Striped Bass

As a kid, bass were my thing.  The set of percolation ponds in my neighborhood was full of them.  A few times a week, my brother and I would ride our BMX bikes down to the ponds, spinning gear in tow, and hop the fence.  We'd throw jigs, spinners, and crank baits up against the tule reeds until it was too dark to see.  Just in time for mom to get worried.  We never landed anything huge but it was always a good time. 

When I moved to Texas for High School, the bass just got bigger.  I had turned in my BMX bike for a little truck, which meant my fishing range exponentially increased.  My buddies and I would go to the local lakes and drag plastic worms across the rocky bottoms in search of big largemouth.  Our favorite, however, were the little farm ponds that dotted the North Texas landscape.  Those were the ponds that dreams are made of.  From time-to-time I'd hop the fence (you see a pattern emerging here?) and practice my fly fishing while standing on a bale of hay next the water's edge.  That's really where the obsession began. 

Since moving back to California and graduating college my bass fishing has taken a back seat to exploring the Sierras and searching for trout and steelhead.  With the recent bout of Northern California storms, most of our rivers have blown out again.  No complaints here though, we need it!  To add insult to injury, work has kept me in the city the last few months.  Needless to say, fly tying and watching fly fishing videos can only quench a thirst for so long. 

So...when Aaron asked me if I was interested in heading for a little half-day striper trip in the Bay, I was quick to jump on the bandwagon.  Up early to catch the right conditions, the rain was light and the coffee strong.  We met up with George from  Lost Coast Outfitters and started throwing some bait fish imitations around the structure we could find.  After about an hour or so the rain was absolutely pounding us and we had only landed one fish with a few other bumps between the three of us.  With our tails between our legs we found refuge from the rain and building wind in a local coffee shop. 

We strategized over warm beverages and toasted bagels.  Before long, we were back in the truck and headed to a second spot we thought might be promising. We each took a position along the bank near a current seam and began our assault on the water once again.  Within minutes, Aaron had hooked up with a nice (for a schoolie) striper and George had another bump.  Although the rain and wind just kept getting worse, the water conditions kept improving.  Our casts started landing fish more regularly and eventually we figured out where a nice little pod of fish was setting up.  The three of us bombarded the area with our casts and every few attempts resulted in another fish.  It was only my first time getting after stripers and I left with more than a dozen under my belt.  It can't be that easy right?  

I'm sure the next few times I try to get into a school of stripers I'll be met with a skunk.  That's kind of how this game works though.  Although my expectations are high for my next striper trip, I won't be completely disappointed if the results aren't quite as epic.

Practice Makes Perfect

When I first started fly casting as a teenager, my uncle and I would head out the the grassy fields near his house and practice casting.  I hadn't caught a fish on a fly at the time and it was just what I needed to get started with the sport.  Since then, well... all I do is fish.  Subsequently, my casting isn't always perfect.  To make matters even worse, a lot of the time I'm fishing with split shot, a bobber, and multiple flies.  As you can imagine (or know) casting with that garbage on the end of your line makes for some pretty ugly casting.   

Last year I started practicing casting a little more frequently.  George Revel, the owner of Lost Coast Outfitters hosted bi-monthly casting events at the Golden Gate Angling and Casting Club in Golden Gate Park. George always gave a short little tutorial and then there was plenty of time to practice new concepts and connect with like-minded people interested in fly fishing.  Since those events last summer, I've gone to the casting ponds a little more frequently.  My casting has improved a bit and in turn, my fishing has too.  I'm able to roll cast all that garbage a lot more smoothly and can present a fly with more accuracy and stealth.  Good casting usually means better fishing right?

Although I'd much rather be out on the river fishing, taking some time to practice casting is going to become a more regular part of my routine.  I've been able to incorporate a few new casts into my bag of tricks while at the ponds.  It's the prefect way to test things out in a low stakes environment.  You're not spooking 20' browns or fat carp while trying new casts.  You can play around, get creative, and create serious distance.  If you haven't done so recently, get out there and put in some practice.  It'll pay off!

Top 10 Fly Fishing Videos (Part Two)

So last week I shared numbers 6-10 of my favorite fly fishing videos and this week is all about the top five!  In the top five you'll see some more focus on conservation, cinematography, and plot.  I've also included one last fish porn type video as well.  Again, feel free to comment and share the videos you love best!

#5 Bent

I've got to admit, I feel a little guilty about putting this one on the list, let alone in the top five.  The guys from Montana Wild are getting a lot of bad press lately.  They've be charged with over 50 counts of wildlife code violations for targeting bull trout and filming without permits.  This video doesn't seem to violate those codes so I decided to keep it on the list.  It's got some monster fish in one of my favorite places (Montana) and I was lucky enough to go on a guided trip with Rooster, the star of the video, two years ago.  

#4 The Last Great Place

Octave Zangs and Jason Fitzgibbon did a great job with this video featuring the Clark Fork Watershed and the restoration work that's been going on there over the last few years.  There's some great music, wonderful cinematography, and a strong focus on conservation. Any video featuring one of my favorite places always gets a nod and Montana ranks really high on that list.  They're going to be putting out some more exciting work this year, so keep an eye out for Zangs Films. 

#3 Liquid Gold

This is a fantastic video from California Trout, an organization doing some massively important conservation work here in California.  Here, the subjects of the video head out on a trip through the Golden Trout Wilderness.  This is one of my favorite places on earth.   The fish are amazing, the wilderness is breathtaking, and there's some major solitude in this park. As fishermen, sometimes we get too wrapped up in big fish.  Sometimes the little ones and the places they live are just as fun!

#2 Oh My God!

Another amazing location!  I haven't been to New Zealand but would absolutely love to get there some day.  This video has great music and a perfect plot line.   There's huge fish, struggle, and victory.  All things we encounter on most fishing trips.  It's really nice to see a video share some of the reality with fishing, rather than massive fish after massive fish.  I'm not sure about you, but that's not what it's like when I'm on the river. This one is an absolute must see.

#1 Low and Clear

If you haven't seen it, stop reading and go watch this.  It's pretty cheap online and well worth it.  The first week I bought it, I watched it a dozen times.  Again, great plot, strong music, and a majestic setting.  This one appeals to me on a personal level because I can identify with both main characters.  The intensity and competitiveness I feel on the river brings out the worst in me sometimes and the zen aspects of flowing water and nature bring out the best.  This is the best fly fishing movie out there, hands down.  

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Top 10 Fly Fishing Videos (Part One)

With the new Redington Element's Videos coming out over the past few weeks, I've been thinking a lot about the components of fly fishing that get me most fired up.   Unfortunately, I've been doing a LOT of work lately and not much fishing.  With that, I've had to sneak in some fly tying after 14 hour days or sleepily watch a fly fishing video before getting out of bed at 5:30 in the morning.  An addict needs to get their fix somehow, right?  

This turn to the internet for my fly fishing fix got me thinking about my ten favorite fly fishing videos.  It's a dangerous proposition to do a list like this.  I know some of you are going to disagree, but it's MY list, not a definitive list.  My hope is that you can find some inspiration from the video's below and turn to this list for that fly fishing fix you might be in need of.  But...get out on the water at all costs if you can.  Staring at a computer, watching others catch fish is not the answer!

As you stroll through videos below, feel free to comment and add to the conversation. I'd love to hear more about your favorites.  

#10 The Deepest Valley

Ok, I'm kind of cheating on this one.  It's a sentimental favorite because I'm actually in it.  That aside, Octave Zangs and Jason Fitzgibbon of Zangs Films are a super creative duo.  With outstanding videography skills and conservation knowledge, these two are in the process of making some outstanding content.  They care deeply about the environment, are super creative, and love the outdoors.  When guys like that create video content, you better take notice!  Oh, and the Owens Valley may be one of the most beautiful places on earth.  

#9 Metalhead

An oldie but a goodie.  This one captures an element of steelhead fishing that other videos don't.  It's clear the guys from AEG Media (They did the Geo Bass thing too) are crazy about fishing and steelhead.  They go to any length to chase these fish.  Pouring rain, snow, sunken tents...none of it matters. That's why this one made the cut, it shows how crazy we can get about fishing.  On the flip side, the videography and music are less than ideal.


#8 Fly Fishing Eh'?

This is one of Redington's "Find Your Water" videos that came out last year.  I thought this was a brilliant idea and I love how the Redington team highlighted some really cool people, fish, and places in the series.  If you haven't seen them, you have some work to do.  They're all really neat.  This one made the cut because it highlights three of my passions.  Amber and Brendan (really cool people to boot) are all about fly fishing, tying, and photography.  

#7 Eastern Rises

Although this is just the trailer, the full length video is solid too.  I've probably watched it 173 times by now.  We all have those bucket list places we want to fish before we die and this video documents the place I hope to visit before I'm six feet under.  The Kamchatka Peninsula is desolate, filled with fish, and has a huge potential for adventure.  The music, videography, and plot leave something to be desired but the location is second to none!

#6 Hooke 2013 Souvenirs

My list doesn't have a lot of fish porn, but I had to make an exception for this one.  The guys over at Hooke made a really great compilation of their adventures back in 2013 and put it to a great remix of one of my favorite Arcade Fire songs.  This one got the nod for music and the sense of friendship.  These guys are alway having a blast on the river and you can tell they're constantly stoked, regardless of who's catching fish.  

Raingear Needed

I have to admit, for years, most of my fishing has been done in the summer months.  The long days, warm temperatures, and open access to nearly all of California's trout rivers, the summer is prime time for fly fishing.  To make the summer months even better, the chance of tricking a trout on a dry fly is greatly increased.  On the other hand, the winter months can provide quite the challenge.  The official trout season is closed and fish hunker behind rocks at the river's bottom.  The decreased water temperatures slow the metabolism and feeding is reduced too.  Then, there's the weather.  The short days, wind, and rain make a day on the river that much more of a production.  Most people stay off the river, nestled in the comfort of their warm, dry homes.  

This winter was a completely different experience for me.  After a few winters dipping my toe in the lifestyle of the steelhead fishermen, I've become much more comfortable with sliding on the waders, zipping up the rain jacket, and heading out on the river, rain or shine.  The process is actually becoming quite comfortable for me at this point too.  With the crowds off the river, there's plenty of opportunity to find solitude and cover water at whatever pace you'd like.  

Recently, my friend Aaron and I spent a weekend on the Lower Sacramento river.  We drove north from San Francisco on a Saturday morning in the pouring rain.  At first I didn't think twice about the weather.  It wasn't until we reached I-5 that the prospect of standing in a cold river being soaked by rain and beaten by wind began to become a reality.  Each of the next few days presented us with slightly different conditions.  Some days we ducked and weaved through mild rainstorms and solid hatches of baetis and midges.  Other days, we could barely get our fly lines in the right current to produce a natural drift.  Regardless, the fish were eager and the crowds were thin, exactly what we were looking for.  

With the short days through the winter months, I find myself getting antsy after long periods in the city.  Without a dose of the natural world...the sounds of the river, the feel of a fish in your hand, and the expansive views of the mountains, the winter can be long.  This winter, however has been a great one.  It's taught be how to approach the river with new techniques and made me realize that a day in the rain catching fish is a lot better than a day stuck inside a studio apartment in downtown San Francisco.  For years to come, I'll see the shoulder seasons and the deep winter as prime times to target large migratory trout, steelhead, and match winter hatches on the few rivers open to fishing year round.  The rainy season may now be one of my favorites!

Alone in the Woods

As a principal of a school, I'm given many gifts.  I'm able to support teachers in growing their skills, connect with kids, and build a feeling of community at our school.  It's truly rewarding work and I love it.  However, it's a lot of long hours saturated with stress.  Fortunately, I get a good deal of time off to rest and reconnect with nature.  Over winter break I took some time out from family obligations and went north on my own.  Over the course of two days, I explored some of my favorite rivers and to my delight, they allowed me complete solitude. On one of those rivers, I spent the day being rained on while gliding nymphs through off colored pocket water.  The cold weather and damp conditions kept everyone near the fire while I was waist deep, balancing on submerged boulders. 

As anticipated, there were plenty of fish to be had.  I've fished this particular river for about four years now, mostly solo.  There are a few spots that consistently produce fish and they're always rainbows, sometimes big ones.  However, this time, I was able to hook up with a nice 19-20" brown that caught me by surprise.  Once I landed that big girl, the rest of the day was icing on the cake.  I fished slowly, reflecting on the beauty of the river, and took every opportunity to soak in the solitude.  Towards the end of the day I explored some new water that had piqued my interest on my last trip. The new water greeted me with good success.  I'm not sure about you, but when I'm on my own, I tend to fish the places I know well.  The places I know produce fish and that I know few people will be.  Sometimes getting away from that routine can be just as, if not more, rewarding. As the sun began to dip behind the pines, I took my last few casts and walked back up the steep dirt trial to my car.  With a deep breath and an even deeper sense of contentment, I packed up my fly boxes, broke down my rod, and drove back to the quiet hum of a small mountain town for the evening.  

Why I Fish...

In the past few months I've talked about some of the reasons fishing is such a passion for me.  From the complex puzzle trout and moving water present to the beautiful landscapes, and escape from the stresses of every day life, the reasons I fish are many.  Most of which are actually pretty hard to articulate in writing, it's something you just have to experience.  However, we all know the power of a good friend.  A solid fishing buddy is that and so much more. 

When I'm on the water, I'm more than happy to spend a few days adventuring on my own.  The solitude and silence of being alone in nature is a really great reset button for a self-identified introvert like myself.  On the other hand, fishing with a friend or two makes things that much better.  Over the years I've fished with quite a few really great people.  Some I met in college others through Instagram or at the Golden Gate Angling and Casting Club.   Regardless of where they've come from,  being immersed in nature with a good friend tends to magnify the experience of fooling a tricky brown trout or landing that pig that crushed a 6 inch articulated streamer. 

When I'm out on the river with a buddy our approaches vary depending on the water we're fishing.  Some days we get to the river and fish "together" giving thumbs up and the occasional hoot or holler from a few holes apart.  Other times we're on tiny creeks trading runs and riffles.  One of us sneaks up on the fish while the other tries to spot feeding fish.  By approaching the river as a team we get to trade tips, advice, flies, and help with the netting or photography of a really nice catch.  

Fishing with a friend also gives you time to share stories of fishing adventures past.  Long car rides or post river beverages give plenty of time to reminisce about that one pond we'd sneak onto in college, the last trip to Montana, or that rainbow that aired out three times before spitting the hook earlier in the day.  This type of comradarie make me enjoy this sport more that I would if I was on the river alone.  It's a chance to connect about the happenings of life, push each other to make a cleaner cast, and share in the beauty of the places that fishing takes us.

I'll always appreciate my time on the river alone but sharing the experience with a friend, building relationships, community, and a shared story makes this sport a really special one.  I'm not sure if it's just the people I've met through fishing or if it's just anglers in general that seem to be really solid people.  We're fortunate to share this great passion and I feel lucky to have friends willing to get out on the river with me.  Friends that will fish for 12 hours without hesitation. Friends willing to hike long trails or dip into unknown creeks to chase wild fish.  A good fishing buddy is hard to find and even more challenging to replace.  I fish because sharing this passion with a friend makes the experience of adventuring through mountains and rivers more memorable. 

Get out there and bring your buddy!

Wading the Lower Sac

The Lower Sac is one of those rivers with ungodly numbers of trout per mile.  On a good day, it can be nearly non-stop.  The fish that come out of the upper stretches of the river can get huge too!  The guide I go with has landed three rainbows over 25 inches this year.  All healthy fish with big shoulders.  To make it even more fun, the fish fight hard and know how to use the river flows to their advantage.  They also eat small bugs, so they're not easy to keep on the line. They're truly amazing trout.  

The few times I've fished this river in the past, it's been from a drift boat.  Although a drift boat isn't mandatory, it sure makes access easier.  It can be an intimidating river on foot.  This last weekend, I spent two days up in the Redding area fishing on my own.  Since the steelhead rivers were blown out, I took some advice from one of the guys at The Fly Shop and decided to wade fish some sections near Redding.  

Upon approaching the river, I wasn't exactly sure where to start.  You know that feeling when you have an insurmountable about of work on your desk, or a filthy house to clean?  Yeah, that's the feeling.   With a little trepidation, I stepped into the river and started throwing drifts in likely holding spots.  For some reason I wasn't riding high with confidence about the approach I was taking, but I stuck with it anyways.  About 15 minutes into the session, a big (probably just over average for the Lower Sac) rainbow came up and took a look at the dry fly floating over it's head.  Just as it was about to take the fly, it quickly retreated to the depths of the run.  With that, I knew I was doing something right and my confidence started to move in the right direction.  A few minutes later, I was hooked up.  Unfortunately, this fish ran left, then right and snapped my 5x within a few seconds.  With a huge smile, I kept working the run, knowing I was going to get a good one eventually.   

Just then, bugs started coming off the river in earnest.  It was time!  With a nice long drift, right on the edge of a current seam, a solid fish crushed my dry fly and started running down stream.  Wading in the fast current made it difficult to control where the fish was going without breaking off again.  Eventually, I was able to get it into some softer water to land it.  From there, the flood gates opened and I had a good series of fish that owned me and few more that came to rest in my net.  After a several hours of wading in some serious current and landing a solid number of strong wild fish, I made my way to the bank.  Once back at the car, I realized it was only 1:00.  With Christmas a day away, I reluctantly unlaced the wader boots and packed up for home.  I'm regretting the decision to leave early, just a little...