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Monday, September 26, 2011

An Old Friend Named Moccasin: Parts IV-VI


Breakfast was a sliced sausage, egg, and cheese on a homemade biscuit. It sure tasted good; the whole thing was yummy. But what was I thinking?

Part IV:

Now that Moccasin is private you can drive right to the shore; that suits my 60 year old joints. Since last being there in 1992, an aerator, a shack with picnic tables, an outhouse, a dock and a few boats were the man-made changes. Nature and time brought more cattails to the lower end of the lake and more brush to the upper end. My old friend had aged well. Looking across the lake I smiled seeing the spot where that first fish surprised and delighted me 40 years ago. Could it really be that long ago? Where has the time gone?...

At 8:30 five anglers met our guide, Kevin, at the gate to the ranch.

Our group included Michael and Nancy, husband and wife, who live in the Okanogan Valley and are hay farmers. Nigel, who is from England, was fishing for the first time in the United States. Al Green lives in the Methow Valley. I should mention that Al is 87 years old. I hope I'm still getting around and fishing when I'm 87.

Al and Nigel:

We started fishing at about 9:45. In a float tube, Nancy was the first one on the lake; she had two fish quite quickly on dry flies. It was very encouraging. Michael, her husband, entered the lake soon after that in a 12 foot aluminum boat he had on a trailer. Al and Nigel were in a river raft with our guide, Kevin. Al had to be helped into the raft but dog gone it he was fishing! Gary and I set up our pontoon boats and were the last ones on the lake. Hopes high, I was experiencing both the anticipation of the present and reliving the anticipation I had known 40 years ago. Time and memories became fluid.

Starting at the shoreline where so many years ago that first fish took my fly was an easy decision; rising trout were luring me like the sirens singing to Odysseus.

My first and smallest fish of the day:

Since that first kiss I shared with Moccasin I have worked hard at learning to fly fish for a variety of species. Unlike the 70's, today, good gear lives at my house and I cast well.

Nigel and Al were only fishing for half a day; at about 1:15 Kevin started bringing them back to the boat launch. At that point the four fish I had caught were just not that big of a thrill to me. They were less of a thrill to me because my stomach was still upset from the damn greasy sausage I ate for breakfast. What was I thinking?

Kevin asked me how Gary and I were doing. I told him I had caught only four fish, Gary had caught 3, and that we were both a little frustrated. I told Kevin that we both understood that he had people in his boat but that one way or another he should have probably checked in with us at least once during the morning. Immediately Kevin was patient and tried to be helpful. He wanted to sit down and talk. Oh, I definitely wanted to sit down, but not to talk. I wanted to get to the outhouse and recycle the last of that damn sausage. What was I thinking?

Part V

Recycling finished and stomach calm it was easier for me to talk to Kevin. He suggested that I come in his boat and that we fish together. It really didn't sound like that good of an idea to me; I wanted to fish in my own pontoon boat. Plus I didn't want to be able to do something that Gary didn't get to do. I tried calling Gary to see if he wanted to get in the river boat also; his phone was off.
Kevin took me down to the far end of the lake. Nigel and Al had not taken a fish on a dry fly for the first part of their morning; they didn't get fish until they started Chironomid fishing. It was good to see them finish with a double both taken on dry flies near the boat launch.

Virtually always with an indicator, I have done a good deal of Chironomid fishing through the years. I had two rods set up; I had hoped to only use the one with the floating line and catch hog after hog on hoppers. Kevin had me switch to the rod with the sinking line. We put on a Red Chironomid and a Black Chironomid for a dropper. We did deep line chironomiding. That is with a sinking line and no indicator. In short order the line is straight down from the tip of the rod. The fly is a foot from the bottom in 20 feet of water.

I honestly felt a little silly being in the guide's boat. I have been in a guide's boat in a river several times but never on a lake. While Gary was getting Chironomids on his sinking line, seemingly for no good reason and totally without warning the tip of my rod went in the water. That fish had some zip. In a few minutes, resting in the net, mouth of the water and fly in his lip, my first fish of the afternoon waited to be unbuttoned. He was 24 inches. My hands were not shaking. Still, I was smiling--outside and inside. That fish began what was a great second part of the day. Six nice fish came to the net and I lost a few others using the deep line method.

Gary got a good number of fish deep lining also.

Gary nets another multi-pound Trout:

When I fish with friends it is important to me that they have a good time and that they catch fish. Gary was catching fish. Here is a link to a video of Gary as he finishes playing a nice fish.

Those deeper water fish reminded me of some of my first kisses at Moccasin. In forty years I have had a lot of kisses. I still want more. Happy enough with the Chironomid fishing I still wanted to get some crushing strikes on a Hopper. In all of life "the take is the premier moment." I want those takes!

Part VI:

Before the last 90 minutes of (fishable) light Kevin suggested that if getting some big fish on dry flies was important we would risk getting no fish but that we could try the edges at a couple spots where the fish feed. I will virtually always trade lots of smaller fish for fewer big fish. I will trade lots of "felt" takes for fewer visual takes.

Moving down the side of the lake several nice fish were kind enough to pick up my Damsel pattern and a Parachute Adams. Still I wanted to see a 4 or 5 pound Trout take the Hopper on the way out of the water, briefly attempt flight, splash like a presto log dropped over the side of the boat, and then make the reel sing.

None of us wanted to break down our gear in the dark; we were running out of light. It was almost time to call it a day. Kevin rowed to the other side of the lake to have me make my last casts of the evening off of a small point. I was ready to call the trip a good one, ready to take a deep breath and reel in. Well, not quite ready. Almost ready. I was still hoping for a big wet kiss; that visual, crushing strike. Kevin probably would have probably allowed me just a few more casts. My Hopper was riding on the surface of the water several feet from shore. Seemingly for no apparent reason and totally without warning a nulti-pound fish became airborne. He had my Hopper in his mouth! Hell yes! The take is the premier moment and that one was excellent. Releasing that Trout was the perfect way to end the fishing for the day.

Time and memories became fluid this day. I had relived some frustration just like my first date with Moccasin. Certainly not to the extent as that first date; after all I'm older and wiser. Still, there was some frustration. I experienced and relived some of those truly wonderful memories I had through 20 years of fishing Moccasin when it was public. In a way, it was if 20 years all happened again in a day. This day clearly exists on it's own though and added to my good memories.

Moccasin, my old friend, it was so good to reconnect with you. I look forward to seeing you in the future.

Kevin was great. Gary and I appreciated how he worked with us both on and off the lake; I plan to book a Steelhead trip with him in the future and expect to fish Moccasin Lake with him again. Thanks a lot Kevin.

Kevin with his 2 1/2 year old son, Jackson.

My favorite picture of the trip at the "moment of the spirit".

Friday, September 23, 2011

Hair, Trout, and Love

Gary and I arrived in the Methow Valley Tuesday afternoon in anticipation of fishing Moccasin Lake. We had reservations at the Mt. Gardner Inn. Alison, one of the proprietors checked us in. Right away were pleased with setting and the room. Our initial impressions turned out to be true. It was excellent.

After dropping off some gear at our room we fished a local, public lake the first evening. We both caught a few fish in the 12-14 inch range. It was pleasant. The highlight of the evening was two other anglers who showed up shortly after we did. They took an aluminum boat off the top of a pickup truck. George had clearly done this before. His wife, Nancy, mostly watched. George mentioned that she just had knee surgery. After some doing, George got Nancy situated on a swivel seat in the stern of the boat. George sat in the middle and rowed. They laughed and kidded each other like good natured 20 year olds. They had gray hair. The hair that wasn't gray was white. The banter between them made both Gary and I smile and chuckle several times. At one point Nancy fell off of the seat onto the bottom of the boat. George was very solicitous. Not hurt, Nancy just laughed and laughed. Clearly they were old and had been married a long time but they still acted like 20 year olds.

After about 30 minutes Nancy got a fish on; she was not able to bring it to the net and voiced her disappointment. In another hour she really started whooping. I was a ways down the lake now so I thought she fell out of her seat again but as it turned out she had a 16 inch fish on and she got it to the net. She didn't sound 20 years old any longer; she sounded 12. So did George. They were like a couple of kids thrilled with catching a trout and thrilled with being alive. Nancy would catch another 16 inch fish a short time later.

Back at shore I visited with George. I said how much I appreciated that they were both having such a good time. George said that these were the first fish Nancy had ever caught. I asked if she had just started fishing with him and he said yes. To myself I wondered why she hadn't fished with him so many years ago. I asked how old he was and he said that he was 75 and Nancy was 70. If both Katy and I are alive, when I am 75 she and I will have been married 48 years.

I was right about the gray hair and right about them being old. I wasn't exactly right about something else. I asked how long they had been married and he said that they had only known each other for a year and a half and were just recently married. Sometimes the best part of fishing isn't the fishing. The best part of that evening was seeing young love and young hearts with people that had white hair. Inspiring. Yes, it was inspiring. "The heart that loves is always young."

An Old Friend Named Moccasin: Parts IV-VI still coming...

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

An Old Friend Named Moccasin: Parts I-III

Part I

Past dark, the full moon was helping, but flashlights were needed to follow the trail out. Walking ten or twelve steps behind was for the best. Childish? Perhaps. Good judgment to help process frustration? Possibly. Who’s to say; it was 40 years ago. Parts of memory fade and blur, parts retain clarity.

How many fish did Howard catch that evening? A lot. Exactly how many? Memory has faded on that. With a good fiberglass rod of the times how well could he cast? Smoothly, effortlessly, beautifully, the line settled on the water with few enough coils left on the reel to begin to see the backing; he made casting a fly rod seem exotic. He made fly fishing seem spiritual. It is.

How many fish did I bring to hand that evening? Memory is clear. None. How well did I cast with a seven foot fiberglass rod and a level, 5 weight line? The wind, the level line, and a simple lack of skill all conspired; memory is clear, I cast poorly. It was June of 1971; Howard had just introduced me to fly fishing the month before. That warm summer evening he introduced me to Moccasin Lake. I wanted to be friends with Moccasin; I wanted us to learn to like each other a lot. I wanted the time we shared together to be wonderful. How could I be friends with someone who was so mean to me?

I didn’t begrudge Howard his fish; I wanted him to catch a bunch. It’s just that I wanted to catch a bunch too. And I didn’t. I didn’t blame him for hooking fish after fish and I didn’t blame him for me not bringing even one to hand. When it was finally time to leave, we walked, in our hip boots, around the end of the lake and then the mile back to the car. Not wanting at that moment to be consoled for my lack of success on my first date with Moccasin I walked 10 or 12 steps behind him. It helped me to process my frustration. Back at the car I was willing to talk. Howard was patient and helpful.

Located in the Methow Valley, Moccasin Lake is on a working cattle ranch. In the 70’s and 80’s the owners of the ranch allowed the public to walk across their property to the lake. The Washington State Game Department agreed to stock the lake with Trout as long as the owners allowed access to the public. Rich with food, the lake provided the fish the calories they needed to grow big and fat.

Howard was friends with the ranch managers, Roy and Marge Simon. The next evening we had an early dinner with Roy and Marge. After dinner Howard and I walked up the hill; it was my second date with Moccasin. The size of the fish in the lake was no longer just stories to me, I had seen them the night before; my anticipation was high again. My casting had not magically improved during the night; that would only come with practice and better gear. Using the same 7 foot fiberglass rod and level 5 weight fly line I tied a Shrimp pattern on the mono tippet. Large, rising fish close to shore made my hands shake; those fish were in reach and they were so much larger than the fish I was used to catching.

After Howard had released a few fish doubt was creeping in for me. Shaking hands were replaced by a stiff neck and tightening shoulders. Seemingly for no good reason and totally without warning my rod bent and the white line was peeling off my Pflueger Medalist; I could hardly believe it. In a few minutes, mouth out of the water, fly in his lip, my first Moccasin Lake fish was laying on the surface next to me waiting to be unbuttoned. At that point that fish was the biggest Trout I had caught on a fly. It was like a first kiss. While it was enough to make my second date an excellent one I wanted more kisses. Man did I want more kisses. Lots more kisses!

How big was that fish? Memory blurs. Somewhere around 16 inches would be a good estimate. It was big enough to peel out line at a good clip, it was big enough to put a good bend in that 7 foot rod, it was big enough to relax my neck and shoulders and make my hands shake again.

How many fish did Howard catch that evening? Plenty. How many did I catch? I was teased with some strikes and did get a couple more to hand. How many exactly? I don’t know. It was enough that Howard and I walked out together. Moccasin had grabbed me; I was ready to return the following evening. Other lakes in Washington, British Columbia, and Wyoming would grab me in the years ahead. Lenice, Merry, Nunnally, and Chopaka Lakes were some of the early ones; because I have such long history with them they will always be special. Moccasin was the first; the first lake where my hands were shaking so much in anticipation I had to press my wrists against my chest to thread the tippet through the eye of the hook.

The following summer saw me return with an 8 foot rod, a weighted fly line, and finally some casting skills. When did I catch my first fish over 18 inches there? What was the most I ever caught in an evening? What was the biggest fish I ever hooked at Moccasin? Memory has definitely blurred; I don’t know the exact answer to any of those questions. It would take a couple more years but I finally had some evenings where I didn’t care if I caught another fish. Moccasin Lake and I had gotten to be friends. She wasn’t always nice to me, I knew it wasn’t intentional or personal; she just made the fishing darn difficult some times. Sometimes, kiss after kiss, she was wonderful, just wonderful.

It was the early 70’s. Pontoon boats, U-boats, and kickboats, had yet to be invented. Even float tubes were primitive and uncommon at that point. I never even saw one until 1975. To fish the lake we waded a limited amount of shoreline and wore only hip boots.

Through the years I would become friends with Lenice, Merry, and Nunnally Lakes; better friends I suppose but only because I spent so much more time with them. My old friend Moccasin was the first one to send me Trout that charged into open water, the first one to send me Trout that broke tippet, the first one that tested my knots, my patience, and my persistence.

Steelheading was still seven years in my future. Carp fishing was 33 years away.

Part II

The owners of the ranch decided to close the lake to the public; 1992 was the last year. They planned to make it a private lake with limited access. It opened in 1994 and has been private ever since.

That last year, 1992, the lake was open to the public; I went there with two friends, Scott and Kurt. Let’s just say we were part of a larger group outing and that the other guys in the group were not fisherman. They were in town whooping it up at Three Finger Jack’s Saloon. Really whooping it up. Each to his own. Jeff, another member of the group, drove us up to the parking lot for Moccasin. We walked in carrying our float tubes on our heads. Jeff was going to come back and pick us up at “dark”. Well, the fishing was good so I guess “dark” didn’t exactly mean the same thing to everyone. It was about 11:00 when we got back to the parking area and Jeff was mad. He had been waiting for two hours. So he said anyway. He proceeded to curse us vigorously and persistently. He suggested that all three of us had been born out of wedlock. I mean come on, what are the chances that was true for all three of us? He told us that he hoped our afterlife would be most unpleasant and very hot. He suggested several times that we put the fly rods somewhere that ammm…, ammm,… somewhere that something comes out of every morning but nothing ever goes in. It was uncomfortable at first to have him basically yelling at us and telling us repeatedly that we were all “f’n useless!” Finally Scott, Kurt and I all started laughing. It took Jeff close to 20 minutes to stop yelling. We laughed until it was hard to breathe.

I left Moccasin that last trip in May of 1992 with incredible memories. How could I not? We shared some first kisses. I did not plan to go back. I don’t object to paying to fish certain place; I have fished pay venues and had a very good time. I was concerned that if I fished Moccasin as a private lake my wonderful memories would be changed. The blurred ones and the clear ones, the unpleasant ones and the pleasant ones; I didn’t want any of them changed; I liked them all just the way they were.

Part III

The last time I visited Moccasin Lake was 19 years ago—long enough to put a good layer of dust on even my clearest recollections. Dusting off my memories gives me the impression that they become clearer again. I think it is just an impression. Maybe it is the feelings that endure the most clearly rather than the exact details though some details and experiences are still so very clear. I remember feeling frustrated and defeated that first night at Moccasin Lake. Anticipation, excitement, and exhilaration all visited me that second day. The surprise and exhilaration that first fish brought still make me smile.

For no known reason, mostly just in passing, Moccasin Lake started to intrigue me again. After all this time--Why? I just don’t know. Is it seeing pictures on the Internet? I don’t know anyone who had been there recently. Certainly I can fish a lake and have a good time catching small fish or few fish. But the prospect of catching multi-pound Trout on Hoppers lured me. Concerned about sullying my memories, even if I caught a slew of fish, with cautious enthusiasm I agreed to see my old friend, Moccasin.

Parts IV, V, and VI to come.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Cowboy Church and Indian Church

The fly and a small amount of line are visible in the water near the boat. The line comes up off the water, it straightens out behind me. The first haul helps load the rod for the forward cast, the second haul awakens the road. Aroused by the third haul the rod calls for more line; coils disappear from the floor of the boat. The line shoots forward to the full limit of my ability and settles on the still surface. The weighted fly and clear line begin to sink in search of willing Salmon.

A count of ten is followed by a long series of quick strips until the fly is near the boat again; the process is repeated. I love the smooth rhythm of casting. The sound of the line blends with the warnings of the gulls to not get much closer. Moving around the circle my next cast is made 45 degrees to the right.

On the way to this saltwater beach I pass the Indian Shaker Church; I have driven by many times. What time does Indian Shaker Church start? Do they take up a collection? What kind of prayers do they say? Do they have a choir? Is it an active, rousing service? Possibly quiet and contemplative? Would I be welcome there? What do they call their God? Do they love Jesus? Does Jesus love them?

During the summers sometimes I pass the Cowboy Church on my way to other fishing destinations.

Who goes to Cowboy Church? What do they do there? Is it impolite to take off your hat at Cowboy Church? Could I go to Cowboy Church? Would they welcome me? Do they sing country songs at Cowboy Church? What do they believe? Who started Cowboy Church? Does it start at 8:00 or does it cost $8.00 to get in? Or both? Do they love Jesus? Does Jesus love them?

Does Jesus love one church better than another? Does the Jesus or the God at your church love only you and people like you? Would your Jesus love me? I would like your Jesus or your God a lot if I knew he or she loves people who aren't like you and who aren't like me.

The sun is warm, the wind is down; it is a beautiful, satisfying day. Undistracted by having to net fish, or play fish, my mind wanders.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Racquetball and Fishing

Awhile back, when I was younger and better looking, I could play racquetball fairly well. In tournament play, for my age division I was second in the state championships one year. (Almost first. Not quite. One point away.) Playing the game is still a very fond memory for me. I loved the cat and mouse and the strategy. Like any sport, racquetball is physical, and like any sport, it is part mental and emotional. To play the game competitively I had to stay in shape. I made decisions about what I would do, along with what I would eat and drink, based on how it would effect my competitive edge on the racquetball court. I loved the very fast pace of the game and I loved being rewarded for quick reflexes, smart play and stamina. (Occasionally I was able to actually play well.)

The game requires players to run; at least if you want to play moderately well it does. I used to run (we called it jogging back then) to be prepared for the running in racquetball.

Racquetball helped keep me in good shape and it helped me make other life decisions that were healthy. After my last state tournament, the year I came in second in my age division, scar tissue was building up in my arm. One of the tendons in my right arm was partially detached. Begrudgingly I had to step away from the game for awhile to let my arm heal. Splinting, a cast, and months of inactivity helped start the healing process. Additional months of physical therapy finally brought my arm back. I had been away from the game for over a year. The physical therapist was anxious to see if I could still play. I went and practiced some of my old drills like I had done for years. The slight echo of my footsteps on the floor, the smell of the court, the snap of the ball coming off the strings, the distinctive "ping" of the ball hitting the wall, were so familiar and comfortable.

After a few weeks of practice I made a decision to not attempt to play competitively. In fact I decided to not play at all. During the preceding years, I ran and lifted weights so I would be in shape to play well in the third game of a championship match. I drilled constantly so I could overcome my almost complete lack of natural athletic gifts. I visualized serves and return of service. I squeezed rubber balls to increase my grip strength. In any match I would dive on the floor several times to dig up a shot.

Today, after finishing a workout at the "Y" occasionally two players will see me standing behind the court watching. And remembering. They don't know what I'm thinking. Or remembering. I nod and smile when they look out. Remembering diving on the floor... If I did it now I would have to be scraped up with a snow shovel and taken to the E.R.

During my racquetball years I had made decisions based on how they would effect my game. Finally, I gave up racquetball because of how it would effect my fishing. Thirteen years have passed since I last hit a racquetball. The chance that my casting arm would never quite work right again was enough to make me stop playing a game I had loved so much.

My racquet rests on the floor behind a book shelf in my fly tying room; I don't know why I won't get rid of it. Noticing it sitting there this morning, I smiled and remembered. Waiting patiently on the floor I wonder if my racquet still holds on to a fleeting hope that it will be put to work again one day. Does it remember like I do? Does it close its eyes and smile? Has it aged well? What does it think about aging? I was glad for all the years I played. And I was glad I stepped away from the game.

Last week I had planned to fish for three days. Katy and I were going to go to the Carp Lodge for a week. We had to change our plans again; we left later in the week and returned sooner than we planned. I had to cancel a Friday outing.

Two days provided me enjoyable and satisfying time on my river. I could wade, I could cast; it's good that I gave up the game I loved. Some days, like this past week, I savor and appreciate how fortunate I am just to be able to step in the river and stalk fish.

Saturday, September 3, 2011


I was supposed to Carp fish for three days the last full week of August with a good friend of mine. This has been a summer of changing plans and that trip fell victim to those changes.

This an odd number year so the Pinks (Humpies) are running. The run is late in coming or is not going to be as strong as predicted. On the morning of August 25, I had a chance to fish with Dale, one of the best, saltwater fly fishermen in the area.

We launched Dale's boat at a familiar, popular spot that I have fished many times. Fishing for Pinks, particularly in the salt, can be very hit or miss. When they are running in great numbers they are not difficult to catch. When there aren't many then they get difficult to catch. Typically, if you see them jumping and rolling then there are likely lots of lots of there friends right below them. We weren't seeing any fish jumping. In a couple hours of moving, anchoring, and casting, we didn't get a strike. Going back to the launch, taking out, driving to another spot, and motoring to a place to fish is usually not worth the trouble. We (Dale) decided to give it a try. I was hoping that that is what we (he) would decide particularly since I had never fished the spot he was thinking of.

There were way fewer boats and there were actually some Pinks around. Seeing a few fish jump stoked anticipation for both of us. A hookup came fairly quickly for me but that fish unbuttoned himself. Thirty minutes brought another take tor me from a fish that also self-released.

In the salt, Pinks are way more likely to bite when the change in the tide is "severe". We had a good serious tide change going on but we also had some serious wind. Fishing off a point, the tide rip made it like fishing a river; we cast upcurrent, mended, let the fly sink for a bit, and then started stripping. Pinks respond to a quickly stripped fly.

A female Pink was kind enough to take Dale's fly. I netted it for him; he took the net, and then bled the fish. I had never seen that done before. He cut the gills on each side and in a matter of seconds the fish was bled out. He explained that is what commercial fisherman due to preserve the taste of Salmon and that there are many local restaurants that won't buy Salmon that hasn't been bled when it was caught. Who knew?

Dale had a 90 quart cooler in the boat; the bled out fish was laid on ice. When I finally got one that didn't let itself go Dale netted it and asked to keep it to take it home to smoke. I like smoked Salmon and so does Katy but I don't own a smoker. Bled, and resting on ice, my fish was on his way to the smoker. We each brought another Salmon to the boat or I guess I should say we each brought another Salmon to the cooler to be taken home and smoked by Dale.