Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Experimenting on the Rogue

It hasn’t occurred often in 15 months of traveling that I am sad to leave a place for the next destination. For the most part when move day comes along I’m ready for the next location and whatever it holds in store. But this last two weeks has been a real thrill and most relaxing all at the same time. Sitting outside our travel trailer typing this I’m about four long casts from the banks of the Rogue River. Staying here has been fun and frustrating all at the same time. Most evenings I head out around 6:30 p.m. and fish until around 9:00 when the light finally fades to a point I can’t see my fly hit the water.

The frustrating part is that of all the months of the year to be here July is the absolute worst for chasing salmon and/or steelhead. I’m not sure how many hours exactly I have spent on the river casting and swinging large flies but it’s been quite a few. Between almost every evening, a few mornings and a pair of afternoons my estimate is around 50 hours on the water fishing. In all that time I have turned 4 fish with 2 solid hits, one fish that just rolled at my fly and one that took solidly. For all that not a single fish has been landed in the river. I’ve done some surf fishing but that’s another story. The owner of Four Seasons RV Resort where we’re staying keeps telling me he feels bad that for all my efforts I haven’t caught a salmon. The truth is that for all my efforts it’s my own fault that I haven’t landed a salmon.

Being an obsessive tinkerer I am always trying different things; some work out quite well others do not. My latest brilliant idea was to apply a handshake, loop-to-loop connection to the end of my leader. The thought process is based on the leader system my good friend Nick Haxhijaj of Nick FlyFishing. Nick is a nymphing fan like few I have ever met and religiously uses a Czech nymphing system that employs loop –to-pool connections to the final tippet sections at the flies. Here is where I say to you that it works great for trout nymphing but does NOT work when dragging an Emotion Detector across the bottom of a big river. Here’s where the reason I haven’t landed or at least had a chance to land a salmon is my own damned fault. About the third day here on the Rogue I hung up on a log after having dragged my leader through the rocks at the edge of the run many times. When I applied pressure to the log my tippet snapped at the loops. In a hurry to get back at it I attached another tippet via the same loop-to-loop connection and kept on fishing.

A few days later I went out feeling jolly about life and being able to fish on a big river with a chance at a big salmon. It was one of those days that just feel right in every way. It had been cloudy all day. Reports were that guides were catching good numbers of salmon at the mouth of the river. The wind was at the perfect direction and speed for the casting angle I needed. Most days I was having trouble feeling any confidence in what I was doing which translated into questionable casts which led to questionable swings which led to a heightened lack of confidence; this day though I was in the zone immediately. Writing about it now brings to mind other days when being in that same zone brought memorable trophies: an 11 pound largemouth, a 22 inch rainbow and my first and only steelhead. On my very first cast I could feel the swing and visualize the fly dropping behind the high-density line with the tail moving tantalizingly in the current. With a classic cast, swing and step approach I felt every inch of the run being covered successfully.

Less than 15 minutes into that glorious rhythm I felt the take. My line stopped in a way that indicated the fly had been interrupted by a living creature. It was the sensation of life that brings an instant adrenaline rush to an angler. I locked onto the line, raised my rod and came felt the other sensation that only anglers know but this one brings immediate disappointment. It was that little tick that tells us our line has parted but this one was the part of a 4 pound line not that of the 12 pound tippet I had attached to my fly. With my line now swing free in the current. All I could do was watch as the fish boiled twice at the surface heading back toward the ocean 7 miles away. Though I couldn’t see the fish I could tell it was exactly what I was after. Having spent nearly 50 years watching fish from every vantage point an angler ever does I could tell beyond a shadow of a doubt it was a BIG fish. The rest of the evening’s fishing was done halfheartedly. My rhythm was shot to hell, my confidence broken in a way it’s taken a week to repair.

Tonight is my last chance to try for one last shot at a salmon on the Rogue River. It has been a week and a day since my tippet parted with my leader. I’m using my old tried and true leader to tippet connection again. No more experimenting. Whether I actually hook into another salmon and do or do not land it remains to be seen and for the first time since we got here it doesn't even matter. This evening I'll just live in the moment, try not to think about what could have been and enjoy being skunked on one of the most beautiful rivers in the country.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Hubris Bites on the Lower Sac

When we pulled into Redding at the end of June the temperatures were soaring to well over 100 every afternoon. Though this is not unusual for the area it was a bit of a shock to us given that we have been traveling around trying to avoid such weather.

We had come to this part of the country so I could fish some of the famous rivers in the area. As it turns out they are all suffering from the heat. Crack of dawn fishing I was told has been okay but late evening is when the action really gets going with caddis and PMD hatches being pretty reliable.

Best Laid Plans

With maps in hand and flies in my boxes Sharon and I set out for some visual recon of the Upper Sacramento in the afternoon. The plan was to look at some of the parking areas and the river to determine which ones I can get my gimpy self into alone and still be able to climb out in the evening. Driving north on I-5 from Mountain Gate we were enjoying the scenery and views of Shasta Lake.

You know how you go to a fly shop in the area before heading out to acquire information that keeps you out of trouble? Well I did that. As a traveling angler I find it best to pop in and see what the locals have to say ask a few questions and go from there. Maybe I didn't ask the right questions but then again if you're from out of town you may not know what question to ask because as a doctor I used to see like to say "You don't know what you don't know until you know it".

Here's what we now know. The last big bridge along I-5 over Lake Shasta is being rebuilt necessitating all traffic to be funneled into a single lane. Here's what we didn't think about. On Thursday evening before the Fourth of July weekend everybody in central California seems to be heading north out of the Sacramento Valley on I-5 So much for quick recon and fishing the Upper Sacramento through the holiday weekend. This is our third time to pass through Redding and every one has been around July 4th; it's never planned but somehow has worked out that way. In some instances timing is everything and this is one of them. What should have been a 20 minute drive turned out to be 2 1/2 hours and we never even saw a single fishing location. Back to the old drawing board.

Well as it turns out the drawing board looked pretty much the same for all the other locations I had hoped to get to except one. Where do you go to fly fish in peace when the masses are flocking out of the cities? Back into the city. By process of elimination and a bit of somewhat reliable information I ended up less than 100 yards downstream from the CA-44 bridge on the Lower Sacramento.

The guys at The Fly Shop, really that's what it's called, had told me there was a caddis hatch here every evening so that's what I came prepared for. I'm not sure if the guys I talked to didn't fully explain the situation or I was daydreaming while they spoke; most likely it was a combination of both. Anyway the first evening out I tried to fish a really good looking riffle but couldn't get into a position to get good drifts with nymphs or dries. The water was flowing pretty powerfully and I wasn't going to risk having my body turn up somewhere around San Francisco just to catch a trout.

After picking around the edges of the riffle I almost gave up and called it in for the day but the little voice in my head said to keep going. I picked my way along an overgrown path beating back bushes and spider webs until I came out onto a big wide groomed and heavily used path. This is where I realized I may have been daydreaming back at the fly shop when the one guy was explaining where I should go to fish. For those who don't believe it ADHD is real I mean it! Now where was I? Oh yes.......I found out when I left later that the path leading straight out from the parking lot leads to a beautiful, easily waded long run.

I worked the current seam nymphing waiting for the surface action to start but other than a few stray feeders out in the fast current nothing materialized. It was getting dark and I wanted to make sure I made it out not yet knowing of the easy path out and I forgotten to grab my headlamp before leaving the truck. I did spot one surface feeder close in but wrote it off as a straggler and decided to come back the next evening for another try.

Gotcha Suckers

The next evening I showed up with a new game plan which was to do a little nymphing and wait until the action started right at dusk. It's a glorious thing when a game plan actually comes together.

With an hour until the magic moment when I thought things would start I worked the current edge with nymphs hard. I tried high sticking, indicator nymphing and free-line nymphing with not a single touch that I detected. By the time I thought the surface action should be happening I had only seen the feeders out in the heavy current 50 feet away. A 50 foot cast is no big deal but a drift at 50 feet with multiple current speeds in between is a different story. I was starting to believe that the surface action wasn't going to happen, There were caddis and BWOs everywhere in the air and on the water. I was casting a good imitation of the adult caddis but no takers nor were there any surface feeders close enough in to cast to. Then it happened. The plan came together.

A fish rose upstream and right on the current line I was stalking with nymphs earlier. As I moved up to cover that spot I was casting to feel out the seam hydraulics and get my eyes in focus in the fading light. As my upstream cast drifted parallel to my position a head poked out of the surface and the silhouette of my fly disappeared in a swirl. I lifted the rod and came up tight on what felt like a small trout....until I applied some pressure. The next thing I knew all the slack line was off the water and it was on the reel and taking drag. The problem with carrying a net big enough for a steelhead is that it makes a 20" trout look like a dink when you photograph it in the net. It doesn't diminish the experience though.

A few minutes later I slid the trout back into the water and watched it swim away, dressed my Elk Hair Caddis and got back to it. A few casts later I was tight on another big rainbow that made a long run, a heroic jump and released itself 60 feet away. I made my way up the seam squinting at the surface following my fly as it drifted on the silvery reflection. Twice more a head broke the surface and I came up tight on hefty rainbows, one I landed and the other pulled lose when I applied too much pressure. There were more refusals than takes and it occurred to me they trout were actually keying on the emergers. The splashy rises and all out leaps were the giveaway. But light was too far gone and I had again forgotten my headlamp. A few more casts and another head popped up from the river and I was tight on another fish. This one fought like a champ from the instant it felt the hook. It took a couple minutes of what was left of the fading light to land it and get a good photo.

With little time left I made two more casts before I was hooked into yet another strong fish but this one I knew wasn't coming in soon and I needed to go. I pressured it until the hook pulled lose. With a big smile and a feel of "Gotcha" I called it a night.

Hubris Bites

The next evening was July 4th so I left the park, the river and the fish alone for the evening to enjoy the fireworks in peace, But the evening after I showed up with a half dozen freshly tied Elk Hair Caddis dries and another half dozen LaFontaine Sparkle Emergers. This time I arrived with little time before the surface action would start. I got some funny looks in the parking lot heading out in fading light. This time I set up to in a position just to see if I could time a heroic 60 foot cast to one of the early fast current feeders. I stood with 60 feet of line and 12 feet of leader dangling in the current waiting for a riser to target. The first three shots failed. The fly would travel a few feet then drag horribly. On the fourth shot I sailed the fly out and executed a flawless upstream mend with the line in midair. The fly landed, I spotted immediately and the riser porpoised on it as if in a dream.

"These trout don't have a chance." That was my last positive thought for the evening. I raised my rod and the small amount of slack line I had off the reel wrapped itself around my left wrist and immediately came tight around my wristwatch. All I could do was struggle for the two seconds it took for my freshly tied Elk Hair Caddis to snap from the tippet.

The hatch came off just like the night before but instead of poetry in motion my casting was something more akin to sex on a hammock. The few rises I did get I over-struck and either pulled the fly away or snapped off two more freshly tied flies. There were wind knots without any wind, Sparkle Emerger in my neck and bushes behind me that didn't exist the night before.

I left without ever coming tight on a trout without breaking off immediately. My confidence was crushed leaving me wondering why I wanted to fish in the first place. It was just one of those nights. Before I turned and waded out I counted over a dozen actively feeding trout. I tipped my hat and reminded myself once more that hubris bites.

Don't get cocky, the trout don't like it.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Fishing Waders and the Need to Pee

After 56 years and a little more on the planet I have recently reached a point of confusion on a certain matter of some importance. To pee or not to pee? Yes that is my question posed in Shakespearian form just because I like the way it sounds when I say it in my head. In case you’re wondering I even said it out loud a few times just to hear it that way too. Why after all this time you may ask am I posing this question. Well let me just tell you why.

On the one hand we have the “most interesting man in the world” appearing on TV telling us to stay thirsty. Up until very recently I was with him on this point. I know we’re not supposed to believe everything we see on TV or read on the internet but he is the most interesting man in the world so he must know something. Right? As it turns out this may not be such good advice.

Case in point, a few days ago I woke up with an uncomfortable ache in my abdomen which I thought indicated a need to, I’ll just say it, take a big poop. I wrote it off when the ache went away, I moved on and went fishing. The fishing didn’t go as well as I had hoped but that is another story entirely. Time passed, I went fishing again which went much better than the prior outing but again, that is another story. Later that second evening the ache came back but soon subsided with the consumption of a healthily sized Vodka Gimlet, or two. After a decent night’s sleep Sharon and I prepared to leave Redding, CA heading for Old Station where fishing the famed Hat Creek, along with other streams and lakes, was on the agenda. I couldn’t wait to get there and get my boots in the water.

As we packed up the ache came back with a vengeance- ouch –then it grew and grew- OUCH! Being the tough old guy I am I ignored it because tough guys can’t be taken down by a little pain in the gut. Or so I thought. We loaded up, hooked-up and hit the road. As we pulled out the reality of a real issue started to occur to me in a big way but I’m a tough guy and can push through anything. Twenty minutes later I pulled over on the side of the road where the decision was made to head back to where we had come from, set-up again and eventually we ended up in the Emergency Room of Shasta Regional Medical Center, which by the way turned out to be an excellent facility with great staff.
2 mm of  Fun in the Gut

Without going into all the details it turns out I was passing a kidney stone. Many hours of agony and a small bucket full of pain medications later it's all passed with the hope that it will NEVER happen again.

For those of you who have never experienced such a thing it hurts like a (insert word you don't say to your mother here)!!!!!!!

Here is where the previously mentioned advice of the most interesting man in the world is in direct conflict with recent experience. I now have advice from the ER doctor urging me to stay hydrated. Oh the confusion and conflict for the modern man or woman in waders. On the one hand if I stay hydrated during those long days of fishing, at some point the waders will have to come down for what they call on the Tour de’ France a “natural break”. On the other hand if I refrain from drinking enough to fill a 2 liter bottle daily there could be another kidney stone incident, OUCH! Sure the waders can stay up thus foregoing the need to “break natural” on the river but man that little stone of solidified minerals is most unpleasant.

As any wader wearing angler can attest, getting in and out of those things can be a bitch at best when loaded down with all the other appurtenances required of the modern day fly fisher. Given that we always suppress the urge until the last possible second, by the time we drop the vest, sling-pack, chest-pack or waist-pack, shed the net and loosen the wader belt we may well have already moistened the inner surface of our waders. It’s easier to just forego staying hydrated and avoid the rush to drop waders but avoiding a little hassle may not be worth it in the long-run.

Having had numerous major medical procedures performed on my knee, including having it opened up like a gutted trout, I am no stranger to excruciating pain. Passing a kidney stone IS excruciating pain. All I can say is the most interesting man in the world must stay more hydrated than I have ever suspected. Or maybe that XX beer has great medicinal properties the rest of us are unaware of. I suspect his invitation for the rest of us to “stay thirsty” is just a marketing ploy while he stays hydrated nice and hydrated. I’ve never seen him wearing waders so relief is likely just a few steps away with no waders or other angling appurtenances figured into the struggle.

I may not be the most interesting man in the world; okay at best I might be described as moderately interesting. But here’s my advice. Stay Hydrated my friends, Stay Hydrated!

So if you happen to be strolling along the banks of a lake or stream and witness a natural break in progress keep moving, nothing to see here, it’s just a knowledgeable angler staying hydrated.