05
Apr 17

Maybe my one moment of guiding awesomeness

A client on the Power House 2 Riffle

Many, many years ago I spend a season guiding. I only guided that one season as life kind of happened in the off-seasons and by the next Spring I had a steady job I was interested in and that was that. I enjoyed guiding, although I was still learning and I certainly took more away from the experience than others likely got from me. In any job you have a learning curve and I was still on that curve when my career took a different direction.

Still, there were a couple of really awesome moments in my short time guiding. I was reading The Alaska Chronicles (by Miles Nolte) last night (yeah, I’m late to this party, but I’m enjoying the book), and it got me thinking about the successes and failures in my own guiding. One story comes to mind and here it is.

A lot of people might have heard of Hat Creek. It is a Spring Creek in a land of Free Stones. It is located in the North East part of California, about an hour from Redding and about an hour from Lassen National Park. It meanders through a landscape that sees forest and something akin to plains, almost like the landscape around the Madison in Montana, just a bit smaller in scale.

Hat Creek, like a lot of the rivers in California, is interrupted by power houses. It has been significantly altered to suit human demands. The section of Hat Creek that most people think of is below Power House 2 where the river emerges from the power house, makes a 90 degree turn and goes over a riffle that might be 30 yards long before taking on the smooth, even, slick and difficult flat water section that looks like what you tend to think of as a spring creek.

The riffle is a really interesting place, or at least it was back then (about 1999 is when I was guiding there). The fish live in the flat water but cycle in and out of the riffle to feed. It is one of the very few places in California where success does not depend on covering water. You can find a place and stay put. The fish come to you. If you have your weight set right, you just cast out, 15 feet or so, again and again and again and eventually, you catch a trout.

It is also one of the few places in California where 15 people can fly fish on the same piece of water at the same time. You get two rows of people, one on the near side of the riffle, the other on the far side of the riffle. So long as no one goes and walks through the riffle and screws up the circulation of fish, everyone can catch fish.

This was a favorite spot for guides from the lodge I worked at. You could get someone dialed in with their indicator casting without worrying about anyone falling in. You could work a group of anglers and have everyone within 30 feet of one another. You could station someone who was maybe a bit older or unsteady and they could stay put and catch fish. You might spend the morning on the Hat and then head off to the Pit or a creek somewhere or maybe even the Lower McCloud. Mid-week, the riffle usually wouldn’t have too many folks on it and since it was about 10-15 minutes from the lodge, it was a frequent stop.

As summer wore on you’d start to see a trico hatch and spinner fall on the Hat and that could offer a couple hours of decent dry fly fishing, although with size 20 spinner, a bit hard for some folks to see. The spinner fall was hit or miss. Sometimes it just didn’t seem to happen, others it got going pretty strong (for a CA river, I’ve seen spinner falls other places and ours never seemed to rise to epic levels).

One the morning I’m thinking of I had three clients, one more than is generally a good idea, but it was a father, son and the son’s friend. The son and his friend were 13-14, well behaved, good sports. That morning the spinner fall was a bit light and the fish weren’t really grabby.

I noticed on the edge of the current there were little fish, I mean, really little fish, throwing themselves at the light spinners with reckless abandon. These three inch troutlets would fling themselves at the #20 spinners, cartwheeling out of the water.

While I had the father and son keeping after the sporadic rise, I decided to do something different with the son’s friend. I put him downstream a little bit and changed his #20 trico spinner for a sparse black leach in a #8 or so. I told him to cast out, quartering downstream and let the fly swing into the seam and then I wanted him to slowly twitch the streamer back up stream.

Now, I had never tried this myself. I had never seen another angler do this. None of the other guides at the lodge told me this is something they had tried. I had no reason to expect this to work, but I just thought “If I were a big brown trout and I were looking for a good meal, those little trout don’t seem to be very on-guard right now.”

It worked. Five minutes after I got the kid sorted out he had a strong pull and was fast to a good fish. I helped him land what turned out to be an 18″ brown trout, which for Hat Creek is both rare (It is about 95% rainbows) and a really good fish.

It would have maybe been better if I had the dad or his son land the biggest fish of their trip, but it was such a low percentage shot, I didn’t want to risk it with the guy who was actually paying for the trip.

I miss being that connected to a bit of water where I even have hunches about things that might work. You lose that when you become an infrequent visitor instead of a daily visitor.

It was a highlight from my year on the water. I had a couple other moments of guiding success, maybe more than a couple, but that life was short lived for me. I hang on to those moments.


01
Aug 16

Gut Feeling

I went out for stripers again on Sunday, fishing pretty much the same tide as I did on Saturday. This is a game I am still trying to figure out. I have a hunch about ideal tides and a notion about what role the wind might play, but these are guessed at things.

july 31 striper

The fishing was slower. I caught less than half as many fish, not including a snagged ray that I thought was a monster striper for a few minutes. I don’t know why it was slower, although I do have half a guess.

At one point, I had a gut feeling that the fishing was done and that there would be no more fish caught. I knew it, but had no reason for knowing. The water here is opaque. You can’t see the fish and they don’t give themselves away. It isn’t like bonefishing where you can damn well see the fish are gone and it isn’t like what I imagine striper fishing to be on the East Coast when you might actually see feeding fish. This SF Bay striper fishing for me at this point is just all gut feelings, limited personal history and vague ideas.

I kept fishing though. I wanted to see if my gut feeling would be proven true. I wanted to test it a bit. I put another 100 casts in and had not one fish, not one grab. I fished it the same way I had fished it for the previous hour and a half with opposite results.

Sometimes, you just know.

I remember other days like that on other bits of water. I had one day on the Upper Sacramento when I had all day to fish, but 30 minutes on the water and I knew I wouldn’t catch a fish that day and I didn’t. This is water I normally do very, very well on, but there was a gut feeling I had that the fish weren’t going to eat.

I don’t know how that sort of information gets transmitted or by what, but it does get received and understood by the angler.

Sometimes the water talks to us and sometimes we understand.


21
Jul 16

Andy Mills in Garden and Gun

I was born in 1974, so I missed the peak of Andy Mills’ skiing career and I tend to think of him as a tarpon angler first.

Monte Burke (a real writer, not a hack like me) wrote up a great piece about Andy in Garden & Gun, which is the weirdest title for a magazine that I actually want to read.

This has me thinking about tarpon, one of the other fish I share some brain space with. Tarpon. Mostly, tarpon have kicked my ass. I’ve landed one adult tarpon and three juveniles. I’ve broken a rod on a lost fish, probably jumped 5, fed 20 and nearly wet myself on several more. My interest in tarpon is in direct contrast to my success in angling for them.

Next May I have a conference in Ft. Lauderdale and I’m going to tack on a few days on the back end to try to add another to the tally. My most haunting failures in angling are pretty much all tarpon related.

I envy Andy Mills his talent and his success. I won’t be Andy Mills. I won’t be Nick Mills. I don’t need a thousand fish to the boat, but I would like to hold one more by the lower jaw and look into that massive saucer-sized eye.

Martin tells me they also come in Men's sizes.

Martin tells me they also come in Men’s sizes.

 


25
Feb 16

101 Reasons Why There Are No Bonefish on This Flat

We have no bonefish today.

We have no bonefish today.

The last few days of the trip Aaron and I were on our own, doing the DIY thing. We’d look at the map and Aaron would say a variation of “This is going to be loaded with fish.” My reply was a variation on “Maybe.”

We’d arrive on the flat and see the feed marks… the thousands and thousands of feed marks and Aaron would say “They are so here right now!” I’d say something like “We’ll soon find out.”

More often than not it was a shade of “recently, yes,” but mostly it was “not at the present time.”

This visual absence of the main reason we were on these flats and in this country often left Aaron incredulous. I was less so.

What followed each and every disappointment was a spin on “101 Reasons Why There Are No Bonefish on This Flat”

Here… play along.

The water is too cold.

The fish are mudding in deeper water somewhere.

The tide is too low.

The tide is too high.

The barracuda are spawning.

Maybe the bonefish are aggregating.

Maybe they are spawning.

The wind has changed the tide.

Full moon.

They are up in the mangroves.

My favorite…. they ARE here, but this flat is so huge, so expansive and the conditions are so crappy our cone of vision is tiny and we just can’t see them.

I’m pretty sure at least one of those was partially correct on any given flat we found and didn’t find fish on. The truth is that we simply lacked the native intelligence needed to accurately know. Even the guides get it wrong sometimes and we were trying to find these fish on our own in a place we had never been to before. We know a bit about bonefish, but nothing around this particular area so the best we can do fits into the “educated guess” column.

A few times, we even guessed right. Something about a monkey and a typewriter and an infinite amount of time jumps to mind.


24
Feb 16

Anyone ever heard of Big Huge Bonefish Flat?

DSCN9449

We got to know one spot on our little DIY portion of the trip, although we fished several. When I got back home I decided to look and see if anyone had ever written about it. One reference came up on a message board. I fictionalized the exchange, else all you jokers would figure it out.

The Question:

Anyone ever heard of Big Huge Bonefish Flat? A buddy told me about it and I’m thinking of hitting it when I get over that way for Spring Break. Any info appreciated!

The Reply:

Hate to disappoint you on this one. I fished it with a dear, departed friend last year. Turns out there is a special kind of jelly fish that spawns on that flat and I got stung almost a thousand times while wading. All those toxins accumulated in my blood over the next couple of days and made me hallucinate on the plane home. I thought I was riding a sperm whale through a rain storm  and kept yelling “Who has the sperm now!” while ZZ Tops played You are My Sunshine. Needless to say, I can’t fly Bahamas Air anymore. The other problem with the flat was that it was so soft. I sank up to my nipples 6 times on that flat and I think some Bahamian version of the Candiru swam up my bit and tackle. I haven’t been able to pee pain free ever since. But wait, it gets worse. There are bull sharks around and mean ones at that. I mentioned I fished it with my dear, departed friend… well… the bulls got him. Wasn’t even enough to send back for a funeral.

Didn’t see any more than a couple of bonefish on that flat.

I’d say it would be a waste of time, maybe even dangerous. I wouldn’t go to that place. In fact, I wouldn’t even mention it again… ya know… bad luck and all.

The next time you see someone describe a place like this drop everything and go there at once.


27
Dec 15

Five Goals for 2016

I’m feeling optimistic and so I’m writing a post about how I’d like 2016 to go, from a fishing perspective.

  1. Get some striper action. My local fisher turns out to have stripers in it and, by god, I’m going to catch some in 2016. I hear they aren’t really around until September, or so, and I’ll be checking.
  2. Get somewhere bonefish live. I’m going to catch a bonefish in 2016. I can’t tell you where (probably not Florida, but now that I’ve said that, it will probably be Florida). I can’t tell you when (but dear god I hope it is soon).
  3. Camping + Trout for the girl. The goal is always to get camping twice with my daughter and to get her into some fish. This has happened the past two years and I hope to carry it forward in 2016.
  4. Get on the water with dad. This doesn’t happen too much anymore. I need to get at least a day on the water with my dad in 2016. Last year was a day up in Montana, which could happen again or we could hit the Lower Sac. I’d really like to get on the Klamath with him again, but it takes roughly an infinite number of hours to make that drive from the Bay Area. It needs to happen.
  5. The McCloud. I love this river and I don’t fish it much anymore. I want (and this is my stretch goal) to get one, long day on the Lower McCloud to fish like I used to. If I could share that day with my friend John D, that would be even more ideal.
Purty

The McCloud. Closing. Where I am not.


27
Nov 15

Stripe-ah

I’ve had a revelation in fish form.

Stripers, fly caught, in my home town.

See… a couple weekends ago we were doing a family photo shoot at a local park. It went well, as you can see from the nice photo below.

The Fam

The Fam

As we were leaving I saw a guy with a fly rod. I asked him what in the name of all that was holy and good he was fishing for. He said he was catching stripers right there. Like… right there. just a hundred feet or so away. He gave me the skinny and I thanked him.

I’ve been thinking of that nearly non-stop ever since and today, when my wife got home a little early, she said she thought I should go fishing.

I agreed.

And then this happened.

striper one 12311433_10154484612391808_320635074_o

Stripers. On the fly. Many of them. Without a boat. Minutes from home.

And in an instant, my fly fishing life just changed. I realized my son may have his first fly caught fish be a striper, not a trout. How wild is that?

As I was leaving that spot tonight I saw that same fisherman and I thanked him again for changing my whole perception of the Bay… for changing my life, in fact.

Pretty awesome.


29
Oct 15

Lost

I was thinking today, for no good reason, about how it is really hard to get lost around a river.

Rivers.

Rivers.

The river flows in one direction and is conveniently located at the bottom of the valley or canyon. Water that is above it will flow into it and it all just proceeds, predictably.

If the trail leaves the river and then vanishes and you find yourself in the woods with no compass, you simply need to listen for water or follow the contours of the land and it will point you, like a great big road sign, back to the river and home.

I was thinking how different that scenario is in a place like the Marls, where, unguided, I’m sure I would die. Every turn seems to strongly resemble the last turn, or the next, and what was flowing one direction once, will flow the other before long.

The vastness and unmappable nature of it would spell doom for me, directionally challenged with app open on my 6 mile commute to let me know traffic conditions.

You can’t just trace your steps by saying “OK, turn right at the mangrove,” because it is all mangroves. Mangroves and sand and water and more water and sand and mangroves.

There is a knowledge you develop if you know a place like that well, where you can tell the difference between the different mangroves, like a parent knows identical twins apart, but maybe not at first. To get that knowledge you have to put in the time, the hours, until it is all muscle memory and built in deep knowing.

I wish I had that. I wish I had some flat known like like. But the hours it would take to get to that point are already booked or spent or owed to someone for something, most of it for worthwhile pursuits and worthy people and so I find myself unable to mount much of a complaint… not a real one anyway.

I won’t get lost on a river. At least there is that.


29
Sep 15

Interview with Justin Lewis from BTT

As hard as it is to believe, I actually asked these questions of Justin Lewis from Bonefish & Tarpon Trust before all this Bahamas regulation stuff came up.

Justin works for BTT. He’s a Bahamian working in the Bahamas for BTT. Shows BTT’s commitment to protecting bonefish where bonefish live. I applaud that up and down and am only sorry I have but two hands to applaud with. See… BTT is awesome.

Justin Lewis in the Bahamas

Justin Lewis in the Bahamas

 

You are working with BTT out in the Bahamas. Can you give me an overview of what that work entails?

Working as the Bahamas Initiative Manager for the BTT, I travel around the Bahamas visiting lodges and working with local guides which has helped us identify bonefish home ranges, juvenile habitat, bonefish spawning sites, and bonefish spawning migration pathways. The Bahamas Initiative is a collaborative, multi-year program to conserve and protect the bonefish fishery and their habits in The Bahamas.

 

The work I do when I travel to the different islands ranges from giving presentations to guides, anglers and schools, to tagging, to snorkeling with thousands of bonefish in pre-spawning aggregations. The scientific information we collect is then applied to habitat conservation plans in conjunction with fishing guides, lodge owners, collaborating NGO’s, and the Bahamas Government.

 

Nice fish from Justin.

Nice fish from Justin.

What is one thing you wish anglers knew about conservation.

The one thing I wish anglers knew about conservation is how much they are capable and welcome of getting involved in conservation efforts. For the work we do at BTT, angler and guide participation is key to the success of many of our projects. For example, our tag-recapture study in the Bahamas involved a lot of angler and guide participation. From anglers and guides tagging bonefish and reporting recaptures we were able to figure out that bonefish have very small home ranges (<1km), and also travel long distances (>30km) for spawning purposes. By anglers participating in research like the tagging program, the information they help collect is vital to conservation efforts and planning for bonefish and their habitats. It is also a great way to give back to the resource we have such a passion for.

 

The BTT in collaboration with Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission has initiated a new genetics study looking at the connectivity of bonefish and tarpon populations in the Bahamas, Caribbean, and Western Atlantic. We collect fin clips from bonefish and scales from tarpon that are used for genetic analysis, and can help us determine whether different populations are related to one another. If anglers or guides who target bonefish or tarpon in those areas are interested in participating in this study, they can request a fin clip or scale sample kit by contacting us at info@bonefishtarpontrust.org.

A baby poon, Bahamas style.

A baby poon, Bahamas style.

What’s one unexpected thing you’ve see out there on the flats?

On a flat in Eleuthera, I saw a very large porcupine fish. I’ve seen them countless times out on the reef, but never thought I’d ever see one on the flats.

What do you think is the biggest threat to Bahamian bonefish?

We have identified habitat loss and degradation to be the greatest threat to bonefish populations in the Bahamas. Lots of areas that are prime feeding and spawning habitat for bonefish are also sought after by developers for sand mining or hotel and marina developments. Removing or altering habitat could negatively affect a local bonefish population that depends on habitats like mangroves and seagrass beds for food and cover.

How good is the Bahamian rugby team? And please explain how to play rugby. (I admit I asked this question to be funny, but Justin just went ahead and answered it anyway)

We are a good team and have a lot of talent, but we still have things we need to improve on. We had a good international season this year, beating both Bermuda and Turks & Caicos.
Rugby is a continuous game whereby two teams carry, pass, kick and ground the ball in order to score. In rugby there are 15 people playing at a time per side. The key to playing rugby is that you always have to pass the ball backwards, and to be in support of the man with ball in order to receive a pass or ruck in order to secure the ball. The purpose of the ruck or maul is so that the game can continue without any stoppage in play. The line-out and scrum are two key distinguishing factors to the game of Rugby Union. A scrum occurs when there is an accidental infringement and a line-out occurs when the ball goes out of bounds. A try is scored when a player places the ball in the opposition’s in-goal area, and is worth 5 points followed by a conversion kick which is worth 2.

On an average day of bonefishing, average conditions, what fly are you pulling out for your first cast?

Well that all depends on the area I am fishing. My go-to fly for most situations is a simple crab pattern, most of the time a merkin or bastard crab that will match the bottom I am fishing. The two keys to choosing the right crab pattern is weight and color. Match the weight of the fly to the depth of water you are fishing, and as I already mentioned match the color of the crab fly to the bottom. Most of the time crabs will take on the color of the bottom they are on. Crabs have a very high caloric value which bonefish love, so to heighten your chances of getting one to look and hopefully eat, I’d recommend a crab fly.

If you were writing the laws in the Bahamas and could enact one law to help the fishery stay healthy, what law would you enact?

If there was one law I could enact, it would be the protection of key bonefish habitat from unsustainable development. From the research BTT and our collaborators have done over the years on bonefish, we have come to the conclusion that degradation, blockage, and removal of bonefish habitat is the greatest threat to the species.

 

One other law I would enact is total ban of gill nets. They are a non-selective and extremely destructive type of fishing, and if they get lost and float at sea or get stuck in mangroves, they can cause even more destruction by entangling any marine organism that gets near it.

Thanks Justin!


24
Sep 15

Thar be monsters!

This was posted up by Jean Baptiste Vidal over on Facebook. That is a truly large bonefish, a 14 pounder.

This fish was caught in New Caledonia, which has been one of those “big fish” locations people talk about. From what I hear it is a low numbers, big size place, as all big fish locations seem to be.

What a fish.

I mean... wow.

I mean… wow.

One hell of a fish there Jean! Congrats!