The weekly musings of one kErrY kOMpOsT, (financially) struggling musician, freak, whatever.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

In the interest of saving time, if you're interested in my continuing bloggage, please visit my MySpace page from now on:


I'm burning out on posting these ramblings in multiple places.

Thanks for shopping at Target.


Monday, June 26, 2006

****These blogs are the sole intellectual property of the author and MAY NOT BE COPIED, USED, OR APPROPRIATED for ANY USE, ANYWHERE, without the express permission of the author.****

Of (Dead) Mice and Trout
by Fish Breaks Water

This past weekend involved a moderately strenuous – don’t be fooled by the word “moderately” (famous last words!) – backpack undertaken by Krudler and yours truly to a hard-to-reach, seldom visited section of a local watershed. This particular stream is one I have avoided for years, mainly because it seems to draw a lot of attention from fly anglers in our area. It’s by no means an unknown fishery, yet it remains (apparently) pristine due to the difficult access (4.5 miles one way, 2,000’+ elevation loss/gain, about a 3 hour walk each way no matter how you slice it). Regardless, I was highly anticipating visiting this water for the first time, not-so-secretly hoping to achieve a personal goal – catching and releasing my first Southern California brown trout.

After an ungodly early departure (4:15AM), I had a leisurely, traffic-free drive during prime sunrise time, enjoying the ever-changing light as it illuminated the local mountains in shades of orange, amber and rust. The sweet morning scent of “scotch broom” (an invasive plant, mind you) perfumed the air, occasionally mixed with essence of pine; birds went about their business as they always do. A hearty breakfast at a local mountain coffee shop had me fueled-up and ready to begin the adventure, and soon Krudler and I made our rendezvous at the trailhead, both of us about fifteen minutes ahead of schedule – which meant an extra fifteen minutes of fishing (every moment counts)!

For this trip I was going fairly ultra-light (at least as ultra-light as my modest budget can afford); the weather was forecast as being hot, hot, hot, so, in lieu of a sleeping bag, I packed a small fleece blanket; I also left my canister gas stove at home, opting instead for a classic old school Esbit cooking set-up (solid fuel cubes). A swath of mosquito netting and a small plastic sheet would suffice for shelter. The combined weight of these items reduced my normal pack weight by about eight pounds, and I felt confident that I could endure the trip with a minimum of discomfort while retaining a few luxury items (ie. bourbon, CD player, swim trunks). I also packed, for the first time, my 6’6” 3WT Diamondglass rod; at two pieces, it’s a bit bulky, but I managed to secure it to my pack and was later delighted that I had brought it – it was the perfect rod for this tight little stream.

There’s not a lot to say about the hike down except that it’s long and non-stop, not much shade, overgrown in places, no water at all, with stunning views out over the flat-lands. Stupidly, I forgot to re-tighten my boot laces when setting out (a tip: if you’re about to embark on a long downhill hike, always tie your boots as tightly as possible to minimize your toes smashing into the boot tip), so my feet took a bit of a beating on the way down, although I wouldn’t notice anything out of the ordinary until later that evening. Krudler and I enjoyed the fresh morning air and the forever views, talking about trout strategy and anything else that came to mind, and soon enough – after one short rest break – we could hear the stream not too far below.

Upon reaching the stream (at about 9:00AM), we were greeted by an unusual sight: in the pool at the trail crossing I spooked what looked like a small rainbow trout swimming on its side. “That looks rather strange,” I thought, and for a moment I was confused until I realized that what I had seen was actually a brown trout with a dead ‘bow in its jaws – Duraflame(tm)! The sighting encouraged us to no end, and with renewed vigor we hiked the remaining half-mile to our planned base camp alongside a gorgeous little tributary. The site – shaded by oak, maple, alder and pine – had a small fire pit and a makeshift rock table complete with “chairs”. It was flat, close to the tributary, and had a great view of the surrounding canyon – a great place to spend a weekend.

It didn’t take long for us to get our day-packs together and rig up for our prime objective: fly fishing (what else?). We decided to spend this first day exploring upstream, the planned objective being an almost-impassable waterfall a mile or so up the canyon, one with a massive pool at its base. Starting at the Duraflame(tm) Pool, we began dealing with the task at hand, each of us experiencing that unique mindset that first accompanies hitting a stream: what should I tie on first? Are there risers? Where are the prime lies? What are these fish feeding on? Do I have everything?

I was extremely lucky in choosing a small (#14) olive bead-head woolly bugger as my first fly, as I caught and released three ‘bows and a small brown within the first half hour of fishing. As excited as I was with “my first Southern California brown”, the largest bow – about 11” or so – really stoked my fires. It was taken out of a nice frothy plunge pool and tried exceptionally hard to make me look bad by jumping and running directly at me. However, after a few tense – but highly enjoyable – moments, I brought this classic Sir Homey ‘bow into my waiting net:

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Flush with this early success, little did I know it would be literally hours before I got into my next trout. The action seemingly stopped dead at around 11:00AM or so -- typical summer behavior for these hardy canyon survivors – so Krudler and I tag-teamed our way upstream, enjoying the day and spotting fish for one another. One long pool we approached had what looked like a dozen or more fat trout holding in the tail-out; a massive boulder created the bottom of the pool, making a perfect stealth position to target the pod. Krudler gave me first shot at the pool, but my casting skills – getting better but still rudimentary – were such that I was unable to make a viable presentation. Krudler took up position, made one perfect cast, and pulled out this nice brown, taken on a #16 red humpy if I’m not mistaken:

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The rest of the afternoon was spent in this delightful fashion, each of us getting into fish slowly but consistently. As the afternoon wore on, we tended to switch to dry flies as browns were on the rise; many splashes were induced, some actually resulting in netted fish. As classic pool after classic pool were revealed, we took turns making presentations, spooking monsters, laughing at our foibles and grinning at our successes. Throughout the warm afternoon, thunder clouds threatened rain (it actually sprinkled for a few muggy moments), but the cloud cover made the heat tolerable, and the wet-wading kept us cool.

A typical scenario went like this: we’d spot the tail-out of a nice pool upstream, many of them protected by a head-high plunge one could easily hide behind. We’d sneak up to the tail-out then to the rocks, now eye-level with the upstream pool. If you were careful, you could poke your head above the rocks and see a trout feeding only a couple of feet away, unaware of your deceptive intentions. Looking behind you to see if there was casting room – there often wasn’t – you’d lob your dry fly over your head, gently landing it a few feet upstream of the fish you’d targeted. Then – my favorite part! – you’d watch the buoyant, brilliant fly drift towards you, right in line with the trout. If you were lucky, you’d witness the fish lazily rise to inhale the fly, quickly submerging before realizing it was hooked. After a nice reel-singing fight, you’d land something like this:

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We eventually made it up to the near-impassable waterfall with its remarkable pool, and spent a good half-hour working the crystal clear deep-green waters. A more beautiful sight you’re not likely to see, but I have been warned with penalty of death should I post a photo of it here. Although the pool was clearly loaded with some very fine trout, only Krudler managed to land anything, a nice 9” range ‘bow with classic colors:

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We soon headed back to base camp, relaxed for a while, set-up for the evening, then proceeded to enjoy a fantastically fun twilight hour catching small, exceptionally dark-colored trout from the sparkling Tolkein-esque pools of the tributary. I hit the first pool and nailed a ‘bow on my first cast; Krudler did the same on the second pool. Third pool, I repeated the process, and on the fourth pool, Krudler again nailed a ‘bow on the first cast. On the fifth pool the pressure was on, and I blew it by catching a fish on my third cast (gasp). It was just a ridiculously good time, “anti-fishing” for these small, aggressive, gorgeous trout, the polar opposites of the relative beasts in the main stream not far below.

My dinner was delayed by the exceptionally slow time the Esbit took to heat my water – a failed experiment, for sure. While cooking, I tended to my suddenly-sore toes, patiently waiting for dinner; eventually my meal was cooked, and we enjoyed a drowsy evening fireside, sharing a little bourbon and recalling the events of the day. We both hit the sack around 10:00PM, a canopy of sparkling stars twinkling overhead, a mild breeze cooling the canyon, the white-noise of the stream lulling us to sleep. We slept soundly until the ridiculous hour of 9:30AM the next morning – a luxury afforded by the shady campsite.

Awakening appropriately sore and tired, we consumed our respective breakfasts and eagerly gathered our day-packs and gear together for another day’s fishing. The plan was to let the heat of the day pass while we fished, tackling the long, steep hike out of the canyon at around 4:30PM or so, leaving the better part of the day free to explore downstream.

We basically fished alone for most of the day, each of us working various stretches of excellent looking water. I “discovered” an enchanting, tiny unnamed tributary, and hiked up it a short length when I stumbled upon this gorgeous waterfall and pool:

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In the pool, clearly visible to my disbelieving eyes, was what had to have been a 16” rainbow trout. As I crouched behind a rock, voyeuristically, the monster trout chased two smaller trout away from the tail-out, then saw me and spooked under the falls. For the 1,001st time this trip, I found myself saying “Awww d-a-m-n!” as the fish took deep cover. This trout had the most pronounced red slash I have ever seen on a fish, incidentally; the thing was absolutely incredible. Undaunted, I repeatedly tossed my red humpy into the foamy water, in the general direction of where I saw the monster ‘bow dart, again and again. After about ten drifts, to my astonishment, I watched the big ‘bow break water and inhale my fly – and the fight of my life was on!

The monster took me on a personal guided tour of the pool, trying to saw me off under a sharp edge, jumping enthusiastically into the heart of the falls, stripping line from my reel when she decided to take me deep, etc. etc. ad infinitum. However, this was not to be my day; during a crucial moment, my knot failed and I found myself, fishless and fly-challenged, standing under blue skies, alone with my defeat. Opportunity lost!

Leaving the tributary, I found this dead mouse on a rocky ledge, hence the title of my report:

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Nearby was a jawbone I was unable to identify, obviously unrelated to the dead mouse:

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Later that morning, back on the main stream, I again lost a fish due to knot failure, this time on a #12 black bead-head woolly bugger. I had lost my magnifying glasses the day before and, apparently, I can’t tie a clinch knot without ‘em to save my life. However, I managed to tie on a #16 stonefly nymph and enjoyed a few mind-clearing moments of drifting the thing around and around the pool, when I was suddenly hit by a severe strike – fish on! After an absolutely hellacious battle, I managed to net my “fish of the trip”, a classic “strawberries and cream” ‘bow that was easily 14”. As I revived the fish and reached for my camera, she made a last-ditch effort for freedom and managed to turn my net sideways with her weight and slip free. Heartbroken and ecstatic at the same time, I watched her torpedo back into the safety of the pool, happy for the chance to have connected with such a gorgeous specimen.

As the afternoon slipped away, I found myself looking at my watch – well, cell phone, actually – keeping track of the time. Having only a few moments to spare, I carefully worked my way up to a nice pool and began my presentation, this time a #18 black ant with an orange parachute, the first ant pattern I tried on this trip. Immediately upon hitting the water, the ant was inhaled by a nice-sized brown trout that made a habit of diving deep into the rocks; many times, I thought my tippet had hung up, only to be carefully worked free. The persistence of the brown was admirable, and, eventually, I brought this fish to my net:

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I moved on to another pool and repeated the process; once again, the ant was instantly inhaled, and another, nicer brown trout took me into the rocks time and again; after an immensely enjoyable battle, I landed my largest brown of the trip:

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With that, I headed back to camp and arrived mere moments before Krudler, who’d had himself a fine day as well. We broke camp, ate lunch, filtered water, and said our goodbyes to our weekend retreat, intent on tackling the long, steep hike out. We took our time walking, with me taking very slow, deliberate steps, making the ascent one step at a time. Sure, it’s a long, steep haul, but if approached with the right mindset, it’s not that bad. After one short rest break, we made it to the once-distant crest and were back at our cars by 7:00PM, in plenty of time to get home at a decent hour. Chalk up another successful Black Diamond adventure – thanks, Daniel, for being such a cool fly fishing/backpacking partner!

For me, this trip was a milestone in a few ways. As mentioned above, I’ve been itching to catch my first Southern California brown trout, which I did (I ended up with a total of five brown trout netted this trip). I also broke the “hundredth fish caught this year” mark (for some reason, I am keeping track of every fish I net during this, my first full year of fly fishing), so that was kind of cool. If I incur a 10% fish mortality rate, then this year I’ve most likely killed ten trout (after the fact) and released ninety to live another day. I can live with that, I think. I also downsized my backpacking gear considerably and survived, comfortably, with the exception of the relative failure of the Esbit stove. Lastly, I’ve been excited to fish this stream for some time now, and it wildly exceeded my expectations, hands down.

All in all, I couldn’t have asked for a better time. Thanks for reading.


Wednesday, June 14, 2006

****These blogs are the sole intellectual property of the author and MAY NOT BE COPIED, USED, OR APPROPRIATED for ANY USE, ANYWHERE, without the express permission of the author.****

Quick Update!

I haven't posted anything (other than fly fishing reports) in ages -- not that there hasn't been anything going on, I just haven't felt like writing about it. So, in a few short paragraphs, let me attempt to update you, dearest reader.

First off, my unabashed pOp band, Ultra Suede (www.myspace.com/theultrasuede ), after playing a laughably under-attended gig the other month at the Key Club, is pretty much on indefinite hold for awhile. Things started off promisingly enough, but everything seems to have ground to a smoking halt, what with all of us involved in other projects. The album -- as yet unreleased -- continues to kick my ass, but I'd be surprised if anyone ever hears the thing.

Second, my swing-punk-soul band The Abe Lincoln Story (www.myspace.com/abelincolnstory) continues to hone, tweak, and otherwise refine our forthcoming album. No gigs are in the pipeline at this point as we finish the record. I've been doing some guitar overdubs at home and will be transferring a bunch of stuff to main man Steve Moramarco later this week. Steve asked me for a shredding solo for one of the tunes, so I went kind of crazy and tried to "Keneally-ize" something for him. Here's hoping he digs it...

Third, my dream gig -- so far, anyway -- with Ryo Okumoto (www.myspace.com/ryookumotoscodered) continues to roll along, in spite of losing Ryo to ASIA -- yes, the prog-pop band -- along the way. Ryo continues to blow me away with all of his insane projects (I heard some of the new Spock's Beard tracks the other day and was astounded), but the band is more than happy to stick around and keep tight while he's off playing stadiums around the planet. Good, no, GREAT times. I love playing with this twisted genius! Check us out on June 20th, 2006 at 7:00PM sharp for our debut gig at BB Kings in Universal City (I'm playing bass and singing lead on one tune).

Fourth...well, this is kind of weird. I've always been kind of outspoken about tribute bands -- being a lefty bassist/guitarist, I'm always being told "Why don't you join a Beatle tribute band? You could make some decent cash being a Paul." The fact is, I've never been one of those "I know 2,000 songs" kind of musician. Since day one, I've only wanted to write my own stuff, and I pretty much only do that to this day. No disrespect to the amazing musician/friends I have who do this type of thing; it's a discipline all its own, and I have a huge amount of respect for these people; it's just not my thing. Or so I thought. A couple of months ago, I was asked to audition for the Greg Lake role in an Emerson, Lake and Palmer tribute band -- and subsequently nailed the gig, much to my astonishment. We're calling ourselves Endless Enigma at this point (myspace page forthcoming), and dutifully rehearsing each week. Last week we really started coming together, and I'm finding the challenge of learning and executing this insanely cool material to be invigorating and refreshing. This will be a PAYING gig on top of it all! We're hoping to be ready to gig later this summer. This band features Phillip Wolfe (www.myspace.com/glasswolfe) on keys and my Ryo bandmate Jerry Beller on drums. Someone, get me a ladder! (Is anyone tired of me using that quote endlessly?)

Fifth, after my good friend and roommate Don Mogill moved out the other month (he's getting married, congratulations dude!), I've decided that I'd like to have the house to myself again, so I've set up a budget and am trying, desperately, to adhere to it. I don't mind having a cool roomie, but I much prefer having the house all to myself, so, if you see me out and I'm flat broke, you know the reason why. I'm getting used to having the place all to myself, and I love it. I'm even getting back into cooking again, hardcore!

Sixth, I bought a new car from the aforementioned ex-roommate, a 93 Mercury Sable...got a killer deal and the car pretty much rocks, especially compared to my beloved shit-heap, the 86 Chrysler LeBaron. It needs a little work here and there, but I think I've got a good car on my hands now.

Seventh, this weekend finds me in town, having had to cancel a planned backpack trip in the San Gabriels with some fly fishing brothers due to a last-minute rehearsal. I'm bummed about missing the backpacking trip -- the canyon my friends are heading to is remote and holds some spectacular wild trout -- but instead, I've got a Mike Keneally (www.myspace.com/mikekeneally) gig to attend on Friday, then not one but TWO parties to hit Saturday. Sunday MAY -- emphasis on "may" -- find me on a blind date, if the woman agrees to it. Could be fun -- she's interested in fly fishing! Just my kind of lady. Did I mention I hate dating? Just kidding.

Eighth, this wraps things up. Hope you feel caught up; I certainly do. I offer you wild trout, peace, Oreo cookies, and a glass of bourbon for your troubles...thanks for reading.

Friday, June 09, 2006

****These blogs are the sole intellectual property of the author and MAY NOT BE COPIED, USED, OR APPROPRIATED for ANY USE, ANYWHERE, without the express permission of the author.****

With Respect to Jacaranda
By Fish Breaks Water

The month of June – in Los Angeles, anyway – refuses to be categorized or labeled in any way, shape or form. It’s a nebulous month, weather-wise; blazing hot days can be followed by weeks of “June gloom” (I’ve always thought that phrase would make a good punk rock name for a girl). The weather can visibly change over a distance of only a few miles over the course of a day, leaving, say, Van Nuys sweltering in one hundred degree heat, and Santa Monica hazy and cool under a coastal cloud layer, a sultry sixty-eight degrees with a slight breeze out of the west. From my home in the San Fernando Valley, as evening approaches, I look southward, towards the Santa Monica mountains, and see a wall of clouds fulminating along the crest; meanwhile, I’m drenched in palm-olive sunlight (I’m soaking in it).

Many of our local wild plant communities exist solely because of the seasonal moisture these coastal cloud blankets provide, a poor substitution for rain but moisture nonetheless. In fact, it’s said that, outside of Southern California, these types of conditions and plant communities exist only in pockets along coastal Spain and Chile. Think about that the next time you’re disentangling your tippet and fly from a streamside lemonade-berry bush.

Low-elevation native -- as well as exotic -- plants love Southern California in June. The mild, damp mornings, followed by warm sunny afternoons, make for ideal growing conditions. Insects, too, thrive in this sunny-cloud soup, as many a flower will readily attest. The traditional wildflower season may start as early as February in some years, but June is when the domestics really step up to the microphone and start belting out colorful melodies. In my neighborhood, as I type this, roses are exploding on corners and along driveways of every other house, dinner plate-sized magnolia blossoms litter street gutters, and, above all, floats the jacaranda.

There’s something about June and jacarandas that seems to go together naturally, like Southern Comfort and backpacking, or pretzels and beer. Here in Los Angeles in June, the hillsides and flats literally burst forth with the jacaranda’s vivid shades of purple and lavender, dotting hillsides like fanciful clouds, tossing blankets of sticky blossoms fit for royalty over curbside cars, leaving entire districts transformed into purple wonderlands worthy of Prince, seemingly overnight. Their sudden arrival, amidst the milky June stew, is an annual event on my inner calendar. Certain years – like 2004, for example – were absolutely unprecedented, the jacaranda in full bloom everywhere, nearly blinding in their brilliance, dazzling the ears with their silence. Other years, the display can be spotty, here-and-there, limited to a few grand old neighborhoods or oddly isolated climate zone (Los Angeles is full of micro-climate environments, as many a local fly fisherman knows all too well). This year has been merely a decent one for the jacaranda; their colors are sharp and defined, full-bodied like vintage Kool Aid, but are generally lacking only in sheer numbers.

I love looking out my office window and seeing the normally chaparral-green hills slashed with color here and there, as if dotted with discarded electric-mauve parachutes, a sort of naturalistic bizarre Art Project orchestrated by Christo or someone of his ilk. I love driving through purple tunnels masquerading as city streets, breathing in the perfume of uncounted thousands of flowers through my open windows, laughing at life. Most of all, I love the seasonality of it; the Jacaranda Event is as much a part of Los Angeles as autumn colors are to New England.

It’s home.

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(Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Kinda weird -- writing about flowers when I should be fly fishing. Oh, wait – fly fishing and flowers are somehow entwined in my twisted mind. I almost forgot.

Have a great weekend, all.


Thursday, June 08, 2006

****These blogs are the sole intellectual property of the author and MAY NOT BE COPIED, USED, OR APPROPRIATED for ANY USE, ANYWHERE, without the express permission of the author.****

Stoner Creek (aka Golfing About Trout)
Written by Fish Breaks Water

I’ve been feeling a fair measure of competitiveness lately with regard to fly fishing – whether real or imagined, I’m not sure. It’s the occasional comment about the size and quantity of trout caught, or the dreaded “beginner’s luck” comments -- you know what I’m talking about, right? This misplaced sense of competition doesn’t sit right with me – frankly, it makes me feel a little less like laughing -- so I decided to really work on abolishing those feelings, and get back to what got me into this crazy pursuit in the first place: stalking wild trout utterly without expectations, and enjoying my stream time.

To that end, my buddy Krudler proposed a modest Black Diamond weekend trek to a couple of small, classic streams located a scant few hours drive from Los Angeles, where, he assured me, we’d likely find ourselves alone with a creek full of spooky trout. The streams were known to harbor rainbow-golden trout hybrids, the area sounded spectacular (in an understated sense), and the local weather was predicted to be blazing hot, so I decided to take Krudler up on his generous offer and hit the high country.

After a beautiful, fun drive up-country, we arrived at our destination around 10:00AM, a sweet, modest drainage cloaked in conifers and bathed in pine-scented sunlight. Our goal was to backpack to the point where we could go no further; both of us, after looking at the topo maps, had imagined the stream dropping down a series of cascades to the river below, and believed that juncture might make a good stopping point. We imagined deep granite pools loaded with fat, wild trout, with views that stretched into infinity over dome-studded mountains and deep valleys, the sound of water rushing over granite, a nice flat place to set up camp and watch the moon rise.

With this goal in mind, we set off cross-country, following alongside the stream and seeing many fine, small trout along the way. The upper section of the stream was positively charming, small enough to step across, gently winding through meadow and forest cover, with the occasional deep bend or small granite gorge thrown in for variety. As much as I wanted to fish this stretch of the stream, we both decided to stick to the plan, and continued our bush-whacking adventure down the ever-narrowing canyon.

After a lengthy period of scrambling, we reached an impasse; at this point, the stream was literally enclosed in willows. Deep, fast runs in the brushy stream most certainly held formidable trout, yet it appeared all-but-impossible to make a presentation under these conditions. Coupled with the fact that the sun was blaring down on us, and that the morning was quickly giving way to afternoon, we glanced at the maps and determined we were further down-canyon than we’d thought; it became apparent that our vision of the stream dropping off over a sheer granite ledge was just that: a vision.

Rather, the stream wound its way down-canyon via a series of steep gorges, and it was obvious that the brush and steep terrain would make passage difficult. Cooling off in the shade of an ancient streamside juniper, we made a joint decision to return to the more open country we had earlier passed upstream. It was, in my humble daisy, a wise decision.

Returning upstream, we soon found a great campsite and began rigging up for some fly fishing action; here’s a typical section of the stream in this area:

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Krudler, gentleman that he is, gave me first crack at the water. I decided to challenge myself by avoiding the obvious prime lies we had seen earlier, and, instead, focus my efforts on the stream directly below camp. I rigged up with a #16 black gnat, crawled through the wonderfully damp streamside grasses to some cover behind a willow, and tossed my fly over the grassy bank, sight unseen. Krudler stood behind me a few yards, snapping photos and capturing some digital video images, encouraging me all the while. On my second or third drift, I had a fish on, a sweet little brown trout that put up a wonderful fight considering its size:

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With that, the game was on! Krudler and I took turns fishing each small bend or pool, leisurely working our way along the creek, taking our time and enjoying every moment. The trout, while definitely rising, appeared somewhat selective, making things a little more challenging than we had expected. We both experimented with various dry flies before settling into some consistent patterns (a #16 red or yellow humpy seemed to be the most trout-worthy). We spent the better part of the afternoon trading-off spots, with both of us catching many wonderfully-colored browns and rainbow-golden hybrids. Here’s a shot of a typical golden/bow:

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Here’s a shot of Krudler working his trout magic, the stream barely visible behind him:

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Later that afternoon, we returned to a whimsical rock formation we’d seen earlier and climbed to the top, enjoying a snack and a beer, basking in the 360-degree view. Here’s a shot of Krudler shooting some footage from the summit:

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After hanging out on the rock until early dusk, we both went our separate ways, intent on catching a few more fish before dark. I returned to a small gorge and proceeded to entice a handful of strikes from a remarkable pool. The stream dropped over a ten-foot cliff in a gorgeous cascade which was all but hidden behind a massive boulder than had lodged in the gorge. Under the boulder was a fantastic, cave-like pool, one with, apparently, many fish holding. The boulder was at such an angle that it stuck outward near the top; every time I tried to make a presentation deep under the overhang, my fly would hit the rock and drop at my feet. Eventually, I made a few clumsy bow-and-arrow casts and landed a couple of cave-trout.

Heading back to camp, I found another remarkable pool which held a couple of nice-sized fish. I could clearly see the ghost-gray outlines of two bigger fish down near the bottom of the granite cup, and decided to try my hand at them. After enticing a rise to a humpy, the fish seemed put-down, so, even though this was clearly dry fly water, I decided to tie on a small nymph. It was a new experience for me to witness trout in crystal-clear water go crazy for a tiny nymph – what a blast! Even though I failed to land any trout on the nymph, I managed a couple of takes and felt wiser for the experience.

Way too quickly, darkness descended upon our sylvan valley -- we hadn’t seen another soul all day. We both fished until we couldn’t see anymore; I have a wonderful memory of crouching down in the grass, in near-dark conditions, watching a nice fish jump for a natural, breaking the silver-blue surface of the water and everything silvery in the growing moonlight. Stunning.

After dinner, we hung out by a modest campfire and, not long after, hit the sack, exhausted. I had rigged my plastic tarp shelter but instead decided to sleep under the stars. The temps were mild, the sky clear, and my last memory of the day is of watching Big Dipper fade behind my slowly-closing eyelids.

The next morning found us up at the crack of 7:30AM, ready to go. We decided to each fish different sections of the stream, so, as Krudler took off, I fixed a quick breakfast, broke camp (among other things), rigged up, and started fishing. I spent a nice quiet hour enticing fish to rise to my humpy, and, in a last-minute spontaneous decision, fished a weird spot and nailed my biggest fish from the stream, a ten-inch range brownie:

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This spunky-monk actually managed to make my reel sing!

Not long after, Krudler and I hooked up, then packed out, bidding a fond farewell to Stoner Creek, with her beguiling wild trout and unusual rock formations. We then headed for another similar stream, which was almost identical to Stoner Creek, only slightly larger. Immediately upon arrival, I salivated at the sight of a twenty-foot long pool, amber in color, quite obviously deep, with a foam line to die for. Krudler headed off downstream while I worked the big pool. On my second drift, I was the beneficiary of a very solid strike, and actually thought I was caught up on something for a moment. I arose from my crouching position and saw that a fish had taken my line deep under the embankment. I inverted my rod – the tip placed below the water line – and miraculously managed to pull the trout free from its lair. At that point, the fish took off downstream, pulling line from my reel and catching me off-guard with its strength and power. After a short battle, I scooped this eleven-inch range brown into my net:

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Completely stoked, I spent the next hour or so fumbling around, suddenly having an exceptionally difficult time managing my line and keeping my flies out of the trees. I ended up tying on new tippet not once but twice within the hour, such was my misfortune. I managed to angle another nice little hybrid out of a grassy bend:

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Looking back, I’d have to say this was one of the more satisfying trips I’ve experienced this year. Krudler is a fine, stealthy fly fisherman, an agreeable and light-hearted trail companion, and an experienced outdoorsman. Thanks, my friend, for a great, stress-free, happy-with-what-you-have-to-be-happy-with trip.

Monday, May 22, 2006

****These blogs are the sole intellectual property of the author and MAY NOT BE COPIED, USED, OR APPROPRIATED for ANY USE, ANYWHERE, without the express permission of the author.****

Mining for Silver in the Golden State
By Fish Breaks Water

I swear, I had no idea who Sparse Grey Hackle was when I choose the nom de plume Fish Breaks Water way back in 1988. Seriously. Only recently have I realized that the two names share a phonetic similarity; not to worry – I’m positive that my stories will never be mistaken for those of the great master.

Over the last glorious year, fly fishing, for me, has evolved from a simple mandate of catching trout, into an entirely new pursuit: the “mastering“ of a particular stream (as if such a lofty notion were possible). Here in Los Angeles – my City of Angles, haha – lies an urban anomaly: the Hollywood River. Spray-painted, garbage-strewn, modified and straightened into neat concrete channels, this once-mighty seasonal river is less than a shadow of its former self. No longer do sea-run rainbow trout crowd its deep runs by the thousands; never again will hapless bait anglers catch hundreds of fat, wild trout out of a single pool, posing, mindlessly, with their absurd stringers of death totems. Those days, for better or worse, are long gone.

Or are they?

Several years ago – back in the dark ages when I was still a dyed-in-the-wool spin-fisherman – LARiver and I fished this place for our very first time. We had heard one or two second-hand stories involving incredible, unlikely trout coming out of this stream, enough to pique our interest to pay the place an early morning visit. We were not disappointed. On that fine December morning, I was lucky enough to catch the first trout: an eleven-inch purple-tinged ‘bow that foolishly fell for a mini-Rapala (with two of the three treble hooks bent back, mind you), and which fought with a ferociousness I’ve yet to forget. Unfortunately, as we all know, one of the pitfalls of spin fishing is the often irreparable damage caused to the fish, and this incident was no exception. I kept the fish for the freezer, carefully packing it into a plastic bag, then into my daypack cooler; LARiver soon thereafter caught and released an incredible sixteen-inch gunmetal-blue wild ‘bow out of the same large pool, and we both realized, at that moment, that we were onto something wonderful.

We were so happy, we fell to the gravel bar, weeping, in each other’s arms.

We both felt that, in all likelihood, these were wild fish – the condition of the fins (pristine), the overall coloration (generally steel-silver and purple-blue), and, most importantly, the sheer size and strength, had us both questioning their genetic origins. They most certainly looked nothing like stocked trout -- except for their size.

Largely through LARiver’s involvement with CalTrout and the DFG, our experience on the Hollywood River managed to intrigue a local biologist (and fly fisherman), so much so that a fin clipping was requested for genetic testing purposes. I supplied the tissue samples from the specimen I had kept that fine December morning, and, three long years later, the results finally came in:

"Based on a single sample, our research suggests that the fish is more closely related to Arroyo Grande O. mykiss than to hatchery O. mykiss. However, the geneticist cautioned that they would need a much larger sample to make a definitive statement of parentage."

So there you have it – the fish appear to have wild origins (again, more samples will be necessary), and may have evolved from a remnant steelhead population left stranded by the development and subsequent industrialization of the Los Angeles basin decades ago.

Could it be that these fish are – impossibly! -- true natives?

I could be full of shit, too; I don’t even know what an Arroyo Grande O. mykiss is.

In spite of this interesting aside, this stream has fascinated me in a way that few others have. This year alone, I have made close to twenty visits (seventeen, actually, but who’s counting?), and not once have conditions been even remotely similar. I’ve had great days, so-so days, and several outright humiliations. The place refuses to reveal the unknown answer to an increasingly complex equation, and I remain blissfully obsessed with cracking the code, come high hell or water.

This past Saturday morning found me awakening at the somewhat reasonable fisherman’s hour of 5:00AM; I was on the road by 5:10AM and at the trailhead parking lot by 6:00AM, having moved at a highly efficient pace on the all-but-empty freeways.

The weather was mild and balmy, with wisps of morning mist curling around the hilltops, lending a Chinese woodblock painting feel to the proceedings. I followed a young coyote for a few yards up the trail as she furtively glanced back at me from time to time, eventually disappearing into a maze of chaparral. The stream was flowing at a good pace and appeared to have been stable for at least a few days; I’ve learned that water-level stability can play a major role in the placement of the fish within this drainage, so this was a good sign.

Down I hiked until I reached one of the more funky – and finicky -- pools I’ve grown fond of. I’ve already written about the morning on this pool when something giant took my nymph, made two powerful, slow-motion head-shakes, then snapped my 3X leader like a spider’s web. That memory alone keeps me returning to the scene, hoping to get a second chance at personal redemption.

Long story short and high hopes notwithstanding, I had a tough morning. I tried stripping some weighted cone-head muddlers; I tried what has been by far my most effective pattern this year, the bead-head Prince nymph; I dead-drifted woolly buggers and lifted various nymphs, to no avail. I believe I was the recipient of one solitary strike – and it was probably a rock, at that. I put in a solid two hours or so, both at the pool and over a quarter-mile stretch upstream, then reluctantly decided to call it an early day. It was all of nine o’clock: plenty of time to get home, shower, and futz around in the backyard for the afternoon.

As I walked back to the trailhead, the sun broke over the eastern ridge and began to flood the valley in light. The river transformed itself from shadow to sunshine, and insects began to hum, followed by the incessant chatter of birds. As I rounded a bend, the light splashing brilliantly off of a long ribbon of whitewater caught my eye, and I made a spontaneous decision to postpone my return home and pay a little more attention to the needs of the stream.

Slipping and sliding down the twenty foot embankment, making my way through light brush, working my way toward the white noise, I headed for the water. For the first time this day, I found myself wet wading, carefully stepping my way across two smaller channels to reach what is easily the most productive pool on the stream (extreme credit goes to the one, the only LARiver for initially scouting this location and sharing its secrets with me; thank you, dude). As I reached the pool and rigged up, I decided to try a classic pheasant tail nymph, size #16, with a little weight above, suspended beneath a puff of indicator yarn, thrown out into the wild currents and left to drift.

It was about this time that the sun crested the ridge above this particular pool, and the light illuminated the water’s surface within a matter of moments, while I endlessly drifted my offering in the frothy broth. Again and again, I cast the line into the whitewater, letting it drift down the torrent for twenty feet or so, then gently lifting at the end of the drift, repeating the cycle of motion yet again. Suddenly, I had an unmistakable strike; then, the realization that I have a fish on my line. SPLASH! The fish went aerial on me, throwing silver sparks in the air and at my feet. Damn, it felt good having a fish on my line once again! After another jump followed by a seriously deep dive, I worked the “coins of morning’s cash about” ($5 to anyone who knows what song that lyric is from) and eventually found this fifteen-inch gift gracing my net:

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From that point on – when the sunlight hit the water – until about an hour later, the place was on fire. I soon hooked into another fine fish, which jumped no less than four times before shaking me loose. Not long thereafter, I found myself wrestling this shining ‘bow into my net:

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At this point, I hooked into a rather large fish; the thing hit my nymph like an atom bomb and immediately became airborne; I caught a nice, long look at this silver slab, hanging in mid-air as it was, and, in hindsight, can safely say it was one of the bigger fish I’ve encountered here on the home waters. It then took a furious, deep dive, which caught me totally off-guard, and -- like THAT -- my nymph popped from the fish’s mouth and I was left standing there, limp-lined and grinning. There, on the shank of the PT nymph’s hook, was one solitary scale, about as big around as a dried pea -- my little memento of a love gone horribly wrong.

After that, the action slowed down – a little. I decided to give the pheasant tail a rest, and tied on one of the weighted cone-head muddlers, just for grins. I made a handful of quick strip retrieves, and, on the last one, landed the smallest fish I have ever caught here, a six inch smallmouth bass, of all things. The thing took the muddler literally inches from my feet. I neglected to take a picture of this odd little fish, but, you know, I was after other things. Rainbow-colored things.

Things continued to slow down for another fifteen minutes or so until I hooked into the “catch of the day” on one of the mellowest strike-sets I’ve ever experienced. At the end of a nice, long drift, I was oh-so-slowly lifting my nymph when, as if by magic, my line transformed from a motionless object into something alive and kicking. It was the slowest take ever, I swear; it seemed to take minutes before I could feel the fish solidly on my hook. From that point on, another fine battle ensued as the trout took me into and out of the whitewater, made several manic, deep dives, and even threw in two jumps for the unbelievably low price of one. Walmart Hole! On at least three occasions, my reel sang the “I’ve got a nice fish on” song as the trout took as much line as it needed at that moment. I was feeling serene, satisfied, and relaxed as I cautiously, persistently played this most excellent fighter, eventually bringing this sixteen-and-a-half-inch-and-then-some rainbow trout into my net. Note that, from the butt of my rod to the end of the “Made in Korea” writing, is eighteen inches:

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Immediately following this mug shot, the fish managed a major power burst and slipped my net like a seasoned con, leaving me holding the keys to the handcuffs.

All told, I had landed three fine trout, LDR’d two more, and missed a handful of strikes – all on the same PT nymph (the only one in my fly box, gasp!), and all within this seeming one-hour window of opportunity. Throw in the smallmouth bass, plus the fact that the bite was definitely tailing off, and I felt I had earned the right to call it a day.

It was a wonderful return to a place that I have grown to love above all other local waters. Long may she prosper!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Shadow of a Man -- Trip Report

If you’re reading this report in the hopes of seeing countless pictures of fly-caught wild trout, do yourself a favor and stop now. This isn’t one of those reports; things didn’t quite work out that way – it’s been known to happen. I keep reminding myself, over and over: it’s been known to happen.

On the other hand, if you’re interested in seeing a few scenery shots, and sharing my experience on one of the most exceptionally difficult California trout streams I have ever had the pleasure -- and frustration -- of fly fishing, by all means, read on. Be forewarned, there are a lot of words; however, you will not find the word “pellucid” in this report, nor in any other of my writings. I refuse to use that word.

Into the golden, wild heart of California: that’s where I was headed. Oak-studded meadows, incredibly diverse mixed forests (not one but TWO species of tree endemic to the area), spring wildflowers, and tumbling, splashing streams are what this land is all about. Here’s some typical oak woodland, and our state flower, the California poppy (note the ladybugs):

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The Ancient Ones populated this valley -- before the Spaniards arrived with their missions and their concepts of slavery – and it’s easy to see why: there is life in abundance here. Later, cattle ranches populated the vast valleys, and the area has endured a turbulent and interesting history. At first glance, it’s a kind and gentle land, yet it would take your life in an instant if given the opportunity. In fact, a county sheriff and search and rescue team were in the area during my visit, dispatched to find a missing solo hiker; this gave me pause for concern as I headed off into the wild lands, alone.

I had spin fished this stream before, two years ago to the month. The going had been tough, but, somehow, I had naively managed to land two nice fish: a twelve inch rainbow and a fourteen inch brown trout. I had also seen, with my own disbelieving eyes, an absolutely mammoth brown trout – one that has been haunting my dreams ever since. Accordingly -- given my relative success with a fly rod this year – I assumed that I would most likely be successful in my pursuit.

Upon my arrival in this magic land, with the morning’s coastal cloud cover giving way to oak-filtered sunlight, I secured a campsite, ate a quick breakfast, packed a lunch and my gear, and headed up the trail to the stream; this photograph is typical of certain sections of this delightful, diabolical watercourse:

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Immediately upon stepping off the trail, I encountered tough, brushy conditions. Poison oak grew in lusty vines and clinging tendrils, draped over rocks and trees; countless truck-sized boulders, many covered in soft moss, littered the banks from top to bottom, making forward progress through this virtual obstacle course a difficult proposition. Extremely slippery Coast Live Oak leaves littered the banks; a trail was the furthest thing from this canyon’s mind. Only the thought of wild and feisty trout motivated me to wet-wade where I could, even though the mountain water was icy cold in the morning chill, and deep in places.

As I made my way upstream, I managed to toss a fly or two into a couple of lovely trout lies, and was somewhat disheartened to find no takers. It’s always a conundrum when you’re first on a stream: are there fish here? If so, where are they? Why aren’t these typical pools producing at least a strike? Should I hike farther? What am I doing wrong?

It had been suggested that I concentrate on the tail end of the pools – a typical trout lie on almost any stream – but the lovely plunges and long runs looked picture perfect, so I focused on these as well. This boulder-strewn creek is also home to deep pockets located between massive boulders; some of these pockets might be ten feet below (and just as deep) as you straddle the rocks above, and the only way to present a fly is to do some vertical dapping or jigging.

As I descended a huge streamside boulder, I spied just such a pocket. I carefully made my way down the bank and huddled against a rock on the downstream side. I placed my rod – the Stowaway 7’6” 4WT – up and over the boulder, and let my #12 olive bead-head Woolly Bugger drop down inside the pocket – SPLASH! I had a quick strike and an even quicker miss. I climbed up onto the rock to get a better look, trying to remain unseen, and repeated the drop. This time, I saw a fat-headed, fourteen-inch range brown trout dart from under the boulder and strike my fly; once again, I had the fish on for a nanosecond, then watched in utter disappointment as it shook my fly free. Another dozen drops resulted in absolutely no attention whatsoever; the pocket had been duly spooked.

This relative success gave me a badly needed shot of confidence; little did I know that this would be my only verified strike by a brown trout during the entire trip -- what a tease.

As the sun morning’d its way into afternoon, I made my way slowly – there was simply no other way to do it – upstream. The further I scrambled, scratched and clawed, the more plentiful the fish seemed to be, although there were apparently fishless zones as well, semi-shallow runs that held nothing as far as I could determine. It was at this point that I began to feel some frustration; you see, there were, indeed, fish located in the tail-outs -- I could clearly see them on occasion. However, the narrow, brush-choked canyon made stealthy access to these tail-outs almost impossible. There were untold instances where the only way upstream was right alongside or through these areas. I literally couldn’t make a move without putting the fish down. The canyon was a puzzle without an obvious solution.

These fish were among the spookiest I’ve ever pursued. One shadow falling over a tail-out would immediately put them on the defensive; one wave of the fly rod over the water, and these wary predators would scatter like seeds in the wind. An off-balance step would spook them senseless; many was the time I quietly approached a tail-out, only to stumble or slip on the moss-covered rocks, or have my rod tip become entangled in a streamside alder, all but blowing my chances as a result.

Additionally, these fish simply did not offer any second chances. No sir. You know how our local fish will take a fly, spit it out, and take the next fly presented? These fish would have none of that -- one quick hook-up and that was it, game over. Oftentimes, one drift was all I had to work with; I learned very quickly that indicators were a no-no, and I tried to keep as much of my fly line out of the water as possible – pretty hard to do when you have to make fifty-foot drifts or casts just to reach a fish two pools above or below you.

Then there was the matter of presentation. If I had been lucky enough to stealthily approach a trout lie without spooking the inhabitants, there was the overhead and streamside vegetation to worry about. Back-casting was out of the question, save for two small gorges which were wide open (but insanely deep, which was yet another obstacle). Roll casting was just as tough; too much height on the roll would land your fly securely in the trees. Often, I was standing between streamside willows and couldn’t even raise my rod tip to retrieve my fly, secure it to the hook-holder, and move on. I literally had to back out from the position the way I had come in. I lost countless flies and dealt with untold snags and tangles in this manner. This location appears more open than the photograph indicates (I sight fished to a nice ‘bow that was holding just in front of the first submerged boulder):

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All of these things, singularly and in tandem, plus the exceptional clarity of the water, create an environment that is extremely favorable to the trout, and incredibly difficult for the angler. I suppose some masochistic freak would consider it the perfect trout stream; I just found it baffling.

Things seemed to pick up a bit in the late afternoon; the morning had been cold – the rental car thermometer had indicated forty degrees – and it was apparent that the fish preferred the warmth. I began to dial in my stealth and presentation approaches, and soon was rewarded with an eleven inch wild rainbow trout, the undisputed hardest-won fish I have ever landed. The trout was taken about twenty feet downstream from where I was standing, fishing a bugger, blind, around a corner in a small solid rock channel:

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As I admired this hard-fighting beauty in my net, relief flooded over me in aqua waves; I thanked the spirits of the Ancient Ones for providing me with the honor of catching this wild spirit. As I released the fish (it immediately dashed under a boulder), two dark shadows passed overhead, momentarily blotting out the sun: turkey vultures on the wing.

My stomach told me it was time for lunch and, as I retrieved my cell phone from my pack, I fully expected the actual time to be around noon. Instead, it was three o’clock -- time had bewitched me again. I had hiked upstream for nearly six hours, and now it was time to return. I wolfed down my sandwich and headed back downstream; it took me a solid three hours of boulder-hopping, tree-dodging, and wet wading to get back to the trailhead. Here’s a shot from high on the access trail near the trailhead:

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Once at camp, I cooked up a quick dinner of grilled porterhouse steak with mixed fresh vegetables, and downed a couple of icy-cold beers -- nothing had ever tasted better. The small campground, incidentally, was all but empty – surprising for a Saturday night. An elderly couple on their way home offered me some fresh organic strawberries, which I gladly accepted and ate for dessert. I then hoofed it back to the stream for a little dusk fishing.

The action was considerably better than earlier in the day, but the fish were no less spooky. I managed a frustrating half-dozen hook-ups and LDR’s, and sustained one massive strike on one of Ken’s (Fisherman’s Spot proprietor) hand-tied olive leech patterns (thank you Ken). I was learning that these fish possessed an uncanny knack for spitting flies. I fished a mouse pattern for the first time, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience – it was certainly easy to see, floating and twitching in the emerald waters. However, as much as I would’ve loved to have seen a monster trout explode on the surface and swallow the mouse, it wasn’t meant to be. Sooner than I would have liked, darkness enfolded the canyon, and I could no longer see well enough to tie on my flies; on the hike out, I stumbled upon this newt (or is it a salamander?):

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That night it got very cold; I found myself having to wear all of my camp clothes for warmth. The brilliant night sky was dominated by an almost-full moon, and, as I listened to the recent Pat Metheny album “The Way Up” (incredible music!), I smiled, for it had suddenly occurred to me: I had caught my first fish of the month of May. So far, so good.

The next morning’s plans involved a six mile round-trip bike ride to a location further downstream; along the way, I spied this fine looking tributary and made a note to drift a few dries on it later that afternoon, should the main stream give me problems as it had the day before (little did I know....):

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It was much warmer this Sunday morning, and, by the time I reached the trailhead -- a closed car camp – I was sweating bullets. I ran into the local ranger – notorious for his cranky disposition – and we talked a bit about the ongoing search and rescue effort (the missing hiker had still not been located). As I stashed my bike in anticipation of the three hundred foot scramble down to the stream, the ranger left me with these ominous words: “You have a lot more huevos than I do, going down there alone.”

Pondering his puzzling words, I made my way through a chaparral brush-tunnel, half-sliding but basically upright, and wondered if the infamous Tehipite descent was anything like this, only miles longer. I shuddered at the thought and, soon, I found myself standing above this magnificent gorge:

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This was the place where I had spotted the massive brown trout two years ago; while car camping, a local had shown me the “secret” trail to the pool (long live Psycho Dave). You can’t really see in the picture above, but the far rock wall was lined with succulents which were ablaze in yellow flowers, a true garden of delight. I love this spot!

As you can see, this location is wide open; casting isn’t much of a problem, except you’re pretty much stuck trying to work a fly from about fifteen feet above the water. I tied on a Woolly Bugger and tried to make a decent presentation from above. I was dumbfounded when, upon my clumsy retrieve, a large (fifteen inches, easy) rainbow trout followed the fly, took an indifferent swipe at it, then nonchalantly swam off. My heart was racing and sinking simultaneously; I had come thisclose to nailing an incredibly nice fish, but the spirits guiding this place were having none of it.

After another dozen fruitless casts of the bugger – drifts in this slow-moving pool took hours – I switched to a Prince nymph and, once again, the fish gave my fly a look. As I attempted to create the illusion of the nymph rising, this simple motion spooked the big ‘bow, and it swam off into the shadows. Foiled again!

As I relaxed, munching an avocado in the morning sunlight -- basking in the sheer beauty of the place -- I decided to give the pool a rest and explore upstream. Now, the day before, I had found not one single fish in any of the oxygen-rich plunge pools; I assumed that these fish were accustomed to more untraditional lies. So, when I came upon another beautiful, frothy plunge pool, I wasn’t expecting a fish to be there. Imagine my heartbreak when I saw a giant flash of silver in the midst of the pool. Clearly, I had spooked another nice fish. This impossible stream had gotten the best of me yet again. However, this waterfall brightened my spirits, even if I was unable to draw a trout out from under them:

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I spent another couple of fruitless hours exploring upstream with nary a nibble; the smaller feeder creek I had seen earlier began to call to me -- I seriously wanted to prove to myself that I could catch more than one solitary fish over three days, for goodness sake. With that in mind, I headed back to the big pool and made a variety of last-minute desperation presentations: the mouse pattern, a weighted olive Matuka, various nymphs, a giant Stimulator; nothing drew any attention at all, so I began to break down my rod in anticipation of the steep climb out. As I was un-rigging, I saw an unmistakable rise in the shadows against the far wall. Then I saw the fish; it looked suspiciously like the big ‘bow that had followed me earlier. The fish was slowly cruising up and down the shadow line, sipping something from the surface, clearly visible from my perch far above. I stopped un-rigging and watched in amazement as a dark brown trout zoomed up out of the depths and apparently slammed into the feeding ‘bow; I could see a flash of silver in the water, then both fish were gone.

Momentarily, the rainbow reappeared, leisurely sipping the surface every twenty seconds or so. Out of the depths, something big came flying up to the surface with a sound similar to a small rock being thrown at an angle into the water at high speed: “zoink”. Suddenly, the pool was coming alive, right before my very eyes. It was about 1:00PM by this time, incidentally.

Of course, I couldn’t leave the pool while fish were on the feed, so I laboriously re-rigged my freshly un-rigged rod and decided to throw some small dry flies the fish’s way. First I tied on a tan EHC, size #16. Remarkably, a wind-assisted cast landed the fly at the top of the feeding zone, and, on the slow downstream drift, the large ‘bow positioned itself directly under my presentation. Once again, my heart was racing as the fish appeared ready to sip the fly. Instead, the fish simply took a long look at it, then rose for something else a foot away. I experienced the unmistakable feeling of being duped, again. I tried dry fly after dry fly, to no avail. I took this to indicate that the fish were feeding on something in the surface film – midges, perhaps? emergers? – so I tried a few of those patterns, but by this time the fish had stopped feeding.

I believe -- for the first time in my fly fishing experience -- that this fish was feeding selectively. They weren’t splashy rises; rather, the fish would be swimming forward, then swirl either left or right, rising, and then, with the tip of the nose breaking the surface, open it’s mouth and take whatever it was it was feeding upon. I felt the frustration of a million other anglers before me as I helplessly watched this well-fed trout ignore my offerings time and time again. It was time to move on.

After making the back-breaking scramble up the hill, I took a well-deserved break in the shade at the closed car campground, then retrieved my bike and headed to the feeder stream, visions of dry-fly rising trout dancing in my head. From the road, the stream appeared delightfully free of brush, a welcome relief from the main creek. I rigged up with another EHC and gave this little stream my best shot, but, once again, I was met with disappointment. I worked about a quarter-mile of stream, without drawing so much as a follow, before the canyon closed in and became all but impenetrable. Somewhat dejected, I returned to the main stream to subject myself to another round of self-inflicted torture and humiliation.

After exploring a short way up the main stream, I stumbled upon a miniature gorge that reminded me a lot of the other gorge where I had earlier observed the rising fish:

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This pool was just as deep and only a little less as long as the other gorge. I strongly felt there was the possibility of similar-sized fish populating this location, so I rigged up and gave it my best shot: hoppers, various nymphs, various dry flies, a Dave’s cricket; nothing seemed to attract the attention of the resident trout, assuming there were any. By this time, it was approaching 5:00PM, and my plan was to eat another early supper and hit the stream during the last daylight hours. After another fifteen fruitless minutes of working the gorge, I decided to call it an afternoon, and began to prepare to head back to camp. While doing so, what to my wandering eyes did appear but a large rainbow trout cruising the depths. I was at the tail-end of the pool and got a clear, heartbreaking view of this possibly sixteen-inch range beauty. Just as I was about to cast a bugger to the fish, a good-sized rock hit the water from somewhere above, and the big ‘bow darted off into the “cave” you can see on the left side of the upper pool. Once again, the stream had gotten the best of me.

Heading back to camp, I thought long and hard about the struggles I was experiencing. In the entire day of fishing, I had experienced all of three strikes. As I passed through lupine studded meadows, I began to wonder, for the first time, if I would ever catch another trout from these satanic waters.

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Sunday night was a repeat of the prior evening: a quick dinner (grilled ham and jalapeno-jack-cheese sandwiches and some kind of Thai glass noodle soup and, as always, beer), then back to the creek to fish until dark. Once again, I walked away with a dry net, having once again been the beneficiary of absolutely no strikes -- or any trout attention at all, for that matter.

That evening, the weather was balmy and mild, and I enjoyed a small campfire courtesy of a family who had departed earlier that day, leaving behind a small stack of firewood. As I sipped Southern Comfort under the stars, I had a nice conversation with a young couple who were visiting this area for the first time. Although they were there alone, they were members of a desert hiking group, and we talked for hours about the Eastern Sierra, old Route 66, the Old Road (aka Highway 99), and other historic Southern California trails. It was a very nice time and I was grateful for the company and the conversation -- anything to keep my mind off of the big trout who had soundly trounced me earlier in the day.

The next day, I had to depart by 11:00AM in order to make my rental car return deadline, so I awoke fairly early (7:30AM) – keeping in mind that these fish appeared to become active later in the day – to hit the smaller gorge once again, hoping to connect with the monster ‘bow. As you can probably surmise, I was met with failure once again, although, gratefully, I managed to LDR a smaller fish on the hike out (what is it with these fish and their uncanny LDR abilities?).

So, I had fished the better part of three days, with a grand total of one trout to net, a handful of LDR’s, and a dozen or so strikes; not exactly stellar numbers, but, considering the conditions, I felt satisfied with my efforts. Clearly, my fly fishing skills are not yet at a level consistent with the demands of this stream. That said, I look forward to using this place as a measuring stick of my abilities; if I am able to return later this year, there’s a good chance that I may very well do better, utilizing the knowledge I gathered over these three days.

One major miscalculation I made was not bringing my 6’ Diamondglass 3WT rod. The removal of foot-and-a-half of fly rod would’ve helped considerably in the brushy, overgrown terrain. Next car camping trip I take, please, someone remind me to bring all of my rods along, just in case.

At 11:00AM approached, with camp broken and the car packed, I relaxed on the picnic table and let the sound of the birds fill my spirits: woodpeckers hammering away, mountain quail cackling, Steller’s jays squawking, sparrows whistling; squirrels and chipmunks scattered leaves in the surrounding brush. The cacophony was unbelievable, and the sounds of life around me filled me, once again, with wonder and awe. As I lay there in the dappled shade of the morning, I could literally feel the place settling into my soul. Here’s the view up into the canopy of the massive Coast Live Oak that shaded my lair:

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Even though this remote stream had made a mockery of my efforts, I had met with at least a small measure of success. I thought about the many things I had learned and how to apply them in the future, and, instead of coming away with the feeling of being a shadow of my former fly fishing self, I accepted the fact that our time here is, in fact, just the passing of a shadow in the grand scheme of creation. A final self-portrait:

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