Friday, February 9, 2018

Little Brook Trout

It wasn’t long before Mason was propped on my back again on the trailhead to Upper Hazard Lake near McCall, ID. I heard it was the place to catch brook trout, and I've wanted to photograph more brookies for the passed three years. With Upper Hazard lake being an easy hike while toting a kid, off we went to prospect for trout.


We had struck gold on the hike up; that’s if you count berries as gold, and we certainly do.  The grouse whortleberry was in full harvest mode and plentiful. The little berry is roughly the size of a BB and hard to pluck off the plant rather than just smash it still attached. Still, as we hiked Gracy would stop and pick twenty or so berries at a time to feed Mason, who devoured them quickly with not so much as a thank you. When the small handfuls were gone, Mase would buck his legs lightly, kicking my side muttering little "mmmm, mmmm" sounds. We took that as his way of telling us he  wanted more.

Picking those little berries takes time, a lot of time, but it made the hike up fun for Mason. I took the little guy off my back after we had reached our destination, and gave him the best view of the lake as I rigged up to fish.


Gracy took Mason out of the pack to discover, once again, that he was quite the explorer. The first thing he did was run towards the lake to get in it, but Gracy was there to lead him the other way. Kiwi followed Mason closely. Not out of love, but waiting for the opportunity to pick up an inevitably dropped lunch item.


Both Gracy and Mason were enjoying some time around the lake, as I set off to fish.


Finding a spot to cast around a mountain lake can be a challenge in itself. I figured with brook trout in the lake I better tie on a smaller fly to start. The little green beetle is my go-to fly for such an occasion. The fly hit the surface of the water and out of the depths shot three little torpedo awards. A tiny mouth engulfed my fly, and a little hook-set did the trick. As the little fish fought to get away I realized I hadn’t even set my camera for underwater shots. A little slack in my line was all the fish needed to spit my fly, and off it swam as I set up my camera.


With as many fish that came up to hit my fly on the first cast, I wasn’t worried if I was going to catch another one. I fired my fly out onto the water and, of course, nothing took. I searched left and right with not so much as a hint of a fish. Where did they go? I asked myself sending my fly out again. Slam!
A hit!
This time I was ready for pictures. I took my camera out and flicked it on. The fish was going crazy as I held it out at arms length, but I still took some shots.


I easily took over one hundred shots of fish before realizing the shutter speed was still a little too fast, and my pictures were coming out dark.

A slight adjustment corrected the problem, and this time I could easily see the fish on the small monitor of the camera.


Taking pictures of fish can be a real pain. First off they don’t like to stay still, therefore 80% of the photos end up blurry or with only a quarter of the fish in the shot. However, when a shot does turn out, to me it is worth the effort.









With over a thousand shot taken, I had confidence that at least one would turn out, and there was still plenty of time left in the day.  On the hike around the lake I ran into a multitude of huckleberry bushes that were ready for picking. I knew Mason would love them, so I did something I never thought I would do. I stopped fishing.

I found both Mom and Mason not far from where I had stopped. They were on their way to come and see me when they too had discovered the huckleberries.
“Hey!” I said happily, not expecting to see them this far around the lake.
“This kid.” Gracy said, playfully.
“What?”
“He won’t stop eating huckleberries. Look what happens when there are no more.”
I watched Mason happily plucked the last berry from his mom's hand and pop it into his mouth.


Almost immediately after he had stuck the berry in his mouth, Mason was looking for another one. He grabbed his mom’s hand and lifted it up to to check if there were any huckleberries underneath it. Upon discovering there were none he dropped her hand and started to shake his fist at her while making the "Mmmm, Mmmmm, Mmmmm" sound.  Gracy started picking more, but it wasn’t fast enough for Mase. He started to hyperventilate with anticipation, shaking his hand at his mom all the while.
“Jiminy Christmas!” I said, picking a huckleberry and handing it to my kid. Before this moment he had yet to recognized my existence, but with a berry in my hand I became someone of importance.


“Okay, man, come over here. We are going to catch a fish together.” I said, and brought Mason over to the bank. I held up my fly rod and Mason grabbed the cork with his huckleberry stained fingers.

With the lightest flick, Mason and I prepared a roll cast to send the little green beetle out into the lake. I was surprised that he had the patience to watch as I gave the beetle a little twitch, and had to make another cast. Still his little eyes were fixed on the fly, and finally a fish hit.
“There it is, man!” I said, and together we reeled in his fish.


Mason was happy to see the fish and went to touch it, but the little brook trout flopped itself off the hook. It landed in the tall grass near Mason’s feet, and by the time I got my fingers under its body it had to go back into the water. A little flick of my hand shot the fish into the water, and we all watched as it flicked its tail once, twice, and after a third flick it was gone. Mason struggled to get into the lake after the fish, but Gracy held him tight. The walk back to the car seemed long due to Mason's need for more berries. But I am happy to report that we made it all the way home without any berry “blowouts” from Mason in his car seat. Instead he waited until the next morning after breakfast. What a purple mess.

Friday, January 26, 2018

A Nice Calm Windy Day

“Hey man, check that out!” I said to Mason, perched on my back like a Jedi Master. “What is that?” I asked enthusiastically.
Although I couldn’t see Mason, I could hear him shifting around behind me in search of what I was pointing out. Finally his shifting around stopped, and he muttered a sound that sounded something like "daaa!" His arm was stretched out in the direction of the butterfly that bobbled by through the air. His excitement to see it made me smile; I am always amazed at Mason’s enthusiasm to be in the great outdoors.



The three mile hike kept Mason’s attention the entire time. I would point out and explain flowers, trees, bugs, and birds to keep the hike more interesting for him; however, in the end, I was relieved to set him down in the shade next to his mom and gear up for fishing.

Mason was eating a cookie when I set off around the lake to find a fishable location. Where I had left Gracy and Mason the wind was blowing in my face, and off in the distance it looked like I could have the wind at my back, so off I tracked.



I carefully stepped through some slushy grass, picking my steps on the dry ground toward the bank, when a gust of wind blew me off balance.
“What the hell?” I said. I had just walked all this way to find the wind still blowing directly at me? Of course, the way the water was rippling it looked as though where I had just come from was nice and calm. It was annoying, but I stuck to my spot. I held my fly in my hand and waited between gusts of wind to roll my fly out into the lake. The fly slapped down and was quickly being blown back to the shore. I gave my fly a quick twitch before recasting.
WAM!
The sudden take caught me a little off guard. I had way too much slack in my line due to the wind blowing it back towards me, but I can set a hook with slack in it like a Jedi Master. BAM! A solid connection. The fish started taking line from my reel, and I saw a quick flash before it started its run. It is a rare treat to have a nice sized fish take your fly at a mountain lake, and now my reel was screaming. For a second I started to doubt my hook set, but after a fierce take and a strong fight, it was over. I drug the fish in quickly, and snapped a picture as it sat on the lake bed, resting before taking off.

Getting into a nice fish so early in the game can mean two things: 1) fishing is going be a great today, or 2) I have just used up all my luck on this one fish. Sadly it was the latter.



All around the lake I could see fish rising in the distance. Also all around the lake the wind was gusting in my face no matter where I was. Most lakes have sweet spots so I always make it a point to cover the entire lake if it’s possible. I did get a nice hit as I fished the last quarter of the lake, and when I didn’t connect with the fish my frustration echoed across the lake.
“Hey!” Gracy yelled to me as my fishing came close to an end.
“Hey!” I yelled back.
“You'd better get over here and look at your son!”
“What did you do to him?”
“Nothing, he did it all to himself!”
“Oh geez...” I said to myself, and reeled in my line and tromped back to see Mason.




“What the hell? Where is he?” I said, looking down at this creature covered in dirt.
“He has been having fun.” Gracy said back to me.
“I would say...”
“You should have seen him earlier, I had to keep him from jumping in the lake.”
“Are you serious, man, jumping in the lake?” I asked Mason, who just smiled in reply.



“Well we better get him into some clean clothes before heading back.” I said.
“These are the only clothes he has.” Gracy said. 
“Oh no!” 
“What are we going to do with you man?!” I said, “Now we have to throw you in the lake!" 


I am not a big advocate of wading in mountain lakes, but lucky for us we had some stable lake bed right at our feet. Gracy took Mason and dipped him in the lake. He immediately started kicking his feet like he would in swimming lessons to help propel himself forward. 


Gracy did her best to get all the dirt off of him, but as dirty as he was, the bulk of it was setting around his eyes, mouth, and ears, making him look like a miniature Fester Adams.



Finally he was stripped of his clothes and cleaned up enough to be recognizable again. Gracy lathered him up with sunscreen as his pants and shirt laid on top of our packs to dry before putting them back on. No sooner than Mason was clean and had his new diaper on he bolted to jump back into the lake. Gracy grabbed him and planted his butt in the backpack for our journey home.



“Are you going to put away your fly rod?” Gracy asked as we walked away from the lake.
“No, there is a small stream that I saw fish swimming in. I want to check it out.”
“Okay, but we can't fish it for long.”
“I know that!” I snapped back, and received back a well deserved look of reproach.

Sure enough after my first cast a baby cutthroat trout grabbed my fly. All I had to do was gently lift the fly rod and the little fish was caught. It was at that moment when I realized how perfect the sun was for an underwater shot.
“Can you get my camera out of the pack?” I asked Gracy, who replied with another look...
“It'll be quick...” I whined, and she pulled out the camera from my pack.
I had already left the fish go, and quickly caught another one for a shot.

Fish after fish were being caught, and I took a look at the previous shots to see that a few had turned out great. With a few great pictures already on the camera, I decided it was time to stop.



With everything packed back up, we started on our hike. Mason sure enjoyed the last bit of fishing, making all kinds of noises when he got to see the fish up close.  His clothes dried up as he napped during the warm hike. And wouldn’t you know it, not a single gust of wind to cool us down on the entire walk home.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Fishing the Governor's Pond: Project Healing Water's Boise Idaho Chapter

"Hey Erik!" The all-too-familiar voice of Dick Frencer said over the phone, "Did you hear the news?!"
"What's that?" I asked.
"I won the raffle with Project Healing Waters!" Dick said, almost yelling into the phone.
"The one where you get to fish the governor's pond?" I asked.
"Yeaaaaaaaah." He happily replied.
"Well, that also means that I didn't win." I said laughing.
"Well... Did you know..." Dick paused between every word, with true Dick Frencer style, "...that I get to invite a BUDDY to fish with me."
"I saw that in the description that they were going to pick two people, and each person gets to bring a buddy to fish with them..."
"Yeaaaaaaaah..." Dick said, cooly, "and you know what I was thinking?"
"What's that?" I said.
"I was thinking that youuuuu are a buddy of miiiiiine..." He said softly, drawing our the vowels in the words he wanted emphasized.
"I am?" I said happily, knowing where this was going.
"I was also thinking, that youuuuu are a damn good fly fisherrrrrrr." He said, in that same cool voice.
"That's the rumor."
"Well, if you are not too bussyyyyyyyy, then maybe you would want to go fish the governor's pond with meeeeeee."
Although we were talking over the phone, I could clearly imagine the smile on his face, along with the twitching of his mustache, as he proudly invited me. The image made me laugh out loud, and when I was done laughing, I obviously said yes.






It was long-time buddy Terry Kowallis who organized the fundraiser for the local Project Healing Waters chapter, and every dime made from the fundraiser would be used to provide gear, food and beverages, along with a port-a-potty for the local events.
"So how did you get the governor's pond?" I asked Terry as Dick and I stepped out of the car on the day of the event.
"Well, I kind of knew somebody who knew somebody." He said, as we walked over to the BBQ dinner they had set out for us.
"Well this is a pretty cool opportunity." I said.
"Yeah, and I brought a little something to share at the end of the day." Dick said, with a smile.






We stepped onto the patio where we were greeted by Marcy and Kylie Kowalis, who had laid out dinner for the evening. They had Cutter's Grand BBQ catered tri tip with the trimmings, along with a homemade brownie that would stop your heart with the amount of love that was put into it. Having this kind of a dinner should be prize enough for winning, but the best had yet to come... soon we would get to fish.



It was Dick Frencer and Linda Jones who one the two raffle prizes of the evening, so before we hit the water the two winners got celebratory pictures together.





"Alright Dick, you and Erik are in my boat!" Terry said happily, as he brought the boat close to the shore, making it easy for Dick to get in. Jay was the other gentleman with a boat who was rowing Linda and her husband out to fish, and once everyone was situated it was game on.



Dick got in the front of the boat with a popper the size of a Sprite can.
"Jeez, Terry. Will they hit this monstrosity?" I asked, as he handed me another colossal popper to tie on.
"You bet they will! Think of it as a dinner bell... The bigger the bell the bigger the fish!" He said with a laugh.




I gunned the monster-popper at the bank, and to my surprise it was not too difficult to cast. I flicked my rod to give it a typical POP, but there was nothing typical about the POP of this popper.
"Oh my God!" I said laughing. "They could use this thing at the local water park in the wave pool!"
Terry started to laugh... "Just give it a try!" He said confidently.
I pitched my fly back in the throat of a cluster of overhanging pine limbs and gave my fly a subtle, if you could call it that, pop...
WHAM!!!!
"Whoa!" I yelled, and set the hook, ripping the bass from its lair.
"What did I tell ya?! Didn't I tell you that would work? Dang kids never believe me!" Terry said.
"Oh I believe you now!" I said, watching my bass fly from the water.
After a fun fight the bass was ready to come in, and I was able to lip it for a picture.





"Good job, Erik." Dick said, watching from the front seat. "I didn't think you liked catching carp that much..." He said with a straight face.
Both Terry and I started laughing, as Dick turned back to continue fishing. 



My black club of a popper flew again deep into the mouth of a branch-made cave, and with a subtle pop came another bass.





"How am I missing those?" Dick asked, having just cast to the same spot before me.
"I am getting way back there, almost dangerously back, where I might snag a tree limb...that's where they are." I said, coming up on another great looking bass home.
"Throw it in there, I want to see what you're talking about." Dick requested, watching as I made my cast. I pulled back on the fly rod, adding a haul to generate line speed, and shot the rod tip forward, creating a sharp arch that sent my popper in deep.
"Oh no!" Terry said, "You got it stuck! You don't want to do that, Dick."
"Hold on!" I said, "It's not stuck yet..."
I could see the line resting just over a branch deep in the pocket, and delicately pulled on the line bringing the popper up on the other side of the branch. With one last pull the large popper fell over the branch without getting stuck, and plopped onto the water.
SLAM!
"Oh man! That fish hit as soon as that popper hit the water! That was cool!" Terry yelled with excitement.
"That was all luck!" I said. "But still, I would like a picture with my fish." Terry brought out his camera and when I had the fish in I held it up for a shot.





"Okay, Dick it's your turn!" Terry said, putting down his camera.
"No, don't worry about me, I am happy to be out here with you guys." He said, casting his popper.
Off in the distance we could hear Jay's boat having some success as well; the sounds of cheering echoed over the pond.
"Okay guys, when you catch a fish we need to cheer louder than that." Terry said, and it wasn't long before we got the opportunity.





"Let's go try out the cove near the Otter house." Terry said, rowing us towards the governor's home.
"They don't mind us getting close?" I asked.
"Nope, they were all for it." Terry said. Just then Governor Otter came out of his house and, after moving some stuff around, looked over and waved to us.
"You guys catching fish?" The governor asked happily.
"Yeah, we're doing alright!" Terry hollered back.
"Well good! Stay out as long as you want." He said before giving us a final wave and heading back into his house.
"He doesn't know us very well, does he?" I said with a laugh looking back at Terry and Dick.
"You thinking of staying all night?" Terry asked.
"Yep!"
"Well there goes Erik getting us in trouble." Terry laughed, but then Dick spoke up.
"Erik!" Dick said sharply.
I looked over at him.
"Do you think you could hit the front window with your fly?" Dick asked.
I looked over to the house, witch was only about 60 feet away.
"Yes." I said.
"I will donate another $100 to Healing Waters if you hit the window." Dick said with smirk that made his mustache twitch with delight.
I smiled brightly and started to laugh, as Terry suddenly started oaring us away from the house.
"Come on, Erik, we are getting further away." Dick's mustache twitched, suppressing a smile.
I smiled even brighter, as Terry pulled a bit harder on the oars.
"$200!" Dick said firmly, as if making a final bid at a live auction. "And you know I'm good for it..."
"$200 for the org, Terry!" I said with a smile.
"You guys are going to get me in trouble." He said.
"Naaaa, we are just having fun..." Dick coolly, and was that a smile on his face?



A few of my laser-beam casts ended up hooking some foliage deep in a pocket, and when it happened Terry would turn the boat around and push me into the branches so that I could unhook the popper. Still, it was worth getting the fly as far back as possible, simply because that's where the fish were. I set the hook on another take deep in the shadows.
Crack! Snap!
"Oh geez!" I yelled, as the fish thrashed so hard it was breaking surrounding twigs.
"This is a big fish guys!" But that much was obvious. The bass came out of the shadows into the air, showing off its size. It struggled hard to get back in the overgrowth, and the fly line burnt my hands as I held it back from its home.  Terry plunged his net into the water so fast that the fish was netted before it had time to be spooked by the movement.
"We are definitely getting a picture of this one; it was not going to get away!" Terry said, reaching for his camera.





"Okay, Terry. It's your turn to fish." I said, after dipping my fish back into the water.
"You don't have to let me fish, you're the winner's guest."
"I always had intended to let the person who was going to row us fish."
"Well, it has to be okay with Dick."
"What do you say, Dick?" I asked.
"Okay with me!" He said happily, and Terry hopped out from behind the sticks and was into a fish in no time.





Terry and I have fished together many times, and while we fish we play baseball: we get three attempts to catch a fish, and if the guy fishing messes up three times, you are out and back behind the sticks. In this case, Terry caught three fish very quickly allowing me to get back to the casting seat. Despite both Terry and my success, Dick was way overdue to catch a fish.
“Okay Dick we are going to stop fishing until you catch a fish.” Terry said, but Dick would have none of that.
“No, Erik, you keep fishing! Don’t worry about me.” He said, but that’s not how Terry and I play. Sure we both hoped to catch fish, but it isn’t a good day until everyone catches fish.
We had just left what I would consider the “better looking” water, so I held off casting until I could find some structure. Dick, on the other hand, kept at it.
SMASH!
The sudden sounds of water erupting caught both Terry’s and my attention, and surprise lit both our faces when Dick’s rod was doubled over with a fighting fish.
“That’s the way it’s done, Dick!” I yelled out in excitement.
“I was rowing faster by that water, thinking it wouldn’t be holding fish.” Terry said, grabbing the net. The bass at the end of Dick's line was putting on quite a show, and from my angler it looked like Dick was holding on for the ride. With one final heave, Dick brought the fish up and Terry scooped it up with the net.





“Nice fish!” I said, snapping some pictures.
“You think so?” Dick asked, with a smirk. He was playing it cool, like it was no big deal that he just got into the fish, but after knowing Dick for as long as I have, I knew he was swelling with pride.



He let the fish go gently, and watched it turn and swim away before gathering his line back together to continue fishing. Both Terry and I were also happy to see Dick bring in a fish, making the day a good day for all. Just before I had time to make a cast after Dick’s fish, both Terry and I were distracted again by another thrashing fish off to our left...
“Another one, Dick!?” Terry yelled.
“Yep!” He said back happily.
“Dang, Dick! Two casts two fish!” I said happily, handing the net back to Terry to help land the fish.





“I’m a little disappointed in this fish...” Dick said.  Both Terry and I looked over at him with a bit of concern which is exactly what Dick wanted.
“I was hoping it was a carp.” He said.
“Get out of here!” I said smiling, and Dick released his fish, laughing at his own joke.

We ended the evening with everyone on the boat happy to bring in a few fish for the day.
“Dick, let's get a picture together.” I said, handing Terry my camera.
“Okay, smile.” Terry said.
“Dick, you are not smiling.” Terry said after a few pictures.
“Let me see...” I said, grabbing the camera and looking back through the pictures.
“You look like you are a member of the Mob.” I said to Dick... And I think he liked the thought.
“Here, Terry, take one more please. And this time no smiles, I’m with Dick Frencer the Mob Boss.” So Terry took one last picture of us, with no smiles.






The drift boats were all saddled back up in their trailers, but before we were to set off for the night, Dick had one last treat.







Dick explained the significance of this particular type of scotch, which most were able to follow, but this kind of drink is completely wasted on me.  I am not that much of a drinker, mainly because I can't stand the taste of alcohol. Still, Dick was proud to share it with us, and when it came to offering me some I said "I'll take a splash."



Frank, Lori Otter's brother, who was there to make sure our event went well, took a glass and both he and Dick exchanged their thoughts on the smoothness of the drink. I on the other hand kept my mouth shut, because to me it tasted like something I would use to remove permanent marker from a school desk... Not that I have ever had to do that...still, my one-finger pour, that was more the size of a pinky, seemed to never go away.





Knowing it would not be socially acceptable to just dump the drink on the ground I held my breath, and took the rest in one gulp.
"You know you are supposed to sip it..." Dick said, looking at me funny.
"Yeah, well..." I said with a choke, "You would have been pissed if I would have dumped it." I said.
Dick let out a loud laugh, and held up his drink to me as a solute of accomplishment. We all stood around talking about fishing and hunting for another hour or more before Terry spoke up.
"Well, Frank, we better get out of your hair. Thank you for helping us with our event." he said, and shook Frank's hand.
"Hey, any time! Hope you can do it again next year." Frank said, and shook our hands.
Dick handed me the keys to his SUV, having had a few more finger pours than I, and he told me about his excitement of catching a few bass this evening.
"It's been over two years since I have been able to get out fly fishing." He told me.
"Seriously?"
"Yep. And I am happy you were here with me to enjoy the evening."
"Hey, thanks for inviting me along. It was a great time." I said, and we drove home, going over the details of the evening and his success catching bass.