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Category Archive:   Non-Texas Fishing


Well, I finally made it. After almost three decades of working in the outdoor industry (REI, EMS, Backwoods, Whole Earth Provisions) my new job has finally helped me land at the end all, be all of the outdoor industry, the Outdoor Retailer show in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Oddly enough I managed to make it just in the nick of time since the 22 year run of the show in Salt Lake City has officially ended and will be relocated to Denver, Colorado next year. While I’m a little sad about losing the ability to fish alien waters I absolutely agree with the idea of moving to a more environmentally friendly state. Bonus: I happen to be intimate with most of the waters within a few hours of Denver.

I be no means disliked Salt Lake City, in fact I enjoyed it immensely, but as the name implies it is a city and by definition it’s always going to feel strange for me to be in a city that size. Firstly there’s the obligatory Mormon presence that I personally am a little uncomfortable with, but on top of that there’s also an immense homeless / mentally ill population that seems to be camped out on every street corner and public park. Not that Austin, Texas isn’t expolnetially laden with similar problems, it just seems extra odd in a town as whitewashed as SLC is.

The size and breadth of the expo itself was humbling and overwhelming to say the least. Essentially it felt like being a kid in a giant candy store where the only difference was that even a simple piece of bubble gum cost $100.

Eventually, after spending three days of the expo sprinting back and forth from one end of the monstrosity to the other, with my calves actually seizing up on me at the end, it was clear that it was time to break free from the indoor convention center monolith and head to the mountains.

In what has now become a common pattern for work trips, I woke up before sunrise and drove the rental car due east into the foothills of the Wasatch range, eager to make something wonderful happen before my 5PM flight out of SLC.

I spent a few hours on the Provo River, casting for a couple of hours until I finally landed a 10″ brown trout that flipped out of the net and threw the hook as the cameras lens was let loose to do it’s job. As angler upon angler showed up around 11AM to claim their spots it quickly felt claustrophobic and I immediately headed back to the car and set off for the slightly less popular Weber River.

By happenstance I ended up running into a long time local at the Weber that was more than kind enough to lead me to some of the darker, deeper holes that held some of the bigger fish on this compact body of water. Much like myself and this blog, he seemed to be happy to share his special spots with some unknown stranger as though he was an employed ambassador of the sport!

Escorted along the grassy banks to one of the deeper holes on the river, I was directed to cast a foot off of the seam and wait for the tug. Well he stood on the bank watching with interest in what his advice might bring in I cast again and again without so much as a nibble. Eventually he bid farewell and as if he flicked a switch upon his departure the bites came quick and fast, with two Mountain Whitefish landed and a good sized brown making it on to the lip of the net before changing plans, throwing the hook and heading back into the depths for shelter.

I may never come back to Utah because of the aforementioned movement to Denver, but I’m glad to say I got to spend time on waters I never foresaw exploring. That’s the wonderful thing about curiosity, it always make you wonder and pulls you into circumstances you never had imagined. Now more than ever, just trying something you’ve never tried, or checking out waters you’ve never considered exploring has the possibility to open you up to limitless possibilities and a life full of giddiness and perspective that can keep you from losing all hope. You know, the exact opposite of what almost any large city can do!

At the golden age of 45 I’ve spent the last 30 years or so thinking of the state of Florida as some sort of theme park / sauna room devoid of any redeemable features. It should be noted though that this summation of this southern state was formed while on a family trip and in my teens. If you have ever by chance been on a family trip whilst a teenager, there is a good chance that you understand that the combination of these two insure that no fun will be had, and that the gawky, awkward prism of adolescence will skew and alter all memories until they are re-visited, re-examined and hopefully born anew.

Grabbing the easily recognizable luggage, (it was the one with wide shoulders, rod tubes practically protruding from the bag) i passed through the sliding doors of convenience out into what felt like a movie set for a tropical adventure. Lush verdant plants and tropical flowers the size of bowling balls practically exploded in my face, as water falls (albeit man-made) provided a sweet symphony of white noise that backed up the call and response of a menagerie of exotic birds i’d never seen.

I was enamored, charmed, and bewildered, and i hadn’t even made it the 30 yards to my rental.

Locating my rental car i drove straight to the hotel, veering ever so slightly out-of-the-way to locate the nearby convention center that would be my workplace for two and a half long days of iCast, the end all, be all convention and expo for the fly fishing world, but that was still two days away. In the mean time the plan was simple, drop off my bags, head to the local fly shop, grab some information and flies and then spend the next day combining the two with a little alchemy in an effort to make the impossible happen.

The next day i awoke sharply at 4AM (no alarm, just excitement) with all the information gathered from the incredibly helpful Michael at Orlando Outfitters (above photo) the previous evening swimming through my head. Grabbing my newly purchased minnow flies (nothing more than a hook with clear tubing and a whip of maribou) i was quickly out of bed and out the door.

An hour and a half later with the sun still strangely absent i pulled into the Biolab boat ramp area and watched the sun poke up and tease the still, Mosquito Lagoon waters with the first rays of light. It was a lagoon, but it might as well have been an ocean with the opposite shore lying so far in the distance that it seemed to be another land.

Heeding Michael’s advice i took a right at the ramp and started the 6 mile, 15MPH drive that took me through what can only be described as an immense array of technicolor wilderness brimming with egrets, herons, ibis, cranes and an infinite array of other unfamiliar birds. The waters on the lagoon side was punctuated by manatees frolicking and forging in the shallows, while the other side of the road played host to endless sloughs filled with the obligatory alligators (so ominous but shy) but also kaleidoscopic crabs and the gentle rolls of juvenile tarpon.

Stopping at a particularly tumultuous looking backwater slough, i cast over and over for two hours coming up empty time and time and time again. Pausing and watching the water for a few minutes it dawned on me that i was assuming every boil was a tarpon hovering right below the surface much like a sunfish. Realizing that they were likely cruising and ambushing bait I adjusted my casting style slightly i quickly hooked my first tarpon ever.

Within seconds of hooking the tarpon the water erupted as the tarpon thrashed and tossed all while seemingly heading towards heaven, before changing its mind and diving back in to the comfort of watery liquid. A single run to the left, and then suddenly it shot forth from an explosion of water that reminded me of farm days in my youth throwing M-80’s into grandpa’s pond.

Eventually the fish was brought to hand (“Look ma, no nets!”) and I kneeled down in the sweat inducing heat, placed my hand tentatively in the water and slid it under the tarpons belly to brace it while I removed the hook, all the while hoping that alligators didn’t enjoy sushi half as much as I do.

As the day and the experience progressed the fish came faster and faster, until eventually it was strange to cast near a boil and not have the water explode in a display of schizophrenic water. At some point in this day of days the spell of the fishing was disturbed by the uneasy sight of massive smoke clouds coming roughly from the direction of Orlando. As the fire and smoke quickly engulfed a large part of the horizon, a fighter jet suddenly announced its presence by shaking the ground around me with its roar though it was a tiny speck on the horizon making passes near the fire. Something strange was going down.

I remember my thoughts going roughly like this:

  1. Oh boy, here we go, terrorist (either external or internal) have launched an attack.
  2. Crap! No cell phone coverage?! What is going on?
  3. I can’t reach my loved ones to check on their safety.
  4. Well, if this is the end at least i was doing something I love.

Later on the drive back, leaving the plume of smoke behind me it would occur to me that the “Fire of Unknown Origin” in the distance had me far more worried for my safety than the crocodile that had dived below the surface 30 feet from where I was landing fish. I guess for me the predictability of man is far more terrifying than the un-predictability of nature.

After the initial freak out, i got back in the groove and landed tarpon after tarpon, easily landing 20 or so and missing many more on the two minnow flies i had bought in Orlando. Eventually both of those flies fell apart from all the jaw activity and i happily sacrificed a deep-water Clouser minnow by trimming its fibers down and fishing it until that too fell apart in the maws of my quarry.

Later, writing in my journal by the hotel pool, i was awed by how much my outlook of Florida had changed in one day just by getting out into its hairy wilderness. It was no longer the place I knew in my teens, an endless, boring, brackish swamp punctuated by theme parks. Now it conjures images of endless bays, pools, channels and rivers connected by the most tenuous threads of water that enable both fish, humans and other wildlife to find their way back to the wild expanse of infinity.

Steelheading’s patron saint has got to be Sisyphus, the ancient king of Ephyra who was punished for his vanity and deceitfulness by being forced to roll a giant boulder up a hill, only to have it come rolling down the hill again, an action that he would repeat for all of eternity. Lamenting his struggle and the obvious connection, i cast, raising the tip abruptly, tracing the outline of the “D” with the 12′ rod, followed the imaginary rim of the sombrero, and set my anchor before launching the streamer halfway across the Deschutes. After the tell tale splash i watched the line like a hawk, making sure to keep all of the bends out of the line, just as my brother had instructed me. It was an action i repeated over and over ad-nauseum like Sisyphus, the only change in pattern being that i worked my way downstream a few feet after every cast, in hopes of covering every last bit of roaring water between me and the next riffle or bend.

It’s an extraordinary thing, fishing for steelhead. It’s about the polar opposite of fishing in Texas where you can usually avoid a “skunk” just by tying on a smaller fly and targeting a panfish, Rio, or what have you. Steel head fishing is all or nothing…period, there is no hedging your bets, you either get one or you don’t.My brother David, a first class steel-header who also happened to be our local guide had informed me on the drive in that the fishing was at an all time record low. Up until this trip he’d fished 10 days in a row without a bite, and he knows what he’s doing. Upon hearing this i immediately tossed any chance of catching a steelhead right out the window, it’s hard enough when things are perfect, and apparently conditions were far from that.

Strangely enough i managed to hook into one of the quarry midway through the first day, but was foolish enough to allow it the luxury of the deep water and fast current. Breaking it off and glancing at my brother who had been trying to wave me to shore i suddenly had the sinking feeling that i had royally screwed up. Reeling in the taut-less line with ease all i could think was “Ten days of nothing leading up to this and i let that one slip away.”

Fortunately our luck turned around the next day, starting with my father hooking into a 40+ pound salmon that quickly let him know that it wasn’t in the mood to play by breaking him off. Encouraged by the simple act of a hook up, we scoured all the best spots for the rest of the day, eventually making our way back to the parking lot as the sun retreated to the other side of the hills. Making our way back after a long day and within minutes of the parking lot i scurried down into one of the more popular runs, spey rod in hand and quietly hoping to at least feel a tug after a day of nothingness. Shooting the line half way across the river i felt like a matador, constantly leading the line to the left in a graceful arc of posibility. I worked it out of the main current, fleetingly along the seam and towards the submerged rock. As it passed through the cushion in front of the submerged boulder the line shot out of my guides, the surprised reel humming and my knuckles getting smacked relentlessly by the blur of a knob.

My eyes scanning the implied direction of my line, i was surprised to see my steelhead jumping like a madman 50 yards upstream from where i thought it was. Panicked and wary of repeating the previous days mistakes i called to brother for guidance. Like a pro he delivered, walking me through the steps to help land a fish that was easily eight times the size of anything i ever catch around here. A memory to be sure.

Fortunately my brothers generosity was repaid on the third and following day when he landed a steelhead minutes after we hit the water, and a second shortly before leaving. It was incredibly gratifying to see all his work in making this trip possible for my dad and i come to fruition in front of our eyes. I’m lucky to have such a wonderful brother / steelhead guide.

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It’s hard to explain to non-anglers how one fish in three days can be seen as a success, but that’s the world of steel-heading. It’s a universe where the odds are inherently stacked against you, every failure or success is exaggerated, and where days can be compressed into minutes.

On the flight back, after a couple of complimentary Chardonnays loosened the gears, i put pen to paper as i ruminated on the experience. There were pages of thoughts, but this one seemed to sum it up best.

“Hundreds of meaningful but empty casts for one fish. One muscular, wild, screaming fish that felt the connection and tore the water asunder.”

Thank you David, dad, and the Deschutes.

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The news was sad indeed. My grandmother had encountered increasing health problems and finally passed to the other side of the veil early last week. A wonderful  grandmother in many ways, one of my favorite things about her was the way she actually got my teenage, offbeat and ironic sense of humor in the early eighties long before sarcasm was mainstream (yeah i’m looking at you hipsters!) In addition she also had AMAZING cooking skills, and somehow managed to find a way to live with a die hard fisherman for decades without visibly (to me at least) being upset with his constant desire to be on the water.

The day after the news i was driving alone through the north half of Texas, all of Oklahoma and the vast majority of Kansas. It was a fourteen hour trip (one way) of reflection that only allowed me time to cement the obvious, namely that all life is transient, loved ones should never be taken for granted, and any time spent with children (even if they think they’re not enjoying it at the time) will probably provide them with cherished moments that they will take to their grave. (For example, my aversion of fishing in my youth that turned into an addiction many years later.)

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After a whirlwind 24 hour stay that felt like a waking dream, seeing extended family i hadn’t seen in many, many years and a small town that has changed dramatically in the decade since i’d been there last, i spun the Element southward, leaving the Land of Frozen Water, planning to return home, but feeling an increasing need to pause somewhere along the way for some quick down time to process the onslaught of emotions i’d been bombarded with.

Hours later, i was propped up in a hotel bed in Tulsa, Oklahoma and locked into their WI-FI searching for information on Broken Bow in southeast Oklahoma, a trout fishing destination that i’d heard many people rave about over the years. It took no time to find reviews and pinpoint directions to Broken Bow, but the generated enthusiasm was short lived when i read that floods in December had wiped out fishing spots and fishing shops along the Bow, shutting the entire park down for the foreseeable future.

Fortunately in my research something else did pop up, although with far less fanfare and information, the Blue River Public Fishing and Hunting Area in south central Oklahoma. For whatever reason, information on the Blue River fishery is almost non existent, though i was eventually able to discern that there were healthy flows and they did indeed stock the river with trout on a fairly regular basis which was more than enough reason to invite myself to her strange and unfamiliar waters.

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The backwoods drive in had me worried i’d made a huge mistake, especially when i pulled into the local convenience store to find that they no longer sold fishing licenses as the internet had purported. Grabbing a gallon of water i strolled the grounds looking for a cell phone signal in hopes i could register for my license (very, very slowly) online since the nearest physical license would require a one hour (each way) drive that i simply didn’t have time for.

Eventually i found  a signal, paid my nominal fishing fee, and wandered along a trail into one of the most magical fishing experiences i’ve ever had. The Blue River was truly unlike any body of water i’ve ever seen. Not really your basic contained river, it’s more like an endless network of massive creeks flowing in and out of each other, with falls and plunge pools punctuation the beginning and end of every aquatic sentence along the many miles of trout stocked water.

Hiking and fishing as many of the miles of trails that i could manage in my painfully brief stay i was constantly shocked by the seemingly endless cavalcade of falls and whitewater that were not only scenic post cards in the making, but also full of energetic rainbows that got more naive the further you traveled along the trail and away from the highway.

The best part of the experience? There was not a soul in sight. It was exactly what i needed, hours spent among the trees and open waters, with nothing but the calm stillness of nature. Falls, clear water, conifers, ducks, hawks and trout seemed to offer their respects, keeping chatter to a minimum.

With the memories coming on heavily in the silence, i cried, as much out of sadness that my grandma was gone as out of the happiness of knowing that she was back with her husband, the mad hatter that somehow imparted in me the love of fishing decades before it would become so much to me.

I love you both. Thank you for all the memories.

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Want to go and experience trout fishing in Oklahoma?

Websites:

Blue River Public Fishing and Hunting Area – The official state run Facebook page with a wealth of information on stocking dates, stocking sites, directions and more.

www.blueriverok.com – One of the very few sites with information on what is otherwise a difficult to research trout fishing haven.

Camping: 

Camping sites are on a first come, first serve basis and are shockingly (to those of us from Texas) FREE! More details on camping can be found at the www.blueriverok,com site mentioned above.

Oklahoma Fishing Licenses:

www.wildlifedepartment.com/license.htm – There is no spot anywhere close that sells Oklahoma licenses, so we recommend buying and printing them up before setting out.

Distance:

From Austin it’s a five hour drive, which isn’t that much if you think that northern New Mexico and the Cimarron are 14 hours away. For those in north Texas (Dallas and Fort Worth) it’s so close that you need to make it happen, if you haven’t already.

 

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