Friday, November 29, 2013

Holiday Hunt

My long time friend Pete invited me to come hunt turkey on his parent's 80 acre property in Grass Valley, the land of pot farms, pasties, and Chuck Yeager.  We knew from the onset that the hunt might be trying, due to the frequent sightings of large groups of turkeys strutting across their driveway  growing fewer and farther between in the last two years.  Still, the idea of shooting my own bird for Thanksgiving was enticing enough so we packed up our supplies and accepted the invitation.

Highway 20 is a bit like a time machine.  You can still see the wagon ruts parallel the pavement in some stretches from the gold-rushing settlers.  It's the kind of road that keeps you looking for Bigfoot on the shoulder, even if you don't believe in that sort of thing.  We pulled into Grass Valley and after passing a long row of cabin-looking homes and front yards full of rusted machinery, ferns, and pines we pulled up to his parent's home.  The first thing that grabbed my eye was this wood storage set a ways back off the main road. 

Something about it was timeless, and after staring at it a moment, I realized my cohorts were heading inside.  Pete's Dad grew up in a rough part of London and even after 40 years in the states, carries a heavy accent.  He entered the kitchen clutching a weathered looking map.  The handwritten names and lines would inform our boundaries for the holiday hunt.

The acreage we had available to us was beautiful and wild.  Only a fire road looping full circle gave any indication of human presence.  The ground was free of anything from a grocery store and only a few small ribbons on trees could be seen delineating the properties from each other.  It was slow hiking; steep terrain, soft ground, blackberry bushes around your ankles, vines reaching and snagging around your legs, and heavy tree branches invariably laying down across your path of least resistance.  We worked our way down the wooded hillside and into a ravine where a tiny creek carved it's way though exposed stone, spilling from one puddle to the next.

After a five minute practice session with the hand striker in the car on the ride up, I was designated the "caller", and did my best to imitate the particular calls (there are over 15) for our time of year, region, and intent.  As you can see from the camo and bow below, this wasn't Taylor's first rodeo.


The stillness experienced in those windless woods is literally the quietest thing I have "heard" in my whole life.  A kind of quiet that screams and your own heartbeat pounds like a sub-woofer at a stoplight.  Found this Sierra Newt in the leaf litter, and assumed the coloration meant it was poisonous in some way.  A later web search showed that they excrete toxins through their skin that is of the same basic formula found in pufferfish, hundreds of times more toxic than cyanide.

After waiting in multiple posts and even building a quick blind for the camera on its tripod, we only heard one turkey call back.  We captured his attention but didn't sing the song he wanted to dance to.

Lucky for most of us and unfortunately for natural selection, we live in a time when even those that can't hunt in the field can feed their family.   I hear that most people only hunt their own Thanksgiving turkey once because the meat is smaller, stringy, and gamey.  Still, I felt a bit defeated to have my wife hunt the aisles of Raley's. 

In the end, we had a great meal with friends and family and an evening with a lot of laughter. I'm grateful for my health, my home and the people in it, a job that I deeply love, and a man that lived a long time ago that died like a criminal even though he hadn't done anything wrong.

I'm also thankful for the ability to get outside and on the river this year and come home empty handed.

By choice.

Happy Thanksgiving y'all. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Chasing Cousins

Of the watershed options available to me in Washoe County, I have always chosen the river over the lake.  I'm not really a still-water guy.  I've played the ladder game, standing like a ransacked rampart getting drilled in the chest with white capped waves while the balmy 24 degree air temps zapped the life out of my bones.  I've fished lures from the bank but never caught anything I couldn't best in the same stream that terminates in Pyramid Lake.  Today I gave the float-tube approach a run.  Other than not previously spending enough time in a float-tube to feel comfortable, it was a gorgeous day with some moments of excitement.

Everything about Pyramid Lake to me is eerie.  The surrounding villages, the stillness, the all feels "off".  That said, it's breathtakingly picturesque at times, and really showcases what beauty there is to find in the high desert. 

A good friend and faithful Pyramid zealot took me out today and generously included his premier spot and preferred fly as part of the package.  Ryan is deadly on the lake and I thoroughly enjoyed watching him stick fish after fish all day.  Here is my modestly scrappy, but inaugural Pyramid cutty on the flyrod.  Video below for those that prefer their pictures moving.

After a few brutal trips out on the Truckee this past month, it felt nice to get towed around the lake for a few minutes in a float tube.  It's also noteworthy that of the three of us fishing together, only one fly produced all 10 fish caught.  Those cutties know what they like.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Dry Days

Autumn is cooling.  Now that many of the cottonwoods have dumped their golden colors, it's starting to feel like a less glorious, more common Nevadan fall.  The fishing has been tougher, and I am still finding them but in much lower numbers.  If you can wake them, the rainbows seem to be full of piss and vinegar, which I can only attribute to their Germanic counterparts being occupied with "generational investment".

On my last trip out, I met up with the always cavalier, always dangerous Matt Koles.  On the hike down to the water, he mentioned that his friend Larry would likely join us.  Larry is a threat to many things in field and stream and a savvy writer so I recommend his blog highly.  I'm comfortable saying that "Crazy Uncle Larry" is more manly than I, a claim substantiated by both the length of his beard and the shortness of his sleeves.  Regardless, the crisp 55 degree air made it slow fishing for this clean shaven, multi-layer wearing fisherman and Larry alike.  Gilligan only did slightly better.

Took my Dad to a familiar stretch in west Reno last week and hooked a huge bow that ran downstream and handed my ass to me. This week I went back to the same stretch.
Got a big take, and hoped it was the same hefty bow. Got another take and set the hook.

On retrieval I could see the golden belly so I brought him in quickly as to not expend extra energy. With the fish underwater, I set the timer on the cam so he was out of the water for around 20 sec total. Just enough time for quick pics above/under water and the time it took me to walk 5 steps upstream to make sure I released him as close to where I hooked him. Stayed against the bank to avoid walking on his potential nearby redd.  Hope to catch this fish's kids in a few years.

Looking below, you can see more missing mouth parts.  Evidence of a treble hook if there ever was some.  It could even be from the degenerate's streamer I threw a few years ago.  Poor choices have a way of haunting us, don't they?

This female black widow was perched about 12" up a sheer rock face jutting out of water that came up to my chest.  Her nest was chock full of stonefly husks, an admirable strategy.  The protein diet is doing a body good.  This picture needed an object for scale reference.  We killed between 50 and 60 black widows outside my last home in northwest Reno in one summer, and this was hands down the biggest widow I have ever seen.

The days are gorgeously mild and dangerously dry.  We need rain.  The lack of precipitation has moved from interesting to concerning.  While it would likely shut down the river a few days, it would be helpful for our part of the country to have a few storms pound through.  Some weather would also push the fish off the fence.  They are seemingly undecided about everything right now; where they want to hold, what they want to eat, etc.  This reflects the world above the water, seemingly undecided about what season it is.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

@Zimmerlife on Instagram

Sometimes my Instagram shots don't make it to the blog. Here's a few of my recent favorites. Find me at @zimmerlife for your viewing pleasure or open mockery.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Crisp and Clear

Spawn has been underway for a couple of weeks now.  That said, there are still browns unengaged in the festivities.  You can tell everyone on the interwebs that you're targeting rainbows, but let's be real...if you're like me and aren't sight fishing it's a difficult task.  You're not in a hot panic at the sight of butter out there on the river so don't act like it online.  Handle with care, release quickly, keep your boots and your flies off the redds and shuffle on.  As many have said, targeting a brown is not sporty or helpful.

Hooked this brown below that took my favorite big bow fly, a 20"er stonefly and was quickly returned to the same slot I hooked her in, to ensure that if she was speed dating, they could resume doing what browns do in the fall.

Micro-mayfly FTW.

Find the brown heading back to her favorite water.

Blue spot.

Huge mountain whitey (20").

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Breaking Rules

Like the rest of life, fly fishing is built on a certain list of proverbs and proven methods.  The combination of tips, tricks, and adages can point you in the right direction but never guarantee you will net the fish you are chasing in your head.

You can really frustrate yourself thinking that what worked yesterday will do the job today.  The same fly in the same slot at the same depth under the same cloud cover will produce different results.  This is why you could never repeat exactly a day on the river.   The river is a living thing; a fluid world, the life within it constantly moving and shifting.  The river is an indignant toddler, who firmly believes that she owes you nothing.  The river is a steel safe who's combination changes several times a day, impenetrable by force. 

When my son comes along, the options on the river become slim.  After a brief stop in what is some of the most heavily pounded water I know, my nymph rig took off downstream and we landed this bow.  Great color, great fish.  My son took this first pic...which is the source of much fatherly pride.

I'd never pick this stretch of water by myself.  The "rules" would tell me that it gets too much pressure and the water is too low.  The "rules" would say it's too easily accessed and there wasn't enough cover.  So much for all that.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Top 10 F.A.Q. - Part 2

When people discover that you flyfish, you get a certain set of questions pretty consistently.  Next up in my Top 10 F.A.Q. series:

Question #3: Why don't you keep the fish?

Conservation is embedded in the fly fishing culture, but for me personally there are several reasons I catch and release.  I can summarize them into two words: consuming and resuming

-Anything big enough to take home to consume has been in the river for enough time to absorb some of the chemicals that are consistent with an urban watershed, namely mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs.
-I don't need to consume trout and have other environmentally conscious alternatives available to me.
-Trout is not my favorite fish to consume anyway...particularly not since most fish in the Truckee are planters from a farm, fed something akin to dog food.

-As the great late Mitch Hedburg used to say, "they catch the fish, but they let it go.  They don't want to eat the fish, but they do want to make it late for something."  The fish you catch are a part of a bigger ecosystem helping feed bigger predators and controlling prey populations. I think it best to let that fish resume his role in the system and take the pic for your enjoyment instead of his carcass.
-Catching and releasing wild trout (that typically have stronger genetics and more exaggerated colors/spots) is even more essential so that their DNA can resume being passed on.
-If you practice catch and release, you don't have to pay attention to local keep limits.  If the fishing is hot, you can resume fishing as late as you'd like.  I would add that barb-less hooks are an important part of this approach.  It's not a win to damage the anatomy of a crap-ton of fish and call it conservation.
-Anything big enough to take home is also likely a spawning adult.  Allowing mature adults to resume reproducing is a major factor in population health, explained in part here:

I should note that I don't look down on those that keep their legal limits.  Not visibly anyway.  I do think a pertinent question for self-reflection is, "if everyone on the water did what I did, what would happen over the long haul?"

Question #4: Why don't you smile in your pictures? 

Because when I smile I feel like I look like this guy below.  If I was in Canada wrangling a massive bull trout, I might justify making the same face.  What a fish.

Also, I should note that the fight portion of the catch in "catch-snap-release" elicits more emotion than the snap and release.  Till next time. Cheers.

Friday, October 18, 2013


Some days your best attempts at layering don't keep the cold out.  The list of things that can get me to willingly stand in a river when the air temps are in the 40s is pretty short.  The rush of your indicator shooting upstream through the foam line is on that short list.  Got out with Matt Koles (pictured below) on the Truckee and what started slow for both of us turned into a decent day. 

One of the several reasons I love fly fishing is that there are an endless number of firsts.  After a slow morning, I had something heavy take a midge in heavy water moving about the same pace you walk when you're checking the mailbox.  The take was the only pretty thing that happened with this fish.

After the take, my ghetto-fabulous, only useful for dry-land instruction, Fisher Price, piece of crap reel disassembled itself mid-fight and fell into several feet of water under the boulder I was standing on.  By some miracle, the fish paused from sprinting, giving me enough time to collapse into the water, clumsily yank the reel out of the submerged rocks, stand up, reassemble the reel, and continue the fight.  Another first.  Ugly.  Real ugly.

Some days you put the right flies in the right slots at the right time of day and the river doesn't tip its hat in your direction.  Other days, you're a hot mess discovering new ways to screw things up and you still get something you don't deserve.  Grace.  There are way more important things in life that fishing, but I am always surprised how much you can learn about those other things with a flyrod in your hands.

For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? Luke 11:10-12

Sunday, October 13, 2013

It Takes Two

Last week I got a text from a respected angler and good friend, Brian Johnson.  He told me he was downtown eating and saw something worth "investigating" in the river.

We met downtown and he showed me what grabbed his attention earlier.  Sure enough.  What we didn't see was that there were 3 or 4 nice sized bows stacked up behind the beast.  On my second drift, a 20"er shot out from cover, pounced my nymph rig, and went to the net.  The pic below was shot from Brian's iPhone, which I specify because he is a gifted photgrapher, and visually lethal when the right gear is in his hands.

Notice Brian with baby Eisley in tow, behind me spotting.  Any man that can spot a trophy trout, eat a meal and never put his kid down is a model to us all.  While I wanted the big guy up front, I was happy to catch and release this one too.  Just before I put this fish back in the water, a man started screaming downstream:

"I'll give you $5 for that fish!!! Don't put him back!!!"

I looked up at Brian and shrugged.  "No chance" I mouthed.  Brian hollered back, "let him grow into a $10 fish!".  That was a better answer than what I had in mind.  As I let go and the bow swam off, the man on the bridge continued (I caught this on video):

"Damn it!  I was gonna pay you for it!"

"No thanks." I replied.  Here's to more $10 fish.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Top 10 F.A.Q. - Part 1

I routinely get asked the same questions about fly-fishing.  The questions are perfectly understandable given that the vast majority of people I encounter in life are not of the fishing variety...they do not share my desire to get waist deep and provoke our local watery predators.  I'm going to do a few posts on these are the first two:

Question #1:  Do you catch the same fish over and over again?

Answer:  No.  The average freestone stream in the west has 5,000 fish per mile.  The Truckee is around 1,000 per mile.  Even with smaller population numbers, fish move a lot and it's generally bad etiquette to pound the same area repeatedly.  I have on rare occasion hooked and lost a large fish to return a week later and renegotiate.

Question #2:  Who takes pictures of you holding fish when you are by yourself?

Answer:  There are a variety of products and options available to pull off a proper "selfie".  My preferred method, "nature's tripod", is pictured below.

A few shots from the last few weeks.  Haven't been out much, but did find a few browns including one that was feeding in a bucket only twice as long as he was (23" and change).  Water temps have dropped big time.  Bigger flies are getting less attention and smaller flies are taking the stage.  Crays, baetis, and midges are getting attention...particularly good cray patterns in fast water, and midges under foam lines.

Part 2 coming soon...

Saturday, September 14, 2013

I Love Goooooooooold

Fall is creeping in which means a few things:

1.  Changing up the rig.  I don't mind it but I don't love it either because I've grown accustomed to, emotionally attached to, confident in the one that has been productive this summer.

2.  Wet-wading is almost done.  This is a bummer.  My waders are pretty beat up, and new ones are...shall we say...spendy?  I'm thinking my frugal streak on fly-fishing purchases is about to snap.

3.  Browns are coloring up for the fall spawn, as evident below.  This 23" bruiser chased my favorite midge pattern down.  The teeth and color on this thing were ridiculous.  

This cutt-bow lost some mouth parts at some point. Size 10 midge, corner pocket.

All in all, I'm getting action on crays, stones, and caddis like everyone else.  Midges have been reliable as well.  In keeping up my amateur status, I got the top section of my Hydros rod stuck in a tree.  After devising a plan, I got my rod section down along with a dead branch bigger than my Subaru.  If someone filmed the whole thing I wouldn't want to watch it.  It was ugly, but I drove home with 4 pieces of a 4-piece rod so I call it a win.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

An Anniversary Present from the Truckee

I started fly fishing the Truckee River two years ago this week.  I didn't get her anything, but she got me this:

25" and change on the tape.  Took Doug O's StoneDaddy for a ride.  My saving grace on this fight was that she would explode downstream 25 yards and then bury herself in a pocket, giving me enough time to get downstream of her to keep the game going.  This happened 4 times I can remember.  She never came out of the water completely but in an effort to hustle she passed through some water only a couple inches deep exposing her back so I knew from that point on what I was dealing with.

I've learned not to horse in a fish like this, but I almost erred on the other end of the spectrum.  We were both wiped.  I know it's not cool to say this, but my heart was flying and I could feel the adrenaline in my legs.  This may be just another fish for many, but for me it was pretty special.

I received another 24" gift two days later.  She was in super shallow white water.  I was pinned in the crotch of the river coming back together and unable to cross either direction so if she took off downstream, game over.  Somehow I was able to keep her buttoned up in the slow stuff for over 10 short runs, rather than the usual one long sprint that leads to a break-up talk.  Killer blue spot on the head and hands down the craziest red spots on the body I have ever seen on a Brown, big or small.  Released in time for the fall spawn.

Grateful for an epic week on the river.  One of many reminders recently about God's goodness in my life, the quality of my bride, and the great place I call home.