It is no secret that my fishing buddy, Sean and I frequently fly fish the various forks of the upper San Gabriel River drainage as well as the lower sections and even the mouth of the river all the way down in Seal Beach. Exactly where we have the best success and land the most fish…well, that is and will remain a secret.
However it is also no secret that the San Gabriel offers a huge variety of fishing opportunities for the urban angler looking for something slightly different and maybe even the opportunity to put into practice those line-mending techniques typically reserved for streams and rivers greater than an hour from home.
The upper San Gabriel is divided into three major forks (North Fork, West Fork and East Fork) and drains an area of the Angeles National Forest about 400 square miles in size. Each fork varies in character from steep gradient, fast-moving, cold water to slower, slightly silted water. All three major forks and several smaller feeds hold fish. While some of the upper sections hold native trout that seldom see flies.
The lower section holds bass, sunfish, catfish, tilapia and carp while sand bass, kelp bass, flatfish and several other salt-water species can be taken on the fly down at the mouth of the river.
So the other day, after a very pleasant afternoon on the San Gabriel, I settled down in my favorite chair and began an internet search to see what 411 I could drum up on this very special river.
Now, you can probably imagine what an urban river that is only about an hour away from millions of people is subjected to on a day-to-day basis and you can also probably imagine what craziness people might post about their…um… activities on this river.
Although I’ll never be able to un-see some of the
nonsense I came across, I eventually found some research papers on the Fish & Game website describing the results from an electro-fishing survey performed in 2007 and 2008 on the upper stretches of the river above the Cogswell Dam.
As might be expected, rainbow trout were found throughout the drainage system. However, the next three most commonly seen species
were: the speckled dace, the santa ana sucker and the arroyo chub.
None of these native fish are considered game fish, though there are records and even historical photos (circa 1940) of suckers being taken on rod and reel. Chub can grow about five inches in length and slightly resemble minnows or very young goldfish. Chub can grow about six inches and also vaguely resemble minnows. Suckers can also grow slightly larger though under today’s conditions they usually don’t. They look some thing like a skinny carp.
As native species, the arroyo chub, speckled dace, and santa ana sucker have all figured prominently in various hotly–contested, lengthy and expensive legal and scientific battles. However, my interest in these fish (for the purposes of this article) rest more in their abundance as prey items and thus as potential clues as to how local urban anglers can use that info to catch more trout.
My internet searching has found documents mentioning heavy predation by bass and sunfish on these native fish but little on trout predation. However, since trout are known to be efficient piscivores, especially as they grow to adult size, I am surmising that suckers, dace and chub are, in fact, part of the diet of rainbow trout in the San Gabriel River.
Armed with this hypothesis, I’ve decided to test it by carefully selecting some fly patterns resembling these fish for my next foray into the Angeles Forest.
I’ll keep you posted on how these patterns work…but I won’t be giving away any info on our secret spots.
I love this addiction called urban fly fishing.
So tonight as we finished the shut down and clean up of our work vehicle, and completed the multiple tasks necessary to bring about the end of our workday, a breeze kicked up with enough bite to it to make me reach for a light jacket.
A little later, as I sat at my desk, I distinctly overheard the weather report from the TV in the other room and the lovely blond weathercaster cautioned that tonight’s temps were going to drop into the 30’s and 40’s.
Now in all fairness, she also said that it was a fast moving front and the rest of the week would be quite pleasant but the psychological damage was already done.
I paused, glanced up at the framed, old style nautical chart of the Hawaiian Islands above my desk and sighed — What a difference a week makes.
Just seven days ago I was also outside when another breeze kicked up but the difference then was that I was standing on the white sands of Kaanapali Beach, Maui in swim trunks and a tee-shirt slowly getting sunburned and having the time of my life surf fishing with my trusty pen rod fishing rig (penfishingrods.com).
But, I’m getting a little ahead of myself.
Regular readers will recall that a couple of years ago I had the good fortune to stumble across the penfishingrods website and discovered the solution to a problem that had vexed me for a very long time – being in incredibly fish-able places but not having the gear to do anything about it.
Regular readers will also recall that not long after discovering pen rods I vowed to never travel again without at least one tucked away in my luggage.
So, this year when the opportunity to spend time over on Maui presented itself, you can bet that I had a compact rod and reel plus a few flies and tippet spools with me.
Now in years past, even if I had had the gear, I would have been a little apprehensive about standing on one of the best beaches in the world among the tanned and beautiful pitching little bits of fuzz and feathers into the near perfect waves.
This year however, after we settled into our home away from home for the week, I was very excited to see classes on surf fishing being offered along with classes on surfing, kayaking, tai chi and hula dancing.
I was on the phone to the reservations desk within seconds.
Unfortunately, the class was full and I was number seven on the waiting list. Slightly disappointed but ever optimistic we went ahead and planned out several hikes and snorkel trips and we choose dinner locations and settled on a whole list of other activities that would fill our week and refresh our spirits.
Then on about day three into our adventure, we came home from an incredible morning that included some short but exciting hikes as well as snorkeling amongst thousands of reef fish accompanied by the songs of humpback whales and I noticed that the red light was flashing on our room phone:
“Mr. Zambrano, we have opened up an additional class for surf fishing for 8 am tomorrow morning. If you are still interested please call the reservations desk to confirm your attendance. Mahalo.”
I was on the beach the next morning at 7:30.
I had no clue as to what to expect, especially since at every beach we drove past I had noticed most of the guys out there using ten to twelve foot poles with heavy sinkers cast out beyond the breaking surf. However, soon after I arrived at the designated meeting spot, a deeply tanned gentleman with a enormous straw lifeguard hat and bright red rash shirt appeared with a well-worn canvas creel slung over his shoulder and dragging a trashcan full of five–foot, basic spinning rigs.
Soon about a dozen of us were standing in the sand with the warm water gently lapping our feet while we received basic instructions on Hawaiian style surf fishing.
Much to my delight, the basic technique was very similar to a style of fishing I was already quite familiar with: a float was tied onto the main line with a swivel and then about three feet of leader was tied to that with another swivel. A small split shot was then pinched on about a foot above a stainless steel #6 circle hook. A small chunk of shrimp was then carefully threaded onto the circle hook.
The key difference was instead of using a clear plastic bubble-float, the preferred float in Hawaii is a tangerine-size bright orange or white balsa wood version.
The final instructions were to cast out as far as possible but fish the rig all the way back to the beach since many of the reef species take small crabs right in the trough just off the beach. The other caution was to set the hook lightly as soon as the float disappeared beneath the waves or, as the instructor put it, “No Booyah hook sets here, keep arms down and set da’ hook firm but soft.”
We spread ourselves out along the beach and cast out into the swell just past the breaking surf. On my first cast, I barely had time to close the bail on the reel when I saw the orange float disappear beneath the swell. I set the hook about like you would if you were fishing for Crappie and sure enough there was a fish on.
Now, I could say that my professionalism kicked in and I quietly fought my first Hawaiian fish all the way into the beach where I posed for pictures and then gently released it back into the clear blue waters.
I could say that but it would be a lie.
The truth of the matter is, I screamed like a little girl and whooped and hollered like I had just hooked on to a Marlin.
The instructor trotted down the beach and hovered over me as I landed a brightly colored Wrasse. He encouraged my to handle it as little as possible and to release it back into the water as gently as I could after the obligatory pictures – all things I planned on doing anyway, but I admired his conservation ethic.
Needless to say, I was hooked.
The next two hours were spent in a constant but thoroughly engaging ballet of baiting the hook, casting beyond the breakers, watching the float disappear and occasionally fighting small reef fish in to the beach. In all honesty, I lost more than I landed. In all honesty, I didn’t really care.
The two-hour class flew by. I was having a blast, as were all the other participants. With each cast, I felt as though I was getting better and better at reading the water, spotting the take and keeping the fish on.
Towards the end of the second hour, one of the participants hooked on to something fairly large but it managed to make a decent run and it ended up wrapping the line around a submerged rock. After a minute or two of trying to free the line, and after giving some very handy advice for dealing with such situations, the instructor decided to break it off and re-rig the pole.
The bright orange float remained about fifteen-feet out from the shore bouncing in the surf.
When the class officially ended, I asked the instructor if I could have the lost float if I was willing to swim out and retrieve it. He was only more than happy to let me do that and even threw in a cupful of shrimp bait to sweeten the deal.
I plunged into the water, swam out to the float and followed the line down to where it was snagged on a rock. The hook popped free with just a little twisting and lo and behold, I had myself a Hawaiian style surf rig plus bait.
Well, you can only imagine how I spent the rest of our early mornings on Kaanapali Beach.
The Pen Rod got a workout. It handled the large float with ease and it made catching the smallish reef fish very exciting. As my confidence grew, I even experimented with some of the saltwater flies I had brought with me.
I caught a wide variety of reef species. Each one, fought differently and presented new challenges, which made each cast a rather exciting proposition.
Ultimately, the shrimp bait beat out the flies as far as catching fish went, but it didn’t matter – I got to stand on the beaches of Maui and surf fish.
The definition of recreation is: to re-create. To restore and refresh the body, mind and soul to allow us to carry on the daily tasks with renewed vigor and purpose.
Been there, done that. Highly recommend it.
I love this addiction called Maui surf-fishin’.
As sobering as the thought is, I’m actually old enough to remember the original Man from U.N.C.L.E. television series.
I loved the intrigue, gadgetry and action of that series.
OK, let’s be honest, I mostly loved the gadgetry, but I know I wasn’t the only kid who ruined his good Sunday’s-best black pants running around setting booby traps for his siblings and scaling walls with crude, homemade spy gear while trying to act cool and sophisticated like the suave Napoleon Solo.
Of course, as I got older, James Bond movies became the must-see Saturday matinee event followed by a fondness for the Get Smart television series.
And naturally, I also developed a taste for the Mission Impossible series.
So you see, it really isn’t too hard to understand how I might have developed a passion for the heavily gadget-oriented sport of fly-fishing coupled with the espionage-like nature of exercising that passion in the most unlikely of public places.
Urban fly fishing could be considered a subtle yet sophisticated form of intelligence gathering…only, as it relates to fish rather than fiends bent on world domination, though more than once I have had to endure the conspiracy theory ranting of a bass fisherman after I released a Carp taken on a fly at an urban lake.
Instead of the men from UNCLE, we could be known as the men from UFV – Urban Fly Ventures.
Yeah, OK, so the roll-off-the-tongue smoothness of the acronym needs a little work.
But, in all honesty, as much as I may have wanted to aspire to the cool factor of guys like Illya Kuryakin, I seem to have been blessed more along the likes of Maxwell Smart as far as grace and savoir faire go.
I try, but genetics don’t lie.
Sure, I may show up at a park or urban fishing hole and I may look like I know what I’m doing, but there are times when the inescapable creeps through and I know I’m just a geek, more like “Q” than the graceful “007”.
The other day for example, I showed up at a local park to exploit the hour of free time I had while my beautiful bride attended a music rehearsal.
I grabbed my 5-weight and neck lanyard and started tying on an olive woolly bugger while making my way across the grass.
Nothing new there.
Half way across the grass though, my right foot slid and I looked down to see that I had gracefully stepped in a pile of…duck stuffing.
A quick glance to my left and then my right confirmed that no one had observed my mis-step so with a little urban version of a boot scoot boogie I continued on.
The sun was already setting and the temp was dropping fast so I hit this little lake hard. The only other fisher-folk were a couple who both were flinging those life-size soft bait blue-gill imitations halfway across the water and then hauling them back with high speed intensity.
I smiled to myself and in my best British accent muttered a paraphrase from Sun Tzu’s Art of War about knowing the enemy being the key to success.
I made my first cast… and hung up on the same tree branch that has eaten many of my flies over the years.
Another quick glance to the left and then to the right confirmed that I was still not being observed so with a quick tug I snapped the two-pound test tippet as easily as JB dispatching a villain.
After tying on yet another olive wooly bugger and shifting my casting position slightly to the right. I cast again…and again…and again.
Finally, with only about fifteen minutes to go before I had to go pick up my spouse (I would have said 007 minutes but you wouldn’t have believed me) I saw my line stop ever so slightly during the retrieve and felt the tiniest of resistance.
I set the hook and, sure enough, I had tied on to a fish.
My line peeled off my reel and zigged and zagged across the water. I realized that what ever it was, it seemed rather large and definitely feisty. My first impression was that I had hooked onto a Carp. This was confirmed when a large bronze back appeared about ten yards out a few moments later.
I played the fish as gently as I could, all the while wishing I had used heavier tippet. It seemed like I was getting the upper hand. I wished I hadn’t left my net in the car. I allowed myself the luxury of looking for a suitable landing spot.
And then, with one quick lunge, it was gone.
Fish gone. Fly gone. Line hanging limp and useless at the end of my rod.
I stood there and stared.
And then, whatever illusions of sophistication and coolness I may have had went right out the window. Without the slightest glance to the left or to the right, I spontaneously broke out in the “unhappy fisherman” dance, which, unfortunately resembles a cross between the gyrations of a street corner sign-twirler, the jerky motions of a pan-handling meth-addict and the overly dramatic arm motions of a televangeist all rolled into one. Throw in a barrage of a Tourette’s Syndrome-like nonsensical words and …well, you get the picture.
Unfortunately, so did the couple walking down the meandering pathway a few yards away – all on their cell phone cameras.
Curse you, modern technology and YouTube.
You know, I might have to rethink my stand on cool spy-wear gadgetry.
But in any event…I love this addiction called urban flyfishin’.
Fly fishing will probably never be seen as an aerobic sport as far as the health and fitness crowd are concerned.
But, that is only because they have never been urban flyfishin’.
I can personally attest to the pulse-raising benefits of out-running a pair of junkyard Rottweillers – while not breaking your beloved 5-weight.
I can also confirm the cardio workout that occurs when one must traverse a drainage ditch, scale a couple of fences, swing from a pliable but sturdy willow branch then scramble down a 100-foot gravel embankment– all while not breaking your beloved 5-weight.
I can further attest to the sweat-inducing, full-range of motion that occurs each time you must pull yourself from a waist deep mud hole you just stepped in or from boosting yourself or your fishing buddy over eight-foot high retaining walls or lowering yourself and/or your fishin buddy down a crumbling undercut – all while not breaking your beloved 5-weight.
There is a reason virtually no fly fishin’ gear is made out of spandex or lycra.
Add to all the above, the heart-thumpin’-body-as-tense-as-a-watch-spring workout that occurs each and every time you breathlessly wait for that two-foot long Carp to finally hit the Wooly Bugger he has been trailing for the last forty-five feet and I’d say that urban fly fishin’ ought to rank right up there as an Olympic event.
It’s a least as hard as…curling.
But, I digress.
Sometimes, fly-fishing can give you a cardio workout when you ain’t even near the water.
Consider, the following conversation that occurred just a couple of weekends ago:
(Cell phone rings)
“Hey Sean, what’s up?”
“Hey Dan, what are the symptoms of snake bite?”
“Where you at?”
“Drivin’ home from West Fork. I think I may have been snake bit.”
(Pulse starting to rise)
“Stepped over a rock instead of on it and felt something jab my calf. I thought I heard something scurry away but didn’t actually see a snake.”
“Any breaks in the skin?”
“One small one plus it’s pretty red and hard around the area. It hurts a lot too. I washed it off in the river and I used my bite kit right away.”
(Pulse continuing to rise.)
“You feeling nauseous or dizzy?”
“Not really. A little stressed and I have a funny taste in my mouth.”
(A couple of beads of sweat begin to form on my brow, heart rate continues to rise)
“All right. How far are you from home? Do you have any Benedryl?”
“Only about five miles now. Yeah, I took two Benedryl as soon as I got back to the car. Maybe it’s just poison oak. It really hurts though.”
“You sure your not nauseous or dizzy (Because your… driving!). Poison oak doesn’t usually hurt that bad. How many times have we run through poison oak?”
“Yeah, I know. Maybe it was just a bug bite…”
“Or a snake bite or a scorpion sting. You say you have a funny taste in your mouth?
“Yeah. Kinda metallic-like.”
“Well, a snake bites would typically look worse than what you described and the metal taste makes me think you got stung by a scorpion instead but this is what we’re gonna do. Since you’re almost home, drive straight to the hospital and we’ll meet you there.”
“Yeah, all right. Can you call Sarah for me. She didn’t pick up and when I called her. You don’t think it’s poison oak then, huh?”
(heart rate now at about 80% calculated age-adjusted maximum)
“Doesn’t matter what I think. Let’ get it checked out by a doctor. If nothing else they can give you something for the pain and to counteract any allergic reaction you might be having.”
“Just got off the freeway. It’s probably nothing. You really think I should go to the ER?”
“Yeah, I really think you should. Be sure to tell them you suspect a snake bite even though you didn’t see a snake.”
“Yeah, it does hurt. “
(pulse pounding though trying to keep my voice calm)
“Hey Sean. I’ll be there in about fifteen minutes. But before we hang up, you didn’t break your new 5-weight or anything when you got stung, did you?”
I love this addiction called urban fly fishin’.
Epilogue: Sean did go to the ER and it was determined that he was most likely stung by a scorpion. He also picked up poison oak on his other leg. He received treatment for both, and he and I, along with our wives and his sister-in-law ended up having lunch together. My heart rate did return to normal fairly quickly. Sean did not break his new 5-weight.
I like Thanksgiving. I like everything that it represents and I like the “vibe” about the day.
I even like the crazy, post-Thanksgiving “pizza” my wife makes using all the left-overs.
Thanksgiving day is, in my mind, still the official kickoff of the Holiday season despite what the Big Box retailers try to pass off on us as they set up their fake Christmas trees in the same aisle as the halloween decorations… in mid-September.
Weather-wise, Thanksgiving is all over the map in SoCal. It has been cold, and rainy, cloudy and gray, and Sunny and mild from year-to-year.
A couple of years ago, my fishin’ buddy, Sean and I were stymied by thin, nearly invisible sheets of ice on one of the mountain streams we tried fish on Thanksgiving morning. This year, we fished in tee-shirts as we snuck away from the home hearths early Thursday morning before the rest of our respective households rolled out of bed.
We only had a very narrow time slot in which to fish so we planned on hitting one local park where Cal Fish & Game was supposed to have planted Trout a few days prior. When we got there, the place was nearly empty. As we paused at the top of a small rise to finish tying on our chosen flies, we both noticed that the water was a sickly, very artificial, blue-green color.
That’s usually not a good sign for productive fishing.
Now, lots of urban lakes and ponds get the dye treatment to help cut down on algal growth and aquatic weeds especially when the days have been sunny and the temps mild to warm. However, over the years, we have noticed a pattern associate with these dye treatments and developed an unofficial color scale to determine our potential success rate.
The color of the water we were looking at ranked about a “2”.
Nevertheless, we headed down the slope, ducked a couple of errant Frisbees from an early morning Frisbee Golf foursome who clearly weren’t warmed up yet and started fishing.
Our efforts were rewarded without so much as a half-hearted nibble.
Sean engaged an early morning walker/fellow angler in conversation and learned that the lake probably had not been planted and that nobody had caught much of anything over the last few days, which explained why the gentleman was walking and not fishing.
That was enough for us to switch to plan “B” and within a few minutes we were on our way to another local park about fifteen minutes away.
In contrast to the last lake, the water at our next stop was crystal clear. So much so that is was like looking through glass. With our polarized sunglasses, we could see every detail of the bottom and, unfortunately every Bass within twenty-five feet of the shoreline.
As always, we fished hard, crept along as stealthily as possible, switched tactics and flies frequently and covered the entire lake.
The long and short of it though was that every Bass we could see, could also see us. Urban fish don’t get to be the size these Bass were by being stupid. Sean did manage to get one fish to follow a wooly bugger twitched over a weed bed but the subsequent strike was half-hearted at best and didn’t result in a hook set. I too could only muster one weak lunge at my streamer but it too did not result in a solid bite. We were in essentially the same dilemma that Flats fisherman face all the time.
Now, a lot of guys would just shake their head and consider the day a failure. Despite the disappointing fishing, I felt like we had been given a unique Thanksgiving Day gift. You see, there were only two other anglers at this park and one of them was a stationary bait fisherman. Sean and I got to cover the entire perimeter of the lake and, due to the unusual clarity of the water, we got to map out every inch of underwater structure to about twenty-five feet out. We now have the knowledge of where there are weed bed edges, where there are rock piles, where there are trenches and potholes, where somebody tossed in an old Christmas tree and where aerator pipelines run. We also got to map out the spawning beds from earlier in the year and we got to note underwater corridors that the spooked Bass were using to flee when our shadows fell on the water. Come the Spring we will know exactly where to concentrate our efforts.
Besides that, we were outside, in shirtsleeves, in late November, enjoying the fresh air, the quietness, the beauty of the changing leaves, the chance to fish and the opportunity to learn a whole lot of useful things for another day. I even snagged a soft plastic salamander imitation once hidden amongst the thick lily pads but now clearly visible.
It was a morning to be thankful indeed.
I love this addiction called urban fly fishin’.
The dictionary defines a paradox as a statement or concept that contains conflicting or apparently conflicting ideas.
Now, my fishin’ buddy, Sean and I have certainly recognized, and maybe even reveled just a little bit, in the fact that urban fly fishing qualifies as a paradox.
We’re OK with the common perception that fly rods somehow just don’t work in urban waters.
We have grown accustomed to the odd looks, strange questions, or the guy who walks up to us and plants himself next to us so he can give us long-winded explanations as to why flyfishing doesn’t work – even as we are pulling in Bass and Bluegill.
We’ve gotten used to the packs of kids running up to us and staring, the dogs on retractable leashes barking and snapping at our flies, the stroller joggers observing our back casts and yelling in that protective parent way to warn us that they are behind us with a child.
We already plan on giving away wooly buggers and short pieces of tippet in a somewhat self-serving act of charity that buys us a little peace and quiet and we are always on the watch for nefarious characters in the same way that our Alaskan wilderness counterparts always keep an eye out for grizzlies.
Yet, given the realities of our work schedules, our finances, our time commitments and the alternative, i.e., flyfishing only very occasionally, we have opted to adjust to the circumstances and be urban flyfishers.
To that end, we are always looking for new ways to engage, enjoy or enhance our chosen obsession.
Sometimes, paradoxically, new ways even find us.
Consider what happened to my fishin’ buddy, Sean, recently:
A few months ago Sean made an impromptu decision to stop at a small urban pond on the way home from the office to blow off a considerable amount of steam acquired after a particularly grueling business meeting.
As he stood there, in the dark, muttering and grumbling to himself and hurling a Krystal Bugger into the inky blackness, a couple of things happened:
One, his blood pressure began to drop back into the normal range;
Two, he began to catch fish and;
Three, he experienced a heightened sense of awareness that he had not felt before while flyfishing.
Now, I’m not talking about a sense of awareness like, “Oh crap, I’m standing by myself dressed in slacks, shirt and tie in the dark in a (hopefully) deserted urban park griping out loud to myself and waving a very expensive stick in the air… and no one knows where I am.”
No, I’m talking about a “gettin’ into the zone”—that heightened sense of awareness regarding the feel of the unfurling fly line on the back cast, the heightened sense of feeling that same line slide through the guides in a smooth forward cast and even the heightened sense of hearing for the subtle plop of the fly as it lands in the dark forty feet out in front.
Yeah, in that impromptu moment, Sean discovered flyfishing at night.
And therein lies part of the paradox.
Flyfishing is all about catching fish, for sure, but it is also an art form and as such, there are elements to it that one might consider “active meditation”.
I’m not going all mystical or anything. But almost every flyfisherman I know takes a subtle pleasure watching his or her line form a perfect tight loop and then lay out on the surface of the water in a perfect, straight line.
Almost every flyfisherman I know delights in watching for that subtle dimple in the surface as a trout or a wary urban carp quietly sips the carefully presented fly.
And almost every flyfisherman I know breaks into a smile when droplets of water shower in every direction and sparkle in the sun like a million diamonds as the line tightens from a solid hook set.
So, what happens when darkness seems to render all those simple pleasures null?
Well, paradoxically, new types of awareness kick in and new pleasures with our obsession reveal themselves.
Flyfishing in the dark becomes more about feel and movement. It becomes more about perfecting skills that may have grown a little sloppy and it becomes more about appreciating familiar realms in a whole new way.
Case in point: A couple of weeks ago, Sean and I made arrangements to hit a local park where he has had pretty good luck catching Carp and Bass after dark since his epiphany about night fly fishing.
We drove to the target spot and parked under a street light about two hundred yards away from the water’s edge.
The air was mild and still so we only donned light windbreakers and the bare minimum amount of gear. I opted for a lanyard rig and Sean grabbed a small waist pack. We clipped on our nets and we both put on LED headlamps over our TU ball caps.
I choose a five-weight while Sean chose an eight-weight rig. He was clearly more optimistic then me but, then again, he had caught one of the largest Carp he had ever taken on a fly in this park after dark.
We tied on rather large, flashy buggers in the cone of light thrown off by the streetlight then headed across the wide expanse of grass.
My first impression, as we stood there waiting for our eyes to adjust to the darkness, was with the peacefulness of the situation. During the day, this park is loaded with runners and bicycle riders and kids on skateboards and an endless variety of dogs and dog-walkers. Now it was still and calm and a slight ground fog rose from the damp grass.
The water was glassy smooth and reflected the three-quarter moon, the treetops and the lights from nearby businesses. Near the edges, where the water was shallow, little wisps of mist also rose up and blurred the normally sharp concrete lip of the pond. We stood near the edge for a long time waiting and listening. Occasionally we would hear a faint splash but mostly we heard snippets of lively conversation and distant laughter bouncing out of the row of restaurants across the normally busy street.
When we decided to move. It was slowly and deliberately, almost reluctantly, as if we each did not want to break the spell of the moment. Our walking roused a mixed flock of sleeping ducks and mud hens who protested with soft quacks and grunts and moved en masse just far enough away for us to no longer be considered a threat according to some streetwise avian formula we couldn’t figure out.
Then in our usual fashion, we split to the left and the right and began fishing.
My first casts were pathetic, limp tangles of fly line. I kept misjudging the timing of my back cast.
Was I really that dependant on sight for my casting technique?
I shook my head and muttered to myself and was thankful that Sean couldn’t see the mess I had created. Then I took a deep breath and regrouped.
The words of a pilot friend of mine came to mind: “You can always count on your basic training, if you’ve been properly trained in the basics.”
So, I took a deep breath, pulled a couple of yards of line off my reel, gathered it in loose coils with my off hand, positioned my grip on the cork the way I had been taught and actually closed my eyes.
This time, when I made my cast, I could feel the rod load on the back cast, I could actually hear the line move through the air with a soft, smooth whooshing sound, I could tell that the forward cast was smooth and straight and I heard the fly land with a clean plopping sound just like an Olympic high-diver making a clean splash on a 9.9 dive.
I was in the “zone”.
With each subsequent cast, I worried less and less about technique and began to enjoy the moment more and more.
I marveled at the way the ripples of my casts made the reflection of the moon shimmer and sparkle on the water. I delighted in the peace and freedom of being alone in the moment even though we were in reality only a few hundred yards away from thousands of people. I took pleasure in “hearing” my line form a perfect tight loop on each cast. I smiled at the millions of starry diamonds that formed in the moonlight when I made a hard hook set and the droplets of water showered away from my line in every direction. And I laughed out loud each time I saw Sean’s headlamp snap on from across the pond because I knew he was playfully taunting me with a visual cue that he had landed yet another fish
And that’s when it occurred to me, in one of those great paradoxical moments, that I had to step into the dark before I could see the light as to why I love this addiction called urban flyfishin’.
Last year my wife bought me a fishing-forecaster watch as a gift. Since then, whenever I tell here I’m going to go fishing, she asks me what the success forecast is according to the watch. So far, though I’ll admit to keeping less than stellar records on the matter, the watch seems to be pretty darn accurate – plus it keeps time too.
So about two months ago, my bride and I made one of our turnaround trips up to Big Bear.
We arrived late Sunday night and spent the next morning cleaning, maintaining and generally getting the vacation home ready for the impending change from Summer to Winter. By mid-afternoon, I was done with mops, brooms and the other assorted instruments of torture that go with house cleaning.
I told my wife I wanted to go fishing.She, naturally, asked what the watch forecasted.
Much to my delight, four-out-of-four little fishy symbols flashed on the screen above the predicted best fishing time of 6:00 pm.
Then, to my further delight, she asked me if she could go too; maybe we could make a date out of it; take a simple picnic dinner and eat it lakeside.
I wondered, ever so briefly, if I had heard her right or if I was feeling the effects from mixing the bleach and ammonia cleaners together again.
Turns out my hearing was just fine and all at once, my heart melted again for the red-headed beauty standing across from me.
I think we broke some sort of human-speed record getting cleaned up and over to the local bait shop where I could pick up a supply of nightcrawlers, which I reckoned would give her the best shot at actually catching something.
Now, she had never been inside Big Bear Sporting Goods, though I have told her about it many times. So while the guy behind the counter and I counted out nightcrawlers, she went…shopping.
Lots of thoughts went through my mind at that moment, but once the panic subsided I took solace in the fact that my beloved did not get a full dose of the shopping gene. She did, however, get the gene for spotting a bargain and about ten minutes later we walked out with a supply of worms, a new collapsible net and a pair of stylish, polarized shades offsetting her auburn locks.
We then drove over to Boulder Bay where we had a pleasant, if not simple, al fresco dinner.
Then, as the magic hour, according to the watch, approached I rigged up a pair of Penrod Extreme rods, baited them up with some fat and sassy nightcrawlers and started fishing.
Sure enough, we started getting hits almost immediately.
I brought in a couple of small Bass right away but try as she might, my wife could not land a single fish. I was starting to worry that she would be discouraged, hate fishing and never want to try it again.
She was having a great time trying to learn the subtly art of angling. Each take was a new challenge and opportunity to her to refine and polish her skills. Each bite was met with as much enthusiasm as if she had already landed a record fish.
As dusk dissolved into full darkness and we packed up to go home, I knew she was “hooked.
So…when the opportunity presented itself for us to again make a turnaround up to Big Bear, I already knew part of our time would be spent fishing.
Sure enough, on our next trip up the hill, she asked me if WE were going to go fishing. We consulted “the watch”, found out that the forecasted time would fit nicely into our schedule and planned accordingly.
This time we were rewarded with an achingly beautiful landscape and an ideal Fall afternoon with temps in the low 70’s and a slight breeze.
It was the kind of sight and experience that takes permanent residence in the memory and makes you smile just thinking about it.
We walked over to the same spot we had tried previously, rigged our gear the same way as last time and began fishing.
Only, we did not get immediate strikes. We fished for an hour without so much as a nibble. We fished for an hour and a half with not so much as a slight bite.
Alas, all my hard work was on the edge of ruin.
The long shadows of the afternoon gave way to deeper shadows of dusk, but still no hits.
Finally, we decided to call it a day.
I was convinced though that I could still coax one hit out of the expedition, so while I broke down my pole I encouraged her to cast just one more time to the edge of a weed mat close to shore.
She did. Mostly to appease me but perhaps with that same streak of optimism I had seen last time. And then her attention was caught by the perky little Pug dog that was taking its owner for a walk on the path behind us.
As she talked to the snorting, little fuzz ball who was hoping to score some doggie snack from a stranger, I saw her bobber dip.
Then it dipped again. Then it dipped yet a third time.
I told her to set the hook. Without missing a beat, she did and I immediately knew she was tied on to a Carp.
The questions and brief looks of panic flew as I coached her on the nuances of fighting a big fish on a little pole. She kept the rod tip high, the drag loose and reeled every time I told her to.
She screamed a little when the drag starting buzzing but I told her that was normal and to wait it out before reeling in.
I secretly prayed that the Carp would not make a blazing run toward the weeds. It didn’t. It zigged and zagged but stayed out in relatively open water. It broke the surface a few times and the sight of the large, bronze fin was plenty of motivation for my wife to keep putting the pressure on.
Finally, she managed to turn the Carp and bring it to net. It was the biggest fish she had ever caught and the perfect ending to a perfect day.
Like I said, it was the kind of sight and experience that takes permanent residence in the memory and makes you smile just thinking about it.
Right then and there I decided that I am really fond of that watch.
And I also love this addiction called Big Bear Fishing.
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