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’.
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.
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’
The weather is changing, the Days are getting longer, and the Bass are starting to switch over from the Spawn.
I’ve been over to Heartwell a couple of times over the last week or so, with an hour or two to fish in between work and other commitments. From this experience I can tell you two things; the Sunsets in Southern California are amazing and the Bass are switching from the Spawn to attack mode.
The other day I strolled up from the parking lot to find a few of the regulars fishing the lake, along with a couple of guys I had never seen before. I did a quick walk around scoping for beding fish, and keeping an eye out for roaming Bluegill.
After spotting quite a few Panfish in the shallows and a few Males still guarding fry, I decided to throw a size 8 Minnow imitation with a 5x leader, since the fish are still a little skiddish from being fished so hard.
After a couple of casts I had a decent 1 1/2 Pound Male off a bed and a couple of Juvies sitting on structure.
I decide to move over to the other side of the lake and started talking to Juan (a regular Conventional Guy at the Lake), when I heard the all too familiar grunt of a Bass Guy setting the hook on a baitcaster. So we walked over to see what all the commotion was about, and the guy was hooting and hollering about being stuck on something (running back and forth trying to get his lure free).
We both noticed he was pulling in on a lot of line, and then it dawned on us that he had a Carp on the other end.
I sat there watching him as he struggled to bring the fish to the surface, realizing he was going to need my net. After about 15 minutes the mammoth beast was in the net (well only half of it would fit) and he had just caught about a 15 pound carp.
Not super long, but one of the thickest ones that I have ever seen, and with the yank of his lure he had foul hooking the fish in its fin. After a couple of glory shots the behemoth was back in the water, none the worse and I think that was the most excitement I’ve has watching a Conventional guy catch a fish!
Late last week, my fishin’ buddy, Sean sent me a text about an hour after I had had the same thought: “smmr nd ner, bttr hit LAr this wknd or 2 L8” which translates to “The end of the Summer fishing season is near, we better hit the L.A. river this weekend or it will be too late.”
Perhaps it was some unconscious thing we each felt from years of watching for the subtle changes in our seasons or perhaps we had each felt the constraints (read that as anxiety) that comes with shortening days, but in any event, we both seemed to sense that change was in the air and we might not have another chance to brown-line the Los Angeles River before the first rains of the seasons flooded the channel — changing the bottom terrain and washing fish and vegetation downstream so as to render unproductive the spots we had worked so hard to learn.
That being said, I texted back, “Sun aftr 3rd” which translates to “ Let’s hit the river on Sunday afternoon after church.” (more or less).
Sunday couldn’t have cooperated any better. The air temp was pleasant. The winds were light. The lush summer growth of saplings on the sand bars provided plenty of shade and, best of all, there were virtually no other anglers at our target site. In other words, urban fly fishin’ at its best.
We both eagerly headed upstream, rigging our 8-weights as we walked.
We hop-scotched the various pools where we had each had taken fish on previous visits and we fished hard…but with no success.
The lengthening shadows from the lowering sun added to the beauty but also increased our anxiety and desire to find the fish before it got too dark.
While we fished, long, noisy v-formations of Canadian Geese began to fly in overhead before dropping down to the smooth water out toward the middle of river.
Despite the intensity of our quest, it was one of those moments that truly takes the breath away and the few pictures we were able to snap betray the shakiness of our hands as we watched in awe. We were after all, and as I’ve said before, standing in the geographic center of some tens of millions of people and roughly eight minutes from the very heart of Los Angeles.
It was utterly amazing. The only thing lacking were the fish.
As the shadows grew deeper we reluctantly turned and began making our way back toward the car. Normally at this point of the day, we would hump it up the steep sides of the bank and walk along the flat portion at the top of the channel where we would be less likely to trip or slip. This day, however, neither one of us seemed willing to concede to the River so we fished our way downstream, back over the water we had already covered.
I have no idea if it was dumb luck, sheer desperation, acquired skill or a combo of all three, but some little tickle in the back of my skull told me to switch flies to a bright yellow egg pattern. I fumbled around in the gloom and took twice as long as usual to tie on my fly and after a seeming eternity, finally made my cast in the proximity of a large flotilla of paddling waterfowl.
And, just like in the movies and all the really good books, my line went tight, droplets of water sprayed, my rod doubled over and…I had my fish.
Not just any fish mind you, but a decent size Carp – a “Barrio Bonefish” that had sucked in my offering and then in a split second had stripped three-quarters of the line off my reel in an insane dash toward the deeper middle parts of the river.
And suddenly, right there amidst the green slime and bits of trash and discarded Styrofoam coffee cups and graffiti and broken beer bottles – I was back in church, if you catch my drift.
Now, just so you know, I get just as excited as the next guy but I rarely yell and scream. That day however, and for that fish, I yelled and screamed. So much so that it set a considerable number of geese off in an explosive though short-lived panic flight.
My fishin’ buddy Sean, who was yelling and screaming too (after all that’s what fishin’ buddies do) was there with the net when I finally brought my fish in and he was also there with camera ready when said fish was finally in hand.
After the obligatory pics and after I thanked said fish for a good fight and after I sent him off to fight again another day, we made our way up the steep sides of bank and onto the flat portion at the top of the channel.
It hardly took any time at all to get back to the car. “Smmr nd ner, bttr hit LAr this wknd or 2 L8”.
I love this addiction called urban fly fishin’.
One of the U.K.’s biggest Carp “Two Tone” dies and not only does he get stuffed and donated to the Natural History Museum. He also gets a plaque at the lake where he resided, getting big and fat off of bait all those years. Man, they treat those Carp good in Europe! I guess things are just a little different over there.
Seeing Carp in a Feeding Frenzy for the first time, was like witnessing the 8th wonder of the world. It’s amazing to see fish jumping out the the water thrashing about, tails up and their mouths in the dirt.
Last Saturday I just so happened to witness this very event, and to make things even better I had my fly rod in my hand.
The morning started out foggy and cold, and the weather had me thinking that a skunk was lurking right around the corner. Little did I know that I would have one of the best fishing experiences of my life.
I drove up to the water, and I could not believe my eyes. Splashing, Tailing, Bubbling, Carp everywhere my hands were shaking on the stearing wheel. I jumped out of the car almost forgetting to put in park, and pulled out the 8 weight.
First cast and boom a 8 to 10 pounder nails the fly and my drag goes screaming off the reel. After about 5 minutes the fish tired out and 1 carp in the net. Cast number 2, and the same result Carp on, could this really be happening! All in all I caught 8 Carp and had more bites than I could count, and this all happened within an hour.
As quick as the action was on it turned off, and I decided to call it a day. I just couldn’t let it be ruined if I was not able to hook another fish. So, I pack up the rod and reel, jumped in the truck and rode off into the sunset. Well, not into the sunset more like to McDonalds for an Egg McMuffin.
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