Thursday, June 17, 2010

Helmet of Gnats "High Street" Review

Had a chance to listen to “High Street” in its entirety last night and, I’ve gotta say, I very much enjoyed the album. I loved the way the recording sounds -- nice clarity and space and punch where needed, some interesting sound effects here and there, cool panning, really solidly-written long-form songs, and great playing (and tone) from all involved. Bravo HOG-meisters!

I enjoyed all of the songs to varying degrees; I think the Gnats really know how to put a tune together, with a particularly cool emphasis on writing interesting endings – I love that; a cool ending is one of my favorite things about songwriting and all four of these songs have ‘em. Gotta love consistency.

Focusing on the third track, “Dozer” for a moment, there’s attention-to-detail moments like the guitar nod to Pink Floyd’s “Shine On You Crazy Diamond Part 1” at 11:58 – very cool, Chris, I love stuff like that – and those trademark HOG deep grooves that just drop into place (like at 3:09) where all the guys get to show their improvisational prowess. Chris, I love the total attitude you take on the lead guitar at 6:51 – your intro there is just commanding and dripping with sass (and, dude, Bocchino’s Emerson-y super-speedy synth preceding your solo is just so, so killer).

Since “High Street” is a concept album relating to growing up in the ‘70s, there’s a healthy dose of killer vintage-sounding instrumentation going on, from the cool Hammond B3 and ARP-esque synth work by the incredible Matt Bocchino -- an absolutely shredding keyboardist if ever a wiz there was – to Chris Fox’ often Holdsworthian lead guitar tone and sparkling-clean rhythm, to the thick and punchy bass (fretless and standard, I believe) courtesy of Wayne Zito (smoking!). Drummer Mark Conese’s sound is wide-ranging and captured a very “live” feeling to me; impeccable groove.

While I can’t say the 30-minute title track flew by particularly fast – not surprising for a first listen, please believe – I did uncover a lot of interesting melodies, riffs, and jams to keep my attention focused the entire duration; no small feat. The Gnats clearly paid attention to the creation of an ebb and flow for such an extended composition; it’s definitely a journey and the “schoolyard kids” foley effect imparted an emotional impact on me for whatever reason. I like how I was fooled into thinking the song was ending at the 20:46 mark; from there, the epic just goes to another level entirely, with what I absolutely consider the epitome of Chris Fox’ guitar soloing. Is it me or is Chris’ soloing in this last 10-minutes on a whole ‘nuther level? Am I crazy or is Chris building a dynamic here, toying with me like a cat does a cricket? It seems to me he was a bit more Gilmour-y and melodic up to this point (not that there isn’t some full-blown shredding going on from time to time) and then BAM! This crazy-ass pure fusion stuff. Love it!!!!

My overall impression of the Gnat’s songwriting style would likely trace their roots to the fusion scene circa the mid-to-late-‘70s, and perhaps a teeny bit further back to Miles Davis’ more experimental “Bitches Brew” phase. They conjure evil, heavy mathematical rhythmic/riff workouts and meld them with classic fusion-y (ie. drop dead gorgeous) chord changes, then drop into some serious deep-groove sections where each of the guys gets a chance to shine in an improvisational setting, eventually returning to the earlier riffs and melodic themes (sometimes re-envisioned), finally wrapping the whole package up with a stand-alone ending, placed with loving care under the aluminum Christmas tree with the rotating color wheel in the back.

Overall, “High Street” is a joyride down memory lane with the top down and the lap-belts off, a fast-moving collection of intricate and groovy tunes that set a variety of scenes for the listener’s enjoyment. Three out of four dentists.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Pink Diamond Creek

Originally written September, 2005.

Ever find yourself suddenly – gloriously! -- FREE for a day? I did; very recently in fact.

There’s a modest drainage in a relatively non-descript area of a somewhat overlooked southern California National Forest that has been drawing me back time and time again this year (this was my 3rd trip to the region this year, my 2nd as a fly fisher). It’s a very small stream, the area is loaded with biting blackflies, and, overall, the place is kind of scruffy; however, there’s a certain color -- and spunk -- to the wild fish that inhabit this stream, and I find it delightfully intriguing.

So, on my unexpectedly free day, I found myself driving the 87 miles from my doorstep to this stream, carrying – for the first time – a 6’6” Diamondback Diamondglass 3-wt small-stream rod, one which a very kind soul on this board has let me “try out” for a season, just to see how I like it.

After arriving around 11:00AM and slathering myself in my favorite wilderness cologne – Eau de Deet – I made my way upstream, up good old Pink Diamond Creek:

As usual, it took me a solid, frustratingly fishless hour until I began to “dial in” the stream. I always seem to be a bit impatient when I first hit a stream, and this day was no exception. At first, I tried this, that, and the other fly (stimulators, streamers and nymph-and-indicator, in that order), to no avail. I began to doubt myself and my techniques.

My manhood came into question, frankly.

When I spooked an absolutely gorgeous, red-banded-and-purple-parr-marked wild rainbow from under a log in an otherwise totally exposed location, I began to think that I’d be eating skunk this fine autumn day. Listen: that spooked fish had absolutely beautiful coloration – I saw her every marking in the crystal-clear waters – and she was easily 12”. Damn these eyes!

Then I stumbled onto a larger-than-average pool and proceeded to switch to a classic fly: a tan-and-yellow #16 EHC. Before I knew it, I had caught and released four lovely, wild rainbow trout – all of them dinks (2”-4” range). I KNEW the pool held bigger fish – I saw an 8”-er rise not 5 feet in front of me – but I had been spastically reckless in my approach and, in all likelihood, had spooked the big ‘uns under a big rock near the tail.

From that point on, I took extra pains to be stealthy. I started crawling up to locations, keeping my profile low and my body crouched against the horizon. I tried not to make a noise. I stopped breathing for a moment, then decided to start again.

Guess what? It worked.

The stealthy “I am a predator” Ted Nugent(tm) approach –as I always seem to stupidly forget – paid off. I began catching some of the larger denizens (the largest was nine inches in the Measure Net) of this sweet little babbling brook. This one was taken from a pool that was about head-high, upstream from me as I stood in the spray of a small waterfall, tossing my EHC into the sunny pool at eye-level, the others were found in similar locations (wow, what a challenge!):

And so went my afternoon, spent in a haze of dry-fly drifts and spunky trout fights.

Good times.

By the way, the Diamondglass RULED! What a fantastic small-stream weapon. This thing worked like a dream, casting with distance – such as it was -- when I needed it, and mostly used for “flipping” my dry fly from the end of the drift back to the head of the pool (again, this is TINY water). Nice rod, very nice. I like it. Now, if only it were a four-piece instead of a two-piece.

Later, on the way out, this fine tarantula was spotted:

Nothing like the feeling of another wonderful day alone spent with a fly rod in hand, taking home a head full of wild trout memories. Gee, I think I'll invite about 8 buddies on an overnighter here soon -- spreading the word is what it's all's a shot of the road to help you guess where this is...

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Fork of a Fork Creek

Originally written July, 2006.

I hit a popular local watershed yesterday with an eye for silver-tinted trout.

While the waters were low and warm in this pretty canyon, I threw caution to the wind and decided to teach the slippery little beasts some necessary life lessons.
Got up there at 7AM in the pull-out on that one particular road. This particular watershed has a lot of downed trees as well as lots of heavy brush lining the banks of the stream, so I took my time exploring various runs, riffles and pools, and eventually settled into a nice, relaxed routine.

Eventually, the clouds began to dissipate, and the warming summer sun enveloped the canyon in a deep amber glow. The ice-blue waters of the small stream danced between boulders, over fallen trees, and through notches in small granite gorges, revealing numerous prime trout lies every dozen yards or so.

I was using a Diamondglass 6’ 3WT this fine day; the conditions were perfect for this excellent small-stream rod. The rod worked like magic and, for the first time since I’ve had it in my possession, I was able to give it true, hard-core work out. It’s a blast to cast this thing on these tiny waters, and, honestly, I fell in love with the it. Yes, I love my rod.

I came upon a particular plunge pool visible from above that I simply had to fish – it looked perfect, a bathtub-sized hole right smack in the middle of the log jam. I made my way over, under, and through the deadfall, and soon found myself drifting a #16 beadhead Prince nymph through the pool. On my third drift, I was the lucky recipient of a vicious strike, and I found myself laughing out loud as I fought a typical Southern California dink in the tumbling waters:

Moments later, in another nice pool below the bathtub, the Prince yet again worked its regal magic:

A couple hundred yards upstream, I came upon a solid granite gorge with a nasty current splashing alongside one of the rock walls, featuring an absolutely delicious-looking eddy below a boulder at the top of the run. I cast my Prince near the eddy and was immediately hammered by a fish, which I had on my line for a brief moment until the trout decided to disconnect the call. “No big deal“, I told myself, and proceeded to work the eddy again. This time, a nice-sized ‘bow took the Prince, and she jumped, revealing a broad swath of red down her ample sides, with absolutely gorgeous, large speckles all over her top and sides. She was shaped like the business end of an oar, a fat, long rectangle with fins. D-a-m-n, I wish I’d have landed that beauty! That image of her in mid-jump will haunt me until the next time I return and successfully nail her.

This was, apparently, one of those locations that gives hapless fly fishermen chance after chance after chance. I hooked into fish over the next dozen or so casts, losing them each and every time, much to my dismay. However, this generous pool provided me with the rare opportunity to fine-tune my approach and, eventually, I managed to bring home my “fish of the day”, a healthy 13”-range beauty:

With that out of the way, I made my way car-ward and soon found myself sipping Horchata in AZuza. And here I’d been told the WF was a waste of time. Guess it’s how one chooses to look at life, right guys?

Monday, June 8, 2009

Caltrans Creek

I haven't been on a fly fishing backpack since last November (2008) and I figured it was about time to get out in the brush with a buddy ("J") and hit some waters.

J and I had independently visited this particular canyon in the range of 12 - 15 years ago; we'd both seen lots of fish and it seemed a good bet that things would still be the same today.

We left the trailhead at 6:00AM Saturday morning, hiking in gorgeous sunlight and enjoying several dozen species of wildflowers along the way. It's about a five mile walk down to the stream, and the time passed quickly.

Before you could say "Caltrans", we'd reached the campsite where we intended to spend the night.

At this point -- about 8:45AM -- we rigged up and took off downstream, anticipating a good day's fishing.

It wasn't long before we stumbled upon a big, glacial-blue pool; I thought it was rather strange as I definitely hadn't seen this pool a decade ago. Hey, things change.

It became apparent to us both that a major debris flow had ripped this place to shreds within the last few years; looking up-canyon from the big pool, this is all we could see:

It looked to me like Caltrans had bulldozed the place; looking at the right side of the picture, imagine the debris flow blocking a stream coming in from the right. This band of mud and rock must've cut-off the flow of the main creek, creating a nice pool. Here's J wetting a line in it standing on the wall of debris (note the outlet flowing over the debris upper right from J):

Sad to say J farmed about three fish out of that pool but was ultimately unable to connect, so we headed downstream to see how far the debris flow went.

We walked almost two hours down a landscape that looked like this:

Note the dead alder trees buried in the debris.

It became painfully obvious that there was to be no fishing here; instead, we observed a young stream striving to recover some semblance of stability -- a rarity in these rapidly decomposing mountains. The stream bottom was covered in a fine layer of silt, and little or no algae or vegetation was to be found. There were a few sections of "original" streambed that retained mature cover, but mostly it was all-but-barren save for some young alders here and there.

Also, there were no pools to speak of; the stream still hadn't time to scour out the typical riffle-run-pool sequence; instead, there were small plunges that immedately turned to shallow riffles.

Not prime trout habitat, that's for sure.

In spite of all this, we found some first-stage caddis nymphs as well as blackfly nymphs in the mineralized waters; the barren banks were also crawling with small grasshoppers.

To add insulin to injury, the sun disappeared behind a dark line of storm clouds, and a gentle but cold rain began to fall. The temperature dropped and we both were forced to put on additional clothing. After two hours of walking on this "concrete" with no signs of fish, we decided to head back to the main pool, where I proceeded to catch a couple of 8"-range wild raindbows on some type of stonefly imitation.

As the rain came down harder and the clouds dropped lower, J and I made the decision to call the overnighter off and hike back up the mountain, five long miles and 2,000 feet elevation gain. Had the weather been pleasant, I would've been content to stay and enjoy the views, but the cloud cover obscured everything and obviously there was no place to fish other than the big pool.

So we headed back up the mountain, stopping to wet a line in a tributary (J brought a handful of small trout to hand), dodging raindrops and keeping a steady uphill pace.

We reached the trailhead at 5:00PM, where the temp was hovering around a balmy 40 degrees.

All told, we caught about half-a-dozen trout, hiked over ten miles, and covered approximately 4,000 feet of elevation gain/loss in an eleven-hour period.

I can safely scratch this watershed off of my list for at least another five years; although the trip might be considered a failure, it was, in all, an interesting look at the ever-changing landscapes of our beloved local mountains.

Thanks, J, for a great day; we'll get those carne asada tacos and garden pico de gallo next time.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

In Hot Water

Originally written in 2005 - FBW

My fly fishing friend "Evening Rise" has been fishing Hot Creek Ranch for several years now; this year, he was kind enough to invite yours truly to tag along for a couple of days of world-class trout fishing. I must say it was an honor and a privilege to have been invited to fish this classic stream; my heartfelt thanks and gratitude go out to my mentor and friend, Evening Rise. Thanks so much, my man.

I left Los Angeles mid-Monday afternoon, in the midst of one of the hottest weather of the summer so far. You haven’t lived until you’ve driven the LA-to-Mammoth route in 110+ degree heat in the middle of July in an old beater car with no air conditioning.

Well, maybe you have.

Considering this was the car that, a couple of months ago, couldn’t make it to Frenchman’s Flat without overheating, I had my share of doubts and concerns. With my AAA card, a credit card, and a cell phone, I figured I was as well prepared for mechanical failure as could be expected, and I set off with a cooler full of ice, water, and soft drinks, with visions of fat wild trout tail-dancing in my mind. A wet towel draped over my head, mid-eastern style, kept me cool during the brutal drive, although my curious get-up elicited several strange glances from passing motorists.

A side note: I stopped for a break at the rest area between, I believe, Big Pine and Bishop, and noticed a small stream running through the area. To my surprise and delight, I spotted a handful of trout in the stream, one looking to be about 9” or so. Very interesting. I considered rigging up, but the heat got me down, and I reconsidered.

After a blissfully uneventful drive, I arrived at Hot Creek around 7:30PM, finding myself in the midst of a beautiful, crystal-clear evening. I figured Evening Rise would be out on the ranch portion of the stream fishing the, um, evening rise, so I decided to bypass the ranch for the moment and try my hand on the public section of the stream. I hiked down to a section of stream that, surprisingly, I had completely to myself, and tied on a #18 olive bead-head wooly bugger (incidentally, I chose to go with a streamer because I knew I’d be fishing dries-only on the ranch the following day; I figured, why not mix up my presentations a bit?). With great anticipation, using my Sage 8’6” 5-wt (thank-you-thank-you-thank-you oh nameless benefactor) I cast my streamer into one of THE classic Sierra streams.

Unbelievably, I had a strike on my second cast.

On my subsequent cast, I had another strike; this time I set the hook quickly, then played and landed a nice 12”+ brown trout, my first brownie on a fly:

“This is going to be a piece of cake”, I giggled to myself, and, just to prove the point, proceeded to catch another, smaller 11” brown, again on the olive wooly bugger:

Ecstatic, I fished a short while longer, eliciting a strike here, a strike there, generally enjoying the heck out of the moment: the steep cliff walls, the fragrant smell of sagebrush, the almost-full moon rising above the scruffy hills, the massive purple wall of Sierra peaks rising to the east, the gurgling of the stream.

It was, in a word, beautiful.

As dusk sunk its teeth into the warm flesh of the evening, I packed up and headed to Hot Creek Ranch to meet up with Evening Rise. Once there, we drank a few beers, talked trout, and made tentative plans for the following morning. Evening Rise turned in early, having spent the day successfully fishing for goldens in the mountains high above Lone Pine while en route to Mammoth; I wandered down to the stream, drenched in moonlight, beer in hand, headphones playing some of my favorite music (“Bridge Across Forever” by a progressive rock band known as Transatlantic), and thought about trout. I hit the sack around midnight and slept like a juniper snag.

The next morning, after a quick breakfast of coffee, toast, sliced tomatoes, and scrambled eggs, Evening Rise and I hit the stream; here’s the setting:

Old timers will note that the water level is about twice as high as is normal for this time of year; I overheard a couple of veteran guests complaining about the high levels, but, to me, the stream seemed utterly fish-able.

Immediately upon our arrival on the grassy banks of this absolutely gorgeous, classic meadow stream, Evening Rise pointed out a full-blown caddis hatch in progress. Small winged creatures floated above the surface of the stream virtually everywhere, but, strangely, no trout were seen rising -- at least not obviously. This was the first time I’d ever witnessed a bona-fide hatch in progress, by the way, and it was something else, let me tell you. It was absolutely amazing to witness these creatures emerging from the stream, flying above it, dapping on the surface, in great whirring clouds of life.

Logic dictated that I tie on an EHC (size #18) and get to fly fishing, which I soon did. With Evening Rise acting as guide, I was led to a likely-looking stretch of water, one with several “working” fish rising consistently on the far bank, dappling the smooth surface of the stream as their greedy mouths sucked in the morning feast. The hatch was still going strong and it seemed more and more fish were starting to take notice. Using the excellent Sage 8’6” 5-wt, I was able to easily place my fly in the glassy water on the far bank; a strong current between me and the bank had me honing my mending skills; somewhat surprisingly, I was able to get in some nice drag-free drifts and, after a few moments, I had a nice-sized brown trout rise to my fly. I was ridiculously late in setting the hook – frankly, my mind shut down and I froze like a deer in headlights – and, of course, the fish got away clean.

Once again, I thought to myself, “This is going to be easy.”

Famous last words.

We spent the better part of the morning under brilliant blue skies, working section after section of the gentle stream. We spotted fish – some extremely sizeable, some smaller, all beautiful and strong looking – in nearly all types of conditions (pools, riffles, oxbow bends, undercuts). Evening Rise soon settled into a deep groove, slipping into a trance-like state, working the water with his trademark thoroughness, meticulous attention to detail, and uncanny-yet-logic-based selection of flies:

It wasn’t long before he began catching trout, starting off with a nice 14” brown (we didn’t take a lot of pictures this first day, instead simply focusing on the fishing). Soon, he had another fish on, this one an insanely huge 18” (minimum, I am not kidding you) wild rainbow with some of the most amazing coloration I have ever had the pleasure of witnessing. Unfortunately, this magnificent fish slipped out of my net at the last possible minute (I was Evening Rise’s “net boy” for a good part of this fine day; the pleasure was all mine, I’ll have you know), but not before putting him through a veritable clinic of human-avoidance tactics. This fish knew its stuff and knew it well. What an incredible specimen! Evening Rise took the lost fish in stride and continued working, working, and working some more. Eventually, I lost count of how many fish he netted somewhere after the one-dozen mark; this photo is representative of the larger fish he coaxed into his well-worn net:

Meanwhile, yours truly continued to work the water as best as I could, meeting with the occasional rise and the even more occasional take. I learned the joys of adding a dropper to my rig, using a smaller (#22) EHC under a larger (#14) EHC which not only doubled my chances of a take, but also acted as a strike indicator of sorts. There were more than a few instances where I had a fish on my barbless hook for several moments – some were definitely sizeable, adding insult to injury – but, for the life of me, I could not seem to close the deal. I learned very quickly that my bigger fish-playing skills are sorely lacking. Sorely. I also lost an amazing number of fish due to faulty knots. I have had the phrase “check your knots” beaten into my head repeatedly over the years; truly, for the first time ever, my knots (or lack thereof) were put to the test and failed, utterly.

I was humiliated but, in a way, it was a good feeling. I was learning a few things about bigger fish that, quite simply, I had never experienced before on my beloved local streams with their smaller populations.

After the hatch was finally over (around 11:00AM or so), we decided to call it a morning, grab a quick bite for lunch, then head over to the public access section of the stream to try sub-surface techniques during the heat of the afternoon (it was close to 95 degrees even at 7,000’ elevation), when the fish on the ranch would most likely not be rising for dry flies (or anything else, possibly). Once again, Evening Rise put on a clinic, landing several beauties in the span of a couple of hours utilizing a nymph-and-indictor set-up. My streamer approach, unlike the evening before, drew no attention whatsoever from the resident fish, so Evening Rise suggested I set up using a combination scud imitation suspended below a caddis fly nymph, itself suspended below a split-shot and an indicator. On my second cast, I tied into a large (I estimated it to be 16”) rainbow trout, proving Evening Rise’s ability to choose the right fly for the circumstances. However, once again, my fish-playing skills failed under the scrutiny of this large trout, and, at the last possible moment -- just before Evening Rise could get in position to get a net on her – I lost the fish.

Are you sensing a pattern here?

Later, back on the ranch, we fished the evening rise and, as you can guess, the experience was much the same as the morning: Evening Rise consistently catching fish and me consistently losing them. Let me state that throughout the day, the fishing was not wham-bam-thank-you-trout; we were not latching onto trout “cast after cast”, not by any stretch of the imagination. No, these fish required hard work, and even proprietor Bill mentioned that he’d spent considerable time patiently working locations for payoffs.

These were -- at least historically -- challenging conditions on Hot Creek.

As dusk settled over the meadow, I worked a beautiful oxbow bend by myself. In desperation, I had tied on the largest dry fly in my box, a #8 monstrosity that looked like a dust-ball on steroids, and, as the fly drifted through the bend, a huge fish rose up and inhaled it, leaving a whirlpool/vortex in its wake. I set the hook and I had the fish on my line for what seemed like forever, me desperately trying NOT to lose the fish as opposed to playing it intelligently and patiently. The thing felt like a boulder on the end of my line and played me for the fool that I was (or am). The clincher? My knot attaching my tippet to my leader eventually gave way, and the fish swam off, sadly, probably with about three feet of 6X tippet trailing from it’s mouth, I’d imagine. Stupid me. Stupid, stupid me.

I was a bit of an emotional wreck, but I did my best to keep things in perspective (ie. beautiful mountains, amazing stream, good company, rises and takes, etc). These fish were having their way with me; all I could do was accept that simple fact and deal with it.

That night, exhausted, we both hit the sack relatively early (10PM or so). I set my alarm for 5AM and had a great night’s rest.

The following morning found me up before Evening Rise – in fact, I had the stream to myself – and drifting a #14 Madame X pattern over an incredible location along a rather non-descript stretch of the creek. I had “discovered” this “hole” the prior day and had spotted what looked like at least a dozen large trout consistently holding along the bottom. Much to my delight, as I was lifting the Madame X up and off the water in preparation for another cast, a rather feisty and large brown trout became airborne in an attempt to take my fly. Drats, another fish missed! Can you find the “hole” along this stretch? It’s not obvious, at least to me:

This glorious morning started much the same way as the prior day: me getting – then ultimately missing -- strikes. However, this morning I was feeling fantastic, no pressure on me to do anything, just in an incredibly serene mindset where all seemed right with the world. Lost another fly in the waist-high grass? No problem. Miss a strike? Sure, bring on another. Having a hard time threading that parachute Adams? No worries. I’m fishing Hot Creek by myself and nothing can take that away from me.
Soon I was joined by Evening Rise, just as the first hatch of the day was starting. Evening Rise identified it as a trico hatch, so we dug into our fly boxes and tied on the appropriate flies (I used a #14 EHC as an indicator with a #18 trico as a dropper). We moved to a classic location -- this, on a stream consisting of nothing BUT classic locations -- where fish were rising by the dozens along the far bank. Evening Rise began to work the stretch intently, while I worked a nearby bend where conditions were somewhat similar. Momentarily, I heard Evening Rise yell “fish on!” and I raced over to find him embattled with this glorious 18” wild rainbow on his line:

Wow. Just, wow. For the thousandth time on this stream, I asked myself “What am I doing wrong?” when I SHOULD have been asking “What is Evening Rise doing right?”
As I continued to work the miniature bend in the stream, I found myself casting to three or four different rising fish, coaxing occasional rises, refusals, and missed strikes. Eventually, one of my intended targets took my trico and I had the fish on my line. Somewhat desperately, I yelled to Evening Rise “how should I bring this fish in?” and he graciously coached me: “get him on the reel”, “keep your rod tip UP”, “watch for those weeds”, etc. Finally, after almost two days of hard fishing, I had this to show for my efforts, my first – and only – Hot Creek Ranch brown trout:

Sure, he was a skinny little guy for a solid 14” incher, but let me tell you, I have never, ever worked harder for a fish in my life, nor been as grateful for one as this. I let out a sigh of relief as I released him back into the water, all smiles and good times, laughing at the absurdity of it all. I thanked Evening Rise for helping me acheive this worthy goal.

Momentarily, the trico hatch ended and Evening Rise noted that PMD’s were suddenly emerging. We both switched over to PMD patterns and soon Evening Rise had another nice rainbow in his net, this one in the 16” range. I, too, locked into a fish, this one yet another large ‘bow, but, true to form, I couldn’t hold on to her and she spit the hook and swam free.

This time, I was happy.

The happy feeling didn’t last too long, because the time had come for me to return to Los Angeles and face my responsibilities. I said farewell to Evening Rise (he was staying on for a couple more days) and bought a ranch t-shirt just for grins. After a great lunch at La Casitas in Bishop (classic Mexican food), I rolled into Van Nuys at around 5:00PM, greeted by rainshowers of all things. I put my boots in the freezer – gotta kill off those New Zealand mud snails, don’t you know – and proceeded to sleep for 12 hours straight.

So what did I learn from fishing this world-class technical water?

1) Selectivity. Evening Rise proved without a doubt that these fish feed selectively, and switching appropriate fly patterns at the right time results in more fish.

2) Reading water. This stream was unlike any of the freestone streams I’ve fished. I learned a bit regarding reading some of the more “non-descript” sections that, indeed, held fish. Not an easy stream to read, but not impossible.

3) Knots. It’s been said before and I will say it again: TIE SOLID KNOTS and check ‘em constantly. No skimping or cheating. You WILL lose large fish if your knots aren’t up to snuff. I am embarrassed at how easily my knots failed me, and how often. Ugh.

4) Playing large fish. This was the hardest lesson of all. Fishing local waters almost exclusively, I have never really tied into seriously large fish. These bigger fish – and, without trying to sound like I am bragging, because I am most certainly knot (haha), but I KNOW I hooked into some 18” range trout – require special handling and care, and constant attention and focus. The slightest break in concentration resulted in fish coming off. I lost a half-dozen bona-fide monsters due to my lack of experience. Note to self: start catching bigger fish just for practice.

Thanks again, Evening Rise, for sharing this one-of-a-kind fly fishing experience with me.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Tube of Miso Creek

Yet another report from days gone by...NK, you would've died on this trip. Puthy. Here we go...

My buddy Krudler and I had been planning an overnight backpack for what seemed like weeks and, sure as sugar, every weekend was either rainy or, gasp, snowed out. Rescheduling became a part of our normal routine, and I began to wonder: will we ever make this trip happen?

Early last week, the long-range weather forecast called for a semi-partly cloudy Saturday with a 30% chance of sprinkles, with Sunday appearing to be sunny and warm. It seemed like a good time to get a little Black Diamond adventure under our belts, so plans were laid, so to speak. Another buddy -- Jon D. -- managed to pull a few favors with the wife – god only knows what that poor man had to go through – and was able to join us on the trip.

I don’t know about you, but I really love our local mountains when they’re drenched in sunshine, accompanied by a gently, warm San Gabriel breeze blowing through the big cone Douglas firs. However, upon our 8:00AM arrival at the trailhead (yeah, we got an early start, hehe), we were somewhat surprised to find it foggy, and damper than Paris Hilton after an all night rave. Here’s a shot you might recognize from de facto Black Diamond Trout Society leader Sir Homey (and his trusty sidekick Jake)’s earlier posts:

As you can see, the clouds were rolling in and, in fact, did so, not only all day Saturday, but all weekend.

What’s a Black Diamond fly fisherman to do? Cheer up, chum, and carry on, that’s what.

The hike into this canyon is like cheesecake with extra sour cream and blueberries; it’s about four miles, descending all the way to the bottom (as seen in the picture above); not super tough, but it’s a bit of a walk. It didn’t take us very long to reach the bottom, and I believe we each enjoyed the damp, fresh splendors the hike provided. The trail generally follows an extremely sweet looking tributary, one which looks very fishy, but none of us were able to spot and trout from the trail high above.

Once we hit the confluence with the main stream – Tube of Miso Creek – I led the guys off-trail to a small, hidden campsite (one of my favorite places to spend a night), where we stashed our overnight gear and rigged up for some fly fishing. It was about this time that it started to drizzle, not heavy, just enough to soak the brush and adding an uncomfortable chill to the mountain air; here’s a dismal shot of T.O.M. creek as we found it:

Hey, at least the water was clear – if I’d had some lemons on me, I’d have made lemonade. Instead, I fortified my resolve with a shot of Southern Comfort and headed upstream, visions of strawberry-cream wild trout filling my head.

We settled into a pattern of spreading out over the stream, sometimes fishing together, sometimes on our own, and it wasn’t long until I had my first Southern California dink sitting in my numb hands, courtesy of one of Krudler’s fine “Petey Nymphs” (ask him about the origin of that name some time); obligatory dink shot:

A short while later, this chunky little Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup came to find me; I fell in love with the late 1960’s swirling, Dali-esque parr marks and a toothy grin on this little fattie:

Krudler – patient fly fisherman that he is – intently worked one crazy deep pool whereupon he had seen a fourteen-inch range trout in lurker’s clothing, so I gave him some room and soon hooked up with Jon. Jon and I stumbled – literally; it was freaking WET, people – upon a nice pool with a sizeable fish seemingly protecting its territory from a handful of smaller fish. Jon, being a gracious sort, offered me first cast at the fish, so I tossed a #14 purple beadhead woolly bugger in the pool, and started a quick retrieve; amazingly, the “daddy” fish followed my fly, then opened its mouth, taking a swipe at the bugger. Predictably, I missed the strike.

Then it was Jon’s turn. I think he made all of one cast – I recall the “Petey Nymph” was Jon’s fly – and BAM, the fish was on. What a fight this noble warrior gave! Jon must’ve spent ten full minutes – maybe more; the clouds and fog were in my mind as well as upon the hills – before I was able to get Jon’s net under him. Here, first, is a shot of the fish during the fight, and the “net shot” follows:

What a gorgeous specimen! Folks, that fish almost topped the thirteen inch mark in Jon’s measure net, a fine, healthy, strong warrior that all but made my day. Nice work, Jon!!!

A little while later, Jon watched as a nice sized trout – perhaps eleven inches –took my #14 Red Humpy (which I was using as an indicator) and began to battle me; in a flash, an even larger trout came out of the depths and charged my #16 beadhead Prince nymph dropper. For a moment, I thought the Trout Gods were going to bless me with a two-fish hook up, but, alas, it was not to be. Not one but BOTH trout soon shook my flies off and left me standing there, damp and fishless, silently weeping, as Jon tried – unconvincingly, I might add – to console me.

After flogging the upper stretches of T.O.M. creek for about five hours, we met back at the campsite and compared stories. Krudler told of landing a twelve inch fish, then losing a fourteen inch alligator in the next pool below. As he told us this, tears welled up in his eyes. I brought out the pack stove and whipped up a batch of hot tea for Jon and me to ward off the chill, then we all gathered our gear and moved a quarter mile or so to the “main” campsite – a sprawling, football-field sized flat with some incredible oaks (which blocked the drizzle which had by now turned to rain), a huge fire pit, and several sheltered flats for sleeping. Snack lunches were consumed, and the rest of the afternoon was spent with each of us individually working the lower stretches of the stream.

As the day drew on, it got progressively colder and wetter, and the fishing seemed to slow down, although we each managed a fish or two. Round about 6:00PM, I headed back to camp, found Krudler gathering firewood, and proceeded to do the same, gathering a nice pile for the long, cold night ahead. Having not expected rain, I had brought along a simple tarp shelter, and, as I set it up, I hoped it would be sufficient to keep me dry throughout the night.

We spent a great evening cooking dinner and then hanging around an absolutely spectacular, roaring campfire (started courtesy of some of Jon’s cookstove fuel), talking and sharing various libations (Southern Comfort, Jack Daniels, some weird-named Irish whiskey, and a Guiness or two). It was a pleasure to get out of my wet fishing clothes and into some dry camp clothes and shoes, let me tell you. We partied like crazy and soon it was the midnight hour; miraculously, the clouds had parted, revealing a starry night sky. We bedded down in our various shelters with visions of a warm, sunny daybreak. I, for one, slept like a log, and my “minimalist” shelter – as Jon called it – kept me snug and dry, much to my delight.

We awoke to cloudy skies, but at least it wasn’t raining. On the mountains around us, about 500’ above, the trees glistened with frost and a dusting of new snow. Jon made chilaquilas for breakfast – ground sausage scrambled with eggs and tortilla chips, topped with fresh salsa – and then we broke camp and proceeded to fish, downstream, for several hours.

The fishing this day was a lot better than the day before. We spread out and pretty much fished solo all morning, leap-frogging and leaving everyone plenty of water to explore. I managed to land a couple of nice fish from some typical runs, most of which were incredibly brushed over (this shot is typical of the stream):

I pulled this sweet “stocker” from a tight little run:

Later, an olive beadhead woolly bugger started performing miracles, and I took this, my “fish of the day”, from a deep pool between two fallen logs, as tough a spot I’ve ever fished:

In fact, let me state here that T.O.M. creek was probably one of the most difficult places I’ve ever tossed a fly; obstacles were EVERYWHERE, with brush alongside, above and in the water. I lost more flies on this trip than on my past ten trips combined. The challenge was a blast, though, and these spooky fish made it all worthwhile.

We headed back to the cars in the late afternoon, actually hiking up into the clouds, and made a strong, steady pace. Along the way, Jon and I were talking about how many beautiful fish we’d spooked, and we came up with a patch for the Black Diamond Trout Society Spookers, which is simply a solid Black Diamond.

I dunno, it seemed funny at the time.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Return Engagement

Round about twelve, fourteen years ago, I backpacked into quite a few local canyons, sometimes ultra-light spin-fishing, other times bringing no gear at all, content to merely observe the resident trout, and to splash about in sunshine and solitude.

In one particularly delightful sylvan sanctuary I once saw the one of the biggest local trout I had ever seen. I remember it like it was yesterday...

It was a late April Saturday morning, and our beloved San Gabriels were alive with wildflowers, honey bees, deer, rattlesnakes, coyote, bobcats, birds, and countless other living, wild creatures. A warm spring breeze greeted me at the trailhead, like the breath of the mountain herself. Heaven.

Having hiked down, down, DOWN into the canyon very early that morning – by dawn’s first golden light – I had quickly established a stealth camp and replenished my energy reserves, wolfing down trail mix and granola bars, enjoying the sweet filtered stream water (flowing nicely – NICELY! -- with her springtime bounty).

With a day’s worth of exploring ahead of me, and no fishing gear along for this particular trip, I intended to enjoy a leisurely morning safe within the cool confines of the creek, splashing around in shallow pools and walking among riffles and runs – often doubled-over to avoid overhanging branches and streamside growth.

Hoping to spot trout.

I’ll never forget the pool. You know the one. There’s a small tributary on the east – EAST, I tell you – side of the main stream, a feisty little thing full of froth and fury, which feeds a veritable swimming pool, a sparkling, oxygen-clear reservoir that shimmers like a mirage under the spring-green alders. A true pool, an emerald gem, a prime lie.

Trout habitat.

As I approached the pool from upstream, I saw it: an alarmingly large black torpedo which quickly dashed -- frankly, the words “quickly dashed” do not do justice to the speed with which that trout moved -- from the base of the pool, immediately taking cover under a flat, circular boulder that sat at the upper edge of the pool, directly next to the two-foot inlet waterfall that churned the cold waters into ice-blue fury.

I was astounded. “That was a big fish”, I told myself, somewhat understating the situation.

Sometimes having no wrist watch, no schedule to adhere to, can be a good thing. I made myself comfortable on the flat circular rock and decided to out-wait the fish. I figured I could do worse things on a Saturday morning than relaxing on a nice smooth boulder alongside a beautiful stream with a large wild trout lying virtually under my feet, sight unseen.

The brook continued to babble watery nonsense; I continued to listen.

The thing with having no timepiece is, sometimes you lose track of the hours. One could conceivably doze off, perhaps for so long that one might miss seeing the fish as it leaves the safety of the lair and resumes feeding in the shallow outlet, eventually disappearing under an embankment before you arise. Or, on the other hand (hand, as in hands on a clock, as in the passage of time), one might lose track of the actual time spent waiting for the trout to appear, so much so that one begins to have doubts as to the fish’s very existence.

Either way, you eventually leave the pool for other sparkling passages, for other fish to fry (so to speak), but you never, ever forget that dark torpedo; your brain never, ever forgets the adrenaline rush that accompanies such a sighting.

You never forget these things.

I was young and full of energy then, full of enthusiasm for my local wilderness and my secret trout populations. And, with the torpedo very much in mind, I found myself back at the pool – you know the one – the following weekend, the first weekend of

May: the month of possibilities. The month that can’t quite let April go, but isn’t quite ready for June just yet.

Tiny blue wildflowers – I called them San Gabriel Blues, but they have a more common name which I can’t recall at the moment – decorated the trail where last week there were none. Transition in progress. Shaggy red cedars provided welcome shade from the brash spring sun. Water called to me as I wound my way down the switchbacking trail and into the riparian canyon below.

Same stealth campsite, same routine: rest, relax, refresh.

The eastside – EAST, I tell you -- feeder stream was a little smaller, a little less feisty, this weekend. Spring travels fast in these arid landscapes. But the pool was still there, shimmering like a diamond a few dozen yards below me, as I stood, observing, as yet unseen by the torpedo feeding in the shallows.

Forgive me, my fellow fly fishermen, for I have, in a past life, donned the spinning rod and bail-style reel overflowing with two-pound test line, languidly tossing the smallest lures money could buy -- barbs crimped and trebles snipped -- side-arm style, aiming the dazzling engagement rings under willows, into alder thickets, behind boulders, hoping to attract trout.

Such were my intentions this fine May morning. Forgive me, my brothers and sisters.

Okay, there’s a big rock at the head of the pool. If I’m quiet and stay low, I can walk right along the west bank of the stream, and the big rock will shield me from the torpedo. I know she’s there. She has to be.

Splish. Splash. One watery step at a time. My back hurts but I’m almost to the rock. I haven’t even seen the surface of the swimming pool yet; I don’t dare. She’ll see me, and she’ll dash under the rock and I’ll never see her again this day, sure as sugar.

I’m there. I still can’t see the torpedo pool; I’m safe behind the big grey boulder, and if I so much as let a fraction of my sun-hat into view, she’ll spook. Mustn’t have that now.

I’m already rigged up and ready to cast; in fact, I rigged up at breakfast, double-checking my double clinch knot, sharpening the single barbless hook that I’ve attached to the ½” Red Devil spoon (deadly on these small streams, I’ve learned -- at times, anyway).

I’ve only got once chance, one cast. My heart is racing. “Let’s go”, I tell myself, unhooking the lure from the foam handle of the telescoping spinning rod, the one I bought at Target for $9.99 (plus tax). I used to pride myself on my ragtag gear. I’ve gotten over that.

I draw the rod backward, simultaneously lifting the bail, freeing up the line, then make a sharp forward cast, effortlessly tossing the lure twenty feet or so, at what I am imagining is the bottom of the swimming pool. I still can’t see; I’m still in hiding.

I crank the reel, snapping the bail shut, securing the line. I’m shaking. I begin a slow retrieve; too slow, I think to myself. I crank a little faster, then stop. “Let it sink.” I retrieve again, this time faster, and, suddenly, like that, I’m into trout.

I can’t believe the weight of this thing; it’s like trying to reel in a Boeing. Being careful not to tumble over the inlet waterfall, I stand up, exposing myself to the pool, just in time to see a fat, colorful fourteen inch wild rainbow trout dancing in mid-air. I’ve got her!

Now the hard part. I can’t bring her in from where I’m standing; she’s too fat, too heavy, to risk hauling her up two feet on this light line. I’m convinced she’s securely hooked; if that head-shaking jump didn’t free the hook, nothing will short of letting her dive. Mustn’t let her dive.

I carefully make my way around the big sheltering boulder – the boulder that made catching this fish possible; thank you boulder, I love you boulder, please marry me boulder – eventually reaching the poolside proper.

There she is, waiting for me, shining like a rainbow diamond. The biggest fish I’ve ever caught, let alone seen, in all of the San Gabriels. It’s like a taste of the late 1800’s, when Pasadena gentlemen-fly fishers would catch hundreds of sixteen-inch wild rainbow trout out of a single pool, except it’s only one. That fact makes her even more treasured to me.

I gently grasp the heaving beauty – what a healthy, gorgeous fish, and heavy! – and, using my hemostats, remove the single hook lure from her upper jaw, freeing the fish. I hold her steady in the shallows with one hand, grasping for my camera with the other. I revive the monster trout and she begins to show signs of recovery. She makes s-curve motions that my clumsy fingers can barely control.

Gratefully, and with as much respect as I can muster, I thank the creator of the universe and release the torpedo back into the pool. She darts in the direction of the circular rock and disappears into the silver shadows.

Please forgive me for holding this awesome 'bow by the jaw -- I was young and stupid back then (now I'm just stupid).