In the classic film, “It’s A Wonderful Life”, the main character, George Bailey asks at one point, “Do you know what the three sweetest sounds in the world are?”
Lovable but single-minded Uncle Billy answers, “Sure. ‘Breakfast is served’, ‘Lunch is served’, ‘Dinner is served’”.
Now, while I would generally tend to agree with Uncle Billy, I would also add to the list the phrase, “Uncle Dan, will you take me fishing?” with “…And the winner is…Dan Zambrano” as a close second.
But anyway, the former phrase is the one that caused my heart to race this past weekend as our niece approached me and begged me to take her fishing.
Who am I to deny such a humble request from one so sweet? Especially when it was followed with one of those pleading little faces that kids intuitively seem to know will melt our tough-guy façade like hot…uh… coffee on snow.
So, with only a little bit of scheduling adjustments and some quick conferencing with her mom, we planned for Sunday afternoon as the big adventure day.
I already knew exactly where we would go: Laguna Park in Fullerton. I also knew exactly what sort of rig we would use and I already suspected I could enlist the help of my fishin’ buddy Sean.
Sure enough, when Sunday afternoon rolled around, a certain ten-year old was duly deposited on my doorstop with the motherly advice, “Do exactly what uncle Dan & Sean tell you to do and you will catch a fish”.
No pressure there.
Soon, we were at Laguna Park and we quickly fell into the pattern that we would follow pretty much for the rest of the afternoon. Sean led with his 5-wt fly rod
rigged with a hopper-dropper combo while Holly and I used simple bait rigs suspended about eight inches beneath plastic floats.
As Holly tangled or fouled her rig, I would let her use my ultra-light Pen Rod while I reset her gear. I would then fish her pink and yellow Snoopy pole for a while. When she fouled the Pen Rod, we would switch off and I would reset that rig.
In between re-rigging, I did manage to quietly catch a few fish on both poles. Holly however, had her eyes fixed on Sean. His rig was bringing in fish about every other cast.
This strategy, coupled with the steady number of Bluegills that Sean kept pulling in, had the effect of keeping Holly interested, busy and excited at the prospect of her first fish.
We fished for about fifteen minutes (a life time to a ten-year old) but she had not tied into a fish. She was keenly aware however, that Sean was several fish ahead of her and she had some catching up to do.
(How’s that for attitude and positive thinking?)
After a short time, I realized that she was getting bites but she could not pick up on the subtle movement of the traditional round bobber. In the time it took for me to tell her to set the hook, the fish would be off. So, I switched her over to a bright yellow pencil-float and that seemed to telegraph nibbling Bluegill much better.
Sean let her borrow his polarized glasses for a moment and with them she could see the little bluegill attacking her bait.
Suddenly, it all clicked and you could pretty much see the pieces of the puzzle all fall into place within her head.
Soon she was reading the bobber signs quite well and, even better, she was catching fish on a consistent basis.
Before long she was striving for first place in our impromptu catch and release fishing tournament.
So, train whistles, boat whistles and airplane engines may have been the sweetest sounds in the world to George Bailey but that’s probably because he never heard the sound of a kid that has just landed her first fish all by herself.
That sound is one of the sweetest sounds of a wonderful life… that and the phrase, “Your chicken McNuggets are ready, sir?”
…I love this addiction called urban flyfishin
I had an opportunity to squeeze in some early morning mid-week fishing recently and jumped at the chance as quickly as a bluegill on a wind-blown ant.
So, imagine my frustration when I pulled up to my chosen destination only to be confronted by two hundred or so high-school age cross-country runners as well as dozens and dozens of orange safety cones, yellow tape and a half dozen coaches barking orders and blowing chrome whistles.
Now, any normal person would have stayed in the car and headed over to the nearest regional park which was only about fifteen minutes away.
But the operative words here were: “squeeze” and “normal”.
I did not want to sacrifice even another fifteen minutes battling more SoCal commuter traffic than I had just taken on and I did not want to spend five dollars on admission to a place I was only going to be at for an hour or two at most.
So, I assessed.
I assessed and then modified my game plan so that, one way or another, I could fish.
From what I could discern from the layout of orange cones, the designated course for the runners appeared to follow the entire perimeter of the small body of water I had targeted and then seemed to disappear off into the surrounding hills before re-entering the park and looping around the lake again.
I figured that would mean a few moments of heavy foot traffic and then some relative peace followed by a steady stream of runners as the pack thinned and spread out according to the runner’s abilities and strategies.
Because of the proximity of the course to the water’s edge, I also figured out pretty quickly that fly-rodding was probably not gonna work so well. I already lose enough flies in bushes and low-hanging branches as it is, I didn’t particularly want to snag a lycra clad, eighty-five pound freshman in the middle of a race on the backcast.
So, I left my five–weight in the car and, instead, opted for my trusty Pen Rod Extreme with the MX-15 rear-drag spinning reel loaded with two-pound test.
I rigged up a tiny, clear bubble float with a size 16 treble suspended about eight-inches below it and baited the hook up with pink Powerbait crappie bits.
Then, with the rhythm of heavy breathing and running shoes pounding the dirt behind me, I start pulling out Bluegill like they were goin’ out of style.
Sure, it wasn’t exactly the most serene setting for fishin’…OK, it was anything but serene, but it sure was fun thanks to my day-saving, handy-dandy ultralight Pen Rod Extreme.
About an hour later, as the final runners wheezed across the finish line, I released the last of several dozen decent sized fish that, surprisingly, found pink crappie bits… irresistible.
So, while dozens of young people roamed post-race around the park looking pretty much worse for the wear — spittin’ and groaning and holding their sides and all, I gathered up my gear and felt pretty darn good considering the unexpected change in plans.
Like I said, it’s all about squeezing recreation into those free moments.
I love this addiction called urban “ultralight” fishin’.
One of the most common questions we, as urban flyfishers, get from our non-fishing friends is: “why?”
Why do we fish tiny ponds in overcrowded, noisy parks in the middle of the city?
Why do we venture out amongst the homeless, seedy or just plain crazy? (The three are NOT necessarily one and the same – don’t rush to judgment here).
Why do we get up way too early, creep around long after dark and fish with one eye always on the look out for gangbangers, thieves or unsympathetic cops?
Why do we not even think twice about squeezing through holes in fences, crawling through storm drains or scaling locked wrought iron gates to pursue our passion?
Why do we have fighting knives fastened rapid-deployment style to our pack straps yet carry giveaway food bars and pocket-size editions of the gospel of John within those same packs?
Why the heck would we be willing to tolerate all this stuff that seems so very foreign to the traditional concept of fly fishing?
Well, if a picture is worth a thousand words:
I love this addiction called urban fly fishin’
A couple of weekends ago, my beloved and I went on a double date with my fishin’ buddy Sean and his beautiful bride, Sarah. Although there were many recreational/entertainment options available to us, the oppressive heat quickly made retreat to the air-conditioned comfort of the local multiplex the best choice out of the bunch.
Once there, I didn’t have to twist any arms too hard to convince the other three members of my party to check out the latest installment in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, “On Stranger Tides”.
Say what you will, but I make no apologies for liking these movies. In fact, I will go so far as to say that the Pirates ride at Disneyland was a powerful spark that ignited a certain land-locked barrio boy’s life-long interest in maritime history, things nautical, marine biology and, of course, pirate history (even before it was a fashionable interest).
So as the house lights dimmed and I used the cover of darkness to grab an extra handful of popcorn from my wife’s bucket, (…We pillage, we plunder, we rifle and loot. Drink up me hearties, yo ho…) imagine my momentary mood squash when, instead of tall ships and clanging cutlasses we were confronted with Stetsons and horses and six-shooters and … spaceships. Yeah, that’s right, the first images on the silver screen in front of us were from a trailer for a movie called Cowboys and Aliens. It’s a sci-fi/western thing with grizzled trail riders in spurs taking on extraterrestrial creatures in gleaming high-tech space craft.
Talk about a “huh?” moment.
Such odd pairings in the physical realm are sometimes called “ooparts” which stands for “out-of-place-artifacts”. Things like modern hammers found in allegedly untouched coal seams, battery-like devices amongst the items within ancient tombs, ancient pottery with images of people interacting with dinosaurs– those are “ooparts”.
Cowboys taking on aliens is, of course, not an out-of-place artifact but it is certainly an out-of-place concept (“oopcept”, to put a twist on the phrase); which is probably the whole point. It’s an idea that is just out there enough that you want to see how things play out. It’s one thing for the original Terminator to take on the new upgraded T-1000 model. It’s another to watch saddle weary cowpokes use Smith & Wessons to battle beings with the ability and gear to travel across the vast reaches of space.
Deep down, we all like “oopart/oopcept” stuff. It makes us feel like we are in on the joke.
Which got me to thinking (but only after watching and thoroughly enjoying the Pirates movie) “oopcept” sort of sums up the idea of urban flyfishing for many people. For most folks who have never touched a fly rod, seeing someone using fly gear, popularly associated with trout fishing on wild mountain streams, in urban ponds and lakes, not typically considered fishable, just seems odd. It’s an “out-of-place-concept”.
So be it. Let it be a point of bafflement for the general public. Let it be an “oopcept” idea for the masses but for those who practice it, it works and it works well.
What happens when you have an “oopcept” urban fly guy hitting an urban pond and he comes across an “oopart” fish in said pond?
Let me ‘splain what I mean. A couple of days after the double date night with our brides, Sean and I snuck off for some twilight urban fly fishin’ and while we are working a particular pond I noticed a very unusual shape cruising in the shallows and making the water roil every now and then. Now, I’ve seen plenty of bass, carp, sunfish, koi, goldfish, crappie, catfish, and even tilapia with all manner of deformities and doing all kinds of crazy things in urban waters but this fish didn’t match any of ‘em.
So, I reeled in my line and stepped back far enough to prevent my shadow from hitting the water and then I just stood there. After a few moments, the strange shaped fish cruised back into the shallows and made some half-hearted lunges at the small sunfish hovering around an aquatic weed.
I ran through the mental rolodex at least twice before it dawned on me that I was looking at a roughly eighteen-inch long gar, probably a smallish alligator gar to be more precise. Then I remembered that Sean had said something about a rumor of an unusual fish having shown up in this particular piece of water.
Which was kinda cool, except that … we don’t have gar in SoCal – an “oopart” moment, for sure.
Not that I have anything against gar. In their native habitat they are top of the food chain predators and, depending upon the species, can grow to several hundred pounds. In their home territory they are highly prized gamefish and certainly an interesting, worthy and respectable fish by any account.
The problem is that SoCal is not their native habitat. This particular gar was a couple thousand miles too far west and/or a couple of latitudes too far north.
Now, I know that virtually every species in the ponds and urban lakes of SoCal is a non-native transplant or genetically modified mutant. For that matter, the majority of ponds and lakes in urban SoCal are freakish aberrations of the term “lake” and most didn’t even exist in their present form until relatively recent times and then often with huge, unintended impacts on the natural setting. From a purist’s perspective, urban SoCal is an ecological trainwreck.
Still, there is a fragile (often frighteningly fragile) and noticeable balance in our urban waters and the introduction of such a fish into a relatively small body of water had the potential to seriously throw a wrench into the works.
My goal instantly became to get that gar (and possibly any other recent introductions) out of that lake before a precious and prized fishin’ hole tipped out of balance and become just a wet low spot in the middle of a grassy field.
Fortunately, many in the local and loosely affiliated fishing fraternity felt the same way and over the next couple of days much energy was expended and tons of hardware thrown, pitched, reeled and twitched across that particular puddle.
Then on a Thursday night, after I had finished all my work related stuff for the day and was seriously contemplating another twilight gar-fishing trip, I got word from Sean that local rod-slinger, J_____ had finally taken the gar on one of his hand made balsa wood crank baits.
Sure enough, grainy, low-light photos were soon blazing across cyber space offering proof that the common “threat” had been eliminated.
Yet, there was no euphoria or giddiness over this victory. It just seemed wrong to celebrate the demise, however prudent, of a magnificent creature such as this gar, especially since it had ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time due to someone’s carelessness, thoughtlessness or twisted sense of humor.
The knucklehead who dumped or planted that particular fish in that particular place hadn’t done it or anyone else any favors.
Sometimes “oopart” isn’t interesting, it’s just dumb.
Still, when all was said and done, I had to admire the spirit of cooperation (competition?) from the local urban fishing community (which many would describe as a very pirate like sub-culture anyway). A bunch of widely divergent guys, with widely divergent fishing styles and tactics had momentarily formed a loose alliance to tackle a common problem.
“…We’re rascals, scoundrels, villains, and knaves.? Drink up me hearties, yo ho …”
I love this addiction called urban fly fishin’.
If you consider yourself an urban angler, then you know the almost giddy urgency that hits the gut and the head (and occasionally, the bladder, if traffic has been particularly gnarly) once you finally shift the vehicle into “Park” and strike out across the blacktop toward a chosen target water.
I know I’m definitely guilty of that approach. In fact, my fishing buddy, Sean and I have gotten it down to a science to where we can assemble our four-piece 5-weights, tie on new leader material and have flies selected and secured to the tippet in the time it takes us to go from car to water’s edge.
I’m not bragging, I’m just sayin’. The “urban” part of our chosen obsession sometimes leads us to do things with the proverbial “New York minute” mindset.
Recently however, there was a post on the OrvisNews.com blog that caused me to pause and even reconsider my “assault”
mentality. The article offered some very valid and timely tips regarding taking a moment to actually use our God-given senses to assess and evaluate our target fishing area before “flinging the string” – even if it is a location we have fished many, many times before.
Now, regular readers already know that due to the somewhat dubious nature of the various “swims” (as the Brits say) we often choose to fish, we are constantly watching for things like drug deals, drive-bys, enraged Rottweilers, gang initiations, guys dealing with the aftermath of alleged alien abduction, kids looking to score some “free” gear… the usual urban stuff … however, since reading the OrvisNews article, I’ve taken to considering how excessive attention to those non-fishing realities may have caused us to hit the water a little too abruptly and a little too anxiously resulting in fewer fish.
Thus, with that fresh insight in mind, I have taken the liberty of copying below the checklist from the OrvisNews.com article (with my own commentary) in the hopes that learning to “surveil before we flail” will ultimately make us all better urban anglers.
So, assuming you have made it across the lot, soccer field, railroad tracks, chain link or other assorted obstacles typically associated with urban fishing and assuming you have already taken in to account the aforementioned scenarios, also consider the following BEFORE making that first cast, no matter how tempting things first look:
1. Do you see any fish rising?
Sure, you may be on urban water but fish are fish and if you watch carefully, depending on time of day and season, you will see fish rising along the banks, in quiet spots and under overhanging brush. That info alone may help you in your choice of fly and/or tactic for the day
2. Can you spot any fish holding or moving?
Several of the locations we regularly hit require an approach from a hill or steep bank or other elevated vantage point. Consider stopping and watching for a moment before racing as quickly as possible to water’s edge. Polarized glasses really prove their worth in these situations. Observing fish from above and from a distance may alter your approach angle and give you that little edge you need to make the day a success rather than a wash.
3. Are there insects on the water? In the air? Crawling in the streamside vegetation?
Again, fish are still fish no matter the zip code and trout, panfish and bass will still hit insects hovering above or blowing into an urban pond with the same vigor that
their wild cousins do in other settings. Now, it’s not as important to matchthe hatch in the urban setting but an abundance of insects in and around the water might tip your decision toward choosing the ant and hopper imitations over the nymph and bugger choices, making for a totally different experience on water you may have fished a dozen times before.
4. How is the water clarity?
If you can see them, they can see you and heavily pressured urban fish will hunker down quickly if they feel any threat. Consider staying well back from the bank, if
possible, to avoid having your shadow fall on the water. Use wind chop and ripples to your advantage. Though rarely practiced in the urban setting, mostly because you’re likely to be mistaken for a sniper or pervert, keeping a low profile can give you an advantage with spooky fish. Finally, learn how clarity affects fish vision. Talk to the local fly guys. Ask them what is working for the current conditions, and then buy a few of those patterns from them.
5. Is the water higher or lower than normal?
Urban lakes and ponds are generally rather shallow and even small fluctuations in water depth can change the desirability or accessibility of various structure that certain fish would otherwise choose. Don’t automatically assume the usual spots will work if you notice (keyword: notice) a change in water level. However, definitely use low water levels to examine exposed areas. Note structure and shape that was once and will soon be underwater again. Take pictures if you can. We recently spoke to a non-fishing gentleman who lived near a local pond and volunteered that he had observed a deep channel in one part of that particular pond when it was once drained for maintenance. That little nugget alone has helped us pull sizeable fish out of there on several occasions.
6. Can you identify likely holding spots—behind current breaks, near structure, below riffles, etc.?
In other words, “think before you blindly plink”.
7. Do you need to get in the water, or can you fish from shore?
Not typically legal, or medically desirable in many urban waters but in a few locations it really could make a difference in the success of your day. Refer back to the UFV article “Tortilla Flats” for an example.
8. Is there a good place to get in the water that will avoid spooking fish and position you well to cast to likely fish-holding spots?
See comment above.
9. Are there any wading hazards you’ll need to avoid?
Forget wading hazards, in the urban fishing setting, you always need to be aware of potential hazards: broken bottles, rusty pipes sticking up, pop-up sprinkler heads, used hypodermic needles, dead ducks filled with the gas of decomposition ready to explode at the slightest nudge, discarded monofilament that will wrap around
your boots…If you haven’t been paying attention so far consider yourself very, very blessed and consider changing your ignorant ways.
10. Are there any obstacles that you’ll need to avoid while fighting a fish?
I say consider this from a fish-on perspective, a back-casting perspective and sadly, a got-to-get-away-quick perspective. You are in an urban setting – it is a given
that there will be obstacles, including kids on scooters directly behind you. Plan accordingly. Should you tie in to a real fighter while fishing from the bank, most fellow anglers will follow “boat rules” and will reel in or raise their lines so you can pass beneath, especially because as an urban fly fisherman you are still an oddity and they want to see if you really can land something with a fly rod. Also consider that many urban lakes have artificial structure in them, some intentionally placed there to improve habitat and some just there because certain folks somehow think it is fun to chuck stuff into the water. The first time a good bass breaks off by wrapping around a submerged shopping cart you’ll know what I mean.
And there you have it – ten tips to better angling courtesy Orvisnews.com and adjusted to the urban fly environment courtesy yours truly. Now, I know there are probably many more tips and considerations we could come up with if we really tried, The point however is basically the same one we all learned in grade school: “stop, look, listen, then go”. Ironically, in the realm of urban fly fishing that simple, time-tested advice can still keep us from getting hit by a bus but it can also make us much better anglers.
I love this addiction called urban fly fishin’.
It is one of those sly ironies of the English language, not lost on those who fly fish, that the measurement for wind speed is a term labeled “knots”.
Technically, one knot is equal to 1.15 miles per hour, 6076 feet per hour or 1.687 feet per second. Not so technically, a knot is what forms in a flyfisherman’s… uh… undergarments when wind speed exceeds one’s ability to roll cast, double haul or side cast into it.
Sadly, knots are also what accumulate in my leader and gut in a quantity proportional to the wind speed.
Thus, it is no exaggeration to say that the hard-blowing Santa Ana wind that confronted my fishin’ buddy, Sean and me was a source of many knots this past Sunday as we tried to sneak in some quality fly fishing.
Not to say that we didn’t suspect that it was going to be hard going from the get go. The fact that every tree on the way to our first target lake was in motion was a pretty good tip off.
Now, in the days before wristwatch-sized anemometers and instant access to the Weather Channel via cell phone, folks relied on simple things like…trees uprooting in front of you or waves taller than the masts on your ship as tip offs to weather conditions. In fact, the whole idea behind the Beaufort Wind Speed Scale was one 19th century British Admiral’s attempt to standardize wind speed terminology using relatively consistent observable conditions rather than actual knots as the basis for an informative 0 – 12 scale, with zero being dead calm and force twelve being something like, “Duck! Mrs. O’Leary’s pig has learned to fly!”
That being the case then, Sunday afternoon found Sean and I trying to cast little black and olive feathers and chenille attached to tiny pieces of sharpened wire into a wind somewhere in the Force six possibly Force seven range on the Beaufort scale.
Add to that the fact that the Eucalyptus trees near where we were are “self-pruning” (which means large limbs randomly break off without warning in even milder breezes) and the 100-foot tall palm trees were losing their years-overdue-for-pruning dried fronds in this particular wind and you might get the idea that we were in what you might call a real flyfishing “adventure”– ah, good times.
Nevertheless, we gallantly attempted to salvage the afternoon and pitched weighted wooly buggers and Sean’s own shrimp pattern until our arms ached.
Finally, when it became oh-so-obvious that nothin’ was bitin’ and when most of the moisture had been evaporated from our bodies, we decided to call it quits.
Now, it may have just been the adrenaline dump still coursing though my veins from having a hypodermic-sharp size 8 hook repeatedly whizzing atypically close to my right ear or it could have been the sense of gratitude derived from not being crushed to death by a falling tree branch but I was pretty happy with the day – we got a ton of casting practice in under less than favorable conditions and we learned a little bit more about the wind patterns on the two lakes we tried to fish. Both things we will use to our advantage as the season progresses.
I love this addiction called urban flyfishin’.
“Sonrisa” is the Spanish word for smile. My dear Grandma would say it to me as she gently tried to awaken me each morning during my summer time stays at her little casita. She would softly shake the bed and say, “Sonrisa Mijito.” which was her way of saying, “Get up, son, it’s a great morning.” I obeyed out of respect for her but I rarely saw a reason back then to smile about getting up so early, especially during summer break.
As the years have passed though I have come to deeply appreciate the memory of my beloved “Abuelita”. I fondly recall her unwavering love for me and her love for the simple joys of life including a beautiful morning.
I thought of her as I got up with the sun this morning.
I’m not sure why I arose so early since I had not gone to bed until almost 3am. Nevertheless, I was up and ready to go at first light. I stumbled out into the kitchen, fired up the coffee maker and opened the back door for a look around. All was still and I noticed that the sky was clear and just turning into the lighter shades of blue indicating a beautiful day ahead.
I peeked back into the bedroom and listened to the regular, deep breathing of my wife and knew it would be several hours before she roused.
So, I quickly and quietly got dressed, gave her a quick kiss and whispered to her that I’d be back shortly, to which she mumbled back something sweet-sounding but incoherent.
Back in the kitchen, I pulled down the large travel mug, practically drained the entire pot of coffee in to it and slipped out into the crisp morning air. Even though it was early, there was no need for a jacket or even a heavy shirt.
I caught myself smiling.
As I backed out of the driveway I made some quick mental calculations. El Dorado Park just seemed like the right place and the right distance away for the time I had allotted so I headed west.
When I got there, there were the usual early morning walkers and bicycle riders but only one other angler at my first stop, Horseshoe Pond. I could see small Panfish working the reeds and I could see an occasional olive-backed “torpedo” busting through the schools of Bluegill causing a momentary boil of activity in the water. I rigged my new 4-wt with a small tan wooly bugger and began working the weed beds near the shore myself.
My first Bluegill was a feisty and determined male in full breeding color.
The other guy fishing on the opposite bank saw my immediate success and asked me if I would mind if he moved a little closer to where I was fishing. He was using a little spin casting rig with bait and bobber and was only casting out a few feet at most so I invited him on over. Since my primary goal for the morning was to try out some new gear, any fish I happened to land where icing on the cake.
After about an hour and a half, I was feeling pretty comfortable with the new gear so I decided to switch rigs and move over to the other side of the pond. I wanted to test a couple of theories I’ve been working on so I rigged up the penfishingrods set-up I mentioned in a previous post and began casting to an area I knew was frequented by Carp and Bass.
I gave myself five minutes before I would pack up and head home.
No sooner had I said to myself, “OK, last cast,” when my rod doubled over and some 30 yards of line peeled of my reel in mere seconds.
Whatever was on the other end zigged and zagged across the middle of the pond and the fight was on. The little PenRod performed admirably, to say the least, and I was having a great time just trying to outmaneuver the fish on the other end.
Unfortunately…or maybe not so, the fish shook off after a few moments. Either way, I was seriously content though my heart was pounding, my hands were shaking and the zing from the drag still echoed in my ears.
I caught myself smiling again.
I reeled my little ultra-light lure in and touched up the hook with my little hook hone before tossing a few more casts across a narrow outlet of the little pond. After a couple of casts I decided to pitch it back to the same spot where I had just hooked up.
Sure enough, another strike, almost as exciting as the first. That one too, shook off after a few moments but, again, it did not matter nearly as much as I expected it would.
However, this time when I reeled in, I knew I would have to get back to the reality of the day and the errands that still needed to be run and the office tasks that still needed to be completed and so on and so on but for just that brief little while I was on holiday and life was just grand, as they say…and I smiled all the way home.
I love this addiction called urban flyfishin’
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