Wednesday, October 21, 2009


David taught me how to fly fish for trout with dry flies on the North Fork of the American. A generous and patient teacher, he talked me through the process of stalking wild fish in clear water. I was especially grateful to David last week—not only for teaching me how to fish these streams but also for teaching me how to teach my nephew how to fish them. Let me untangle that sentence though the following story.

Last week, I took my ten-year-old nephew fishing near Kirkwood Meadows. The trip started with a hearty breakfast at the Lucky CafĂ© in Sacramento. We both ordered silver dollar pancakes and bacon—appropriately hearty fare. During the drive along Jackson Highway, Riley called out the clues for the crossword puzzle in that day’s newspaper. We spent nearly two hours trying to solve them. When we reached the trailhead, we geared up on the tailgate of our pickup. We followed the creek through a small meadow and scrambled alongside it as it plunged into a valley—where it resumed its meander through another meadow.

Catching one of these brookies would require stealth and Riley was intrigued by the idea of thinking like a predator. We crouched in the pine tress and crawled through the bunch grass to observe the wild fish from the stream banks. They were feeding voraciously. Riley and I applied all the techniques David taught me to catch and release fish after fish that day. There was a moment—when I was moving Riley into position to cast and telling him just where to drop his Cutter Caddis—that I realized I was coaching him the way David coached me. I was using the same words.

I called David the next day to thank him for teaching me, and now Riley, how to fish that creek. He demurred and asked if I’d teach him how to swing for steelhead.

Sunday, October 4, 2009


Writers talk about going to coffee with their characters; I go fishing with mine. Most mornings I’m in the water at first light, swinging a wet fly and listening to the river and the city start their days. Sometimes, my stainless steel coffee mug is hot against my chest inside my waders’ bib. The smell of Coffee Works Italian Roast mixes with the cool air rising off the water.

I’m getting to know the American River, step by step. Several dozen times each morning I lift my spey rod, sweep the tip out and across the river, lift again and feel the D-loop form behind me—loading the rod—then make my forward cast. When all goes well I toss a mend in the line and let the fly swing across the current. At the end of the swing I let the fly dangle for as many seconds as my patience allows. Then I strip in line and take two steps downstream.

Lift, sweep, load, cast, mend.

While I’m getting to know the American I’m also getting to know the characters in Marian’s Mandala, the screenplay I’m currently writing. I bring them to the river with me—sometimes in my conscious mind, always in my subconscious.

Lift, sweep, load, cast, mend.

I’ve met new characters on the river, too. I knew Marian well—from the start. She and her adult son are the script’s co-leads. Their relationship with Tom, her husband and his father, is essential to understanding their relationship with each other. The problem was that I didn’t know Tom. We hadn’t been fishing together. We’d never sat down over a cup of coffee. I tried to write around him for almost a year but I was getting nowhere. I reached a point where I thought about giving up on the script completely.

Lift, sweep, load, cast, mend.

And then Tom appeared, right there on the river with me, the details and the meaning of his life unfolding with each step we took together downstream. Since meeting Tom, I’ve fished the last hours of daylight several times. He’s the kind of character you want to have a beer with—maybe even a wee dram of whiskey.