September2011

Lawn Trout

Fall is officially here and it’s a time of year that many anglers welcome thanks to the emergence of some noteworthy insects. With summer now in the rear-view mirror, hoppers and stones taper off and give way to baetis hatches that bring trout to the surface for some challenging autumnal angling: tiny bugs, light tippet, and water that is—to use an already overused term—gin clear. Another important bug, the October Caddis, offers an important source of calories to fish preparing for the long winter ahead. These large flies, in all their pumpkin-orange splendor, also signal that it’s time for humans to up their caloric intake by consuming vast quantities of completely unnecessary Halloween candy. Case in point: we’ve had exactly 2 trick-or-treaters at our house in 10 years, and yet we’re always somehow prepared with several pounds of candy bars.  Fall is also a time that another insect rears it’s ugly head: The European Crane Fly. They may or may not be prevalent near every trout stream in the world, but if you have a yard with grass you’re likely to witness this abundant fall hatch.

Crane Fly pattern (Galloup's Slide Inn Fly Shop)

The severity of the Crane Fly hatch can vary from year to year, and in my assessment a lot depends on how moist the previous spring was. If the ground in which the grass grows remains damp and cool, a good bountiful fall hatch can be expected. Given how extended and wet our Pacific Northwest Spring was this year thanks to La Niña (a.k.a. “The Bitch”), the Crane Fly hatch taking place right now is—to use another overused term—epic. The nymphal shucks can be seen scattered all over the lawn, and all I have to do is walk through the grass on my daily poop patrol to observe the adults fluttering about in every direction as they hook up with sexual partners before seeking moist, cool areas in which to lay their eggs. If I were to close my eyes I could easily imagine myself walking not across the lawn, but instead wading in a river as fish rise with reckless abandon to pick off these large, clumsy bugs. If I closed my eyes I’d also step in dog shit, so I keep my eyes peeled accordingly. Subsequently I see no fish rising to eat Crane Flies.

Crane Fly nymphal shucks

Consenting adult Crane Flies

Egg laying adult Crane Fly

Crane flies can be the bane of lawn owners and many use pesticides to kill the larvae (a.k.a. “leather jackets”), which may damage a lawn as they feed on the roots of the grass. The grubs are big, thick, meaty, nasty looking maggots that resemble something people would eat on the too-long running television show, Survivor. When densely populated, these grubs can devastate entire sections of lawn.

Crane Fly larva–nom nom nom

In order to control the larvae chemically, I’ve been told to use pesticides in the two months beginning with A: April and August. Apparently using a pesticide in April kills the grubs as they begin to actively feed, and applying again in August kills any grubs not killed in April, before they can hatch, lay eggs, and complete the circle.  I’m generally opposed to using pesticides for obvious reasons, though I have been known in the past to spot treat small areas where the infestation of Crane Fly grubs was heavy. Still, chemicals that will kill bugs will kill other things that we may not want killed, and pollutants run downhill and eventually end up in our streams. Where fish live. As they say over at Recycled Fish, “Our lifestyles run downstream.” So, please read the warning labels before you decide to use chemicals on your lawn. Pesticides bad!

Warning: Read this. No, really.

My opposition to using damaging chemicals recently gave rise to an alternative, organic idea that I think would appeal to many: Lawn Trout. Now I know what you’re saying: “Lawn Trout would be no different than moles, and would subsequently cause collateral damage beyond their benefit.” Before we more closely examine the idea of Lawn Trout, let’s first unearth some information regarding moles.

Lawn damage caused by moles, not Lawn Trout.

As hard as it is to imagine, there is an apparent benefit to having moles in your yard. If you look beneath the cosmetic damage caused by these velvet-coated, tunnel-digging pests, they are (allegedly) beneficial because they aerate the soil and control damaging subterranean insects (such as Crane Fly larvae). While that may supposedly be true, I would say to those who would tout the merits of moles, “You don’t have moles.” Well, I have moles. They’ve caused damage to more sections of my yard than any amount of Crane Flies, and there is no permanent means of keeping moles out of one’s yard, shy of digging a 5 foot deep trench around the perimeter of your property and filling it with concrete (if you do this, make damn sure there are no moles inside the barrier you’re constructing). Moles can be very difficult to trap, although I have had some success in doing so, from which I derived great pleasure. I make no apologies for this.

I hate moles and yes, I killed this one.

But Lawn Trout would not, like moles, burrow under the ground: they would cruise the surface. A Lawn Trout may pick at bugs on the ground and even make redds in your flower gardens, but they would no sooner burrow into the ground than trout burrow into the streambed. It’s a difficult concept to grasp so I’ve included a technical diagram to better illustrate the key differences between Lawn Trout and Moles:

In layman’s terms, you’ll be able to see Lawn Trout, whereas moles are sneaky and cowardly. Imagine, if you will, sitting on the porch proudly gazing out at your yard as Lawn Trout routinely cruise the expanse of lawn, feeding on damaging insects such as Crane Flies. The Lawn Trout would also control the mosquito population, which is problematic in many areas.

Lawn Cutthroat Trout feeding on Crane Fly

Obviously you would want to get up early or be watchful in the evening to observe most Lawn Trout activity, however on rainy, cloudy, miserable days you may even see Lawn Trout during midday as well. If you live where I do, you’ll routinely see Lawn Trout during midday. You may even see them beyond the perimeter of your yard as they venture about in search of food. Be on the alert when driving in Lawn Trout country!

Lawn Trout can brighten even the gloomiest day.

Lawn Trout would be free to come and go as they please, but the yard is where we must focus most of our attention, for it is the yard that will provide critical habitat for and derive the most benefit from Lawn Trout. The natural fish fertilizer would be excellent for the grass and other decorative plantings, unlike feline “Almond Roca” or piles of canine excrement which must be manually removed as it offers absolutely no benefit to one’s yard whatsoever. No need to spend hard-earned money at the hardware store when the same thing at no cost, thanks to Lawn Trout!

Why buy when you can get for free?

And speaking of Almond Roca, a resident Lawn Bull Trout living under your deck would surely solve the problem of the neighbor lady’s cat using your planter beds as its personal litter box.

Lawn Cat Fish?

It’s pretty clear already that the natural benefits of Lawn Trout will make them a welcome addition to any yard, but the presence of these overland salmonids needn’t be a matter of practicality without the potential for play. There’s no reason why lawn casting shouldn’t take on an added dimension: the chance to catch a fish while practicing your double haul!

Lawn casting becomes lawn fishing.

Furthermore, that same backyard sport needn’t stop with the home owner. Instead of chasing tennis balls or cats (if there are any cats left by now), the energetic family dog would be kept highly entertained by the presence of terrestrial pods of trouts. It’s safe to assume that Labradors could easily be taught to fetch and release. That is, if they could even catch a Lawn Trout.

Having a few Lawn Trout around the homestead may not be a substitute for actual fishing, but it may help ease the pain and suffering between fishing trips. We know that anglers love to fish, but let’s be honest—we cannot fish all the time. So when the angler cannot be on the water, what greater domestic pleasure can a fisherman derive than watching his wife mow the lawn? Watching his wife mow the lawn while Lawn Trout scurry playfully about the yard!

Mrs. UA mowing the lawn amidst a pod of Lawn Trout.

As Lawn Trout spread in popularity there will undoubtedly be some recreational landscapers who report sightings of Lawn Steelhead. These fanciful claims should be regarded with caution and skepticism. Without conclusive photographic proof, the authenticity of such outrageous claims cannot be accepted as truth. Do not trust grainy photographs or bad video footage as evidence of the existence of these mythical creatures.

Lawn Steelhead. Riiiight...

In addition to such ridiculous claims as Lawn Steelhead I suppose it’s certain to happen that with Lawn Trout would come less desirable species. There’s not much one can do about that so tolerance, if not outright acceptance, should be the yard owner’s goal as long as the undesirables aren’t damaging shrubbery. Some species, such as Lawn Grass Carp may even keep weeds in check and reduce the frequency with which your lawn needs mowing. And before you curse the presence of the Lawn Whitefish, remember–they may be an indication of a healthy yard. In fact, if you’ve got Lawn Whitefish, chances are you’ve also got a Blue Ribbon Lawn Trout Yard!

The misunderstood Lawn Grass Carp

The inevitable Lawn Whitefish

What of those burrowing vermin that were discussed earlier? Envision a 30-inch, hook-jawed meat eater lying in wait under a rhododendron for the sun to go down. As darkness falls and mole activity increases, the Brown Lawn Trout goes hunting. End of mole problem.

Mole-eating Brown Lawn Trout

My plan sounds remarkably foolproof but I will admit that the biggest challenge I see facing Lawn Trout is the matter of air.  Fish need water over their gills in order to breath, and even though the Pacific Northwest gets more than enough rain to keep things soggy most of the year (which Crane Flies like), it’s probably not enough water to sustain Lawn Trout (except during floods). That being said, maybe a few decorative Lawn Trout statues strategically placed throughout the yard would suffice to keep the Crane Flies at bay and scare off the moles. They may not be as good as the real thing, but at the very least ornamental Lawn Trout would be a welcome alternative to other yard decorations, right?

Ornamental Lawn Trout, good. Others, bad.

The Owl Jones Boycott has been lifted

When sarcasm is the desired effect, perhaps a disclaimer should be issued along with the written entry. Sorta like a product warning label stating the obvious: Don’t drink bleach.

But if a writer has to state outright that sarcasm is the tone of a message, it detracts from the whole endeavor: kinda like attaching a note to the outside of a birthday present announcing the contents. An accompanying sarcasm disclaimer signifies that the message was ineffective and it is the either the fault of the writer, or it means that the audience is sarcasm-challenged. Maybe a combination of the two Probably the latter.

Regarding the matter of my recent UAPSA titled, Boycott Owl Jones, I believe 99% of the audience picked up on the sarcasm (including Owl Jones himself). Perhaps 1% of the Planet did not. Because of that, and because I take my journalistic responsibilities very seriously, I have issued this official press statement:

The Unaccomplished Angler wishes to apologize did not mean any harm toward Mr. Owl Jones. While neon green text on a black background may in fact cause eye strain, visiting Owljones.com is not the cause of my deteriorating eyesight. It happens to men my age. I officially apologize to Mr. Jones for If there were any web traffic slowdowns caused by what was clearly a sarcastic blog entry, it is merely a regrettable circumstance. So if you’re really boycotting Owljones.com because of what was said on the Unaccomplished Angler, it’s disturbing that you would place that much credence in anything I would say.

I was thinking that there should be some sort of internet technology designed to reduce the chances of a written word being taken out of context without having to resort to the use of cute little smiley faces, which to me are personally troubling (I’ve been told that I’m not in touch with my emoticons). Perhaps someone can develop a Sarcasm Detection Plugin? While we wait for that technology, the matter of Owl’s eye-strain-invoking website has in fact been remedied.

But don’t take my word for it–click on over to Owljones.com and see for yourself. It’s safe to go back in the water.

Boycott Owl Jones

This is another UAPSA (and thus filed accordingly under the category of Public Service Announcements, and not Weekly Drivel®).

I try not to make a habit of reading Owljones.com, but once in a while–in a moment of weakness or temporary insanity–I make the mistake of stopping by the blog. I’m usually disappointed, but this time I was horrified. It seems as though Owl has decided to run with scissors and go against the flow (imagine that!) by assigning a black background to his website. Sensible and widely-accepted design principles will tell you that any dark background is bad enough, but at least most often a black background is accompanied by white text. So while it’s still hard on the eyes, it could be worse.  Like using neon green, for example, which is exactly what Owl did. The glare caused me to tap out before I could even read the entire entry, which I had somehow gotten sucked into reading. It was all I could do to leave a comment, to which Mr, Jones replied:

Clearly he is a stubborn man. Fortunately the Common Sense Cavalry, in the form of The River Damsel, rode in to back me up by attempting to talk some sense into Mr. Jones:

Her mostly sage words fell on deaf ears, although for a fleeting couple of moments Mr. Jones did assign yellow as his text color. And it helped, though only marginally so. I let him know as much and pleaded with him to listen to the River Damsel’s words of wisdom:

I don’t believe he took my suggestion to offer Owl Jones Contrast Diffusion Goggles seriously. I was serious. I wanted to go back and argue some more with him, but my eyes just couldn’t take it. This is the last comment in our discussion:

So what I would suggest to you all is to boycott Owljones.com.  If you’ve been there before, or are a regular, don’t go back. If you’ve never been, consider yourself lucky and keep it at that…at least until he changes his background to white, with black letters. And to those of you who are contemplating the use of a black background, please reconsider. If you really feel you must have a black background (highly discouraged) at the very least use white text.

Good Will Fishing, Day Two

Why we were there

Day two of the friendly tournament (in which the catch results really didn’t matter) began for Team Olive at Palisades Dam. We would be floating what was referred to as Section One: approximately 14 river miles to our eventual take out at Conants. Unlike the previous day, the air was cool and made all the moreso by the howling wind and ominous shadow cast by the  large earthen structure. I was without, and wished for, a light jacket for the first hour of the day, but somehow managed to survive. Another notable difference on this day was the kicker motor mounted to the stern of Will’s and many of the other drift boats. The motor would prove invaluable for the first hour.

Palisades Dam

We launched and motored across and upstream against the strong current, taking up a position on the rock bulkhead just below the dam.  With weighted nymph rigs set deep, we worked a heavy seam for what we hoped would be big fish: big trout, to be exact. Casting these gems, with the solid side wind doing what it could to make sure we didn’t cast them, then trying to get a good mend, proved challenging. Marck was clearly up to the challenge and quickly worked his charm on what would be the best fish of the day: a nineteen inch rainbow. As Will recorded the eighteen inch rainbow on the score card we accepted the fact that given his staunch integrity from the day before, there was no chance of us convincing him that the fish was probably 19 inches.

Marck's 19 — er, 18 inch rainbow

After 20 minutes this stationary location yielded no more fish so we jumped into the boat and drifted a another seam below the dam. Aided by the current and the wind, it was a short drift. At the end of the run the motor was put to good use as we positioned ourselves at the top of the section and worked it again. And repeat. A couple of nice whitefish were hooked but no other 19 18 inch trout. The motor was stowed and we were on the go with the flow for the rest of the day.

Another thing that was different about this second day was the presence of clouds. After a clear start to the day, we seemed to be surrounded in all directions by ominous clouds that threatened electricity and rain.

Ominous clouds that didn't amount to much

We kept our fingers crossed that the sun would be obscured and the fish would starting looking up in earnest. We actually did have one cloud make a weak attempt to settle over us during which time a half dozen raindrops even fell. This very brief respite from the glaring sun did result in some actively rising fish but the clouds would not remain long enough to bring any sort of prolonged benefit. As we floated and pounded the banks with hooper/dropper, double dry and double nymph setups,  a recurring theme began to materialize: mend.

The fact that the weather remained largely sunny and hot didn’t mean that we wouldn’t catch any nice fish, however. I managed to land my trout of the trip in a side channel where the current was slow. It was classic dry fly water and we were able to anchor up and watch for rising fish. One thing an angler learns over time is that the fish making a ruckus when rising to bugs are smallish fish. It’s the the subtle riseforms that reveal the bigger fish. Those are the riseforms you want to target, particularly if you’re in a tournament where size matters.

Fortunately for Team Olive, we couldn’t have cared less about the the size of the fish we were catching. And so with this in mind I targeted a particular sipping fish whose riseforms were barely detectible. After a good mend the PMD slowly drifted closely to where the fish had last been seen, and then Hell broke loose. The take was subtle, but the thrashing that ensued put a solid bend in my 6 weight and shattered the still surface of the water. When the fish flashed its brightly colored flanks I could tell that this fish was unique. After landing the big cutt, it was clear that the old buck had been around the block a time or two. He was dark and vibrantly colored, with a protruding snout and plenty of scar tissue in his lip from a long life of having made bad decisions.

 

This old timer (the fish) made another bad lapse in judgment.

Will scored this fish accurately at 18 inches (easily an inch shorter than Marck’s 18 inch rainbow from the morning) and we continued on our way. Though our two best fish of the day were now behind us, we obviously had no way of knowing this, so we continued fishing with hope that our best fish was still to be caught. We relentlessly pounded the banks, doing our best to follow the orders to mend. Doing so resulted in several more smaller fish and the other two fish that would be scored for the day: Marck’s 17 inch cutt and my 16 inch brown, which appeared much smaller because it was the only skinny fish we’d caught on this river in two days. Why this “snake” was as he was is anyone’s guess, but my hunch is that the fish was burning too many calories chasing imitation bugs and not spending enough time eating the real thing.

 

Marck's 17" cutt

As with the day before, on this second day it became apparent that only fish over 16 inches are worthy of a photo and so the skinny 16 inch brown did not make the cut. I did manage to convince Will that a particular sub-16 inch cutt was worth a photo. Maybe Will silently acknowledged that the fish was actually 16 inches, or may he held it in higher regard because it was a native fish to this river.

 

A rare, photo-worthy, sub-16 inch cutt

As the day wore on the catching slowed a bit, although we did continue to add numbers to our total tally. And every cast brought with it renewed hope, so we kept casting for a fish; for a cure.  And mending.  We even managed to enjoy the beautiful scenery of the river.

Some cliffs

Some waterfalls

Some puffy clouds

We got off the water at about 7 PM, adding an impressive 10 inch rainbow to our total while the take out was in view. At the end of the day we’d managed to improve our performance over the previous day: Team Olive’s total for day two was 27 trout, including an 19 18 inch rainbow, 18 inch cutthroat, 17 inch cutthroat, and a 16 inch brown.  I joke that it didn’t really matter the size or numbers of fish caught because we were there to raise money and awareness for Rett Syndrome. And that’s true. However, each team’s total was assigned a dollar amount ($10 per fish) that would be donated to the International Rett Syndrome Foundation in the name of the angels the teams were representing.  Marck and I were pleased to have $490 donated in the name of Brooklyn.

Total fish counts and dollar amounts donated in the names of our angels.

Overall the event netted over $40,000 for the International Rett Syndrome Foundation. To quote C4C Executive Director Bill Farnum, “This will fund some very important clinical drug trials that we are starting to pull together.” Right on.

I don’t want to showboat my math prowess, but there were some interesting figures that resulted from the two days of fishing:

  • Compiling the length of the 8 biggest fish per team, 2,686 inches of trout were caught
  • The average size of the biggest fish was 16.8″
  • The average total number of trout caught per team was 47.04
  • The total number of trout caught was 988

Team Olive caught 49 total fish and our average biggest size was 16.6″. That indicates that we were right in the ballpark of the overall average, despite Marck’s best efforts to make sure we were better than average. I reckon if you take Marck’s angling skills, add them to my unaccomplished angling skills, you end up with an average skill level.

Oops, my bad.

Yes, I’m definitely going back next year. In fact I have to because I unintentionally brought the card key to our room home with me. It must be returned. In the meantime I’m going to lobby for the addition of a new category for the Biggest Whitefish. I caught 12 of my best whities ever, and I’d like credit for that. And next year Marck and I are going to request Greta as our guide. Sorry, Will–nothing personal. I assure you it has nothing to do with your staunch integrity. 😉

Thanks to Bill Farnum and Jim Copeland for putting on such a great event. Thanks to Will and Worldcast Anglers for putting us and the others on some invaluable fish. Thanks to everyone we met for an incredible time, and thanks to all my friends and family who helped get Team Olive to Victor. It made a difference and will continue to do so until the cure is found.

The Terrible Twos

It’s not such a grand milestone to celebrate two years of Weekly Drivel®, because in the grand scheme of things two years is nothing compared to other blogs that have been at it for a lot longer. And whether or not the Weekly Drivel® is something worth celebrating is up for debate as well.

But let’s revisit the past two years very briefly, shall we?

It’s started on September 13th 2009 with this post. I really didn’t know what I was doing back then. Still don’t. But that’s OK, because change is bad.

A year ago I paused to reflect on the first year of the blog. In looking back at that entry, I’d have to say that overall very little has changed, other than a new look. I still have about the same number of loyal followers as I did a year ago, although thanks to the extended recession I may have actually fewer. But who’s counting, right? I recommend that you read my one year anniversary entry and just insert “2” instead of “1” where referenced.

For the most part I’ve held to a promise I made to myself, which was to put something out each week. Good, bad or otherwise, I pretty much stayed true to my word with the exception of a brief retirement that lasted just over two weeks before I unretired. A few people speculated that my retirement was merely a cheap publicity stunt. To those who would alledge such a thing I say to you, “Do you really think I deserve credit for being that clever?”

Over the course of the last two years there was never any promise to myself or anyone else that it would all be good, or expectations that it would all be bad. It is what it has been: Weekly Drivel® and admission is free so you get what you pay for.

As the Unaccomplished Angler faces this next year, the road is wide open. The sky is the limit. Who knows what lies ahead? I don’t, that’s for sure.  But if this blog is anything like a child who has just turned 2, you’re all in for a lot of misery.

Thanks for sticking with me. I hope I don’t disappoint, although I believe it’s too late for that.