of that pool for the fishable reaches of river downstream. I made the mistake of stopping by there for the first time after I spent an entire day getting my butt kicked by the crafty denizens of the Truckee River. I fished all day for no grabs and on the way home got to stare at 50 trout over 5 lbs. Awesome. Getting to the point. It would seem that these fish arent completely safe afterall. The mink, which is in the same family as weasels, is about the size of a muskrat or small ferret. That makes this fish about, oh, 7lbs probably? Maybe bigger? Regardless, these guys are gnarly.


Friday, September 17, 2010

Some Cool Shots

I took a couple of my bass fishing buddies on a quick daytrip last week. The fishing was pretty dang slow with only 4 Brookies landed between the 3 of us. My new friend Bryan took these pictures of me. That shelf looked so tasty from the bank, and I waded way out to the edge of it and chucked some fur around for awhile, but didnt get bit. Definitely some cool pictures though.

In addition to a couple of blister covered feet, my buddy Wes did manage the biggest Brook Trout of his life!

Ive got a couple more trips planned between now and the winter. Keep an eye out!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Some guys have it easy.

When i first started tromping around the backcountry of the Sierra Nevada, I knew right away that I wanted a Golden. It took me several trips to find a lake that still had Goldens in it. It was fun, and a real reward when I finally got one. I felt like I really worked for it. But we as fishermen never turn away an easy target. Haven't heard many guys lamenting over their day end brew that they wished they had not caught so many.

Last week my plans got a little scrambled when my girl had a stomach bug and couldnt make our trip. I called up my buddy Steve, who has been a trophy bass fishing buddy of mine for a few years.He is a fisheries biologist and has always wanted to catch a Golden Trout in the high country. We made our plans the night before to go to a seldom visited corner of the Deso and try and get him his first taste of Gold.

I've been to the lake before, but I had previously included it in a big loop, so the trail we went in on was unfamiliar to us both. We had a pretty good hike in, although it took awhile. Its a pretty long hump back in there, and Steve has got a bum hip. We made it in alright though, and we had camp set up by 4pm.

We scrambled to get rods strung and made our way down to the water. I hooked him up with a big old hopper, and said a silent prayer to the fish gods to grant him a Golden. I had some reservations about whether he would be able to get one. He hadnt fly fished in forever, his loaner rig was pretty decrepit, and in my previous trips this lake gave up fish, but not a bunch. I stood there and watched to see if his rig would throw a decent line, and if his arm remembered how to cast a fly.

You know that maneuver we all make when starting to fish? That one where you take a couple pulls off the reel and kinda flip the line out a few feet in front of you before you start casting? Yeah, that maneuver. No sooner had he flopped that 10ft of line out, he had a Golden come over and whack that chunk of foam and hair! It was pretty cool. Four seconds into his first Golden Trout trip, and he had one pinned to the short line! It popped off after a few seconds, but I felt pretty confident that he would be able to scrounge up his Golden this trip. Not a minute later and his longtime goal had been reached.

After some high fives and pictures, I moved myself down the shore, waded out onto a boulder, and got to work. The action continued for both of us, lots of misses and a few Goldens to hand. I had billed this trip as being as secluded as we could get on a single overnight. Not an hour into our fishing, I was pretty bummed to see a couple hikers walking up to the lake, which is at the end of this trail. It turns out that they were Department of Fish and Game personnel who were headed cross country over the ridge to the basin on the other side. They were there to do amphibian research. We talked to them for probably half an hour as they took a break. Turns out that Steve and them knew some of the same people. We got to get some of the inside scoop on this whole MYLF debacle.

By 7 o'clock we were pretty bushed and ready for dinner and our bags. It was a surprisingly cold night for as low as we were. I had oatmeal and tea in my gullet by 8 a.m. and was off on my morning hunt while Steve caught another hour of sleep.

The day would prove to be quite a bit slower than what we experienced the evening before, but we managed a few more apiece.

By midday the fishing was pretty tough. I found one of those awesome Sierra La-Z Boy granite slabs and set down and read for awhile. What a spot.

All too soon we realized that we had better head back down the hill. As we were going down, birdwatcher Steve kept us entertained with all manner of bird geekery and we spotted a fairly small black bear too. Towards the end, it seemed as if the trail never would. But I was struck by this particular meadow.

All in all, a great quick little trip. It was cool to go with Steve, who I really only see from the back of a bass boat. Just another slice of the Sierras that I will keep with me the rest of my life.

Monday, August 2, 2010


“What I see in Nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of humility. This is a genuinely religious feeling that has nothing to do with mysticism”

Einstein is the deal.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Stalking big browns!

Sometime back in February or March, my buddy Brandon and I managed to get permits for the VERY restrictive Williamson Bowl. They are hard to get and the area is closed to all human activity from July 15th until January. With the impressive snowpack the Sierras has received, as our July 7th departure date loomed near, we realized that there was just going to be too much snow this year. It was a definite disappointment, but rather than squash the whole trip, we decided to do a 5 day loop through some backcountry that is lower in elevation. Some of our stops were familiar to us, some weren't. This is the story of the back up plan.

We arrived on the morning of July 7th, after a couple hours of driving, at our trailhead. We each stashed a beer in the car for our triumphant return in 5 days. Those of you lacking the foresight to do the same, are cheating yourselves out of a wonderful return to civilization.

We slung on our packs of 33lbs for me and what Brandon said was "around 40" for himself. I get the feeling that he does not go through the same trouble of weighing individual items and his full pack like I do. We started off up the trail around 10 a.m.

From Deso Loop July '10

The first few miles of this trail were familiar to us and we charged up it at a pretty good clip. Our itinerary for this trip was pretty flexible, but we were required to stay in a certain area for our first night. Despite this, we opted to take a small detour of a couple miles round trip to swing by an unfamiliar lake. By the time we arrived we were both a little gassed and I welcomed the opportunity to pick up my 8 weight and huck some big chunks of fur and feathers into the turquoise abyss. Yes, an 8 weight in the high country. Not so much for the size of the fish, but I am throwing some pretty big streamers and I like to sling them far. Unfortunately, this lake proved difficult to fly fish for a couple of reasons. Primarily, the lake has a large shallow shelf extending out 60-150 feet from the shore. It was obvious that the lakes large denizens would not be shallow during the middle of the day. The other obstacle I faced was very poor backcasting clearance. Even when I waded manhood deep into the clear, cold water, the casting locations were limited.

As our first hour progressed the thunderheads that had been forecast began to stalk their way into our area. Since I had neglected to put in a packliner, or even bring my pack cover, it was obvious to us that we needed to boogie to the area we were slotted to camp at for the night. We needed to get camp set up before the rain made it to our sleeping bags and other critical gear. Use a packliner people.

From Deso Loop July '10

We finally arrived after crossing snowfields and slogging through a particularly wet and nasty trail. Camp went up quickly and without a hitch and we were pleased to be ready for the rain... that never came. By now it was about 2 in the afternoon. I opted to take a nap since I cleverly allowed myself 4 hours of sleep the night before. By 4 p.m. I was up, the big rod was strung, and I was hunting the big cruising Brown Trout of one of my favorite high country lakes.

From Deso Loop July '10

Like the trout hunting masters of the air, when chasing these big boys I pick a perch high above the water. Sometimes 10ft, sometimes 30ft, but always up high where you can see down into their house. Yes, I fish from up here.

From Deso Loop July '10

I put in a solid 4 hours of big Brown hunting for two good grabs. I missed both, but it was plenty entertaining watching them lazily cruise up to that big chunk of bunny and 'bou and suck it in. I dont know why it is so hard to hook these fish, but it is most likely a combination of being able to see them eat, setting too early, and having a good deal of slack in the line due to my lofty hunting spot. But, as I said, it was enough just to watch them come out and lay down the food chain law on my big streamers.

We had a gourmet meal of ramen and tortilla, and hit the sack. After fighting nature's call for a couple of hours in the pre-dawn morning, I finally drug myself out of my nylon castle and took care of business. Once I'm up, I'm up, so I again grabbed the 8wt. Brandon remained lazily snoozing away as the dedicated hunter stalked out of camp intent on piscivorous persecution.

I worked hard for a couple hours, with a few close calls, and far more flippant rejections from those wily old Browns. Just when the dedication was beginning to wane and the frustration was setting in, I saw a good one come into casting range and laid that big chunk of fur about 15 feet in front of him. I slowly stripped it back to the rocks and the fish did not hesitate, made a bee line over, and munched my streamer! I didnt have my landing net, it's laughably small size would have been like bringing a knife to a gun fight anyway. I got in the water and was eventually able to get hold of the fish. With Brandon still slumbering, I opted to take a quick picture near my rod and let the fish be on it's way. 21 inches as measured against my rod.

From Deso Loop July '10

Success. Not a giant, not nearly the biggest fish this place has to offer, or even the biggest that I had bite that day, but it was a great fish and my day was already made. 9 a.m.

A small side-note. Notice the blue rubber band on my rod. This is a quick easy system I came up with for measuring fish. Hold the fish against the rod, even with the butt, then roll the rubber band down to the fishes nose. Measure at camp, or even at home, and you've got a quick easy tape for the backcountry that weighs practically nothing, and is always conveniently at hand.

I went back to camp and rousted Brandon and he came out to fish. About then, the days thunderstorm arrived on scene. This one meant business. I continued to fish in the rain, in the hopes that it would get the big fish up shallow and more active.

From Deso Loop July '10

I wasn't off base in my hopes. The activity level definitely increased. More big fish were up and milling about. I missed a few more, had some heart thumping rejections, and spooked a whole pile of them off into deeper water.

I love fishing in the rain. The static sound of raindrops on a waveless lake is the sound of peace to me. Those are the moments when I feel truly in my element.

In short order, I spotted a good fish cruising super tight to the bank. I casted down about 20 feet in front of it, waited till it came within sight range of my fly and moved it to within a couple feet of land. As soon as she saw it, she torpedoed over and whacked it! Brandon was quick with the net and she was soon under my control. She was a chunk, clearly full of Redside minnows. 22.5 inches of chubby, streamer chewing goodness. Not bad for an alpine lake way up high in the backcountry!

From Deso Loop July '10

From Deso Loop July '10

The storm eventually passed. With it went the big browns. Back to the murky depths to digest their meals and toy with me no longer. They really did drop back down. I dont think I had another sign of interest for the rest of the day. But that was fine by me. I was grateful for what I got. These fish are notoriously wily. It seems that most guys struggle trip after trip to get one. Maybe I fish harder, maybe I fish longer, maybe I am lucky. Whatever the case may be, I'll take it!

I did manage to get a roughly twelve inch Brookie. His kindness in my time of hunger was summarily rewarded with a bonk on the head and a trip to the frying pan. Fear not, trout lovers, he was joined by wild onions, olive oil, parmesan, crushed red pepper, and some salt and lemon pepper. I topped that off with yet another round of ramen and tortillas.

Our last night at this lake was a good one. I had a full belly and slept great. Our final morning was bright and clear, without a ripple to be seen on the water. A typical post frontal day. In my experience, these days suck for fishing, especially with the larger, more wary fish.

Well, I love being right, but I love catching fish more. So unfortunately, when my prediction proved true and the fish didnt show, I was unable to add another picture of spotted gold and chocolate to my album. Luckily, I am not a completely one dimensional creature and I fully enjoyed just hanging out, trying to cast out every inch of my line, and finally taking a little dip to wash the clothes and body.

From Deso Loop July '10

We packed up camp and headed up to our next destination. We were slated to hike about 5 miles this day. We took our time since we had not got to see this country before. Plenty of awesome scenery.

From Deso Loop July '10

From Deso Loop July '10

From Deso Loop July '10

Marmot at the top of the saddle.

From Deso Loop July '10

We stopped at the very top to have lunch. Did your lunch break have this kind of a view today?

From Deso Loop July '10

We were soon on our way and got to walk along the shore of the Desolation's centerpiece for awhile.

From Deso Loop July '10

From Deso Loop July '10

After awhile we peeled off the trail and did a little cross country to get to the backside of what was to be our destination for the night.

From Deso Loop July '10

We fished for a little while. I did see one very nice cruising Rainbow who smirked at my bug and kept on truckin. That was it. The casting situation was not good, very difficult to find room to back cast and too much depth to wade. Add to that the crowded atmosphere and it had all the ingredients for a bailout. So we did. Back out the cross country route to check out some other lakes. The views going back out to the trail were too great not to share.

From Deso Loop July '10

We hiked around for awhile, going past a couple lakes that our wonderful DFG had decided to gill net over the winter to free up habitat for the Mountain Yellow Legged Frog. We opted to continue on, to what was slated as our destination for our final night, pushing up our arrival there by a day. By this time we had done a bunch of hiking and were starting to feel a little zapped. We slogged on for another few miles. Stopping occasionally to whine, talk about food unavailable to us in the hills, and take a few pictures. McDonald's double cheeseburgers seemed to be a running theme this stretch.

From Deso Loop July '10

We drug ourselves to the lake somewhere around 6 or 7 in the evening. We set up camp and watched all the bugs on the lake. They were not being harassed at all. We feared that perhaps the lake had become barren due to cessation of air dropping. Completely wiped, we made the call that we would just make this our last night and come out a day early. With that decision made, we gorged ourselves on double rations, and fell into our bags. Best night of backcountry sleep ever. My new Big Agnes pad and my sleeping bag unzipped and draped over me was the best combination ever.

When I finally drug myself out of the tent, I fired up the stove to boil water for oatmeal, coffee, and Earl Grey. The oatmeal went down fast, and I moved to a nice sunny boulder to enjoy my morning tea.

From Deso Loop July '10

As it was the night before, the bugs were everywhere, the trout were not. As I voiced my suggestion of breaking camp and heading for home, a beautiful Rainbow of about 16" cruised right past my rock and I saw it daintily suck in an invisible bug subsurface. Killer. We had fish, they were cruising, and they were eating. It's ON!

Over the next three hours, we witnessed a good number of fish, all in the same, nice, size class. Not big but good quality for the high country. The only problem was, these guys had PhD's in artificial avoidance. I was down to 7X tippet and size 22 midges. No dice. Not one munch. Brandon claimed to have gotten bit on a dry, I claim shenanigans.

After being thoroughly demoralized, beat down, and abused by the crafty residents of this tiny mountain gem, we decided to pack it up and head down the trail. I had picked a short, steep, unmaintained trail for closing our loop. We walked the top of a ridge for awhile before dropping down. The views alone were worth what we were about to endure.

From Deso Loop July '10

Soon, we came to the end of our ridge and got just a glimpse of what we were in for.

From Deso Loop July '10

We had to lose all of that elevation, in what appeared to be half of a mile on the map. D A N G !

From Deso Loop July '10

From Deso Loop July '10

It was incredibly slow going. This was no trail. It was a collection of run off trenches, granite steps, crazy slides down loose detritus, and tunneling through dense vegetation with running water around our ankles. All the while with 35lb packs and four days worth of wiped out weighing us down. It was miserable to the point of being fun. There were several occasions where I felt like Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole.

From Deso Loop July '10

Yes, there is a "trail" there! We eventually found our way to the car. We put our feet and more importantly, our friends from the beginning of this tale, into the stream and wound down a bit.

From Deso Loop July '10

We made our way directly to the nearest McDonald's. I had 5 double cheeseburgers, large fries, and 2 large iced teas. After that we were ready for the drive home.

A good trip.