January 1, 2011

Police Flies

I tied these flies for a police benefit my friend Theresa organized; it was one of was a series of events for the family of a police officer killed in the line of duty. The flies were auctioned along with a day of guided fly-fishing with Arch Anglers. A shout-out to my buddy Norris who let me pillage his tying materials. These are my own twist on classic flies that I gave police and rescue-themed names. From top to bottom, Tactical Caddis (EHC tied with dark colors including a black-dyed deer hair wing), Royal Canadian Mounted Dry Fly (takeoff on a Royal Coachman), The Badge (generic gold bead-head nymph), Trout Detective (East-Coast-style wet fly), Rescue Chopper Hopper (Club Sandwich variation) and The Fuzz (black Wooly Bugger with a red & blue bead head and other bits of red and blue).

July 5, 2010


First time for one of these! Fishing the Sound near Federal Way. It felt like a decent-sized fish when it took the fly, ended up being about ten inches of fish and two feet of seaweed. I'm really glad I got to see one though. Kind of like an episode of River Monsters but 1/10 the size and not on a river.

July 3, 2010

Thanks, Dad

My dad and I live about twelve hundred miles apart, so I didn't get to see him on Father's Day, but it seemed like he was close by. Some friends were visiting from out of town, and we spent the day visiting Snoqualmie Falls, hiking up the Twin Falls trail, and having a picnic -- exactly the kind of day my dad puts together for friends from near and far. I can't begin to add up all the days I've spent in Dad's roadworn four-wheel-drive vehicles, on back roads or dirt tracks that barely qualify as roads, seeing "critters and country", in his phrase.

He worked as a surveyor, and always had a little-known beautiful spot to head out to on the weekends, battered red cooler and picnic blanket in the back. We'd find somewhere in a meadow or by a river, build a fire from dead wood, roast some hot dogs, and explore. It was usually my job to gather kindling for the campfire, and I remember thinking how even chores were fun in the woods -- I still feel that way. One morning on the way up to the mountains, my dad stopped the car and told me and my stepmom he had to "get out and wee." He got out, closed the door, yelled, "Wheeeeee!" and then got back in and continued down the road.

A few years ago, I met some friends in Salt Lake City so we could visit Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty, which had become visible as the water level dropped in the Great Salt Lake. This was pre-Google-maps, the directions and dirt roads were both sketchy, and our view was wandering livestock, rusting machinery, and the cloud of dust we were raising. As our rental car juddered over the washboard surface, one of them looked at me and said, "Doesn't it feel weird to be out here? What if the car breaks down? You seem pretty comfortable, actually." I was totally comfortable; it was like a hundred other Saturdays I'd spent with my dad and various friends and family he'd gathered. I realized it was because of my dad that I felt safe out in the world away from buildings and phones and pavement. There's a lot of talk lately about how children in our culture are disconnected from nature. The biggest influences over whether a child spends time outdoors are parents, the first people to help you figure out what's safe and what isn't, where you belong and don't belong. My dad made the big wild world my playground and taught me its rules.

When I was eight or nine, my dad took me up a forest road to the top of a peak, showing me the different fossils scattered there, and explaining how they had once been under an ocean that was long gone, and how the earth had raised and folded up into mountains in the spot we were standing. I remember the feeling of stretching my mind to understand how wide and deep that ocean must have been as we looked across to the surrounding peaks and over the tree-covered valleys between them. Many years after that, when I was working at an engineering company and doing some surveying, I could somewhat understand my dad's daily world. One day he took me out to a piece of land that was about to be gifted as wilderness, and we found the section corner from when the land was surveyed a hundred years earlier. It was a pyramidal stone, scored on each side; there was also a small pit of charcoal. And I remember the same feeling of trying to stretch my mind, back to the person that had walked that land and measured it with chains, burying charcoal and hewing a stone to mark it. My dad's career spanned the time when surveying went from slide rules to GPS and computers; I spent a week working with him and his crew shortly before he retired, and learned more in that week than the previous six months at my job.

Maybe the best thing I can say about my dad is that he's my friend. If we'd met at work or on a trail, I'd think he was a pretty cool guy. He's shown me how to build a campfire, set up a surveyor's tripod, and make an awesome salad. He's taught me, not by words but by how he lives his life, how to truly love the land and water, how to toughen up when I need to, and how to be generous and hospitable. He's made my world bigger. Thanks, Dad. Happy Father's Day.

July 1, 2010

Madison River, Montana

Montana. I say it out loud and a panorama of golden hills, bouldery rivers, and wild fish unrolls in my brain. I know I'm romanticizing and it's marked like any land inhabited by twenty-first century humans. But it feels undomesticated -- as if the humans suddenly disappeared, Montana would quickly revert to looking like it did five hundred years ago. I've only been there twice, and it already feels like part of my internal landscape. Immediately after returning I was already figuring out when I could go back. This trip included three-ish days of fly-fishing; end of May is full runoff, but the Madison is fishable year-round. There were a couple of golden afternoons Friday and Sunday at various spots on the Madison, punctuated with vigorous cloudbursts, and a full day float on Saturday.

Picture a pinata full of weather; every half-hour or so someone gives it a good hard whack, and something else tumbles out. When Maile and I met our guide Tim at 8 am, it was about 35 and snowing, big fat flakes which continued much of the way to our put-in at McAtee Bridge. The snow stopped, the sun broke out briefly, and the wind kicked up; we zipped and cinched our layers, rigged up double nymphs, and got in the boat. We started finding fish within 10 minutes, and continued all day, Tim putting us into the sweet spots. Browns and rainbows, all of them big-shouldered, and one whitefish, which was brown and pink all at once.

The nicest fish I caught was a rainbow hen, strong and wild; she took my dropper nymph and some feet of line, and she was off. The river pulled us all downstream together, Tim finding the boat a way among the rocks and instructing me. I wasn't so much fighting the fish as following her lead with my rod; people talk about taking apart a piece of water when they fish it, breaking it down. The fish took apart the water, diving behind boulders, running in the shallows, until we came to a spot where we could land her. She was strong, glowing silver-pink, about eighteen brawny inches long. This was the one fish picture I wanted for the day, but the fish slipped out of my hands while I was admiring her, dove under the boat, and was gone. This as it should be; the fish had plenty of energy left, and reminded me that even though I temporarily outsmarted her, the river was her native element. I snapped a shot of this lovely small brown trout later in the day. We kept going, the hills and clouds and eleven miles of water unscrolled; snow, rain, wind, and sun, twenty or so wild Montana trout, and at day's end, a stop for drinks to warm up. Perfect day.

The postscript was going to be Monday on the upper Big Hole, continuing my quest for the fluvial Arctic grayling in their only lower-48 location, but the river was completely blown out and snow was dumping everywhere above 5500 feet. The chances of catching anything, much less a grayling, were extremely slim; the chances of getting my rental car stuck somewhere I didn't want to be were slightly greater. I took an hour or so at a Starbucks in Butte to consider my options, then headed west towards Missoula, briefly stopping to look at the Little Blackfoot, which was running up into the willows on the banks. I ended up driving over to Rock Creek, and fishing there for the few hours before sunset. It was running high and wild too, curtains of rain and mist drawn over the hills around, with the last few rays of sun occasionally touching the gray with gold. No fish, and no surprise. Nobody else was fishing, and the air had the heavy chill of rain that might turn into snow that night or might have been snow the night before. I took off my waders and boots in the dusk, and headed into Missoula.

June 27, 2010

Cedar Ghost

My takeoff on a classic wet fly, the Grey Ghost, with same proportions and some of the same ingredients. I named it for the Cedar River and the olive color. My tying skills still have a way to go, but I had fun tying up a few of these.

Body: light olive 6/0 thread, peacock sparkle thread, silver flat tinsel
Throat: flashabou and cat guard hairs (free and endlessly renewable)
Wing: gray saddle hackle, peacock herl, mallard flank

Head coating is Loon Soft Head instead of the harder epoxy coatings.

June 20, 2010

Cedar River Coastal Cutthroat

This little beauty came from a spot near a lot of Friends of the Cedar River habitat restoration projects I've worked on. Very satisfying. I love imagining the journey it may have taken from the river, through Lake Washington, to the Sound and back.

June 17, 2010

New Fly Rod

My talented and resourceful coworkers made this out of office supplies and used it to deliver my 5-year pin. Notice the awesome fly, which involves cannibalized holiday decorations and duct tape; not sure what size it comes out to, but I'm thinking BIG fish. The large arbor reel used to be someone's paper clip holder, but they aren't getting it back. This is an extremely fast-action rod, due to its half-inch hardwood dowel construction, and the line is probably equivalent to at least 12wt. In other words, the kind of fishing that requires going somewhere really cool. Seriously for a moment, I am incredibly fortunate to work with a group of kind, smart, committed, and creative people. Thanks guys!

June 4, 2010

Early May Yakima River Bugs

There was a massive caddis hatch that morning, a Hollywood hatch with backlit bugs swirling and dipping around the water, but no fish interested in anything on the surface. They weren't interested in nymphs either. They may well have been on vacation. The wind kicked up midmorning; after noon it took a break from blowing hard downstream and switched to blowing hard upstream. But there were plenty of bugs going about their business among the riverside willows and under rocks in the water. The brown stonefly flared its gills for several seconds when I put it back in the water, then slowly wedged itself back under a rock.

May 28, 2010

The Gift of Starting Late

My friend Tom grew up fishing; his cast is lovely and natural even though he hadn't picked up a fly rod for years the morning I took this photo. I got a late start to fly-fishing; until a few years ago I barely knew what it was, and running left no room in my life for another outdoor passion. Hiking, snowshoeing, cycling, and everything else were the side dishes, but running on roads and trails and hills was the way I touched my world and centered myself. There were a few gaps in my running resume, but I always came back, and always pictured myself as one of those sprightly eighty-year olds who can still drop a few youngsters in a local 10K. Then an intractable knee injury cut a hole in that picture. Then I met a man who took me out a river and handed me a fly rod.

Most fly-fishers I know have been doing it for dog’s years, and many of them kindly assured me that starting at forty I would do all right, but never as well as someone who grew up fishing. My cast would never be quite as good as if I’d started with a young body and brain, and years of learning to read water hadn’t piled up behind me. However, starting late means I don’t carry the weight of what I “should” know by now, and life's journey has taught me some useful things. I’ve learned life is boring if I only do things I’m really good at, because that list is a lot shorter than the list of things that might be fun -- so I do the things that bring me joy. I’ve learned that investing time and attention can get you just as far as being gifted. I’ve learned deep in myself how much I truly don’t know, so I don’t mind asking questions, even those that seem a bit dumb.

But the best part of starting late is that all my fly-fishing memories are fresh still, fully colored and fragrant. I remember the first trout I saw, caught from an alpine lake, sparkling in the mountain sun. I remember the first fish I caught, a six-inch rainbow on the Teanaway River on a June day, and how that tug on the other end of the line was connected to a previously unknown place in my heart. I remember the freezing winter afternoon and melancholy sinking sun when I landed my first decent-sized fish. I remember the first time I caught a fish on a fly I tied, a scraggly elk hair caddis, and how I felt like a genius. I remember the giddiness of buying my first nice fly rod, and the beauty of the first fish it brought me, a brown trout from Rock Creek in Montana, with a bright golden back and silver belly and spots like little gems.

I think about all the things I didn’t know a few years ago and that I know now, and then I think about all the things I don’t know yet and may never know. Now I notice all the blue squiggles and spots and spaces on maps, and how they connect and define all the other places on maps. I think about all the fish I have yet to catch, steelhead, sea-run cutthroat, grayling, a list too long to enumerate. I think about everything ahead of me, and I feel grateful. Because even starting late, there’s plenty of time.

Favorite Birthday Card Ever

One of my coworkers decided my departmental birthday card was too cutie-pie for me, so he upgraded it with a fly rod. I love how the sweet little bluebird bearing birthday greetings is being totally ignored in favor of the fish on the line. Pretty decent bend in the rod...