July, 2010

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The Days of Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches

Monday, July 26th, 2010

Young people need models, not critics

-John Wooden

Remember when the days of summer were as long as the season itself? Carefree days between grades of school?  The days before jobs, mortgages, and other pressures stole the wonder from the world?

A break from fly fishing

Streamside PB&J

Those were the days of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

I had a chance to revisit them over the past weekend with my son and his friend, both 9 years old.

We hiked along streams in the name of searching for wild trout on the fly. We found much more than that.

We saw tarantulas running into their den. Wild horses mobbed the car like groupies at a rock concert. We got soaking wet every day by heavy rain and splashed in the puddles.  Exploring an old abandon ranch headquarters of decrepit stone and log buildings, we collected rusting and rustic artifacts.

Skipping stones. Climbing over and under standing fences and downed trees. Gathering wildflowers and smashing plate-sized mushrooms. Beating logs with sticks. Chasing frogs, watching birds, catching grasshoppers. We did it all.

Oh yeah, occasionally we fished too.

Dapping a Fly on an Escudilla stream

Dapping a fly

We kept it simple. A large bushy dry, sometimes with a midge or nymph dropper will fool most wild fish if you can stay hidden enough.

In all, we fished four streams- three of the Black River and one of the Little Colorado drainages. Each held their own wonders, not the least of which was trout. We covered a few miles, but there were so many distractions from the task we covered fewer than I had planned in my narrow adult mind.

Each day, we had a peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch.

I had forgotten how good they taste – maybe it was the air,  but more likely it was everything else.

I think I’ll have one now. As soon as I am done catching grasshoppers.

Apache-Rainbow Hybrid Escudilla

An exciting distraction

Ubiquity

Sunday, July 18th, 2010

Our demons are our own limitations, which shut us off from the realization of the ubiquity of the spirit…each of these demons is conquered in a vision quest.

-Joseph John Campbell

Ask most Arizona anglers how many trout streams they can name on the National Forest portion (non-reservation) of the White Mountains in the eastern part of the state and I would guess their answer would be less than a dozen. In reality, there are far more. Taking out a map and not counting forks of the same name, I stopped listing them at 33. This includes only waters I have fished or have very reliable second-hand knowledge of. The fact is, they are everywhere.

Apache-Rainbow on Feeding Station

Trout on Station

As proved by a recent outing,  they are as different as they are everywhere.

The past few days, I passed some time fishing with Joe DiSilvestro. Joe has a keen interest in indigenous and wild trout of the West and has spent considerable time and effort over several decades pursuing these fish in their native habitats, including the White Mountains. He is also one of the finest small stream anglers I have ever seen. His bow and arrow casts shoot true, threading through tree and willow to deliver his fly to targets small as a dinner plate.

I have stomped around the streams of Eastern Arizona, and the West at large, for a few decades myself. So after a conversation, Joe and I made plans to show each other some waters one of us had fished, but the other had not.

On  mid-elevation feeders of the San Fransisco River, we found brown trout in beaver dams and plunge pools protected by New Mexican Locust and shaded by Arizona Ash and Ponderosa Pine. We saw turkey and elk.

Along two high-elevation streams of the Little Colorado River drainage we fooled Apache-Rainbow hybrids under the shadow of Ponderosa Pine, Quaking Aspen, and Douglas Fir.

Apache Rainbow Hybrid

Apache Rainbow Hybrid

From the runs, riffles, and pools of a  remote alpine stretch on a  fork of the Black River, we sampled resident Brown and Apache Trout. A Bighorn Sheep was sighted among the spruce and through the willows.

We probably covered about ten miles of trout stream in the three days and double that in terms of miles walked. Each mile was as different as our names – Joe and Mike. On the converse, many people share our names but each is a different a person. As such are  trout streams: defined by differences in flora, fauna, and topography, yet waters united in ubiquity.

In Praise of the Smallest of Waters

Tuesday, July 6th, 2010

Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.

-Mother Teresa

A small stream is Arizona is truly small. Tiny. Diminutive. Consider the East Fork of the Black River. In most places it would be thought of as a tiny stream or dismissed as a creek. Here, we call it a river. In the Desert Southwest, the size of water is  relative.

The size of trout is a relative thing too. A small trout from a big water might well be a big trout from a small water.

So then what is a small Arizona trout stream? In my book, it is a perennial flowing or even ephemeral water which contains trout (preferably wild) which you can step across with an average inseam.

Small Stream

Step Across

These waters have their fans and, in the case of waters with wild trout, these fans are often secretive fanatics. People who fish are often tight-lipped  enough, but these fanatics can take it to a whole new level. Fishing itself is an uncertain search for the elusive. A hunt for a small trout stream in water-starved Arizona is an elusive search for the elusive. Fishing for small streams to fish is thus secretive and elusive squared.

Consider me one of these fanatics to the second power.

This past holiday weekend in the White Mountains, my wife joined me on an another obsessive quest for new water. On a map, I had spied a tributary of a tributary of a tributary of the Little Colorado River. I had been looking at it on paper for several years but did not know if it held fish or not. We embarked figuring that there is only one way to find out for sure.  If nothing else, we were sure to find relief form the masses on one of the busiest weekends of the year up on the mountain.

The stream was not accessible by road, so we left town and sometime after the road turned to dirt we pulled the car off to the side, humped our day packs on, and headed out into the forest in the general direction of the stream. After slipping under a barbed-wire fence we found a long-abandoned road which gently wound down into the canyon. As we neared the creek the mosquitoes closed in on fresh meat.

Pocket Pool

The stream was running and along it was a trail. A game trail was to be expected but this was not just a game trail. This fact was obvious because it had been cleared over the years on occasion by chainsaw. There were cuts ranging from ancient to probably as recent as last year. Why would anyone clear a trail back here in the middle of nowhere? I was not sure, but had a few guesses in the back of my head.

Spooking a small herd of deer, we continued upstream along the trail. The canyon was heavily shaded by old growth Ponderosa Pine, Douglas Fir, and Blue Spruce. I occasionally peered into the water searching for the dart of a trout, but saw nothing. Even if there were no trout, this was a pleasant hike in a pristine environment. I considered this reason enough for someone’s chainsawed-endeavor.

Birds sang and snakes slithered. The trail continued on and where the creek forked, the trail split. We chose the right turn and pressed on until the creek forked again and the path ran out. We decided to make this our turn-around point.

After a lunch in the shade of an ancient, gnarled fir and despite having seen no fish, I rigged a rod. Remember, we are acting on faith here.

I had brought the 8’3″ 4wt because it is a five-piece. I was wishing I had brought the  3 wt. 6’6″  despite its two pieces because this was not going to be a matter of casting. With the thick overgrowth, it was  a matter of just finding spots I could thread the rod through to dap.

If there were any fish in this smallest of waters, I knew they would not be very selective, so I tied on a  Wulff pattern with plenty of hackle so it would float high. Finally finding an opening, I dropped a fly in a pool much smaller than a bathtub. Instantly a trout appeared and inhaled it.

Large Praise for Small Trout

As we continued to work our way back, I dropped a fly in every spot bigger that a shoebox which I could get a rod into. Each time a trout appeared and acted with no suspicions.

While most people would not consider 6-9″ trout very large, there are times worthy of reconsideration. I felt this was one of them in the name of faith in small things.

In praise of  the smallest of waters, now I know why you maintain the path – whoever you are.

I swear to Mother Teresa:  your secret is safe.

Leaky Faucet

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

Not only is there no God, but try finding a plumber on Sunday.

-Woody Allen

Drip….drip….drip……

A leaky faucet. Sometimes you can tune out the constant drip, but it is always there reminding you. Other times the drops crash out like drum cymbals rising above the din.

Drip…drip…drip…

Fishing holes can be  like this too. Maybe it is a lake you had some success at or maybe it is a section of stream which haunts you. You may not always be thinking of them, but they are lying in wait – ready to pounce  to the forefront when your mind wanders.

Drip…..drip….drip……

I have a leaky faucet of a stream. Idle thoughts turn to plots of a return. It is not the most scenic water nor are the fish the biggest. Yet they are all stream bred and opportunistic feeders. A dry fly of just about any pattern will usually work and, maybe best of all, you are unlikely to see another angler. This is the kind of place which remains unnamed.

Plunge Pool

Last weekend Matt and I had the chance to relieve the incessant drip with a return trip.

The water was low and clear making the fish a little more spooky than usual. We also found that many of the pools from the past year had filled in with high flows. Sadly, all the beaver dams had been scoured away.

Of course that did not stop us. We hiked our way along still finding a few spots to fish. Staying in the shadows as much and possible, while keeping low we threw caddis, hoppers, cicadas, and even Wulff patterns. All caught fish.

Freestone Stream

It was nice to return. And like the beavers, we will be back. The dripping won’t let us forget.

Hand-sized Streambred

Drip….drip…drip…