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Like any other fishing morning, Saturday started very early and with a strong pot of coffee. Tony arrived around 5 and we wasted some time talking at the kitchen table, having misjudged first light by about a half hour. By the time we got to the marina, loaded my gear on his boat, untied the ropes and shoved off, it was 5:45. Right on time.

Canandaigua Lake sunrise

Before the sun found its way clear of the hills to the east, we settled into a spot just up from the water treatment plant. It was cold and the breeze couldn’t make up its mind. It pushed us away from shore. We repositioned. It pushed us south along the shore. We repositioned again. We drifted north.

Guess it’d been nice if I remembered the trolling motor, Tony offered.

Fish–possibly trout after minnows–were rising everywhere. After an hour, Tony had fought and landed a scrappy rock bass. I stayed busy pruning weed-beds and exercising most every lure in my tackle box. We decided to head back to the north end of the lake and fish the shallows by Squaw Island.

The Captain

The shallows up near Squaw Island are some of the fishiest-looking water anywhere. 3 – 5 feet deep and gin clear. Weed-beds that all keep an uncanny 10 – 12 inch distance from the surface and hold a buffet of sunnies, bluegill, perch, small and largemouth and pickerel. Tasty, sand-shell-shale-bottomed ambush clearings throughout. Every cast feels fully-loaded…like you’re pitching metal to a lake-full of lightning bolts.

By the time we shut off the engine, the breeze decided to cooperate. As the boat found a nice north/northeasterly drift, the sun continued its climb and the temperature followed. We got back to work.

Some measure success on the water by the size of their catch. Some by the number they landed. Since we had neither size or numbers on our side, we re-tooled our measuring stick. Our morning turned out to be stellar as a result of how many different species we boated and released. We managed a couple perch, more rock bass, a smallie and a pickerel. Four different species in one morning isn’t too shabby considering our slow start.

Get the net

Pretty...and pretty feisty

Sun's up

But our list of species didn’t end at four. As a matter of fact, it even headed into another Kingdom entirely. Within minutes of pulling into the shallows and getting our lines in the water, we had to start thwarting a gull’s best efforts at nabbing our lures.

Yes. I am going there.

I had just made a cast off the back of the boat when I heard from behind me,

Son-of-a…DROP IT, you stupid bird! DROP IT!

I turned around to see Tony in a tug-of-war with the gull. He looked like he was flying an unruly, squawking kite. I reeled in my line so as to not hook up with a bird of my own and went up front to help him. Reeling it down toward the boat slowly, he got it close enough for me to grab the line, coax the bird to fold its wings and sit on the water next to the boat. I must say, Tony played that gull like a pro. Definitely a shoo-in for the BIRD Tour, if there was one.

Tony grabbed the pliers I had in my tackle box and I had him grab my sweatshirt too. I lifted the gull by the line and lure, draped the sweatshirt over it to get those crazy wings under control and grabbed it–carefully and gently–by the neck behind it’s head. The squawks and flapping stopped. Tony removed the hook with one deft, surgeon-like move and, with an underhand toss, I released the bird to the air…and released my sweatshirt into the lake.

Stories like this always seem to belong to somebody else. Always told by someone who was fishing alone, they always seem fantastic and hard to believe. And they usually do not end well for the bird, turtle, muscrat or–occasionally–the fisherman. Not any more. We’d have taken pictures, but our hands were full.

The gull met up with a couple others and flew off, presumably to find another boat with fewer sharp objects being thrown from it. We wrapped up our successful morning with a breakfast fit for a king…or a couple happy fishermen who could corroborate each others story.


Filed under On the water


After the first night in the yurt, I was up at 6:30. I slept well, but Josh had been up around 1 or so trying to pre-empt a migrane. The pressure had changed, as forecast, and I stood under the porch roof looking at a slight drizzle, thinking about a plan of attack for the morning. By the time I made some coffee, finished a bowl of cereal and wrote some notes from yesterday in the notebook, Josh was up and at ’em. Seriously. Good drugs. After he caught up on a cup of coffee, we elected to walk, no waders, down to the day-camping area and see if there was any action.

When we checked in the afternoon before, one of the park rangers told us about a couple likely places down the hill from the back of the parking area across the street. That was his direction.
Down the hill from the back of the parking area across the street.
I’ve never fished it, but I hear people have had some luck down there
, he added.
Taking this bit of stream intel with a grain of salt, we geared up and hustled down to the area he had described. I was immediately struck by the rugged beauty. The river was clear but dark with its copper, brown and gold stone bottom. The shore was crowded with boulders and red-branched bushes and thorns and sage. And as I looked further upstream, I could see that we hadn’t even made it into the canyon yet, the elevation climbing its rocky way to cliffs and cuts above both sides of the river. After a couple sunset-filled, fishless hours, and a realization that the wading prowess I had on the Fall was sorely inadequate on the Deschutes (read: splash & stumble), we decided it best to let the river rest and head back to camp for dinner.

I felt good about the rain. It was a change. A signal. I decided that if our luck was going to change, it was going to happen this morning. I wasn’t the only one who got that signal. Standing on the low grass bank shore about halfway down a forty yard pool, I watched the faster slip of current on the far side. I caught one little splash. Then another, lower in the pool. Another. A nice mayfly hatch was coming off. Little grey-brown shadows as light on the surface as air. Blue Winged Olive is a rain and cool temp hatch. I tied on a #14, pulled some line from my reel, paced a couple false casts for distance and laid the fly neatly at the head of the run. As I was getting ready to lay down my eighth cast, Josh hollered from the next pool down. I pulled my cast, put the rod down and ran down with my camera.

The two handed fish picture

I returned to my pool. The fish were still rising. I cast again to the head of the pool, but while mending my line, the the fly skated about a foot across the surface and bang. I swear it was like that fly had touched the hot post on a truck battery or I had grabbed hold of an electric horse fence. After two full days of fishing without a bite, that 8″ rainbow was the pot of gold itself.

The pot of gold

As my notebook says: score.

I caught 7 or 8 more. Browns and rainbows. All on the same #14 BWO. All by skating it on the surface. Beat to hell and all cock-eyed, I clipped it off and sank its hook into the foam in my chest pack. A well earned retirement.

It was time to put on my waders. That canyon was calling.

We hiked a trail a 1/2 mile upstream before we decided to negotiate the boulders and brush below and try our luck. The water was bigger, faster and deeper here. The river far more narrow. Once in the water we picked our way over and around the back of the huge rocks that shoulder the steep shoreline. Thinking faster, deeper, I tied on an elkhair caddis with a copper john as a dropper fly. No dice. I climbed up on top of one of the rocks, lit my pipe and took a look around. The canyon was full-on here. Maybe 500 feet to the top of the red-stone cliffs, ponderosa pine, sage and giant, handful pine cones below. Perfect for big cats, I thought. Followed immediately by OK let’s think about something else there bossman.


Upstream from my seat

The rain was down to a sprinkle now. A fish started rising in the pool below me. I tied on a new BWO, snuck back down behind the rock to a spot I could cast from and managed to get the timing of my fly’s drift in synch with the pace of his rises. I watched him lift from the shadow of a big rock on the bottom, rise to just under the fly, consider it for a fraction of a second, then grab, splash, fish on.

In the next pool up I saw another rise. Bigger splash in a strong chute at the head of a pool. But there was nothing on the surface. The bugs were in or below the surface now. I brought beat-to-hell and all cock-eyed out of retirement. Unable to stay upright or above water, my third cast dropped the waterlogged soldier at the head of the chute and under he went. Bingo.

Deschutes Brown

Out of retirement. Into the net.

We hiked and fished and caught fish and stopped counting. It felt like I had just translated some lost language. Around 5:45 dusk began its crawl into the canyon. I lit my pipe on the hike out. Tired, heart soaring and satisfied.


Filed under On the water


4:45 a.m. last Saturday.

I rolled out of bed to turn off the alarm and got dressed in the dark. Long underwear, jeans, sweatshirt, heavy socks. With a half-brewed pot of coffee nearby, grumbling its way to being fully-brewed, I sat at the kitchen counter and rubbed my face and eyes with my hands listening to the wind outside. Rain in the forecast. Gusts from 16 to 25 mph out of the southwest. It was going to be a bitch sitting in the tree-stand this morning. I did one last inventory of my gear, filled my thermos and shut the lights off.

I’ve only become comfortable in the last few years walking in to my stand in the dark. I used to focus so much on every footstep, every shadow, every sound that I’d find myself frozen at times…caught in a stare, worrying about spooking an animal that really wasn’t there. Now I find it almost meditative. Beginning my walk in complete darkness, welcoming the awareness of the field beneath my boots, the smell of fall on the wind, the way my eyes adjust and knit together the silhouettes of trees against the skyline. My sense of direction operates unconsciously, and I find my stand most times without having disturbed the natural order that slumbers around me. The weather the way it is this morning though, I could’ve been dropped off at my tree by a helicopter and gone un-noticed. By 6:15 a.m. shooting light was still a good half-hour/forty minutes away. The rain began to pick-up.

Using my jacket to block the wind, I lit my pipe, then poured some coffee into the cap of my thermos. By 7:00, weak daylight filled-in the bramble thickets, sumac, black walnut and waist-high grass that cover the three acres in front of me. The pop of each rain-drop was loud with my hood up. My tree swayed with each gust. I decided to get down and find a worthwhile ground-blind.

It’s interesting. I enjoy long, foul-weather days, as long as I’m out in it to hunt or fish.  There’s clout and respect that come with being able to rise above the elements and normal measure of patience and take a nice buck or land a hard-fought fish. Earning the right to tell that story takes a level of due diligence that fair-weather sportsmen simply can’t claim. By the same token, I could see no deer or catch no fish and still have a worthwhile story for having spent so many hours in crappy weather, voluntarily.

I took my time moving to a tangle of a couple old downed trees. Comfortable with visibility and cover, the wind proved frustrating though and I figured my morning’s story would fall into the category of having seen nothing, but yea, I was out in that crappy weather. I looked up and froze.

A raccoon had just crawled out of a thick tangle of underbrush not five paces from where I stood. A fair estimate would put him at 40 pounds, and my first thought was are raccoon in season? I decided to just watch him as he stood still, nose up, testing the wind for smells that would suggest he do an about-face. He began rambling slowly over the wheat grass toward me. Right toward me. I did an inventory of how many layers I had on my legs…heavy socks, long underwear, jeans, camouflaged hunting pants, boots. I’d definitely be able to dispatch him before he got through all that. I held still.

He walked up to my feet. I looked straight down at him. He sniffed at both of my boots, turned and rambled back into the underbrush he had crawled out of. No hurry. No fear. I was just another odd smelling downed tree in the universe of his daily trek to wherever. I gave the deer another thirty minutes to show themselves, but my heart was full enough with such a cool encounter that I didn’t care if I didn’t see anything else all morning, or if the weather was crappy.

I had a great story.

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Filed under In the woods