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 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. 

 

 

Oh the places you’ll go

OH, THE PLACES YOU’LL GO!

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
Any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And
you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who’ll
decide where to go.
You’ll get mixed up,
of course, as you already know.
You’ll get mixed up with
many strange birds as you go.
So be sure when you step.
Step with care and great
tact and remember that
Life’s A Great Balancing Act.
And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and ¾ percent guaranteed.)Dr. Seuss

The Truckee River, so many memories

As I drive back into town from my long journey, I look around at the familiar sights. There is nothing quite like a California sunset. It’s not quite dark as I drive through town, so I head down the the river across the street from my childhood home and take a walk. I notice small things that have changed since I was here over two months ago; the long grass is tall and I can run my fingers through it as I walk, the flows are lower and the water is warmer. A bit of the bank here and there has given way to erosion as well. But mostly it has stayed the same; an ever constant in my life.

I sit on the bank and just watch the river that nurtured me and taught me so much in my early days of fishing. So much was accomplished here, so many things learned. Lessons that had taken me on the journey of a lifetime. As I soak in the orange and pink sunset and then the moonlight,  I reflect on the places I had been all summer, the great people I met, the time I spent flying solo and what I had learned about myself.

On my own for the majority of the trip, I enjoyed a quiet bliss that is impossible to explain, but easy to regonize in others. There were also moments that I was terrifed of the unknown and isolated by my singularity. But cliche as it sounds, the more I fished and explored, the more muted these feelings became and were replaced by a silent calmness and acceptance of living in the present.

Always a challenge for me to not dwell on the past or worry about the future; fly fishing has taught me to rule these faults and enjoy the moment of each cast and fish at the end of my line. Before I embarked on this trip, I had expected to catch tons of fish and meet wonderful people. I wouldn’t have imagined that I would be one of those people I became acquainted with among the streams and mountains.

The majestic Grand Tetons

With my return to the real world and responsibility, I have found that the calmness starts to slip away, first slowly and then in a rushing tide. My arrival back home signaled to me that it was time to start another adventure. Now it is time for me to find a new place in the world. Leaving much of my old life behind, this fall and winter I go in search of steelhead and a place where I can fish every day and even surf ocasionally; return to the wild places that sooth my spirit.

San Lorenzo River, I shall miss this place where I fell in love with steelhead.

The San Lorenzo River; home for such a long time! I shall miss the place where I fell in love with steelhead and surfing.

Pinch me, I must be dreaming

Ahhh, back on the road again, exploring new waters and absorbing the grandeur and brilliance of the new places I visit.  Along for the ride with me for a bit is none other than Jordan Romney: guide,  conservationist, fellow fly fishing enthusiast and undoubtedly one of my favorite people to go fishing with.

Jordan with a giant brown

Jordan with a giant brown

I drive through the night and we arrive in the early hours of the morning at a river I had never heard of, and one which I have been sworn into secrecy not to share; the river who’s name we shall not speak. All I can glean through the darkness of the night are steep canyon walls silhouetted against the starry sky and the sound of a river nearby. Its late and the moon has already set; camp is quickly thrown together for a few hours of sleep before the sun rises and it is time to fish.

I awake to the sound of birds and bright light pouring through my tent. I open the flap and am momentarily rendered speechless. It’s as though I have been transported to a different dimension. I know we had headed north but the landscape brings to mind the canyons and shearing rock formations of New Mexico or Arizona. Red earth, steep canyon, a brilliant sunrise and amazing rock formations carved into the canyon meet my gaze and astound my still sleepy thoughts.

The savage desert beauty is still assaulting my senses when it occurs to me that I’m going to be fishing in a desert canyon. Fishing in a desert? Ok, sure, I’m game; there is always a first time for everything. As we grab our gear and head down to the river I’m not sure what to expect. And then I see it; the river.

I feast my eyes upon a plethora of noses slurping bugs off the surface. I am immediately taken aback at the size of these fish!  Then I see the way the fish swing their tails out when they eat and I know not only are these big fish; these are big browns.

Next stop brown town

Next stop brown town!

It turns out these fish are gorging on Tricos, scientific name Tricorythodes, which are a small crawler mayfly. In my experience, Trico hatches are a pain in the ass; trout get picky and the tippet you must use  (6x-7x) can be the difference between landing a fish or breaking it off. Despite the frustration of the Trico hatch (aka the white winged curse), I still catch a fish on a beetle. Ha, take that Tricos’.

The hatch is over by around 10 am, and then the fishing becomes more versatile. While at this river we caught fish on terrestrials (ants, hoppers and beetles), PMD’s (late afternoon hatch), and various nymphs.  Different from fishing most rivers in California, all the fish I caught were good-sized browns. Not a single rainbow to be had. Also not a small fish to be had.

I can’t believe a place like this exists: the abrupt, jutting architecture of the canyon walls, the vivid colors of the landscape  and insane fishing. It’s juxtaposing contrast of cold water and hot dry air along with the astounding scenery is the stuff of fly fishing dreams.

Jordan, thank you for sharing this amazing spot with me; thanks for also putting up with me two energy drinks deep and then exhausted the next day after a crazy long drive. Such a trooper 🙂