Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Journey: From Hobby to Way of Life

I have been fly fishing for about a year and in that short time span I feel that my entire outlook on life has changed. I took to fly fishing with a ravenous appetite after a good friend brought me out and showed me the ropes. In that time I have experienced a slowing down of time, a respect for wild fish, and a new attitude towards fishing. As a young man I did not concern myself with the prospect of fish disappearing from streams. Since I began fly fishing I have broadened my perception to all things affecting the lakes and river that I fish. In these tough economic times oil rigs, pebble mines, and the damming of wild rivers may seem like a plausible solution to our energy crisis, but only if we are prepared to live with the disappearance of our wild trout and salmon. I for one cannot and will not stand for a future of fishless streams in which a boy may not be able to create a strong bond on a river catching wild trout.

I had noticed this change in perspective after a recent fishing trip with my father. Suffice it to say that my father and I had not had the best relationship when I was growing up. Between teenage angst, sports, and his job as a California forest fireman, we rarely had the chance to create a strong relationship. The saving grace of our father son relationship was the hunting and fishing trips that my father would take me on. As I grew older we took less and less trips due to tight family schedules and my hectic high school life. I moved out to Missouri at the age of eighteen to attend college and I never looked back. The father and son relationship was further strained by a difficult divorce. In short the outcome was my not speaking to my father for way to long.

The vehicle for rebuilding our relationship came in the form of hunting and fishing trips that we have taken together in the last six months. On the trips we would talk a little here and there about the past and what we both want for the future. My father and I started planning a mountain trout fishing trip this winter and settled on a date in early June. The trip started as a grandiose five day backpacking trip in the Golden Trout Wilderness of California. Mother Nature decided this was not be and graced the mountain region of California with the biggest snow pack in twelve years. Instead we hurtled North towards the Eastern Sierra mountain range passing lake Crowley, Hot Creek, Mammoth, and eventually making our way to Bridgeport where we would find the East Walker river.

We made camp next to the river and headed into town to get the local scoop on the wild brown and rainbow trout action. This was classic western fly fishing waters so I went in thinking of buying humpies and big stoneflies and left with a small tin of micro midges and emergers. I hardly ever nymph so I had my sights set on dry fly fishing, not to mention the fact that this was maybe the third time my dad had ever held a fly rod. After a frigid night of sleeping in a small motorcycle trailer we were anxious to hit the water. The East Walker river is a marvelous trout stream that starts at the base of Bridgeport reservoir and meanders its way towards Nevada creating some classic trout fishing water. The river is so versatile it can be fished with nymphs or midges, streamers, or classic western dries. I spent the whole day perfecting the art of swinging micro midges behind rocks and into pools with little luck. My father who is an avid bass fisherman detested the idea of throwing something so small that it required you to use a magnify glass to tie, so he stuck with an elk hair caddis. The closest we came to a fish was a brief dry fly hatch where I pitched an elk hair into some pocket water and missed a brown as he tried to sip my fly.

Day two brought us to a different stretch of water where we encountered and odd group of anglers who were using bait casters and large wooden swim baits. I asked if the smallmouth where biting thinking that was the only reason for such large tackle. They proceeded to tell us of the multiple six to eight pound wild brown trout they had caught. The guys where really nice and filled me in on the rising water level and the need for me to throw my biggest streamers. My father and I fished close, one behind the other fishing rocks, contours, and pools with big streamers. I tied on a Zonkcora and my father used one of my homemade double bunny baitfish flies. We fished for an hour and took in the scenery until we came to a large pool which ended in some rocky riffles. On a retrieve across the riffles I hooked into my first fish and my heart jumped into my throat as it beat wildly. My father helped me land the fish because he said we did not need a net.

I will always remember two things from the trip, the slimy high five my father and I shared and the most beautiful brown trout I have ever seen. After I had quickly revived the fish by pushing it forward not backwards, my father yelled from the other side of a stand of trees. He had hooked up to what looked like a two pound brown trout, as I needlessly coached him on landing the fish which he did by himself. After another fish slime high five we released a beautiful nineteen inch hook jawed rainbow trout back into the clear waters of the Walker. The attraction to this far flung outpost for fly fishing is that all of the trout are wild with most being brown trout.

I have to thank the people of the Eastern Sierras for their devotion to keeping the walker clean and full of wild fish. I missed the local Trout Unlimited chapter fundraiser the month earlier which both my father and I would have loved. The East Walker is a very special place because of its amazing population of strong, wild, and voracious trout. I grew up a warm water fisherman but I cannot find the words to explain my deep love for cold water trout and salmon. Maybe it was my first trip up to the San Joaquin River and Devils Postpile with my father catching cutthroat trout that ruined me on cold water fish. On this recent trip up in the Bridgeport area it donned on me that fly fishing in a cold mountain stream is a way for me to slow down, watch the water, take in the view, and truly appreciate the art that is fly fishing. I was breathing in the experiences of fish and scenery and exhaling true peace.

Streams like the East walker need to be protected to keep the fish healthy and wild, support the communities, and offer a place where a son can forgive and ask forgiveness of his father. For me the Bridgeport trip wasn’t about catching fish, to me it was about healing, maturation, and true wild beauty. By joining and supporting local Trout Unlimited chapters we can all give back to the cold water species that unite fly fishing anglers.