Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Wonder of Yosemite

Young people are frequently heard to say that something is "awesome".  I suppose that is intended to mean that something inspires awe.  It is my age, I guess, that dictates that I'm not inclined to use that phrase as  much.  Here then is my humble offering of something that I can describe as "awesome".   I sincerely hope you enjoy viewing these images as much as I did capturing them.   

On a February evening in the valley of the Yosemite in the quietude that can only come from a cold winter's evening in the Sierra, I was allowed to bear witness to the creation of art, come from the hand of God.  Physicists will give you an accurate description of what happens, but that cannot convey the sense of wonder.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Gold Country Part II

Jamison walked into the bar in the little town figuring to get himself a drink and maybe a sandwich.  He'd heard that the town had been a real gold rush town at one time, and was curious.  Folks in the bar were friendly enough until he causally asked "So...where's all the gold mines"?  Things in the bar got quiet.  He decided it was time for him to leave.  He needed to find a place to stay for the night, and he hadn't seen any accommodations in the little town.

As he was leaving, a woman who appeared to be the madam of the local whorehouse came up to him.  He thought at first that she was going to invite him to come to her place, and was surprised when she began to speak to him of the reason for the silence in the bar a few moments earlier.

"You know" she said, "there's three working mines hereabouts.  Folks don't really like to talk about them, especially not the fellows who own the claims.  That fella down at the end of the bar from you is the most successful miner around this neighborhood." She finished with an invitation to him to come back when he could visit for a bit longer.

He thought about that as he headed back down the narrow mountain road in the direction from which he'd come.  He'd crossed a bridge over the river some miles back, and had noticed that there was an old log cabin a bit downstream from it that appeared to be deserted.

"Why not give that a try"? he thought.  "If it really is deserted, it may be a place I can use while I see what this little no-where town has to offer".

(c) James P. Webb 2012

Monday, September 17, 2012

Gold Country

 Lyle Jamison came to the little gold rush town that year lookin' for whores, whiskey and gold, and maybe a little fishin' if time permitted.  He found it all, except for the gold.  The river below the bridge was filled with Salmon and Steelhead in the winter, trout and smallmouth bass all year round.  Since the whores and whiskey cost money, and Lyle didn't have any, fishin' became a full time occupation.

He'd come from Kentucky chasing a dream, or maybe running away from one.  California, he'd heard, was the promised land, a good place to make a new start.  The hunting and fishing were good, there was plenty of money, and it's laws and women were loose.  That all sounded good to him.

He'd been riding for several days to get here.  It was quiet and dusty, a mountain version of Yuma.  Nobody really set out to be there; they just found themselves in the place, and there didn't seem to be a better alternative.  There were a couple of dogs running in the street, with a few people moving up and down the walkway.  The only sound came from the breeze moving through the trees that lined both sides of the road into the town.

Jamison had spent a good part of his young life studying subjects that didn't interest him very much.  Physics fascinated him, but he knew enough to know that he didn't understand it at all.  What did interest him was the outdoors.  His time as a boy had been spent in the woods, and on the rivers and streams of Kentucky.  Along with his friend, he hunted and fished at every opportunity.  He felt at home in the woods, at ease.  He was absorbed by the beauty of the country in full fall color, by the feel of a cold autumn morning as it turns warm, and the sweet smell of alfalfa at the end of a hot day of baking under that sun.

(c) 2012 James P. Webb

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Geese and the River

I went fishing this afternoon on the American River, mostly as a way to escape the heat.  It's been over one hundred degrees for the past five days in Sacramento.  The river offers a place to cool off, and maybe you can catch some fish.  They say the Stripers are in.  Some fall run Salmon are in the river now, too.  That's what they say, anyhow.

I was fishing for Stripers, at least in theory.  Wet wading was all I really wanted, but a fish would have been nice, of course.   Then again, sometimes you don't want a fish to interrupt your fishing.  This seemed to be one of those days.

As I moved up the river, two young deer, not fawns any more, stopped to watch me.  With ears perked up, they paid close attention, as they made their way to the river for a drink. With no particular thought of catching a fish, I just watched and waited until they moved off.

Continuing farther upstream, I rounded a bend, and the river opened up in front of me.  The sun was setting in the west as I faced the widening river to the east.  The water's smooth surface gave off a soft golden glow,  framed by the trees on both banks. The scene transported me to some place hundreds of miles from civilization, as if I were on some remote Canadian river.  But it was starting to get late; there was only a little time left for fishing.

And then I heard them.  I know their voices well, and even though my hearing has deteriorated with the years, I can still hear Canada geese when they are miles away.  I stopped to listen.  Their voices grew louder, and then they appeared, almost close enough to touch, but not really.  "Are they practicing for the upcoming migration?", I thought. Fussing and noisy, they continued upriver.  A few minutes later there were more, and then still more, all flying away from the sun, to some unknown destination.

I watched them until it was nearly dark, and then stumbled back to the car.  I hadn't caught a fish, but it was a good fishing trip.

(c) 2012, James  P. Webb

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Putah Creek

This is Putah Creek, just downstream from where I used to fish it, long before the New Zealand Mud Snails were discovered there.  It amazes me that it has been thirty five years since I put a line in that water.  It is reasonably close to the bay area, where I lived at the time.  The dam is just about two miles upstream from this spot.   Upstream from here, the vegetation gets thicker, and the fishing gets trickier.

Back then I fished with a four piece fiberglass Scott rod, with ferules carved right into the fiberglass rod itself.  That was pretty revolutionary stuff in those days.  One day a guy called out to me from the far side of the stream "Is that a Scott rod?"  

I said yes; he seemed  impressed.  I was more impressed.  I hadn't realized that the gift from a lady friend was so well known in fly fishing circles.

I was still honing my chops fishing for trout with a fly back then, and I looked on in amazement as one fellow caught four nice rainbows out of one pool with a nymph.  No "indicator"; he just seemed to know when a fish he could not see was mouthing his small fly.  John Gierach, in his book "Trout Bum", wrote an essay on nymph fishing.  I think it's about the best thing he's ever done.  It is still a mystery to me, although nowadays I frequently catch fish with a nymph tied on.  Don't ask me how I do it.  It's not a deep dark secret or anything, I just don't know.  The best that I can figure is that in order to catch trout with a nymph, you have to spend a lot of hours of fishing with a nymph, a lot of time not catching fish with a nymph.  Once you've spent enough time not catching fish, you'll start to catch them.  Life is like that sometimes.  

When I was a younger man, I had more than a few bad habits, smoking and drinking being two of the biggest, well, two of 'em, anyway.  One day I borrowed a friend's car to go fishing on this creek.  I didn't own a car.  I did not have enough money to smoke, drink, buy a car, and pay for insurance and gas.  I had to keep my priorities straight.  You get the idea.

Anyway, my friend's car came with its own story.  It had a seriously dented front bumper.  This, I was told, was due to the inability of the car's previous owner to get the car in the driveway of his house while under the influence of qualudes.  Pulled in, bumped the telephone pole.  Backed out, went around the block, came back, and hit the telephone pole again.  Third time's a charm, right?  Same routine, except this time he really slammed it into the telephone pole.  He finally sold the car to my friend, figuring he could not drive and take qualudes too.  Priorities again.

Another feature of the car was that the rear seat behind the driver was ripped, and upholstery stuffing was coming out.  No big deal, I'm not taking the car on a date; I'm taking it fishing.  The fish don't need to be impressed with my ride.

On the way back from an unsuccessful trip,  I kept the driver's window down.  The car, as you might have guessed, did not have air conditioning.  I decided to role down the back window, too.   It was summertime, and it was warm.  Driving through the little town of Winters, and onto I-505 south, everything was good.  I lit my cigarette (the car did have a cigarette lighter), and continued on my way, rolling down the freeway at 75 m.p.h. or so.

Working on a beer, I threw the cigarette out the window, or so I thought.  A half dozen miles down the road brought me to a wildfire.  Something smelled like fire anyway.  I looked around, and couldn't see any smoke in front of me.  "Hmmm...wonder where the fire is" I thought.

The odor continued.  Finally I looked into the rearview mirror.  I was greeted with the scene of great billowing clouds of white smoke rolling out of the back of my friend's car.  I was driving down the freeway... on fire!

That pretty well answered the question of whether or not I'd managed to get the cigarette all the way out the window.  I pulled over, opened the rear door and began pulling flaming upholstery stuffing out of the rear seat.  After I'd got all of the burning stuffing that I could see out of the back seat, I poured some beer on it, just to be safe.  Not all of the beer, mind you; I still had a way to drive.

I didn't tell my buddy what had happened.  But I haven't fished Putah Creek since that day.  

(c) 2012 James P. Webb


Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Storm Goes Away

Weather in the eastern Sierra can change quickly; the storm in the previous post gives way to blue skies, and the air is crisp and clean.  But look closely.  Although Hot Creek is a relatively small stream, fly fishing at this moment remains difficult.

One of the things that makes this a blue ribbon trout fishery is that the stream is thick with all sorts of aquatic vegetation; that's what feeds the bugs. That's one reason why, if you are staying on the ranch, you are prohibited from wading in this beautiful little "spring creek".

There was a huge Caddis hatch taking place when this photo was shot, but the fisherman, can't see it,  can't even see the fish rising for them.  But they are.  Put a #20 elk hair caddis on the end of 6X tippet on twelve or thirteen feet of leader, cast away from the wind, dead drift it well and watch what happens.

© James P. Webb 2012

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Summer Thunder in the Sierra

Summer thundershowers are not uncommon in the Sierra.  Here Mount Morrison is cast in subtle relief by one. Although fearsome, they are short lived.  Put down that graphite lightning rod you've been fishing with for awhile.  The sun will come back out, and you can be off, after the ever elusive wild trout again.

© James P. Webb 2012

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Laurel Mountain

This is Laurel Mountain in the John Muir Wilderness.  I took this shot from Hot Creek Ranch, about five or six miles away from the peak.  I've had people ask me why I fly fish for trout; you know, why not fish for some species that you can get more easily?  "Trout", I tell 'em, "don't live in ugly places".  I think this shot demonstrates the point.  Hot Creek is about 200 feet behind me in this photograph. 

The eastern Sierra is much more dramatic than the western slope, although most of the gold was discovered over there.  Lots of old westerns were filmed here, including "North to Alaska" with John Wayne right here on the ranch.  The drama is most notable around Lone Pine, California, at the eastern foot of Mount Whitney, with the giant boulders of "The Alabama Hills" between the town and the mountain.

Hope you enjoy.

© James P. Webb 2012