Monday, September 21, 2009


A twenty-fish day on the Trinity; swinging wet flies. This would be an epic fish tale if it weren't for the fact the average length of those twenty fish was probably six inches. Palm-of-the-hand fish, I thought to myself, admiring the parr marks on the next generation of steelhead. Maybe, a palm-of-the-hand story.

A palm-of-the-hand story is a literary form developed by the Japanese novelist, and Nobel Prize winner, Yasunari Kawabata. Throughout his life, Kawabata wrote short short stories that many consider the novelist's equivalent of the haiku: rich in content yet extremely compressed. Kawabata said of his stories: "Many writers, in their youth, write poetry: I, instead of writing poetry, wrote the palm-of-the-hand stories."

My Trinity River fishing story began in Roseville at a steelhead clinic taught by John Fachetti; with the gracious gift of a steelhead fly, tied by John himself; and a tip to swing it through the run behind the Del Loma RV Park. It was at the Del Loma that I met Patrick and Michelle, the park's owners, and learned more about the fly John gave me. Patrick told me that more than one generation of John Fachettis have fished the Trinity and the fly the youngest Fachetti gave me is a local favorite. John actually learned to tie the fly at the Del Loma when he was boy, from an older gentleman who nurtured his interest.

The fly was effective. It worked on the run behind the Del Loma, and in every run I swung the day my wife and I floated the river with Patrick. While other fisherman pulled twenty inch salmon out of the deep holes using crawdads and sardines for bait, I plucked little fish from the seams, one after another. My heart jumped during the first five or ten grabs and, for a long while, at least, I enjoyed the opportunities to observe the wild fish closely.

I'd come armed for an adult Trinity River steelhead, though, with my seven weight, 13'9" spey rod. As such, I didn't know there was a fish on half the time. To prevent sending one of the little guys on the single-spey ride of his young life, I lifted my rod tip carefully before initiating each new cast to check for a fish on the line.

And so my days went. Each palm-of-the-hand fish an exercise in both patience and persistence. They were preparing me, I told myself, for larger fish to come. The way Kawabata's palm-of-the-hand stories prepared him to write his great novels.

Eventually, a great fish did take that fly. But not on the Trinity. I connected with a sea-bright steelhead my first morning back in Sacramento. At first light, I swung through a run on the American that lower flows had made accessible. The silver fish smashed John's fly and ran and jumped and dove and jumped again, and again. Then he was off the line and gone.

Part of me wished I'd landed him. Okay, most of me. But after bringing so many little fish to hand the previous days, I have a new appreciation for the cliche: "the one that got away." I'm still thinking about that fish today.

Sunday, September 6, 2009


Everyone, it seemed, was getting ready for the Labor Day Weekend. My wife was shopping for exterior house paint. I was trying to beat a deadline for a book of poems I'm reviewing. Then Adrian called. "Up for a crack of dawn float tomorrow morning? Jason and I want to check out the Arden rapids at these lower flows." The book review would have to wait. "Count me in," I said.

Flows were down to 2,300 cfs and the guys were getting ready to teach a steelhead clinic. Time for some crop-checking, as the farmers in my family call it (you can read more about this venerable tradition in an earlier post). We put in at Rossmoor at first light and took out at Gristmill a few hours later. Along the way we noted good swinging water, changes in the riverscape, and realized we weren't the only people out on the river getting ready for the weekend.

Sheriff's rescue was on the water, running up- and downstream at will in their high-powered inflatables. One crew was kind enough to slow down as they passed and point to a place they'd moved fish. Our drift boat moved a pod of four salmon. Jason spotted them while standing in the bow. They shot off at a right angle and we all scrambled to get a look at them.

Our urban river always offers something unpredictable. When Adrian and I floated the river a week or so ago we saw a naked hiker, strutting along the riverbank, t-shirt wrapped around his head. This week we saw a man, fully-clothed, walk into the river until he was fully submerged. As we got closer he resurfaced, and we saw he was carrying a net in one hand.

We floated past half-a-dozen homeless people setting up lawn chairs for a good view of the infamous Mud Island. Front row seats for the inevitable collegiate mud wrestling festival that breaks out during holiday weekends. Despite the ban on alcohol.

Days later, I'm still thinking about the middle-aged woman we saw standing on the riverbank, looking lost and lonely. She watched us drift by, not bothering to shield her eyes from the intensifying sun. Hands hanging at her sides, she just watched. There was poetry in that moment. Which reminds me, I better get back to that book review. I want to go fishing tomorrow.