Back to the Basics II

I came from a small, unique town. Everyone I know that grew up in LaHonda had a childhood full of adventures and exploration. Whether riding bikes, motorcycles, horses or just your feet, the hills and gullys had to be explored. In the middle of town is a little pond. It’s called “Reflection Lake” but as kids we all just called it “The Duck Pond.” My brothers and I spent many an afternoon crawling through the bushes and chasing the bass and bluegill at the duck pond. Most of my initial insights into angling came from these excursions. Hard fought lessons earned through blood, from fighting back the relentless brambles and blackberry bushes.

Eventually I grew up and moved away. The bass and little panfish moved to the backburner while I chased new and different species of fish in new and different places. I became a guide and started teaching other people how to catch fish. Many of the lessons I shared,  I had learned on that little pond.

Recently I came off the mountain to give a talk to a Fly Club in Sacramento (The California Fly Fishers Unlimited, great group of folks.) The day after the talk, I stayed in the area to sneak in a little me time. I had just guided the last 8-9 days in a row and wanted to try some fishing, particularly something a little different then the trout I guided daily. One of the members had a brother with a little pond on his property, full of feisty bass and panfish. I broke out a 4weight fiberglass fly rod I had built a few years ago and went to town. Wow that took me back, and was just what the doctor ordered. Stalking around a pond, dropping in little nymphs and teasing the local denizens into striking. The one on one relationship is what it’s all about. Seeing the fish and reading its body language and making it happen.

 

Chunky little bluegill

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To me, a light glass fly rod is the perfect pond rod. That bend was from one of the smaller ‘gills!

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This pond had some stout redear sunfish. I’m a fairly tall fellow with above average sized hands, and I could barely get a grip on them.

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I’m guessing maybe a redear/green sunfish hybrid

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As usual with these little ponds, there was one “mama bass” that was big enough to eat the rest, and it had gotten pretty big, maybe 5-6 pounds feeding on the armies of panfish. The rest of the bass were little fellows, maybe a pound or so, but still fun on light tackle.

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After the invigorating return to the fishing ways of my youth, I went into downtown Sacramento to meet some friends for an evening on the American River.  I had never caught a shad before and they were our evenings quarry. As we rowed out, we threw flies for some of the big striped bass that hung out in the river, feeding on the shad. We got a few smaller schoolie fish, but nothing major. I saw some tanks under the boat pushing 4 feet long, but they wanted nothing to do with our flies. Once in the river we casted for the shad and they were quick to respond. They reminded me a lot of the bluegill in the pond from the morning. Not exactly bright, but they fought well for their size, and used their leverage to dig to the side and down, making me need to apply extra force to turn them up to the boat. The big stripers reminded me of the “mama bass” waiting on the outskirts, ready to pick off an unsuspecting fish.

 

My first shad with Andy Guibord. Andy is one of the true gentlemen of the sport, if you’re looking for a guide in the Sacramento area, Andy is among the best of the best.

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Cool looking fish, but they sure are tough to get a grip on

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Pulling strong shad up through the currents to the boat

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As the afternoon turned to evening, we were treated with a sunset to remember.

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A long time friend and former customer from my Truckee River Outfitters fly shop days, John Daniels joined us. Ready with a sharp wit and a few cigars.

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Towards the end, Andy and I would trade off, taking turns hooking shad into the night. What an awesome day.

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One of my best friends growing up has this little lady in his house now. She’s showing off her dads new license plate. You can’t take the LaHonda out of any of us. To all you LaHonda rats out there, keep exploring. I look forward to hearing about your adventures.

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FIN

Sierra Trout Camp 2015

I had a blast this last weekend with a bunch of folks. We got together to teach a gaggle of wee tikes about fly fishing and the great outdoors. Trout Unlimited sponsored the event, with the help of the UC Berkeley Sagehen Creek Field Station. This is the 3rd year I’ve got to help with this event, and it seemed to have gone off without a hitch.

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The youngsters got to learn about conservation, insects, finding fish in a stream(reading water), sneaking up on the aforementioned trout, casting their own tied fly at said fish, and hopefully hooking and landing that fish.

We brought in folks from all over to help teach; from guides and instructors, to Trout Unlimited staff, to folks that just like to fly fish.  We tried to have one guide/instructor/volunteer for every child,  and even have a female instructor for every little girl. Unfortunately we had a pair of volunteers for the boys have to step down for last minute emergencies, but still all the girls got their own instructor and only a couple of the boys had to share. I was one of the more experienced with the program so I ended up with two kiddos, and it worked out fine. We had fun and a lot of the kids ended up catching fish,  especially those that started crawling up to the water on hands  and knees,  instead of running up to the pools at full sprint.

Here’s the volunteers teaching the kids to tie a foam ant and a wooly bugger

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The calm before the storm,  stringing up 20 fly rods and getting 20 kids fishing with their guide is close to herding cats with a vacuum cleaner.

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Stalking trout with the wee master Aden, son of the Sage Fly Rod company rep Jamie Lyle. This kid is practically an heir to fly fishing royalty. He’s got to fish all over the world, in more exotic places then some of the most accomplished guides. Alaska, Bahamas, he’s been to New Zealand twice,  and hes only 10. He told me “Sometimes I wish the only sounds and lights we could hear and see were those from nature.”  Pretty deep for a 10 year old, but yea I feel ya kiddo.

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Nikki-Mo my other student, using the time honored art of dapping with much skill

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Fish on!

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One of the typical fishes from the outing

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After-hours recreation included Pixar movies, grasshopper catching and sight nymphing for sculpin.  Nikki-Mo doing his best impression of a guide while Aden high sticks his size 20 midge to a bunch of 3 inch sculpin.

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I built a fly rod for the kiddos. A basic little fiberglass 4 weight, but hopefully something they can scramble though the bushes with and catch many fish with for years to come. (if you zoom and look close, the trout has a little smiley face.)

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Kayleigh, a daughter of a friend of mine won it during the raffle on the last day.  It totally seemed rigged, but it wasn’t at all, completely and utterly random. Hopefully she gets to take it on many fly fishing trips in the future.

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Thanks a ton to all the folks that helped out, Sam Sedillo, Dave Lass, Jessica Strickland, Dave and Katie Stanley, Kate Blubaugh, Leslie Ajari, Doug Ouellete, Brian Johnson, Jack Childress, Stefan McLeod, Wyatt Ogilvy, Kevin Mather, Nikki Streegan, Laura Murph and Betsy Clark, Tom Smith, Mark Warren and anyone else I might’ve missed. You guys ruled this weekend and helped another generation see and hopefully appreciate the beauty of the outdoors.  Mission accomplished!

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Photo credit and thanks to Doug Ouellette for the big group shot.  Thanks again everyone and see you guys next year!

On the Road Again…

Gone for a few days, back a day, then I was gone for almost a week. Got home for a day to do a half day guide trip, do some laundry and stock up on supplies, pay bills then head back out for another week. I just got back after that second trip, now I’m gonna be gone for another 4 or 5 days. I’m on the road again…

The last few weeks I’ve covered by car probably around 5 or 6 thousand miles across the west. A busy few weeks in Tahoe for our trout season opener led up to this burst of travel. It was like a building up and compressing of energy, that exploded into a release in the form of automotive exploration.

This one is an extra long post so I broke it up into 3 parts. If you make it through all 3 in one sitting, good for you, but its probably best for your sanity to take your time with this one.

Part 1 – THE BUILD UP  –

It was a little hectic during the weeks leading up to this. I got to help my good friend and fellow guide Matt Heron put together the Fly Fishing Film Tour stop in Reno with the Reno Fly Shop.( http://mattheronflyfishing.com/ & (http://renoflyshop.com/)  I got to see some killer flicks, drink brews and just plain hang with the locals. I made a bunch of giant streamers for the Film Tour. This gentleman was going to take them to Argentina for golden dorado fishing. I really wish I got his number so I could’ve followed up on how his adventure went, I was very envious.

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Next I got to help another good friend, Stefan McLeod and the rest of the Truckee TU guys do our 10th annual Fishmas Eve fundraiser. ( http://tahoetroutbum.org/) During these two events, we raffled off some awesome shwag to benefit our local coldwater fisheries, who in this drought are going to need as much help as ever. I wrapped up a Fisher glass fly rod for Fishmas Eve. It was an 8′ six weight with some backbone but a soft tip. Perfect for trophy hunting around Truckee. A local angler, Chris Borque, insisted on making it the 3rd Fisher in his collection. We also raffled off a bike, more rods, guide trips, pictures, fly reels, lines, and enough hats to outfit an army. To cap it off, Frank Pisciotta, a local guide and current president of the local angling club, the Tahoe Truckee Fly Fishers, ( http://www.ttff.net ) handed us a check for 3,000 dollars on behalf of his club, to benefit our Little Truckee river restoration program.  It was a great show of solidarity and commitment to our local watershed, so hats off to them. Both events are a great time with great folks. If you didn’t make it this year, next year I hope you get a chance to join us.

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In between these 2 fundraisers, Dave Lass our regional TU representative, heard info from some of the locals that the fish were trapped at Fanny Bridge and weren’t looking too hot with dissolved oxygen rapidly depleting. California Fish and Wildlife was contacted and the situation assessed. The pool was too deep for a shock crew to catch the fish, so some of the local anglers(myself included) were invited to catch and relocate the trout from the river into the lake with the help of DF&W.  Btw – big shout out to Roger Bloom and the rest of the team at California Dept of Fish and Wildlife. We’ve had a number of fish rescues in these drought years recently, and their team has been quick to answer the call to relocate fish in need.

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Part 2 – BLAST OFF –

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Now the wheels started rolling. I drove to Davis to do a streamer program for the Fly Fishers of Davis. ( http://flyfishersofdavis.org/index.shtml )  Great group of guys with a zeal for fly fishing for largemouth. That right there made them feel like kindred spirits. We had a great time.

Came back to Truckee and drove out of town with Matt”Gilligan”Coles to recon some water. Matt is another local guide and we’d been talking about getting on the water for a while, just never got a chance to with our busy schedules. He runs a great blog with up to date reports.( http://www.gilligansguideservice.com/blog/ ) We had a blast catching a bunch of beautiful little browns on dries, nymphs and streamers.

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Now the miles started to accumulate. I drove to Jackson Hole Wyoming with some folks from Trout Unlimited for the Western Regional meetings.

Looking out at the Ruby mountains as we drive across Nevada.

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Waking up in our hotel room in Jackson, to see the alpenglow shining off the Tetons.

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The meetings went really well. Our TU chapter is fairly new, so it was eye opening to see what all the other chapters were doing to surmount the problems they faced with their memberships and watersheds. After the meetings we snuck in a little fishing. I floated the upper Green with Fish the Fly guide service.(  http://www.fishthefly.com/ ) I hadn’t used a guide in probably 15 years, so it was a fun experience to see how other guides operate on other areas. Our guide Will Stuart was a fun guy, and made for good camaraderie during high water. We got some nice fish, but nothing giant.

We floated past a giant great blue heron rookery, with probably a hundred heron nesting in it.

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An Andy Burk tied muddler about to be ripped through the murky, early season flow. In case you didn’t know, it’s the #yearofthemuddler

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Looking out across the Wyo sky.  The whole trip these last few weeks, the clouds have been insane.

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I gave our guide Will a few of my craft fun sculpins and he texted me this a few days later….

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Heading back to Jackson past the Winds

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The next morning we woke up early and headed back to Tahoe

Looking back at the Jackson valley on our way out of town

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Just following the rainbow in Idaho

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driving past the Jarbidge wilderness in Nevada

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stuck behind a truck on our way past the Rubies.  We almost stopped to fish the marsh, but would’ve got back waaaay too late.

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Dust devils dancing across the Blackrock

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We made it home tired, but none the worse for wear. I had one day to wash up some laundry, decompress and get ready for a trip to SoCal to meet some more fly clubs.

Part 3 – SOCAL, LAND OF FLY CLUBS, HOT TUBS AND DRUNK KARAOKE –

The drive down the valley was pretty uneventful, if you’ve ever driven down Hwy 5, you know what I’m talking about.  I stopped by Fly Fishing Specialties in Sacramento to pick up some tying mats I’d need for the show. If you’re in the area, hit them up,  they’re good blokes. http://www.flyfishingspecialties.com/

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I stopped at a city park in the valley and watched this egret fish for a while. Lots of anglers could learn a lot about catching fish by watching these guys.

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I did my first program with the Kern River Fly Fishers in Bakersfield.( http://kernriverflyfishers.com/) I did my Truckee program, nice folks. A bunch were building fly rods to donate for Casting for Recovery. http://castingforrecovery.org/

Drove back north to Fresno, scouted some ponds for carp, but no love.  That night I did the same Truckee program, but for the Fresno Fly Fishers for Conservation. (http://fresnoflyfishers.com/) Got to tie a bunch of flies beforehand and hand them out to try on their waters. Again, lots of real nice folks. After the meeting I drove down south to the next leg, got late and I pulled into a Motel 6, but the way the tweakers in the parking lot were eyeing my fishing tackle in the back of my SUV got me back on the highway.  I ended up sleeping in my car at a rest stop half way down to the next spot.

Last day in the 3 club tour, I headed south to Visalia to present to the Kaweah Fly Fishers. ( http://www.kaweahflyfishers.org/)  Snuck in a little fishing beforehand on a bass lake.

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I even went over to the dark side for a while and used some spinning tackle. I grew up spin fishing a lot, so it was kinda fun reminiscing of and reliving old fishing pursuits. It worked very well. Club meeting went great. Gave them my streamer program, which people have been really digging it seems.

After the meeting I headed down south to Hollywood and visit my cousin for a few days.  We partied and I got to swim a bunch in the pool at her apartment. Really helped  to loosen up the road weary back. Got me thinking I’m gonna swim a lot more when I get back to Tahoe. We went to a karaoke club and I watched some pros. I swear one dude was a washed up Temptation. I did the Beastie Boys. Very badly. After 3 or 4 days i headed back north up the 395 to visit some friends on the east side of the Sierras.

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Looking back at Manzanar, the Japanese concentration camp used during WW2

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Coming into Bishop brings me back to the trips my dad would take us on as kids. Almost every summer we’d drive up and down the east side, from Bridgeport to Bishop.

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Coming into Mammoth and getting a sun dog.

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Met with some friends and decided to hit up the Owens a little. Some folks had left a bunch of trash, but we made that disappear pretty quickly.

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Heading home after another week long leg.

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Taking a short cut through the Nevada backroads. I’m not really a religious man, but this sort of stuff makes me wonder about such things.

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Tahoe looked like molten Platinum as I drove past. The light and the clouds this whole trip was intense.

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Back home today, just for enough time to write this up, maybe have a beer, do some laundry then I’m back on the road again tonight. Who knows, maybe I’ll meet one of you guys out there on the road, take care – Dan

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Back to the Basics

I got to make a few trips down to the coastside this winter and early spring.  A chance to visit friends and fam and and to return to the watershed of my youth.  I had a talk coming up, and I was supposed to tell a bunch of middle-schoolers why I liked being a fly fishing guide. This area started it all, my need to explore the outdoors, my need to share it with others. Getting back in touch to that initial feeling seemed like a good idea.

I first went to the headwaters of a steelhead stream behind my parents place. Exploring this little trickle was my genesis as a fly guide. Finding newts and crayfish and whatever else in the little pools was one of my favorite things to do.

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Here’s a photo of that same water a few miles down the coast, where one of those creeks hits the ocean.  I’ve caught a few steelhead, maybe a hundred yards from this spot.

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I revisited a lot of the old trails. My parents took me hiking along this trail as far back as I remember. I almost stepped on a 3 foot rattlesnake just down the trail from here when I was 5. I remember walking past this old oak tree as one of my oldest memories.

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Top of the mountain.

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I found some new trails I hadn’t been on before.  I thought I had explored almost every trail around these hills, but there were some great ones right nearby that had eluded me.  The flora and fauna were amazing.  Orchids, Iris, hawks flying overhead, deer peeking through the brush. I’m sure we probably had mountain lions watching us from afar, but not letting themselves be seen. There’s been a ton of sightings nearby.   Here’s a cool game cam one of the locals set up a block from my parents place.

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Some of the local flowers.

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A little stream the next valley over.

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I drove up and down the coastside a lot. The central California coast along highway 1 is famous for its views, something when you live there you might even forget, but I’m always reminded when I go back.

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Hiking up Montara mountain.  The trailhead is down there by the highway.

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sunset on the coast

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I returned to Tahoe and got to give my talk to the Youth Wildlife Conservation Experience. It was a blast. So many questions and so much of that inquisitive feeling, that curiosity that sparks it all. These kids rocked. Giving presentations and talks has been becoming a larger part of my job description. I never would’ve seen myself as a public speaker in my youth, but I’m actually really digging this stuff now.

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I’m making a few more trips off the mountain this spring.  Looking forward to them, although the fishing locally has been really good lately. Still, I had some amazing bass fishing coming up and down the mountain the last few years, hoping to have some similar adventures.

Here’s a largemouth bass on a pheasant dragon, caught while kayak fishing last spring.

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Here’s to exploring places, whether you’ve never been there before, or if its something you’ve seen a thousand times  but just needed to look at again with new eyes. Take care – Dan

Summer to Fall to Winter

Summer is long gone. Autumn is fading quickly. Winter is breathing down the back of your neck. The mornings are cold enough that you need to start scraping the ice off your windshield again. It snowed pretty hard for a while this afternoon, then abruptly it stopped and the sky opened back up again. Just Mother Nature giving us a tease of things to come. I don’t know if I’ll ever be truly ready for when it sets in. I don’t think I’ve ever felt like I was ready for winter up here in the mountains. Don’t get me wrong, winter isn’t all bad; steelhead fishing, stripers, visiting fam for the holidays. It has its moments. Still, spring is my favorite season and summer and fall aren’t far behind. Winter, you’re cool and all, but someone has to be last.

Thinking back on a fun summer, exploring with friends, new and old. I got to see some awesome things, and bask in the natural beauty.  I feel like my soul is drained a bit in the winter, only to be recharged in the life of a late June evening, with green drakes flying around me like ephemeral pixies, little Tinkerbells so delicate you’d think they were made of dreams. When the light fades, the last thing you can see before darkness is a large white triangle, my smile competing with the stars for the limelight.

I think In the coming weeks I’m going to post a few of the summers adventures I never got around to posting.

Here was a fun one. My friends Michael and Lara came up for a visit. (btw if you’re ever in the bay area, they have an amazing Cuban restaurant, La Bodeguita Del Medio, I highly recommend visiting.)  They wanted to do some trout fishing. Unfortunately the water on the river was very low and warm, so I told them we would probably have to change up gears from normal trout fishing. Owning a restaurant I asked them if they liked to cook and eat panfish. They told me they had never had any. Well, we had to change that.  We had a spot nearby full of the invasive invaders and they were needing to be culled a bit.  The green sunfish is one of the smaller sunfish, but these were well fed and very healthy for their species.  They’re also quite beautiful. They almost remind me of a miniature peacock bass.

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We didn’t have a stringer, but a fresh willow branch substituted very nicely. After a fun sight fishing session, we quickly had a brace ready to be fried.

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I gave them a Virginian panfish recipe passed down to me from Dave Stanley. They sent me some photos from later that night. I’m thinking it probably tasted pretty dang good.

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It was a hot afternoon, so it seemed only rational to make a cocktail. Michael had brought some rum, I had a few mexican Sprites (no high fructose corn syrup) and some ice. All we needed was a little fresh spearmint and we’d have some fresh mojitos. Fortunately for us, in the summer mint grows in the wild up here almost like a weed. Any soft, loamy soil near the bank of a river, with maybe some shade should have plenty.  I knew a few places that should have some nice sprigs, hopefully not too wilted from the summer heat.

examining the pickings…

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“not bad, not bad at all”

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Considering Michael ran a Cuban bar and restaurant, I figured I’d let him take the lead on mixing, although I do make a pretty mean mojito if I do say so myself.  After I cleaned off the mint, Michael went to work. Yep, they were pretty dang good, especially on a hot summer afternoon.

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Once we were re-hydrated, it seemed only rational to try and get some more fishing in. We’d take a little drive and go do some bass fishing before it got too late in the day.

In short order Lara got her first bass on a fly rod.  It was a monster really…

ok maybe not…

Still a fish is a fish

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Her second fish wasn’t quite so tiny…

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They insisted I grab my rod and get into the action

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yep, summer, I’m gonna miss you again…

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Legacy

As I work on a few fly rods I’m building, I press play on a mixture of symphonies from Mozart. I find nothing gets me more focused on the task at hand like instrumental music. I jam away, measuring twice, adjusting, gluing, measuring again. Before long, a few hours have passed without realizing it and I have a couple rods much further along then they were. I stop what I’m doing, press pause and think about Mozart. Here I am listening to something penned on a piece of paper by a youth in Austria, hundreds of years ago. His music has jumped across time. It gives me a feeling inside, something to aspire to. Creating beauty that somebody long from now can appreciate. I feel a similar feeling when I look at my fathers cane fly rod. I wonder what stories it could tell, what adventures it was brought along with to be involved in. I look back at my rods. What if some kid a hundred years from now caught a fish on that rod. Would he look at it and appreciate its colors and lines, maybe wonder what kind of person I was. I keep thinking of these things I create, I think of not just my usage or my friends or customers usage. I think more and more of the future. I think of what I’m leaving behind. Then it gets my mind thinking of not just mere trinkets to be appreciated, but of the world itself. What kind of world do I want to leave behind. I have a lot of work to do. We all have a lot of work to do. I put the Mozart back on and try to clear my mind. I start to wrap the silk onto the rod. Saving the world will have to wait until the morning. Right now I have beauty to aspire to. Still, the feeling never truly escapes me….

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2 fiberglass rods waiting for glue, alongside a finished rod.

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-Here’s a couple pics of a finished rod on the water from this past summer, alongside the Williamson river.  The agate guides have a special glow.

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Light shining through the variegated silk makes the wraps almost look like tiger stripes up close.

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Looking back up the Williamson

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Bollibokka 2014

Its been a while. Once again I got to go to Bollibokka club on the McCloud river. This year as an aid/helper/cook/fly tyer. This is a special place so I felt I had to share a little. From the moment we arrive we run into all sorts of wildlife, like giant day glow hoppers with blue eyes.This thing was around as big as a salmonfly.

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We had a resident hawk that liked to hang out and watch for mice.

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“What do you want?”

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We had a wide range of anglers, some had never fly fished, some had fly fished all over the world. Steve here was learning the fine details to a good high stick and swing.

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Fish on!

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Kevins’ first experience with fly fishing….

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STRIKE!

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Fish on!  Redding-area guide Billy Downs knew where to put Kevin for a hook up and was quick with the net.

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Not bad for your first fish on a fly….

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At night I could hear rustling in the bushes while we enjoyed our cocktails. I broke out the headlamp to investigate and we found giant toads as big as a softball.

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Breakfast of champions

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I ran into a ton of other critters like this Preying mantis. He seemed very ADD. He also seemed to think my camera might be food…

“Oh hey there…”

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“who are you?”

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“Come closer…”

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“OH CRAP BUTTERFLY MUST EAT”

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“Damnit hes gone..”

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“well…”

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“Hello there again..”

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“Awww dont go away…”

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Here’s a new killer that hasn’t grown his wings yet.

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It was an epic week of fun and fishing, sights of landscapes and all manner of creatures, it breaks my heart a little every time knowing such an amazing ecosystem is probably going to end up under Shasta dam. We left sad, but content with steelhead on our minds. We were off to the Trinity to swing flies on our spey rods, but that’s a story for another day….

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