Journal notes from quality destinations across the country...

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Blur of 2014

There were plenty of great trips to new water this year.  The San Francisco Delta was a favorite and so was the little-known Stehekin River in central Washington.  I was able to fish in five different states this year, something I rarely get to do anymore, and it was a blast.  Below are some of my favorites trips...
Fishing in the remains of a waterfall that was once 3 1/2 miles wide is truly a one-of-a-kind opportunity.  The fishing was better twenty years ago but then there was the giant Gore-tex hatch to go with it.  Today's average fishing offers solitude since the crowds have moved on to other trendy waters.  And that makes this a place I gladly seek out since I will trade fish for solitude any day.  My three visits here this year did not disappoint and I caught some healthy rainbows.

In October, during my last visit to the lake, I managed to find over a dozen fish willing to come to the net.  I had come hoping to find one of the elusive brown trout that inhabit these waters.  Having been lucky enough over the years to catch them, I was looking for a repeat.  I dredged the bottom in deep water and shallow but it was not to be.  Everything this year was a rainbow trout.  They averaged 8-17 inches and so did not set any records for me but the constant action was a lot of fun and I left knowing I would be back to search for the browns again next year.

Kelly Creek has become a Jones Family Heritage Site and we seem to need to return here every couple years.  My grown boys came with us this year in June and since my oldest is now married, his wife and little daughter were along, too.  I traded fishing for play-time in the cabin with my granddaughter but I think a new grandfather can be forgiven for that.  There were still some nice fish caught and there is no more wild or beautiful place than the Bitterroot Mountains of northern Idaho. 

We rented the one cabin that the rangers have available at their big work center on the north fork of the Clearwater.  It was our base for a week of wild exploring.  Each evening we sat at the campfire behind the cabin and enjoyed the sound of the river, fifty feet behind us through the trees.
Except for the dirt road we came in on, this area hasn't changed a single bit since Louis and Clark came through in 1805.  We were 49 miles from the nearest town and feeling very much like the adventurers we imagined ourselves to be.  

June is a high-water month with lots of run-off.  This year the rivers were higher than usual and we had to really search for fishable spots.  We focused on the edge of long runs, big pools, and those spots where a feeder creek might dump in and create a slower riffle.  The good news was that no one else thought it was worth being there with such high water so we had the place pretty much to ourselves.   
Pictured here is my oldest son, Tommy, with an average Kelly Creek westslope... 
I was back to float the famous river with my youngest son, Terry.  My cousin, Alex, was our host and took us out for a day in his drift boat.  He is a gracious and knowledgeable guide and we found plenty of fish.  Right after we launched the boat, I realized how much I had missed the place.  I just love the morning mist and cold air in October and, as the sun came up to warm the day, I saw the fall colors lighting up the trees along shore. 

I also found I was mesmerized by the tick-tick-tick on my line as a small weight bounced along the gravelly bottom with two egg patterns in tow.  When the Steelhead bite, you cannot help going negative and assuming it is just another hang-up on a larger rock.  Midmorning, I felt the line stop but there was no time to doubt what had happened since the fish immediately surged, pulling my rod tip into the water.  He charged forty yards upstream before leaping to throw his head back and forth.  Crashing back into the river, he took a hard right and ran thirty yards behind the boat.  It all happened so fast that my rod and line were still pointed back the other way.  I was amazed by his power and wasn't sure I would be able to land him but I did. Eight pounds...

This was a trip to go fishing with my baby brother, Mark, who lives in Michigan.  Since he is 2,000 miles away, we don't get to do a lot of this together so it was a special day on the river. 
There were a lot of other boats out on the water with us but we had enough separation to keep us happy.  Our guide ran us up and down the best stretches in his jet boat and even grilled some chicken for a great hibachi lunch.

 In late morning, we were anchored up twenty yards from shore where several downed trees were bouncing up and down in the fast current.  We were fishing behind salmon beds in the hope of finding a steelhead.  when my flies stopped bouncing and hung up, I wasn't sure what I had but the flash that followed confirmed it was a fish. 
Just like that I was able to meet my own expectations by catching my first Michigan steelhead.  Mark even managed to get a 13-pound Salmon and we went home happy boys. 
In late October I was able to hook up with my old college buddy, Rex, and fish not far from his place in northern California on the San Francisco Delta.  Here several rivers come together to drain into the San Francisco bay.  We got a guide to run us up the sloughs and channels in his 24-foot bay boat and we spent the day fishing mid-river humps and shallow bays for striped bass.  Mt. Diablo watched over us from afar as we ran from spot to spot.  The tall grass and tules reminded me of south Florida and I found myself looking for alligators.  Seals and jellyfish were all I saw. 
The stripers here have been protected for 75 years so the Delta flourishes as a baby factory for the adult fish that head out through the bay for life in the open ocean.  We knew we could expect to find fish that run 1-4 pounds but we hoped to luck into a big one.  Rex pulled that off late-morning when his rod's drag began to whine and an unseen monster motored off, firmly hooked.  We never saw the fish but had to start the main motor on the boat so we could keep up as the fish took off for deep water.  Eventually, the fish found some weeds to wrap the line around and bent the hook out straight, getting away.  Rex was disappointed not to land him but I thought it was great just to witness such a thing. 
2014 was a great year but I look forward to 2015 and so many possibilities... 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

It was past time to get out for some spring fishing and with one day available mid-week to escape work, I made plans with Adam to fish a lake on the far side of the state, near Spokane.  We would take a pontoon boat and row our way around in search of fat Rainbow trout.  The problem was that two days before we were to leave, Adam thought it necessary to be negative Nellie and text me a weather report. 
"Have you checked the weather for Wednesday?  Rain mixed with snow and winds at 25MPH..." 
I had just checked the weather the day before and it had said 55 degrees and partially cloudy.  What was he talking about?  Sure enough, I looked for myself and unpredictable Spring had changed its mind, deciding to get nasty the day we wanted to fish.  I thought for a minute.  What options did we have? Finally, I texted back.
"25MPH?  We could take my bay boat to Omak instead."
Omak is in the middle of the state in the rain shadow of the Cascade Mountains and the most likely place to stay dry when the rest of the state was getting dumped on.  Adam agreed and I had to tuck the pontoon boat back in the garage and go get my fiberglass boat out of storage.  Two days later I was standing in my driveway at 3:50AM, pulling the cover off my boat so I could hit the highway.  It had been raining for two solid days in western Washington and I was not convinced we could escape getting wet, regardless of where we fished.  We met up at an exit off the highway.  Adam threw his gear in the back seat of my truck and jumped in.  We were off.  It was a five hour drive to the lake where we would have five hours to fish before we had to get back on the highway to home.  This was a military mission with tactical precision and we would make sure we stayed on schedule so we didn't get home at midnight. 
"Does your wife think you are as nuts as my wife thinks I am for making a day trip to a lake this far away?"
I chuckled.
"Yes.  But what's the alternative?  Don't go because we only have one day free to fish?  I'd rather drive half the day then not get out at all.  And we could fish closer to home but not without being rained on all day.  And these lakes on the eastside have bigger fish and smaller crowds...  These are basic principles."
Adam laughed and agreed. 
"What should I expect at this lake?  He asked.
"Lahontan Cutthroat that run between seventeen and twenty inches with some that could go up to twenty-four.  This time of year the fish are active but are harder to find in deeper water and I would tell you to not expect too much.  Maybe we will get one an hour."
"Not bad." Adam said.  "I can live with that."
Both of us fish enough to not get picky about numbers.  A few fish in the boat and we would both go home happy.  Simple guys are satisfied with simple pleasures, as they should be.
By the time we got over the mountains and were driving north in central Washington, the clouds had been left behind and the sun was shining.  We could not believe our luck.  It was 47 degrees when we launched the boat at 10AM but by the afternoon it would be 68 degrees and I would be sunburned.  There was one other boat out with us but this is a nine-mile long lake so we figured we could put up with one boat way off in the distance.  We're big hearted guys, after all. 
Mid-day, Adam had to comment on the fish he'd been catching. 
"This may be the best day of trout fishing I've had." 
"It's been great," I replied. 
We ended the day with eighteen fish between us over the course of the five hours we fished.  Adam's biggest was 23 inches.  It averaged out to a fish in the net every sixteen minutes, not counting all the fish that spit the hook and never made it to the net.  It was an active day we could only be grateful for and when we drove back over the mountains that evening, the downpour on the highway welcomed us back to the west side and made it seem like we were returning to prison after being allowed out for an afternoon. 
There will be more of these days to come before spring turns to summer...  I love fly fishing in the spring.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Cycle of the Seasons and Our Lives

Whether thou liv’st more winters, or thy last
Be this, which Tyrrhen waves ’gainst rocks do cast.
Be wise! drink free, and in so short a space
Do not protracted hopes of life embrace,
Whilst we are talking, envious time doth slide:
This day’s thine own; the next may be denied.

23 B.C.

We often overlook the joy of hanging out together casually when we are fishing.  I was grateful to everyone who came out with me in 2013.  There was a different face on my boat almost every outing and I enjoyed that.  But I didn't stop to think about it.  Not until January when I answered my cell phone and heard bad news on  a gray, rainy afternoon. 

Mike, my brother in Michigan, fell victim to an aneurysm and was gone at the tender age of forty-six, leaving behind a grieving wife and six kids, not to mention the entire congregation of the Bible Church he pastored.  I had just talked to him at Christmas about the air miles I was saving for the fall and the rivers we would fish together.  Instead I spent the miles on a flight to snowy Michigan in the heart of winter to attend a funeral that broke my heart.  The snow and ice and nine-degree weather seemed oppressive and all the hugs and tears only worked to amplify the nagging feeling that the world was either coming to an end or was stuck in time in a place I didn't want to be.
The seasons cycle as they must.  Winter will turn to spring shortly and then I will be surprised to be out on my favorite lakes again so soon.  Life cycles, too.  We just don't like to think about it.  I thought I would pass before my little brother but God had other plans.  I took for granted all those casual times we fished together and now I vow I won't do that with my friends and family this coming season.  
The seasons of life having cycled, there will be no more trips with Mike.  I wish it wasn't that way. 
But I look forward to seeing him in eternity and I trust, as many do not have the faith to do, that God will let us fish again together.  After all, everyone knows the disciples were fisherman and John, Jesus' favorite, was a dry fly fisherman...   I have faith.
Rod and Mike (1975)
Fishing a creek from our childhood in western Washington (2006)

Bass fishing together in the Everglades - his favorite place (2000)
Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life.
He who believes in me will live, even though he dies;
and whoever lives and believes in me will never die."
Jn 11:25-26

Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.
Ps 116:15


2013 Was a Great Year

What to say about the year past?  Another big year on the water should result in a lot of great memories but for some reason I go into 2014 thinking about the year to come instead.  I guess I'm writing this so late that I am already excited for spring to arrive.  But I can't shake the nagging suspicion that last season was all a prelude for what will follow here shortly...  Hope I'm right. 
I hit all of the usual haunts in 2013 and fished with more people than usual - I must have been out with 25 different folks and that's a lot for me.  They all shared various levels of interest in the sport, by which I am hinting that some were lowly gear guys quickly blessed and forgiven for their sins so we could enjoy a selection of venues together. 
Here is a sampling of what we saw together.  And here’s hoping your time on the fly was even better.
High desert lakes on the east side of the state dominate the spring.  Bass are mandatory fun in May but I am sick and tired of being outfished by my friends.  Dang it!  One of these years the best Bass photo will be of one I caught. 
A healthy Largemouth Bass

A boy and his truck equal good times
The bay boat on Banks Lake
Mid-July to September was all about the lowly Pink Salmon.  A pest to the guys who chase Kings and a godsend to in-shore shallow water boys like me and my compadres.   Up at 4AM for each outing and out on the salt in time for sunrise.  There were 26 trips made and 88 fish landed.  It's too bad the word "awesome" is over-used...  So is "epic" and so is...  Well, you get the point. 
View of Mt. Rainier from Puget Sound

David with a nice 6 1/2 pound Pink Salmon
Sunset on the salt
A little lake in October became the stuff of dreams as I found one eighteen-inch trout after another to slam the Sealbugger I was slinging.  One guy was doing better than me with Chironomids but I figured I was having more fun strip-setting on aggressive takes than he was half-asleep waiting for his bobber, I mean strike indicator, to wiggle.  A couple other guys paddled by looking a little downcast and having trouble finding any biting fish.  I wished them well, knowing that could easily be me on the next lake.  But on this day I was king and enjoyed my time in charge of the kingdom. 
Lilly pads and quiet water
A fat Rainbow Trout in western Washington
There were thirty-seven outings in 2013.  Not bad for a guy with a day job.  And with any luck, I'll have a similar story to tell next season... 
The Seattle skyline
as seen from a boat launch in West Seattle