Back from a refreshing day on the water (first in a while). Report coming soon. Until now, wish you were here…
Back from a refreshing day on the water (first in a while). Report coming soon. Until now, wish you were here…
It’s realities like this that make me want to airmail a rattlesnake to those smug, self-satisfied bastards induce me to follow the exploits of those fine fly fishermen, and eventually the voices disappear, and I enjoy a walk on the river anyway.
This time, I hiked far enough to both tire the Wonderdog and find two fish willing to eat a streamer which I selected after an involved, thoughtful, and highly technical process (it was at the top of the streamer box and I was too lazy to dig out the black woolly bugger).
Despite my Mad Fishing Report Skillz, even I can’t exactly play this one out as thrilling, edge-of-your-seat stuff.
I saw two bugs (an olive and what may have been a March Brown), no rising fish, and – despite rumors of Skwallas on shop doors – never even tied on a dry.
Instead – taking advantage of a technique I stole from some other fly fisherman developed entirely on my own – I did hook two fish.
Essentially, in high water situations, the trout often hang in the soft water near the edge of the river.
Using a streamer, you can cover a lot of ground from the edge of the river by casting into the faster water, giving the line slack (so the streamer sinks), and then controlling the swing of the streamer into the bank.
From one spot, you can cover a lot of bank, and it offers a pretty controlled swing into cut banks, rocks, buckets – places trout love to hide.
One smallish trout ate my streamer, I never got a proper hook set, and I got him as far as my feet before he slipped the hook. Given the water temps, I was actually pretty happy about that (at least my hands were).
The second trout was bigger and just as skilled at throwing the hook; I basically farmed him after two jumps.
I’d guess him at 14″ (an excellent length for a trout I didn’t land).
Wally the Wonderdog apparently agreed he was a fine fish – at least based on the pissed-off look he gave me only seconds after the trout threw the hook:
This is because the Wonderdog – seeing me hooked up while on the high bank above – used his tiny brain to draw a straight line from him to me and crashed right through a willow thicket I’d have said was impenetrable.
All to get a nose into the action.
That I denied him that opportunity apparently was not lost on the fish-obsessed, tank-like canine.
It appears that some fishing buddies are more forgiving than others.
A Question of Balance
Today I test-drove a new pair of studded rubber soles – the latest from Orvis.
I think they have something here.
Their four-pronged metal stud design is aggressive, and grips extremely well.
That’s good; I forgot my wading staff and the river was high, and the two add up to all sorts of difficulties if you’re walking on what amounts to a rocky ice rink.
Like Simms, Orvis is using the Vibram “sticky” rubber sole, which doesn’t seem nearly as sticky as the Patagonia rubber, so studs are needed for tough wading jobs.
I wandered around a *lot* on what I’ll call “snotty cobble” (fly fishermen know what I’m talking about, though a non-fisherman would have some questions).
The new Orvis design features what appear to be cutting edges, and while I got a better grip than a miser has on a dollar, I wouldn’t suggest wearing these on your wooden floors or in your drift boat (at least one sans mats).
In the interest of keeping the Undergrounders upright (and out of the doghouse), I’m working up a post on different metal stud designs for the next day or two – the logical extension of last year’s wading boot test.
More to come on rubber use, studs, and other oddly related (and easily misunderstood) topics soon.
See you wearing boots, Tom Chandler.
With only a few hours left in 2009, it’s probably time I actually started writing my “The Underground Looks Back at 2009: The Year in Mirth & Pictures” post.
And while the Underground’s fly fishing-related theme for 2009 has to be that smaller is better (I was on an extended small stream jag most of 2009), not everything that found its way to the Underground was about the little stuff.
First, the Underground threw a brick through his own plate glass window and became a father.
That’s the kind of statement that requires a little pause, and maybe a few deep breaths (or even panic).
I won’t lie; daddy-hood requires an adjustment – one not made easier by the presence of Zombie Terrorist Contractors – but it’s something that’s already added a dimension to my life (and no, that dimension isn’t soiled diapers).
Still, life moves on, though sometimes in odd, erratic ways – like when I found Wally the Wonderdog contentedly munching a still-wet brown trout in my backyard, despite the fact we live miles from the nearest trout water.
I later figured an Osprey – returning from the Mt. Shasta Hatchery – dropped the brown trout on a flyover, but to say the whole event took on a surreal cast qualifies for “Understatement of the Year.”
In the same vein, I believe the Underground laid claim to “Best Fly Fishing April Fools Post of 2009” when I fired up my “Fly Fish From Home” faux business which eliminates messy fly fishing trips, instead offering fly fishermen what they really want: A Hero Picture.
It remains a brilliant concept and an excellent example of the following: The Underground’s A Decade Ahead of the Rest of the World.
My “Dozen Best Fly Rods of All Time” post continues to draw visits (and comments), and it’s successful enough that I probably should create a followup, though I’m not all that clear what that will be.
Time passes, and these decisions are sometimes made for us.
The Underground even found itself on national television courtesy of Trout Unlimited (the other, less-famous TU).
Naturally, I caught exactly one, small fish (and looked foolish doing it), so it appears my future in television is on a par with my future with supermodels.
The Fly Fishing Stories
Naturally, we let a little fly fishing creep into the blog, including one essay on Home Waters which seemed to hit home with a lot of readers (it was one of the most linked-to posts of the year).
Fly fishing is something we engage in for reasons of fun or sanity instead of revenue or food gathering, so in other words, it’s an emotional thing, which allows us significant latitude when we talk about it.
Home waters are a state of mind – not GPS coordinates.
For example, the concept of â€œhome waterâ€ clearly isn’t geographic in nature, but a matter of the heart.
One fly fisherman can tell another his â€œhome watersâ€ are literally halfway around the globe, and the second fly fisherman won’t bat an eye.
That’s because his â€œhome watersâ€ are a five hour drive to the north (the last ten miles on dirt roads), and while humanity is generally poor at accepting alien perspectives, fly fishermen do sometimes make worthwhile exceptions.
That’s why I tend to seek out smaller, wilder waters even though I live on a beautiful freestoner. It’s not because blueline fishing is â€œeasyâ€ (for the record, nothing’s easy when you’re fishing from your knees or crawling through bushes).
It’s because the fishing is – to leverage a pair of overused words – intimate and predatory at the same time, a combination I find irresistible.
In the same vein, a few other small-stream fishing reports remain my favorites of the year, including this picture-heavy fly fishing affair from early in the season.
Then there was the small stream trip in Montana where I caught a trout grand slam on a tiny meadow stream which was – oddly enough – populated with 100 year-old freshwater mussels.
I’ve been there twice and It’s already become one of my favorite places, and because I embrace symmetry and symbolism equally, this time I left a few of my father’s ashes behind to hang out with the slow, patient mussels. It’s a perfect fit for him.
Later – as the season wound down (well, it never really winds down; the Upper Sacramento is open year-round, and in fact, I fished it yesterday), I found myself hitting a pair of local small streams, discovering the unhappy reality that trout which hurl themselves at dries in the summer don’t have much interest in doing so while winter tightens its grip.
First, on a remote water:
Lucky To Be Here
That said, I felt lucky to get what I got. In one sense, I was lucky to be there; it was sleeting when I arrived, but by noon it had grown colder, and by two, it was snowing.
When I finally left, I wondered if this was the storm that would close the road.
Even if it doesn’t, the next one might.
On the drive out, the truck skidded and slipped on dirt road, and I figured I might be the last fly fisherman to spook those trout until June or even July of next year.
Once, I entertained thoughts of skiing into this stream and fishing it long before others could get there, but the distances are daunting. And hell, I’m not even sure if the roads to the road are plowed.
Soon (very soon), the meadows will fill with snow, and they’ll stay that way for better than half the year, and the trout will go on about their lives largely untroubled – until one day the snow melts and a strange shape looms above them, waving a long, skinny stick.
If the romance of that escapes you, then check for a pulse.
Then, on the last day you actually can fish most of the small streams in my neck of the woods, I visited something nearby, and found the catching was great only if I was interested in ice-related photographs:
In other words, small streams are reviving when you want a “pure” fly fishing/predatory/wild experience, but they’re not above kicking your ass, then freezing it, then sending you home empty handed.
Good for them. Us fly fishermen are a ragged lot, prone to ego and willing to forget those moments in time when we’re not skilled or heroic, and if it takes a dumb trout living in a tiny stream to remind us, all the better.
At least we’re learning our lesson in a pretty place.
The Humor/Satire End of Things
One of the Underground’s most-viral posts was my story about the vicious, man-eating chipmunk brought into our house by a cat – a wild animal that hid under a blanket until I promptly grabbed him, thinking it was the cat, proving once again that the Underground can scream with the best of the little girls when he’s surprised.
In a less-startling vein, a couple of less-than-optimal (euphemism alert) experiences on the river left me ruminating about the kind of people you run into on a river, and why you wouldn’t necessarily want to hang out with all of them: The Top Ten Signs You Don’t Want to Fish With That Guy You Just Met
Late in the year, an Onion story got me thinking that the sport would acquire a whole new urgency if death was the result of failure (instead of a ribbing at the hands of friends).
Along the way, I managed to alienate the fly fishing industry on several fronts, including the ongoing trade show spat that’s served as one of fly fishing’s longest-running soap operas.
The Year in Pictures
It was a tough year on the picture front; my trusty Pentax Optio camera continued its slow decline, and yes, I managed to forget the thing often enough that it’s become a running joke with the L&T.
Still, I managed to scrape together a few nice pics for use on this post, and here – in no particular order – are the better pics from the Underground’s 2009 season.
I hope you enjoy them – and also hope you and yours experience a 2010 that is memorable for all the right reasons.
The next two pictures were taken on my best ski-and-fly-fish trip.
IMPORTANT NEWS UPDATE: One important 2009-related fact went unreported in my Year in Review post, and I wanted to correct it here: The Underground is proud to announce that we were one of the few organizations who did not sleep with Tiger Woods.
You may resume your normal lives.
Local fly fishing guide Wayne Eng used to grow so depressed when the Upper Sacramento River closed for the season, we considered confiscating his belt and shoelaces and placing him on suicide watch.
Now he gets to fish the Upper Sacramento all winter long (which is good, because it runs right by his home), and Wednesday, he was very, very happy the fishing season extends year-round. Why? Here’s 27 great reasons…):
That’s an Upper Sacramento Brown trout which Wayne suggests taped out at 27 inches. That’s two-seven, Undergrounders. On a river not exactly known for its populations of monster brown trout.
He caught it on a (ta-da!) black woolly bugger – at a time when the rain and snow melt were just starting to drive higher flows and murk the water a bit – an awfully good time to go headhunting.
Still, these kind of fish have a tendency to appear in the winter, and you’re often left to wonder exactly where the hell they were all summer.
Hiding at the bottom of a deep pool? Living the high life in Lake Shasta? Lacking a hideously outsized government research grant more information, we’re not sure.
But at least we know the things exist.
See you at the fly bin, Tom Chandler.
You can’t ascribe human terms like “revenge” or even “manipulative bastards” to trout, but you damn sure can experience those feelings when you’re fishing for them.
One day you arrive late in the hatch and the trout show themselves just long enough to let you know they’re down there, but they stop eating even as the blue-winged olives continue to float by.
“Too late” you think, and the next day you head back (only much earlier), and you and your friends catch the exact same number of fish as the prior day, and this despite experiencing the entire BWO hatch instead of just 20 minutes of it.
As you stand there in water that is only barely liquid (water temps at the Upper Sac’s Delta gauge registered 36 degrees that morning), it’s not hard to think you threw the trout off balance for a few minutes by showing up early, but they recovered quickly and sulked on the bottom.
Day One Party Wide Trout Count: 3
Day Two Party Wide Trout Count: 3
In what has come to be a regular occurrence, the BWOs of “deep” winter are actually larger than those that hatch in the fall. The early bugs are #20s and #22s, but the bugs now look like perfect 18s, though some have much larger wings (I’m told the females have bigger wings).
With air temps hovering around the water temperature, fly fishing the Upper Sacramento would normally offer fly fishermen few chances at trout but excellent odds on frost bite, but through the miracle of modern gear, I was a toasy, happy camper the whole day.
Last year I became a convert to the fly fishing soft shell, a remarkably lightweight jacket that’s achieved widespread acceptance among mountaineering and active types for its ability to keep the wearer dry even during high-output activities.
It’s an ideal choice for many situations, but this, my cold-weather Undergrounders, wasn’t one of them.
In truth, something warmer was called for – a Patagonia Micro-Puff jacket I got last year, but rarely wore on account of it being a little too warm.
The last week – with us experiencing temperatures in the low single digits and my time on the river making a weekend in a deep freeze seem tropical by comparison – I hauled it out, and was happy I did.
Lightweight, water resistant and damned warm, I’d marry it if I wasn’t already married (and let’s face it, the relationship would fall apart in the summer), but in terms of keeping me warm on the river, it was perfect – even to the point of being compressible and light enough to stuff in a vest back pocket.
As for fly rods, it’s oddly true that fishing tiny bugs on tiny tippet on the Upper Sacramento in the winter demands more rod than you might imagine.
A three weight sounds like the right piece of equipment, but the trout on this particular stretch are wary, and you regularly find yourself laying out long leaders and long casts, and my mainstay in the winter has been a strong 8.5′ 5wt, in this case a prototype Raine hollowbuilt quad that he loaned me for testing and forget to take back.
Whenever I fish it and he’s around, I cringe, wondering if he’s going to remember and ask for it back. It’s not as if I don’t have other rods capable of doing the same job, but again, this one works real well, and only a fool would give that up.
At some point, you tend to settle in with the gear that works for you – and I’ve been that way roughly since I moved up here more than a decade ago – but every once in a while, you check out the new stuff and see if the state of the art has advanced (instead of the state of the industry’s marketing), and in the jacket world, it appears it has.
That’s coming from a guy who still mostly fishes bamboo and fiberglass fly rods, which suggests I’m a lot more interested in staying warm than I am in generating high line speeds. (Of the two, I know which is most useful on my river.)
Still, in the end, fly fishing the Upper Sacramento in the winter isn’t about gear or even catching a lot of trout.
It’s about practicing a sport in conditions where hope is your biggest ally, and the trout and the bugs often act like they’re out to drive you mad.
See you on the river, Tom Chandler.
The bugs had just started and a few trout were rising, and it was suddenly very clear I’d spent most of my summer fly fishing small streams.
Fishing a small stream is gratifying, but it’s not the best preparation for throwing #22 emergers at very spooky trout – which tend to stop rising whenever you wade closer than 35′.
In other words, I was rusty.
Rusty enough that I got a little cranky with myself on the water.
That’s a bad thing, because when I’m cranky, I start cataloging my fly fishing failures, and under the impetus of an admittedly self-critical nature, that list can grow very long.
Wrong flies. Out of 6x. Every cast eight inches short. Not sneaky enough. Not piling enough tippet for a good drift. Not focused. Bad karma from prior lifetime.
It can get a little weighty at a moment in your life when a little confidence is a real asset.
Sometimes, you never do crack the code, and the bugs stop appearing and the fish stop rising, and you stand hip-deep in seriously freezing cold water and wonder why you took up this sport in the first place.
Other times you change one simple thing: tippet, fly, more reach in the cast – and the whole experience resolves itself right in front of your eyes, and the trout do their part by eating the fly.
It’s either the way things are supposed to work, or pure magic.
When that does happen, you tend to forget the first half hour or so; that stretch where some apparently immature fly fisherman would be tempted to imitate his new daughter by stamping his wading boots and whining.
(Thank goodness that doesn’t apply to you or me.)
In this case, I sorta cracked it. Barely.
Well, not really.
I was able to get fish to eat, though before it all came together, I had one actually come up under my bug while aiming for the natural right behind it.
My simply too-big #18 parachute simply slid off his broad back, and I simply stood there wondering at the unfairness of it all.
The answer, of course, is that fairness isn’t a concept often adhered to in nature, and it wasn’t the trout’s fault I was stinking the place up.
The Ugly Reality
Chris Raine – who was ironically fishing my backup rod (an 8.5′ Raine prototype) because he’d grabbed the wrong rod tube on the way out of the shop – landed two nice fish.
Naturally, I claimed ownership of half of both trout, suggesting it was a fool’s tax for grabbing the wrong rod (an obvious symptom of advancing age).
Just as naturally, he replied with a rude gesture.
I fished an 8.5′ Jim Reams hollowbuilt (a rod I love dearly for its smooth nature, but may sell because I’m not nearly caster enough to enjoy the taper when the bugs are on the water and I get impatient and start driving casts).
I had a total of four grabs, one brief hookup, one driven-by-frustration hookset (broke him off), and missed the other two on general principle.
In other words, I kinda sucked, and because I was preoccupied with rising fish, I can’t even save this fishing report with a handful of good pictures.
It was the kind of day that shows you brief flashes of promise, yet reminds you that you’re not nearly as good at this (or most other things) as your daydreams suggest you are.
Or more accurately, I’m not always as good at this as I was on the one day I did it all perfectly – a day which somehow becomes our benchmark for normalcy, which is self-deception raised to a high art.
While I’ll eventually adjust to the demands of the BWO hatch (I’m stocking up on #20 Roy Palm biot-bodied soft hackle emergers), I’ll also embrace the concept of letting the trout win the day without assuming I’ve lost my marbles.
See you on the river, Tom Chandler.
The fly fishing? About as good it usually is later in the October Caddis hatch – when the fish are used to seeing them and enough of the hummingbird-sized bugs are dying to make it interesting.
Unfortunately, Older Bro and I ran into a bunch of cars in the parking lot, and plenty of fly fishermen on the river (and yes, one real asshole), and while we got plenty of eats in a few of my Secret Big Fish Spots, things slowed dramatically when we fished used water (which was most of the evening).
Still, the Upper Sacramento’s fishing very well – and rumour has it the McCloud’s going even better.
As proof, I offer this clearly sympathetic email from an Undergrounder, who was out fishing while I was wrestling soiled diapers off the Littlest Undergrounder:
BWAH, HAH, HAH!!!
fish, big fish. Lots of em…..
Big black noses, sucking up caddis dries….
Big, jumping hot fish…
Best night…ever. I was THERE!!!
and you…..BWAH, HAH, HAH!!!!!
As always, I’m warmed and comforted by the love and support of the Undergrounders, though as the above email writer will soon discover, I know people – people who carry power tools in the trunk of their car, yet don’t build things.
(Then again, in Day 71 of the Underground’s Home Contractor Hostage Crisis, that pretty accurately describes our contractor too)
Naturally, the usual caveats apply whenever I suggest the fishing’s good:
Helpful Hint: Everyone’s throwing stimulators, and while they work, they don’t offer the best hooking percentage. Consider a pattern that sits a little lower in the water, and bring a handful so you can replace the chewed, soggy mess on the end of your line.
Helpful Hint #2: leader selection is important when you’re throwing short casts with a wind-resistant fly. Micro-drag isn’t a big issue, and shorter leaders throw much better, so…
More to come (and soon) – including a short summary of our latest wading boot test. It went – sadly – about as expected.
See you at the keyboard, Tom Chandler.
In keeping with the Underground’s tradition of delivering far more than our motley crew of followers could dream of, we’re not only throwing a favorable fly fishing report your way – but we’re also passing along information of a new flow monitoring station on the McCloud (at Ah Di Nah).
Yes. It’s a twofer Tuesday.
Upper Sacramento is (shuss) Fly Fishing Well
The Upper Sacramento River is busting out, with reports of evening hatches (and good-sized trout) filling the clandestine, whisper-encrypted airwaves that reflect the “don’t tell anybody, but…” communications between locals, guides, and the visiting fly fishermen.
Flows on the Upper Sac are wholly wadable and will remain so. The fly fishing’s good.
Time to fly fish.
And don’t forget to spend a few bucks in the area while you’re up here (see the Undergrounder’s Human Refueling Guide here).
The McCloud’s in great shape, and in fact, you can read flow data from Ah-Di-Nah online. That’s great news for fly fishermen trying to make the difficult “go, no-go” decision (Houston, we have a flow problem).
There’s really no need to hype the McCloud’s fishing here; this world-famous, soil-your-waders-gorgeous river is the most popular in the area, and it’s not as if the within-driving-distance Undergrounders need much urging.
It’s fishing pretty good. We’ll leave it at that.
The Pit? I haven’t heard. It was easily the early-season champion among the area’s three rivers, and I’d expect it’s still going good – the heat hasn’t yet gotten too bad.
River Flows Online (also on the Underground’s Link page)
UPDATE: CalTrout also wants PG&E to publish dam release data as part of relicensing effort; we’ll update you if that comes online.
(Now stop looking at flows, and start fly fishing)
See you on the river, Tom Chandler.
The Upper Sacramento River’s running right around 2000 cfs, and – despite two days of warmer weather – it hasn’t increased (though it’s no longer falling at 500 cfs per day).
That offers all sorts of implications (e.g. – we’re not going to see a big runoff even this year), but to honest, 2000 cfs still renders large chunks of the river unfishable.
The McCloud’s flows are hovering around 1000 cfs at the lake, so it remains fishable in its upper regions – and it’s apparently not spilling over the dam – but Curtis Knight of CalTrout forwarded this semi-chilling message:
As previously indicated, PG&E is closely monitoring the inflow to McCloud Reservoir and is assessing the need to make additional flow releases below McCloud Dam to manage water surface elevation in the reservoir.Â To date, flow releases from McCloud Dam have not increased significantly and inflow to McCloud Reservoir appears to be stabilizing.
The current instream flow release from McCloud Dam is 168 cfs, and the current flow at Ah-Di-Nah is 470 cfs.Â McCloud Reservoir is at maximum storage.Â Since McCloud Reservoir is at maximum storage, the need for increased flow releases from McCloud Dam is still probable, and is dependant on the rate of reservoir inflow experienced over the next several day.Â Although additional precipitation is not likely, warming temperatures and saturated ground conditions may cause increased inflow to the reservoir.
OK. That’s not bad, and with no precipitation forecast until Saturday, I’d suggest the McCloud is fishable in its upper portions. And it’s quite likely the Upper McCloud is at least partly fishable, though again, one man’s “fishable” is another’s “let’s go get drunk.”
Me? I’d love to get drunk, but I’m teaching yet another series of online marketing classes, and will therefore largely turn into a pumpkin for the next three weeks.
Life, it seems, is often dark.
See you in class, Tom Chandler.
As far as winters go, this hasn’t been much of one, but despite the lack of snow and surfeit of sunny weather, everybody’s doing the same things they’d do if they were staring at 8 foot snow berms.
Chris Raine’s in his shop, huddled over some massively dangerous power tool (they’re all massively dangerous to me). He’s turning piles of high-grade bamboo into shavings and fly rod strips, and eventually high-dollar bamboo fly rods.
Edmondson’s been traveling a lot for work, Wayne’s installing flooring in his own Man Cave, Ian Rutter’s gritting his way through the eastern show circuit, and Dave Roberts is teaching fly tying classes and calling to taunt every time he scores another cloudy-day, Rogue River BWO hatch.
Me? The last pair of weeks have been a little unsettling, involving odd pains and news you’re not wholly sure you want to hear. It’s all good now – in fact it’s possible to go fly fishing without wondering if my cell phone coverage is good enough to get a call out in a hurry – but it’s still winter, which is to say none of us are fly fishing as much as we could be.
Yesterday – in a good post-doctor mood – a quick trip to the river would have been stellar, but in the winter, there are damned few “quick” trips anywhere.
With an hour (tops) in hand, I found myself tromping through the nearby woods with Wally the Wonderdog, cleaning up piles of shotgun shells left behind by slobs shooters.
In the summer, a quick trip to a nearby stream emerges at a single impulse; it involves little more than wading boots, a light fly rod and an Altoids tin of flies (maybe a extra few minutes if the fish were eating dries).
Those are the trips the Undergrounders rarely read about (for all sorts of reasons I’m not apologizing about that), but during winter, there’s more gear, more clothing, and – for some reason – way more searching the Man Cave for lost crap.
And speaking from a purely legal perspective, the nearby little waters (with the stupid fish) are closed.
Winter’s the time of year when you can say “no” to fly fishing for all sorts of reasons, and the bar on what constitutes a “good” reason seems to have fallen considerably from its summer levels.
I’m not getting flies tied and fly lines cleaned, my office is still a mess, the Man Cave garage is still in disarray after the sheet rock people folded, spindled and mutilated it, and those writing projects are still moving slowly.
I’m not advocating sloth or watching I Love Lucy re-runs or even [gasp] wasting time on the Internet; I’m just wondering where my summer fly fishing time – that handful of disconnected hours each week which normally find me on the river – goes when the weather turns cold.
I’m still fly fishing enough to stay sane – a big improvement from a few years ago when the Upper Sacramento was closed to fishing in winter – but I’m not fly fishing enough to escape the thought I should be doing it more.
Maybe tomorrow I’ll go fishing, and with any luck, find a few answers.
See you on the river, Tom Chandler.