Modern life is full of rites of passage: first date, getting your driver’s license, graduation from high school, maybe college, and later, a first pay check, the one where you find out that gross pay and take-home pay are two radically different numbers.
If you love fly fishing, add to that list buying your first fly rod and – on the down side – experiencing your first broken section.
I feel at least somewhat lucky that my first broken rod just happened after years of fishing. True, my son lost his tip top way back when in Juneau, Alaska, which tried to teach me the lesson I still don’t follow: pack a spare tip top.
But losing a tip top, the very top ring on your rod, and breaking your rod all together are two different miseries.
Most premium companies will repair your rod no questions asked for a processing fee, one of the reasons big-name rods cost so much. You’re actually paying for that replacement rod as part of the cost. And, it turns out, that can actually be a lot of rods during the season. Field and Stream reported one manufacturer saw 500 returned rods per week!
So, how do you protect your rod against getting broken? Here are a few tips:
— Don’t pack your rod in your car unless it’s broken down and away from the door. That’s how I messed up, by keeping my rod strung and whole.
— Don’t pull that carp out of the river horizontally, putting all the pressure on the tip top. Instead point the tip of the rod at the fish and reel it in.
— Use your rod tube when driving to your destination. It’s made to protect your expensive purchase.
— Don’t put your rod on your truck or car’s roof. You might forget it’s there after a long day of fishing and – scrunch, it’s under the tires before you know what happened.
— Always carry a spare.
Who is using a tenkara rod on the river to catch carp? If you haven’t see this “experiment” from a couple of guides in Salt Lake City, it’s pretty cool. Have a look here.
My thought, though, is that if you can’t take some of the fight out of a carp, you’ll never land it, especially if your rod is geared for trout, at 4x or 5x. As our friends over at TenkaraBum said, ” Fishing for carp with a tenkara rod is like taking a knife to a gun fight.
Let me know if you’ve had any luck with tenkara and carp. My son gave me a one for Christmas (for trout), but I’ve yet to check it out.
Yesterday, I came upon three fishermen on the Los Angeles River. Since this is opening weekend in the Sierra, you might ask yourself, “Only three?” Literally thousands of winter-weary anglers invade Bishop, California, the third Saturday in April in search of trout. Lots and lots of hungry, not-too-picky trout.
So, why would coming upon three anglers on our own river be in the least bit unusual? To clarify, it wasn’t actually the number of fishermen as how they were fishing:
— spin cast
— line tied to a tree
Of course, if you also counted my son and me, you’d have to add fly fishing to the mix.
Earlier on, we’d gotten advice from a young dad, who was pushing his two toddlers in tandem along the bike path.
“Lots of fish in there, but you gotta use the right bait,” he said. “Bologne sandwich. Or tacos.”
And he was serious.
Whether the spin caster was using either of those, or the more traditional masa mix, I didn’t ask, but we did manage to make out in a mixture of Spanish and English that he’d just hooked a 20-incher, and released it.
Meanwhile, under the bridge, a dapper Asian gent explained that he was fishing with a Tenkara rod, which he had extended all of its 15 feet in length over the water, suspended in a type of harness, so you could just make out the colorful backward-hackle fly.
“I’m not sure of the name in English,” he said, but the fact that he used no reel told me this was my first time to see this newcomer to the states in action. Created some 200 years ago for fly fishing streams in Japan, the name translates intriguingly as “from heaven.” Tenkara USA opened in San Francisco in 2009.
“Hey!” my Tenkara reverie was interrupted from the other bank as a man with his dark hair pulled back stuck his head out of the bushes, smile on his face, big, bruising carp occupying his hands.
“Want it?” he asked. “People say you can’t catch ’em, but what they eat is worms, worms from the river.”
I shook my head and he respectfully tossed the fish back and disappeared.
I ran into my son a few minutes later, who told me a guy had just asked him if he wanted a fish. “And look,” Will said, “he’s already got another one on the line.”
Sure enough, across the water, a large carp tried to free itself from a line tied to a tree.
“I watched him get his bait on. As soon as the hook went into the water, he had another fish on.”
For our part, all we got using fly lines with a variety of flies was a vicious bite off. I’d carefully maneuvered my crawdaddy imitation close to the mouth of a waiting carp, one who, with at least four friends, waited outside of the strong current.
Will and I watched as the fish inhaled the fly, felt something amiss, turned to run and then jerked his muscular front section, as well as his mouth, dislodging the fly. My No. 3 tippet severed without much of a fuss.
A couple of weeks ago, we got on a roll trying to figure out what, exactly, carp are munching on in the L.A. River, and how we fly fishers can use that knowledge to best advantage.
First, we agreed about carp and crayfish, with McTage writing:
“If there are crayfish, they are on the diet, guaranteed. Crayfish are high on their list of favorites just about everywhere.”
And so it is on our river.
Next, Sean Fenner widened the discussion, commenting that:
“They eat anything they can find. In the L.A. River, they live mostly on crayfish, tilapia and other carp eggs when they spawn, worms, other insects, and their favorite, BREAD. In my opinion, that’s why the Glo-bugs work so well. I also tie a fly that I call the Tortilla, and they seem to jump all over it. People are always down there feeding the ducks, and the left over bread makes for a great meal.”
Now, I haven’t tried fishing during duck feeding time, mainly because of the legendary Duckman, who supposedly kept the Griffith Park Rangers on speed dial, and was always ready to call them in when he saw a fisherman poaching “his” territory. This is most likely ancient history (2007), as I haven’t heard of park rangers anywhere near the area. In fact, one told me that because of budget cuts, they no longer patrolled our water. And now that there’s been a pilot kayaking program on the water, official attitudes have changed, big time.
But … back to the story. After agreeing that Glo-bugs were a potent carp fly, commenter Gregg Martin went on to write:
” We use bread ties in a local park greatly, casting a SUNKEN fly next to the ducks and geese eight inches under an indicator blind. It’s hot when they’re on it! This sure-thing lasts only a couple of weeks, and then they seem to become jaded by our flies. Mine is a spun and packed wool duster material fly on a weighted size 4 M3366 hook, or similar, or the same material spun in a dubbing loop and brushed out. Or, white glo-bug yarn. My son uses a white or flesh colored bunny leech and does well with that, actually no matter what with that.”
Also, he wrote in an e-mail, that the bread fly tied with wool floats like a cork! Martin found this out, to his chagrin, one day with new ties tightly spun on the Mustad 3366. They wouldn’t sink. So now he packs a few of those, but also some that are less tightly spun, with the wool packed over a shank full of .030 lead. His boys use a dubbing loop with wool or Glo-bug yarn over lead as well. He wrote that they often use often a std. wire TMC #4 200R.
Which brought us full circle to McTage, writing:
“Yeah, I have a park here where they feed the ducks like crazy and I have tried a time or two to take advantage of the urban bread-hatch. Not my fault if somebody else is accidentally chumming them in, right No luck though, I have always tried something on top, will try something wet next time.”
Me, too, after I get some time to tie this recipe up. Hopefully, the water will be still enough and the dreaded Duckman won’t lift a feather to stop me.
There’s nothing quite like being new at a sport and being in love with it. Everything, from equipment to practice, cries “potential” to the newcomer who dreams of being great: How great could you become? Maybe if you worked really hard, you would be as good as ________. Maybe better?
That’s the beauty of being in love with a sport, not as a spectator, but as a participant. It can pull you out of yourself, out of your comfort zone and show you a whole lot of possibilities.
Moments spent engulfed in your sport mean moments spend completely in the present. No worries, frets, dark clouds, nothing at all like that. Instead, you are purely “time in,” like K0be practicing without a ball for two hours before practice actually begins. Or the freeze-frame moment of the “Bush Push,” when quarterback Matt Leinart made sure USC beat Notre Dame in the last second of the 2005 game.
Besides lots of practice and a role model to chase, being in love with a sport also means finding a place of camaraderie.
Today, for fly fishers, that place is Orvis on South Lake in Pasadena. Fly-fishing manager David Wratchford and his staff , they’re in a groove. You’ll feel it. You’ll want a piece of it.
Or, for the valley folks, Fisherman’s Spot, where the energy isn’t quite as electric, but the expertise can propel you to look deeper into the sport. I mean they still carry flies invented by Gary Fontaine and featured in his 1984 classic “Caddisflies,” because, historically, these are important.
Once my place of sports awe and camaraderie was Sports Chalet, the original, in La Canada, Calif.
That was pre duplication-store mania, which ended badly with stores closing. That was when the mountain man and founder Norbert Olberz made sure that when you walked up the stairs to the fly-fishing area, you were transported into the world of your sports passion.
There was a big wooden box of flies, all sizes, types, full of mystery, mastery and wonder.
Alas, not anymore.
There were friendly experts who talked about water, and spots, and getting away for that weekend on the water, prepared. They dressed the part in fishing shirts and appropriate angling pants, and never seemed to care if you bought anything or not.
Alas, not anymore.
And there were magnificent fly rods with astounding prices — six, seven, eight hundred dollars — that made me want to save and save my money.
Alas, not now.
In fact, going into the “new” original Sports Chalet just makes me sad.
The wooden magic fly box has been replaced by cheesy, tiny cardboard boxes, sealed in plastic, a passable fly, visible within. It’s the difference between buying shrink-wrapped Romaine lettuce at Fresh and Easy, and going to the farmers market, where the sun shines on each healthy head.
The guys who used to hang out to spin fishing yarns? Now, they wear uniforms and want to “up sell” you on one of the dozen fly rods innocuously stashed in a rack above the countertop.
Guess that’s the good news … if you go to the SC in Arcadia, the store doesn’t carry any flies or rods at all. The “inventory” was quietly removed last month, according to an employee. Yet, take a look at its expert advice about fly fishing. You’d think that the magic fly box would have been there forever.
This summer, we read about some terrible accidents in our outback. In July, three members of a church group went over Vernal Falls in Yosemite and died. According to the L.A. Times, Gov. Jerry Brown said, “It made me shake just looking at him. It’s dangerous. If they slipped, they would have went (sic) right over,” speaking about his reaction to a child standing near the edge of a steep drop-off in the park. This year’s death toll is 14. An estimated 4 million visitors enjoy the park each year.
Closer to home, two hikers in separate incidents both died while hiking near the second waterfall at Eaton Canyon in Altadena.
Fly fishing — even car fishing — usually involves a combination of hiking, stream crossing and wading. Unfortunately for me and for those I’m with, I have a reputation as a “cavalier wader.” Swift water has never fazed me. I would only use a wading stick reluctantly, because it makes casting difficult. And these days, it seems like if I can’t go in tennis shoes and shorts for both hiking and “wet wading” (when you forego the protection of breathable waders), I don’t go.
After this summer, however, I’m revising my old game plan.
Swift, swollen streams have been the norm this year, and I can’t stress how important it is not to take chances. Two weeks ago, I looked into the clear, shallow water of the north fork of Washington’s Stillaguamish River and thought “What the hell, I’ll be across in no time.” Although I did get across the several dozen yards to the other side, the round, mossy, river rocks kept me off balance and the current, even in just two feet of water made for a hazardous crossing. Would I do it again? Yes, but not in sneakers and workout shorts.
Earlier in the summer, my wife and I hiked up to a lake in the Sierra. It was so close to Mammoth that we let our guard down by wearing summer clothes, and took off up the trail. One clue that you’re doing something wrong is meeting a stream of hikers returning to the trailhead — and not a soul on the way up.
Within an hour, the sky changed from yummy summer to rain, then to hail, then back to rain, then back to hail. For a bit, we took shelter under a rock ledge. When we finally arrived at the lake, we were wet and the air temperature read 60 degrees on my stream thermometer. As the wind whipped across the water, I froze my ass off and realized that, yes, my own hubris meant that after a strenuous climb, fishing was way out of the question. Double-time back to civilization.
Get wet enough and your body’s core temperature can drop to a point that you’re in trouble. After hearing our Mammoth tale, neighbor and inveterate hiker Jim Cullen recalled a Sierra backpacking trip during which one member went into hypothermia. They stripped off his clothes, put him shivering in a sleeping bag and had another hiker climb in with him. Both were nude. The man recovered after several hours.
So what can you do to hike and wade safely?
First off, get the right shoes or boots. Visit the local R.E.I, Orvis or whatever. Buy something sturdy that will fit your needs. My boot soles include small spikes that help me — mostly — not to slip.
Next, realize that surfaces you encounter will not be like walking on city asphalt. Self-evident — even silly — but it’s so easy to fall and hurt yourself — or worse. Shale, for example is slippery and unpredictable. It was the most probable cause for one of the deaths in Eaton Canyon. If you’re moving down a hill, be sure to check your footing before attempting to descend. And, ask yourself if you can get back up that grade when you’re tired after day’s end (And, of course, can you find your way back to it!).
If you’re in the water, remember that where you think the bottom is may not be where it actually lies. The Pitt River up north is notorious for its fast water and looming pocket holes. That’s one river in which I always using a wading stick. An errant hole caused by rapid water circulation over the years can snap your ankle in a matter of seconds.
Finally, always check the weather report before you go. In So. Cali., that may seem silly, but in the Sierra, weather can rapidly change. If you’re going into the wilderness, dress in layers. Bring an emergency kit with you, even if it’s just extra water, extra energy bars, a poncho and matches.
And always let someone know where you’re going and what your e.t.a. will be. It’s better to get yelled at by your significant other if you’re late because the rise was too good to leave, than to be stuck under a rock outcrop, freezing your behind off, knowing she doesn’t have a clue where you are.