Spey-O-Rama

 

Such a spectacular group of people.

Spey-O-Rama crew! Such a spectacular group of people!

If you’d told me a little over a month ago I would be competing in the world championships of spey casting, I would have busted out in hysterical laughter. Not that my casting hasn’t come a long way since I began wielding the mighty spey rod a little less than two years ago, but I just never imagined that it would be something I would do. I’ve always had it in my mind that bringing competition to fishing wouldn’t enrich my fishing experience at all.

Well, a month ago, I competed in the world championships of spey casting. I was at the Spey-O-Rama event with Gino Bernero and Dax Messett, my fellow guides at Confluence Outfitters, and we were promoting SpeyCamp. (SpeyCamp is an epic four day camping/fishing/instructional experience on the Klamath river. My favorite river in CA and such a mind blowing experience. Click here to learn more.)

Another guide pal of mine, Travis Johnson (a world champion spey caster), started giving me a hard time for not competing. In fact, at the encouragement of Travis, the entire Gael Force team started egging me on to complete. After all, there were only two other women competing this year. The worst that could happen is I would get third place. Never mind that I’d never practiced casting with my left hand, had very limited experience with long bellied lines, and had never even touched a 15′ #10 spey rod. Well, never one to shy away from something new and challenging, I decided I was in. Bring me some gear to use, give me some instruction, and I’ll do it!

Travis helping

Travis giving me some coaching instruction

I now had two days to learn how to cast these set ups. Originally, we decided on a 50 foot line, since I could still do double spey and cack-handed casts so I would not have to cast with my left hand. According to the rules, any line over 55 feet required the traditional right and left handed casts (snake rolls and single spey). Martin Kiely from the Irish team, graciously allowed me to borrow a rod he had built himself. Before it had actually hit me that I was in fact doing this, I was wadered up and beginning a two day journey I won’t soon forget.

The first thing I noticed was how heavy the set up was. The muscles all over my body told me so the next day. Unlike rods I typically fish with, competition casting technique uses your whole body and quite a bit of strength. But by the second day, I was starting to get the hang of it. I decided that I would still do the left handed casting. Snake rolls have always been a favorite cast of mine while fishing, and these were the first of the two casts that I began to really jam out there.

But the timing, rotation and arm elevation on my single speys were still vexing me, both right handed and left handed. I just couldn’t quite get it. And then after lots of instruction and help, I finally started to connect the dots. I went home that evening with sore, limp arms, but I felt much more optimistic about competing than I had the previous day.

Left handed snake roll

Left handed snake roll

Practicing in the competition pond with the targets was an entirely foreign environment. Put me on a river, and I know where I want to cast, and how to mend my line. Put me in a pond with still water and targets and well… let the confusion ensue. Time in the actual competition pond was limited, so I did my best to pull it together and dial in a program has quickly as possible. Start with the left handed single spey, then the right hand single spey, followed by the left handed snake roll, and finish with my favorite cast a right handed snake roll; then repeat twice.

Before I knew it, it was competition time. Kara, Donna and myself lined up to measure our comp rods, leaders and collect our special yarn fly. Just minutes before I was to compete I was hit with a bit of a shock; the rod I had practiced with for the entirety of my competition casting practice was too long by about a half an inch. I couldn’t use it for the competition.

Tying on my yarn, Maxine is examining my knots closely :)

Tying on my yarn, Maxine is examining my knots closely 🙂

Kara and Donna both offered to lend me one of their spares. I quickly attached my reel to one of Kara’s Pieroway rods, and gave it a few roll casts. It was stiffer than my trusty practice rod (as Kara uses a 70 foot line thus it would need to be stiffer to load a longer line), but it would have to do, I was up. 

Right handed snake roll

Right handed snake roll

The last minute rod change had shaken me up a bit, but as I waded out to the casting platform, I calmed my nerves. Years of competitive swimming at a high level in combination with years of classical ballet performance seemed to have mentally prepared me. The next 12 casts were methodically made, even though they weren’t my best. My short line just wouldn’t load the rod enough. And two days just wasn’t enough preparation. However, the experience was exhilarating. Although I was disappointed with my performance, I left the pond with a smile on my face and determination to come back next year with more practice under my belt and a properly balanced set up.

Competitors from around the world came to compete, and the best part of this experience was the wonderful friends I made along the way. Thank you to everyone who helped get me into the competition and support me along the way!!!

All smiles afterwards

All smiles afterwards

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Half full or half empty?

This past week I took a trip to the Lost Coast to fish some of my favorite coastal water. There’s something magical about those rivers. Their color-modulating blue-green waters, old growth trees covered in moss, perfect swing runs and spell binding ocean sunsets make me long for endless days of winter. Not to mention, a dime bright winter steelhead caught mere miles from the sea is a reward all in itself.

 

One of infinite perfect coastal sunsets

One of infinite perfect coastal sunsets

 

 

Sadly, this trip was cut very short. As I lay dreaming of mist lingering above beryl waters and fish yet to be caught, my rig was being burglarized. Discovering that every bit of steelhead gear I owned,  hip pack, dry bag, waders and all, had been plundered away in the night was heart rending. It was less about the possessions, than the sentimental value many of them held for me. Items handed down from my dad over the years, my first spey rod that Bill Lowe taught me how to cast with, all the hand-tied flies I’d spent hours carefully crafting; the sense of violation was staggering. Not to mention, as a guide, some were also tools of my livelihood.

 

I’ve rarely used Facebook as a platform to vent, but seeing red, I took to social media and proclaimed my fury. It had been enough for me to simply rant to the great unknown of the interweb that I was furious. Frankly, I was taken aback by the number of comments my post generated. So many friends and acquaintances in the fly fishing community reached out to me, offering to help in any way they could. Mike, the proprietor of the Eureka Fly Shop, upon hearing what happened, even helped me get a few of my items back when a nefarious character came into the shop trying to peddle a couple of my stolen reels.

 

What I had witnessed was a community of fly fishers rallying to a comrade in distress. On one hand, the violation of having my property stolen shook my faith in the good nature of people. However, the kind gestures of so many in our small, but tight knit community restored it.  I still choose to see the glass half full and keep on smiling. I would like to thank everyone who has ever lent a hand to a fellow fisher in need. Your goodwill and generous spirit help make the sport of fly fishing truly remarkable and cathartic.

 

When life gives you lemons, drink a beer ;) Thanks again for reading and being awesome!

When life gives you lemons, drink a beer 😉 Thanks again for reading and being extraordinary!

The why behind the will

 

Recently I was able to attend a guide school with Confluence Outfitters, in Northern California. At this top notch school, I was able to hone my skills with some of the industries finest guides. Dax Messett, Andrew Harris and Gino Bernero helped me develop my instructional skills as well as fine tune my rigging techniques and angling skills. For anyone who is aspiring to become a fly fishing guide, there is not a better program out there. Three different perspectives from industry experts and hands on experience is essential in developing a well rounded perspective of what it means to be a guide. After all, guiding is much more than getting your clients into fish; and I love that Confluence recognizes this and encourages its students and clients to be stewards of the water,  promote responsible angling and instruction based guiding.

 

Rowing practice!

 

To many people the choice to pursue guiding is bewildering and invites a diverse range of queries. Why would someone who has a variety of other skills seek out a career being fly fishing guide? Have you really thought this through? Young lady, why don’t you find a nice boy and settle down? Ha. A week immersion into the life of guiding and I’m 500% sold that this is it for me. Personally, the tedium and melancholy that go hand in hand with working a typical 9-5 corporate job simply does not exist when I’m on the water. And I don’t expect it to be a walk in the park either. I am very aware that this is not an easy path to venture, but I have never been afraid of a challenge or hard work.

 

We don’t see fly fishing guides towing their drift boats with Ferarri’s, so clearly it’s also not the hefty pay checks that have drawn me in, like a moth to the flame. Being outside, meeting people from all walks of life and creating a memorable angling experience for someone is absolutely priceless. I could go on and on, but it simply comes down to the fact that at the end of the day, I cannot imagine doing anything else. There has never been anything else I have wanted to pursue as much as becoming a fly guide (career wise… or pretty much anything else actually, except maybe more fishing….).

 

 

Just in case…

After a long day of work, I’m gazing at my laptop screen again; my mind eases back to my last adventure. It started in Denver. I was there on business for a few days and I couldn’t wait to wrap things up and escape into the Rocky mountains; trading the city lights for those of the Milky Way. Many of the river reports I had read reported high flows due to run-off on most of the rivers. I’ll have to fish the Gunnison on my next trip. Trouts Fly Shop in Denver gave me some pretty solid advice, in addition to the advice I got from all of my lovely Coloradoan followers. The day after meetings were wrapped up, I was on the road to the South Platte River.

Wine and camping....pure bliss.

Wine, fishing and camping….pure bliss.

An hours drive out of Denver, Deckers, CO was much smaller than I had expected it to be when I’d looked at it on a map. I absolutely loved it. A place where cell phone reception doesn’t exist and there are 4 shops in town, one of them being a fly shop. After buying my Colorado fishing license and sharing fishing tales at Flies and Lies, I headed to find a campsite and fish. Whipping together my tent with the efficiency of an expert and haphazardly tossing together my bedding, camp was set and I was ready to fish within the hour. The flows were about 250% above optimal fishing levels, but word on the river was the nymphing was still productive. Typically, I like to drive and hike a bit to find fish that haven’t had every fly and the kitchen sink thrown at them, but the water by my campsite looked too good to pass up. I waded out in a few hundred feet from my tent and made a few casts. The river bed was a very yellow color, with lots of fine gravel. Despite keeping an eye out, I didn’t see any fish. Until I looked directly below my feet. I had two big rainbows following my wake just a few feet downstream. My pet fish. Avoiding the temptation to thrown on a San Juan Worm and fish by my feet, I continued to fish upstream, sans indicator. Frank and Ethel (Yup, I named my pet fish) kept me company until I caught my first fish by dead drifting a salmon fly nymph. They scattered as I landed the first rainbow of the trip; a fat well-fed 16 incher.     The rest of the afternoon went by with only one more fish caught, another similar sized rainbow in a riffle upstream from camp. As twilight crept over the canyon, I looked across a the river to a promising bend in the river. The water was too fast to wade out very far, and fishing from the other side wouldn’t give as good of a presentation; a conundrum to be sure. Unless you happen to have packed your spey rod, just in case. I jogged back to camp and set up my graceful 13 foot Anderson Custom spey rod. Second cast out, a few feet into the swing, I felt the familiar jolt lightening through my rod, waited a few beats to make sure the fish has eaten the fly, and then set the hook. Immediately I could tell this fish was bigger than the ones I had caught earlier in the day. My reel screamed like only a Hardy can as the line zipped off the spool. And a few minutes later I was netting a beautiful 21″ rainbow I caught on the swing. Not bad. I knew there was a reason to lug the Spey set up halfway across the country, despite a shortage of space in the car.     It just goes to show that when the fishing is a bit slow and the flows aren’t cooperating as much as you would like, there is always a way to productively fish a river. Fishing is a combination of knowledge, observation, skill and creativity. A bit of imagination and thinking outside the box can truly elevate your fishing experience to the next level.

Updates: Part Deux

 

 

With my first camping trip of the spring/summer season, it occurred to me that steelhead season is officially over. Aside from swinging streamers from time to time, I’ve pretty  much hung up the two-handed rod until steelhead season is here again. My first season wielding a spey rod was a huge success and I will be anxiously waiting to whip it out again. While the weather was fickle and didn’t always cooperate, I still got a huge amount of satisfaction being out on the water and learning how to cast a two-handed rig.

 

 

I had the immense pleasure of learning casting techniques from Bill Lowe, Travis Johnson, and Simon Gawesworth. While no where near perfect, my casting has improved by leaps and bounds since that first time I struggled to assemble that awkwardly long, 13 foot rod. I even caught that first, addictive fish on the swing.

 

 

As some of you may know, the legendary Bill Lowe recently passed away. Bill was my first spey casting instructor. That first lesson with Bill was what inspired me to keep practicing and improving. With a laid back attitude and epic sense of humor, Bill taught me more than just casting; he emphasized the joys of simply being out on the water, fishing. A lesson I will never cease to forget. Thank you Bill for being such an inspiration, you are honored in each Snap T and swing of the fly.

 

 

A trip up to Oregon to fish the Sandy with my Dad and take a class from world-record spey caster Travis Johnson was another highlight of this season. What a beautiful river! A deep emerald green and full of perfect swing runs. We didn’t catch any fish, but spending the time with my Dad and passing on my spey addiction was an experience of a lifetime. Travis was a great teacher and had may useful insights into steelhead fishing and life. I’m hoping that this will become an annual trip I can enjoy with my Dad.

 

 

 

Finally this spring, I closed out the spey season with Spey Day on the American river. This was an afternoon filled with testing out different Sage and Redington model spey and switch rods, demoing a wide range of RIO’s Scandi and Skagit lines, and epic tutorials by Simon Gawesworth, Bill Lowe and Mike McCune. With all this info, my brain was forming new neural paths at an alarming rate and laughter was always on the tip of my tongue. I was in some pretty legendary company, and I am grateful to be invited. I learned so much in a single day, met heroes and made new friends. The perfect way to close out the spey season. The only question I have left is, “Is it winter yet?”

Updates: Part 1

Well it’s been a while, and I must say that I haven’t done nearly enough fishing in the past few months. Firstly, let me apologize for the absence; just because my fishing time has been lacking doesn’t mean I can’t entertain with written prose on all topics fly fishing. Rest assured, I am back with nose to the grindstone and I’ll be adding new content on a regular basis again. To get the ball rolling, here’s a bit of an update on what I’ve been up to.

 

Talk about a hike with a view!

 

At the beginning of the new year, my wanderlust got the best of me (again) and I decided move to the North Coast near Redwood Creek so I could be minutes away from fishing where fresh, hot, chromey steelhead are the reward. Just as I began to settle into the rustic cabin a few miles away from the coast, the Department of Fish and Wildlife made the right choice and closed many of the coastal streams due to low water levels.

I hear salmon as I fall asleep running up the creek in my backyard

While I was ecstatic that the fish wouldn’t have to deal with the stress angling can inflict with such low flows, a tiny fissure in my heart started to form. I was desperately missing the pre-dawn bustle of waders, coffee and the promise of another day on the river. I immersed myself in my other passions; surfing, hiking, yoga and running but still the fissure in my heart refused to mend. I spent many days wandering around the lush green redwoods, abandoned sea shores and steep waves immersed and awed by the breathtaking beauty, but it couldn’t replace the days spent with a rod in my hand and Marlee in tow on the river.

 

Hefty sets coming through as I peep over the cliffs

 

One morning, running along the beach it hit me. I could try my hand at surf fishing. The only downside to awesome winter surfing conditions are the big waves, epic, exhilarating and terrifying for riding; not so ideal for fishing in the surf. I was under equipped with the wrong line and half the time my fly was washed to shore with the beach break. Still, it felt amazing to be out amidst the crashing waves casting a fly rod again. Oh how I had missed the flex and load of the rod; the zing of the line speed.

 

As with all types of fishing, the weather doesn’t always cooperate. I often have to stop myself from wading out into waves far too big for fishing, but ocean fly fishing is still a viable escape into a world that soothes my soul and quiets my mind. With the winter swells slowly dying down for the spring, I look forward to conquering the surf not only on my board, but also with my fly rod.

Gotta love a North Coast winter sunset

Gotta love a North Coast winter sunset

 

 

Stay tuned for part two of the update; my adventures as I delve deeper into the grasps of two handed fly fishing.