Fishing With Kids

This is a departure from my traditional video posts, brought about in part by a lack of opportunity to fish this summer. This reminisce is part of a longer piece about fishing with kids. The inspiration was a couple of recent camping trips with my daughters, Sophie and Beatrice. Any comments / suggestions appreciated.

The first time we’d been camping with Soph, when she was two, didn’t have the outcome I’d been hoping for. Kym and I fitted out the truck with a big comfy mattress, and we drove up to a mountain lake 20 miles from town, the last five lurching back and forth up a rutted four-wheel drive road. Eating dinner as dusk settled over the mountains, the air was perfectly still, the mirror-like lake reflecting the deepening hues of the evening sky and darkening mountains. Dimples began breaking the surface, intermittently at first, now with greater urgency. The evening rise was coming on, insects hatching from the depths, the fish rising to gorge on the bounty. Nirvana.

I unloaded my one man pontoon boat from roof of the truck, and carried it eagerly to the water’s edge. There would be an hour, perhaps an hour and a half, of the kind of dry fly fishing dreams are made of. No time to waste. I hurriedly strung up my rod, fumbling into my chest pack for a fly box when the first wail split the stillness. I turned, glancing back towards our campsite, to see Kym emerge from the back of the truck, shrugging her shoulders.

Figuring if I ignored the potential problem it might go away, I continued tying on a small elk hair caddis, turning back towards the lake. The risers were now working at least half the lake’s surface, a glutinous display of Caligula-like proportions imminent. The second and third wails came in quick succession. Kym was now holding her, standing at the back of the truck, making an eye contact unmistakable in its intent from 50 yards away. I put down the fly rod and walked toward them. “She doesn’t want to stay here. She doesn’t want to sleep in the truck.” She’d just realized camping didn’t mean eating hotdogs by the lake and then going home.

“Sophie honey, it’ll be fun. We’ll look up at the stars, and you can watch Daddy catch some fish.” The last said in hope rapidly turning to despair. She could be a bear with a sore head if she didn’t get her way. She wailed some more, and I remembered there were a couple of other campers around the lake. It was tough enough having my own sense of serenity broken, let alone being responsible for shattering that of others. I wearily trudged down to retrieve the pontoon boat, the lake now a slow boil of rising fish. Loading up, we headed back down the mountain in the deepening night. She fell asleep almost instantly, but the road was too narrow to turn around. Besides, if she woke up and we were back at the lake, there’d really be hell to pay.



It’s Been Awhile….

The phone rang in the morning. It was Caveman on the other end. “Man, we gotta get out on the river. I just floated it with my kids yesterday, and you should have seen what I saw. We’ve gotta throw some flies.”

I’d checked the flow gauge that morning, and knew that the level had dropped to around 2000 cfs. Still pretty high for float fishing, but after the extended runoff, the river was finally clear, and the fish were bound to be hungry.

“I’d love to, but I’ve gotta work today. Maybe later in the week.” I silently cursed in equal measure the laws of economics, and the Puritans and their damned work ethic.

“What time do you finish? I’ll meet you at Salida East,” came the reply.

I thought for about three seconds: wife and kids out of town, no domestic duties, lawns are mowed, cat has food. “Good idea. See you at four.”

Anglers normally expect to lose the best part of the month of June to high water, but not since 1995, to my recollection, have levels stayed so high for so long. So the sight of the river finally clearing and dropping had me happy as a clam. I threw my gear into the back of the car and headed to the office, hoping that no one would walk in the door at 3:55 wanting to buy a house.

Luck held, and by 4:15 my rod was rigged, I had a cold beer in my hand, and it was time find out how often I could cast close enough to the bank, and how hungry the fish really were. The answers to those questions proved to be: sometimes, and pretty.

The tough part about float fishing at these levels is trying to get a drift of over five seconds duration. The river is moving so fast, and the fish holding so tight to the edges, that often there isn’t even time to mend before the current has taken hold of your line and dragged the fly out from the narrow strip of slow water along the bank. A fast action rod is a real plus, the ability to deliver the fly where you want it quickly really helps.

At least it isn’t rocket science figuring out where the feeding fish are holding. They are riding out the deluge in whatever slack water they can find, hanging on to the willows and brush piles along the bank, mixed in with all the Nalgene bottles, baseball caps and tevas, testament to several weeks of high water rafting carnage upstream. You’ve got to be prepared to cast your fly in there after them, and not be afraid to lose a few in the process.

Trying to slow the boat down isn’t easy either. On the oars, you’ve got to pick your battles, knowing when to put the brakes on for the slower water, and when to let the current take you where and when it wants.

As the river continues to drop, I’d expect the conditions to get easier, and the fishing to get better and better. We caught a decent number of fish, turned a few more, and got spanked by several. All in all a great day, with the prospect of many more on the horizon.


Carp Fishing in Old Mexico

“I’m going fishing tomorrow. San Luis Lakes

Kym regarded me over the top of her beer. “There are fish there?”

“Kinda. Carp.”

Even her sunglasses couldn’t hide the look of amusement in her eyes. “Poor thing. You must be desperate.”

Through no fault of their own, carp don’t enjoy the best reputation. Understandable when you’re the cellar dweller, the janitor of your domain, picking over everyone else’s left-overs. Yet the last few years have seen a change in attitude to carp among fly fisherman – some even openly admit to deliberately targeting them. They grow big and strong, and if you close your eyes and imagine real hard, you can almost tell yourself you’re bonefishing.

When Pinky suggested we go carping, I thought what the hell. He, Caveman and Bill had been down to the lakes a few days previous, enjoying great success. It’d been a month since I’d had a rod in my hand, and with snowmelt and runoff everywhere I wasn’t about to turn down an opportunity to fish.

Crossing over Poncha Pass, you enter a different world. The San Luis Valley, the largest alpine valley in the world, opens out before you, the highway running south straight as an arrow, through Old Mexico. People here still scratch a living out of the earth as they have done for centuries, Utes, Hispanics and Anglos. It is a place where for less than the price of a new pick-up, a person can buy a big square of land to get away from it all. You just need to make peace with the wind, dust, heat and cold, and have an affinity for miles of greasewood and rabbitbrush.

Rigging our rods lakeside, I took in the view. The Sangres stretched north to south as far as the eye could see. Drought has dropped the lake level to where you can wade from one side to the other, a half mile or more, without getting in over your hips. The mud on the shoreline has been baked to a parched crust, the lake’s waters a milky brown, tinged blue under the cloudless sky. There is something serene, something other worldly, about the place. It has juju, a presence. It’s one of the few places in the world where you stand an equal chance of catching a fish, or getting abducted by an alien.

Subsurface, the lake’s inhabitants dwell in a world of murky twilight to pitch black. Visibility is little more than six inches. Stepping out into the water takes faith – it’s like stepping out into a cloud. There is no measure for depth, the smooth, muddy lake bed reassuring you to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

With no structure to cast to, no current save that generated by the fickleness of the wind, you look for “nervous water” to betray the possibility of a fish – somewhere your gut tells you there is activity – bubbles on the surface, a dark splotch or swirl in the milky gloom, a shadow near the surface, perhaps real, perhaps a trick of  wind and light. If ever a setting typifies the optimism of fly fishing, this is it. Cast retrieve, cast retrieve, move a little, scan the water, cast retrieve. You fall into a kind of self hypnosis. There’s plenty of time to let your mind wander.

Random thoughts flit through your head: what happened to that girl you had your first crush on in middle school? What is it about politicians and their penises? Why is part of the lake’s surface is rippled by wind, but not moving closer? Then a tug on the end of your line wakes you from your reverie. You feel your fly come loose from whatever it was chewing on it, and let out an expletive heard across the other side of the lake. Spanked again, dammit. Concentrate.

By the end of the day, gorgeous and cloudless, I’d walked about two miles back and forth across the lake, on my feet for six hours, all for four strikes and no hook ups. Pinky fared about the same, while Caveman carried the banner with a fish landed and several more broken off. With a couple of hours of video footage of me staring around and casting to nothing, I had to pirate these photos of the previous trip from Pinky. Despite the lack of success, I’d go back in a heartbeat.


Who Ate All The Caddis???

It’s been a funny old spring for an angler on the Arkansas. The usual rules of engagement haven’t been observed. What, you may enquire, are the usual rules? Well, they’re the ones where around the beginning of April the weather starts to warm consistently. River levels remain low and constant. The increased sunlight warms the water and the riverbed itself. Once the water temperature reaches around 54 degrees, millions of little bugs called caddis flies hatch. These caddis are feasted on by fish and fowl, and indirectly by fishermen, who descend on the river in equally impressive numbers to catch the fish that are catching the caddis.

But this time around, someone rewrote the script. The weather patterns have been all over the place – one day warm and in the 70s, the next snowy and 30. The river level has been rising steadily, making it harder for the suns rays to do their thing. Consequently, over the past month, scarcely a caddis had been seen. Which begs the question – where are the little buggers?

I’ve been on the river most days this past month, and have seen one day when there were caddis hatching in decent numbers, and fish feeding on them. Here we go, I thought, even proudly posting on Facebook that the hatch was underway. Since then, barely a thing. The odd caddis skittering about in the wind, the odd fish munching on one. In years gone by, they have hatched in incredible numbers, millions rising from the surface of the river like snow flakes in reverse. There is little you can do in such situations but pull the boat over to the side of the river and marvel at nature’s bounty and intricacy.

All this is not to say that the fishing, per se, has been lousy. Quite the contrary. The odd day excepted, the fishing has been consistently good. If your aim was to catch a fish on a dry fly, however, you may be disappointed. Which is your problem, and yours alone. Its a reminder that ultimately, each day we take what the river gives us.

But I still would like to know: what has happened to the caddis? Are they going to hatch later? Were last years males all firing blanks? Have they been taken up in some kind of heavenly insect rapture? Even the swallows seem to be in on the act. Usually, this time of the year, their nests under bridges are teaming with life and new hatchlings. So far, they have been strangely empty, as if they know something we don’t.

So from now on, when people ask me what’s going on, after this spring, I’m just going to shrug. Don’t ask me, I’m only a human.


Messing About in Boats

“There is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing around in boats.”

Thus said Rat, in the process opening a whole new world of possibilities to the the workaholic Mole. The fact that there was no point to the day, no destination or purpose, was the point.

So it should be. While we might hit the river with various excuses to justify it – friends in town, unexpected day off, need to try out the new fly rod, find out what the fish are up to for my guide trip tomorrow – the reality is that we really, or should be, doing it for the intangibles it provides.

The other day, boat parked out of a cold rain under a bridge, we sat for a couple of minutes and watched. A dipper moved in and out of the rocks along the shore bank searching for food, then filled the air with song more melodious than seemed possible to emanate from such a small creature. To whom or what she was singing was left unknown, but the gift of the song still richly reverberates.

On a recent float trip, I rowed the boat to the side of the river, seeking respite in the lee of a cliff from the constant wind, pushing us unwillingly downstream. At such times you are thankful for small mercies, namely that it was not, at least, blowing upstream. Mayflies had been hatching all afternoon, but getting blown off the water, their upright wings serving as unwitting spinnakers. In the lee, there was some shelter, and we watched as they bobbed and pirouetted down the eddy lines, running the gamut of the fish eagerly rising to them where they could.

The fish themselves were holding a couple of feet below the surface, unconcerned at our presence some twenty feet away, rising unhurried and fluid to the mayflies as they drifted. Do the mayflies sense the danger, I wondered, or do they float on, unaware of the predators watching, and the randomness of their circumstance?

It’s probably not a good thing for a guide to respond with “Who cares?” when asked “How’s the fishing?” But reality is that the fishing is always good. It’s only ever the catching that varies, and as Rat so succinctly observed:

“Nothing seems really to matter, that’s the charm of it. Whether you get away, or whether you don’t; whether you arrive at your destination or whether you reach somewhere else, or whether you never get anywhere at all, you’re always busy, and you never do anything in particular.”