Sunday, March 11, 2007

Virtual Fishing

Many fly fishers like me, those of us who practice the art and discipline of catch-and-release fishing, often say, “Well, it’s not always about catching fish.” We usually say that on days when we’ve been skunked.
Then there are the days when we catch and release a lot of fish, yet never wet a line. I had one of those kinds of days this past week while chasing birds in the Los Padres National Forest in California.
Los Padres is one of the few places where you might catch a glimpse of the endangered California Condor. We didn’t. We were, however, feeling lucky; Susan, her sister and I. We had stopped to look over a particularly attractive scene (those two are both artists so every bend in the road harbors opportunity) and got great day-time looks of a Western Screech-owl, Acorn Woodpecker and a California Quail that popped up on a fencepost to see what the ruckus was all about and let us take its picture.
But that was birding and this is supposed to be about fishing. Late in the day we stopped at another picturesque spot where water was seeping across the road. In an area that has not seen rain in eight months, any wet spot attracts birds. This spot turned out to be a classic mountain trout stream. While Susan and Peg walked through the woods discussing angles and the quality of light, I stood behind a tree and watched the water. Sure enough, I saw movement. I pointed this out to them and we all enjoyed spotting fish in a stream so narrow you could step across it.
They moved on and I decided to fish for a while. It was a challenging spot: narrow water protected by branches. No casting here. Crystal clear water with bright sun casting shadows. There were spots where I might dangle a fly in, however, and let it drift …
They were rainbows. More than a dozen of them worked in the small stretch of stream I checked. Further down stream I found a couple more pools and could see fish working in them, too. To the untrained eye there were no fish. Then a movement so quick you’re unsure it even happened, made you pause. From behind a rock a small dark bullet moved to grab an unseen insect. They weren’t big fish, maybe a couple of 12-inchers in the lot. What they were feeding on remains a mystery. Bugs were hatching, occasionally, and the fish were feeding half way down in the water column, which in that spot was about three feet deep.
So, a really small nymph, a bead-head something maybe, unweighted, set adrift down either side of the stream might work. There was some undercutting of the banks and those tree roots would be a problem. That could be overcome if I kept the line just a bit to the right of that rock …
And by the time the two artists had finished painting their great landscapes, in their--minds--I had caught and released a dozen trout, in mine.