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’.
This Saturday was one of the most amazing experiences that I’ve ever had Fly Fishing.
The weather was perfect, just enough clouds and a little rain to keep the crowds out of the San Gabriel Mountains.
I woke up, checked the forecast (only 1/10th of an inch of rain throughout the day) perfect!
I threw on my gear, hit Jack-in-the-box up for some coffee, and I was on my way.
As I drove up the 605 freeway, I immediately noticed a problem TRAFFIC “on a Saturday morning”, I thought to myself. What was going on? As I passed slowly about 3 mph to be exact, I noticed two cars flipped over on the other side of the freeway.
The adrenaline hit my system, and I drove away with a new sense of safety. Driving a little slower up the mountain I stopped in to renew my yearly Adventure Pass.
The drive up was beautiful, water flowing from every direction.
I passed up the West Fork, and started my way up the North Fork to my ultimate destination Crystal Lake.
I was scoping out a few new spots to stop and fish as a group of bikers road passed going down the hill. Then it happened, one of the bikers started skidding out of control, and he slammed into the side of the mountain. I screeched on my brakes to pull over, threw the truck in park, and jumped out so fast the guy behind me almost ran me over. I stopped and looked both ways. It was clear, and I darted over to the fallen “Road Warrior”.
He had already gotten up and was carrying his Road Bike over to a small dirt patch. His helmet was cracked, but he seemed to be okay and the man in the truck behind me had an extensive first aid kit.
After he was all patched up and back on his way, I again started back on the road even more cautous, I wasn’t about to make it a day of “all crashes and no fishing”. I stopped at a new section and started my way down the path slipping and sliding down the side of wet rocks. When at last I was at the stream.
I cast into a few holes with nothing more than a couple of small about 3 inch Rainbows to show for it. As I moved up though, so did the size of the fish. By the last hole I had an 10and 11inch Trout to the net, and things were starting to look up!
Realizing that it gets dark by 5:00 pm I hurried back to my vehicle, still wanting to ultimately wet a line at Crystal Lake. I arrived to find the gate unfortunately locked, and it was time for the cold tired feet to get back to action.
Finally I was there. I pulled out a Size 16 Rubber Leg Yellow Stimulator, with a Size 16 dropper Flash Back Hares Ear Nymph (my lucky San Gabriel Combo). First cast and first Trout was on.
It was a stocked fish, small only about 8 inches. However I was cold and tired and a “fish is a fish” no matter the size. So I cast a couple more times and caught a few more small fish.
I decided to call it quits, but as I looked up I realized I was literally in the middle of a rain cloud. The Air was dense and cold immediately, and it felt like I was breathing in water. It poured out on the Lake for about 3 minutes, and then just a quickly as it came it was gone.
I took it as a sign to make one last cast, and luckily I did. My Stimulator completely disappeared. I sent the hook, and before I knew it I was into a 13 inch Trout.
It was every bit of 13 inches, trust me I measured it in my net, but it was the skinniest thing I had ever seen.
I guess even the Hatchery Fish are feeling the Economic Recession!
Urban Fly Venturing, a Disease Worth Catching!
It’s that time of year. Fall is upon us. All of the sudden I need an extra cup of coffee to get up in the morning, and somehow I’ve gone from 24 to 65 years old within a matter of days.
The shorter days mean less light, and less light means less time to fish. The only reason that I don’t fish at night during the cold season, is just as the name suggests it’s COLD!
Having been born and raised here in So Cal, I’m basically a wimp if the weather drops below 50 degrees.
But, I digress.
The point is that the warmwater species will start hunkering down. Their metabolisms will slow, they will pass up my flies, and I will start spending way too much time clean and organizing my fly gear.
Basically, the point is that I try to make the most of the time I have left. I’ve been hitting the closest body of water before work, after work, and just about any other 30 minute session that I can squeeze in.
This time on the water has really tested my skills as an angler. The fish have gotten selective, but under the right conditions the payoff can be nice.
I have literally caught more big “er” Sunfish in the last couple of weeks, than I have the whole rest of the year. I guess the little guys just can’t muster the energy to make a dash at my fly.
So don’t give in to your instincts and turn into a bear that hibernates the cold weather away. Or maybe even turn into a Fly Guy that only gets out when you can catch the Blueline. The local puddles still have a lot to offer, even on those cold and windy days.
The Brownline might be slowing down, but sometimes a little change in pace is all that we need to get our mind back in the game!
Urban Fly Venturing, a Disease Worth Catching!
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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