Monday, July 19, 2010

Mammoth In July

We packed up and headed up to Mammoth a month early this year.  The water level everywhere was high and the streams were running pretty hard due to a late snowpack.

Tommy, Davey, Isaac and I hit Lake George on Sunday for a bunch of brook trout, as well as a few rainbows.  After coming up empty and tangled after a pass or two around the lake with trolling gear, we anchored up outside a feeder inlet (not the falls, but to the left near the granite face) and started casting crawlers into the water being pushed out into the lake, where the brook trout were on station and feeding where the inlet stalled out into the lake.

It was pretty good action on planter sized trout for the little guys, topped off by a nicer grade rainbow that Isaac finessed into hitting a firetiger-pattern Mepps Syclops he tossed toward the bank in between assisting the little guys in releasing their fish.

On Monday, we hooked up with Matuka Joe Contaldi to try our luck midging Crowley near the McGee Creek inlet, where we caught so many big ones last August.  Well, this was July and the water was still cool, so the conditions had not yet ripened for a lot of big fish to be sipping midges where the cool creek hit the lake.  We got four (two of them after we relocated to Green Banks), but the Crowley bite was just not turned on yet.  Red bubble back, in size 22, worked best and we even got one to take the top fly, which doesn’t happen too often for us.  I think the fish just had not settled into a pattern that we could key into.

Given the conditions, we left the lake before noon and decided to head up to Hot Creek for a little walking and fly-casting nymphs. The weather was beautiful – just a little hint of a Sierra shower, and no big heat. We got several nice fish as we worked off the rust from not using a fly rod since last year.

I got some rainbows and browns and managed to bag a feisty cut-bow that buried me in the weeds on the opposite bank before we were able to convince him to come back to our side and Joe’s net. 

The best pattern for us at Hot Creek was a tiny #24 pheasant tail nymph.  We had to run a little more lead than usual because of the high water, but the flow was pretty close to perfect and weeds were no problem.

Tuesday, Isaac and I took Tommy stream fishing at a couple of spots below 395 on Mammoth creek.   We were aided by high water and fish were visible in the pools, which we pretty much had to ourselves.  We used barbless hooks to take several decent planters at Mammoth Creek on Gulp egg imitations and were able to release all the fish.  

After we had raided this spot for a bit, we traveled further south on 395 to hit a pool behind a check dam on McGee Creek below the highway..  The spot was pretty deep and wide, like a big swimming pool, and there were several nice trout cruising around.  We mashed down the barbs on our spinners and threw Panther Martins, Mepps and Rooster Tails, which produced follows and a few strikes. We finally got the fish to start biting a gold /black dot Golden Lion spinner that seemed to be what they wanted.

Tommy got to crank in a bunch of decent ones, all of which were released.  The spot was little spooky, because the water was running hard below the little dam and we had to take care to make sure Tommy did not go in, because the stream below the check dam merged with more white water that quickly disappeared into a shroud of trees that made downstream bank access completely impossible in the event someone went into the water.  I was glad that David decided to stay back at the cabin, so we could keep a close watch on Tommy.  The spot we fished was beautiful, but it was pretty hazardous for little kids a few yards downstream.

Wednesday was our first day to hit Lake Mary.  All of the inlet creeks were running high and the fish were really biting for us.  Other folks were getting a few here and there by still fishing power bait or crawlers or top-lining trolling lures such as Thomas Buoyants or Rapalas. 

We trolled single siwash-hook needlefish five to six colors down in 40 to 45 feet of water and just got one bite after another.  We got a few on firetiger and also red and gold Syclops, but by far the major producer was the frog pattern/gold needlefish.

Ryan Downs smuggles a trout past the authorities.

We got mostly 1-2 pound rainbows as well as a surprising number of brook trout, along with some browns.  The girls all slept till noon, so Isaac, Ryan, Tommy and Davey took turns reeling them in until we had caught and released twenty in a morning of casual trolling and snacking.

Thursday, it was more of the same as Isaac, Tommy and Davey got up for another twenty plus fish count of catch-and-release action.  Again, it was mostly rainbows, with about 5 or six brook trout and a couple of browns.  The browns were all near the three inlets just short of the deep part of the lake.

Friday, Isaac and Tommy and I hit the lake again (David decided to stay home), but this time the weather was quite different than the sunny time we had experienced on the two previous days.  We were blown off the lake by rain, wind and hail after catching two fish, so Isaac and I went home to drop off Tommy, get some heavy rain gear and hit it again.
We got a few more as another big system blew down the lake and pushed us backwards.  We were determined to return and achieve our twenty fish benchmark.  We went home and got Lizzy to go to lunch with us before we hit the lake for the afternoon bite.  Sarah was benched this trip due to a broken leg, which was diagnosed and treated at Mammoth Hospital in a manner completely superior to what we have in Orange county.  This allowed her to sleep past noon in and watch a great deal of big screen cable TV.

When we got back to the lake at 2:30, we were greeted by worsening conditions as we caught a couple before the wind and rain blew us backwards for 30 to 45 minutes and chased everyone off the lake except us.  
We stuck it out and as soon as the wind died down the fish started to bite again.  We employed our system and just managed to release our twentieth fish as our time with the boat expired. 

We were like the crew of the Andrea Gale, insisting we were Gloucester-men who would not be denied our quota just because of some weather.  Isaac kept calling me Billy Tyne.

The last day, the big boys and Sarah stayed home while the rest of our troop went on our traditional hike to Rainbow falls and Red’s Meadows. 

The San Joaquin was running at summer maximum and pitching out in a fantastic display at Rainbow Falls.  We got into the park by 6:45 am, so we were at the falls when it was un-crowded.  After we hung out there, we hiked another ½ mile or so down to the lower falls, which was a rich experience.  

The lower falls are seldom this good and we had the whole place to ourselves the entire time we loitered in the area.

This is such an easy hike and there is always the ice cream reward at the pack station store before you leave the park.

This year brought a significant improvement in bear-proofing, although we did see one on the golf course and another raided the dumpster after it was left unlocked by some hard partying neighbors.


We finished off the day by zip lining at the village before going on our traditional monkey hunt late that afternoon in the Alabama hills outside Lone Pine on the way home. 

It seems that the environmentalists have taken over the Eastern Sierra, at least as far as traditional pack-in monkey hunts are concerned. This time we used a new company – “ High Country Ape-chasers” There is now a training session that you have to go through (we did ours on-line, so we would not have to waste hunt time in the diminishing daylight).  They make you watch a video about how pine monkeys and boulder monkeys are a resource that cannot be over-harvested. The focus is on getting you interested in synthetic monkey products like turkey monkey jerky or monkey pelts that are really just rabbit or squirrel pelts that are remanufactured to shape-out like primate.  

Instead of .22’s, we were urged to use the new tranquilizer guns that the Sierra Club is pushing as an alternative.  They are way more expensive to shoot, and you can’t really walk your shots onto a fleeing primate like you can with a .22 autoloader.  The active ingredient is the same stuff they give to middle-aged patients who get colonoscopies.  The proprietors assured us that the darts are better because they put the monkeys right to sleep and they don’t remember a thing when they wake up.   They told us we could buy some smoked tofu that is shaped like a monkey if we really want to bring something home. My kids just looked down at the ground and moved the dirt around with their boots while our ranger escort lectured us about the non-lethal hunting experience.

We managed to convince the staff to let us bring along our own pellet guns to practice with, so we wouldn’t have to shoot these stupid darts to sight in our rifles, as they cost 12 bucks per shot.  I paid for everything with cash and we all signed in with nicknames.

Each group of hunters must be accompanied by an escort-guide, who is really just there to make sure you buy their darts and use their guns.  Our guide introduced herself to us as Rainbow. She was excessively well-nourished and wore smelly Birkenstocks. She had multiple piercings to her nose and ears, including those starter plugs.  She was carrying around two large and equally overweight striped tabby cats that she referred to as mountain cats. She told us they actually use these fat felines to track the monkeys, but there are so many of these chattering critters jumping around on the boulders that it makes you think that this is just an excuse for a lazy, judgmental girl to charge you to bring along her obese pets while she bosses you around. 

It was obvious that she knew nothing about tracking monkeys and had no sense of humor. We all piled into the Range Rover they designated for our trip.  As soon as we got into the territory where you could see the monkeys springing about, she stopped the vehicle and held up a cat to her chest as she gestured for us all to gather round while she started to give us another big lecture on the obvious.

Now, this is an example of when worlds collide…..When people who own more than one cat encounter people who have more than one gun. My daughter Sarah, who had a broken leg and didn’t want to stand around burning daylight, got impatient and decided to interrupt the presentation with an observation regarding what we were all about. 
“Dude, we know how to shoot monkeys and we can see them from here”
Rainbow cut loose with an exasperated exhale that sounded like truck brakes and told Sarah that she was being disrespectful. Tommy, one of my five-year olds, sensing the mood of the moment, came to his sister’s aid.  He raised the barrel of his tranquilizer gun and darted Rainbow in the backside.  My other kids instantly reacted to this breach of protocol by doing the same thing and everyone except Wendy dumped a medicated harpoon into our docent in a two second burst.  She staggered around and tried to use her cell phone, but it was obvious that she was going down. She spun around in slow motion and augured into the dirt as the cat instinctively cleared the drop zone and stood there like it was waiting for a pizza.  I darted that kitty to complete that phase of the operation.

We laid Rainbow in the shade and figured we had about 40 minutes to get the job done before she woke up, or it got dark.  The kids fanned out with their pellet guns and quickly brought down eight monkeys.  Five of them were pine monkeys, including a trophy male, while the other three were slightly smaller boulder monkeys.  It is pretty hard to tell them apart without shaving them.

We levered Rainbow onto the tailgate and drove her back to the pack station, where we left her just starting to mumble as she was regaining consciousness.  We wanted to get out of there before she regained her faculties. The amnesiac value of the medication would be lost if she saw us once she woke up.

We hastily field-dressed the monkeys and wrapped them in a fresh cat pelt before we peeled out of there, as our Expedition tossed gravel back at the kiosk in the dirt lot at the station.
We barbequed the monkeys on Sunday afternoon, while we watched a slide show of the fish we had released over cocktails with some of our neighbors.  Personally, I prefer the pine monkeys to the boulder monkeys, but I think that is because they eat mostly pine nuts that give their flesh a sort of nutty taste and more buttery texture.  If they start stocking them from monkey hatcheries, I am sure that they will all start tasting the same.  This is probably an academic observation, because I think that in these modern times, this whole monkey-hunting tradition is something that is probably on the way out.  

We are getting ours while we still can, because, after all…

These are the days.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

CATALINA GETAWAY – 358 SUMNER We found this place through Catalina Vacation Rentals
My wife and I and our five children really enjoyed this place, which is warm and charming and just right for our family. The folks at Catalina Vacation rentals took my wife and my four youngest kids, who arrived ahead of me on the Catalina Express out of Newport, up to the place a couple of hours before check-in time to get settled in as soon as they arrived. This was much appreciated. I was driving our little boat across the channel and made contact with my family on the cell phone. They were quite stoked with how the place was set up and the fact that they were driven up there to occupy it right off the bat
We had a little trouble figuring out the Big TV and were not able to get cable reception on that screen (the little TV in the master had cable we accessed), but we brought plenty of DVD's for the kids to watch. The kitchen is very nice, although we ate at restaurants for virtually every meal. There was plenty of sleeping comfort with three bedrooms and a fold out couch. The living room area had plenty of seating to watch movies on the cool flat screen and I had to mush the kids away from it to hit the town a few times.
The location is not especially quiet, as it is on a corner below where country club drive spills out, so there is a good bit of street noise.
Having two bathrooms is very nice, as are the patio features on both the front and side of this home. I enjoyed sitting out there and watching the world go by. It was a very positive experience for me and our teenaged kids, who are used to sleeping like rabbits aboard our trailer boat in Avalon. It was the first time at the island in many years for my wife and the first time ever for our twin five-year old boys.
The master bedroom has a soft and rattle- prone bed which may prove to be a future deal-breaker for my wife, but that was the only negative aspect of what was a very fun time.
We mostly ate out while we were there.
Breakfast is available at many locations.
The first day (Tuesday) my wife and kids immediately headed over to Sally’s Waffles, where they scarfed down waffles. We frequently hit Sally’s when we camp on the boat. My wife went to school in Long beach with Sally’s daughter Lori, who owns the shop right around the corner from Sally’s.
We had dinner at Antonio’s, which is my kids favorite spot. The stuff on the wall is great to look at, you get to throw peanut shells on the floor and the atmosphere is warm and relaxing. Our favorite thing on the menu is Mama’s Day Old Spaghetti, which is hard to pass up in favor of the many other delicious items offered. The patio dining are has great views of the harbor.
Despite being stuffed, we still managed to go next door to top off the tanks with waffle cones from Big Olaf’s ice cream, which is a little slice of heaven.
Day two breakfast was at Original Joes, which shares a kitchen with Sally’s and is part of the same building.. The menu is a bit more varied and you can get pancakes. The service is quick and everyone is friendly, which is generally true of virtually every place at Avalon.
After breakfast, all seven of us headed west in flat calm weather on our little boat, crossing through thousands of dolphins moving to the east. We drove up to a
Arrow point and checked out many of the beautiful coves on the way, including the Isthmus, where there is one of our favorite dining spots. We were still too stuffed to go in a pig out. The Isthmus is a great place to camp on your boat and a completely different experience from the much higher level of activity and commerce that Avalon has to offer.
We trolled up a few bonito for the kids to catch and release and made it back to Avalon while it was still warm and sunny.
Dinner on day two was at El Galleon, which is a bit more upscale and very popular. The calamari was better than at Antonio’s. We all love the scallop chowder and several of us ordered it. It was not as good on this particular occasion as we remembered it from the past. We had the ribs, fettuccini, fish, and burgers. It was all good. It is also a fun place to hang out for after dinner drinks and adult fun, but we were on a different mission with five kids. The service was great.
Day three - My son and I caught an early breakfast at Original Jacks (which is part of the same program as Jacks in Bishop off 395 – which is a must stop for our family on trips to Mammoth). Avalon’s Jacks is just as good. It is bright, well lit and very clean. The menu is the most extensive breakfast menu at Avalon, so there is something for everyone. There is plenty of seating. It is a block away from the water, so there is a little less foot traffic dining, but it is an outstanding place to fill up on a humongous breakfast before heading out for a day of fishing, which is what we were doing.
After going around the entire island fishing some of our favorite spots in perfect weather, my oldest son and I rowed in from our mooring to join the rest of the family for a repeat dinner at Antonio’s. Once again, we had excellent service, food and a couple of beers to marinate away the end of a gorgeous day at the island. The fishing was not very productive, but we caught a few in weather that was as good as it gets.
Our last day brought breakfast for all seven of us at Original Jacks again. This became the top vote getter for breakfast as far as my family was concerned. That is due in part, because of their connection with the place in Bishop and also because it is just a great place to start the day and there is absolutely something for everybody on this menu.
One of the five year-olds, had managed to give himself the runs by eating sour grass from somebody’s planter, so my oldest son and I took him with us early to Dana Point on our boat on Friday morning. The ride was rough in increasing gray skies and a cross swell, but we made the run in 90 minutes with a lot of wheel and throttle action and The isinglass to shield us from the spray that otherwise would have slowed our return.
My wife and the rest of the kids had lunch at Mi Casita, and gave it great reviews. They porked down some ice cream cones at Lloyds candy shop before heading back home on the Catalina Express. We had the three best days of weather while we were at the island, as things grayed up and closed off by Friday afternoon.
The island was as green as it ever gets. Although the channel can get a little grumpy and the fish are not always ready to bite this time of year, if you can catch a good window of weather spring break is a fabulous time to hit the island, which seems like a much more distant getaway while your are there. I can’t wait to get back.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

fall 2009 hunting reports

Hunting Report for fall, 2009

First of all, allow me to wish you a Happy New Year as we start another decade. So far, so good. The bird hunting season will last a while longer. That is for the best, since local fishing has mostly been rather lame.

November 18 – Bob and I joined Mike and his son Patrick for some fine upland game hunting at the Hunter’s Creek Club north of Detroit, Michigan. In a case of Déjà vu, we experienced a repeat of our damp weather of last year, as we sauntered and shot with the same guide (Jamie) and his now nine year old Brittany named Hoss.
We got a bit of a late start, which we compounded by eating primate chili in the clubhouse and then going out to shoot a few rounds of practice at the trap range. We had burned most of our daylight when we got out to our fields to begin our armed march. We let a few leak out, but mostly knocked down everything that flushed. Hoss, as always, found every bird that went down, no matter how heavy the cover. We took some time to find all of our shot birds, which meant that we left a few unmolested, as a subtle gray-light sunset chased us on our purposeful walk.
The four of us shot more than twenty birds – most of them were rooster pheasants, but there were some chukar in our program as well. The most interesting bird we encountered, and which I had never seen before, were what Jamie referred to as black pheasants. The belly and neck were navy blue, almost black, giving way to emerald highlights near the wings and the usual camouflage pattern on the back and wing tops. The head and collar pattern were traditional white-banded red. There is one in the picture, but the features are not on display.

We shot until it was too dark to safely shoot, even though it is kind of fun to get the 12 gauges to barf up some sparky flame in the dim light. Patrick shot very well with a pump 20 gauge and was good company. This was not his first time out. We had to leave in kind of a hurry because someone said that the owners of the property next door thought I looked a lot like the guy who shot their trespassing monkeys last year.
Afterwards, Bob and I met up with Mike and his wife Kara for some great food and wine before we headed back to the Townsend Hotel in Birmingham and our early flight back to California.

December 19 – I went on a hunt for what proved to be very elusive quail below Mount Palomar in San Diego County. I went with Robert, his Brittany Sasha, and Robert’s friend Kurt. They both met my dog Victor and I in San Juan before carpooling the rest of the way to San Felipe - not the Mexican San Felipe, but the one near Lake Henshaw, which is not much more than a mud hole now. We spent some time hiking at dawn through some rough terrain that featured virtually every species of closely packed cactus the southwest has to offer. I plucked many spines out of my dog and myself. I had just had eye surgery a week earlier and was anxious to test out my ability to acquire moving targets. This hunt proved to be more of what I refer to as hiking with a gun. I did manage to squeeze off one largely symbolic shot at a quail that flushed too far out and flew directly into the rising sun. The rest of the covey was unshootable, as it flushed at a greater distance and with a crueler angle of departure. We saw a few more small coveys, but they were mostly out of range and flying quickly through flora that left my jeans in shreds.
We moved up the mountain toward Palomar to hunt in the coolness of altitude above 5,000 feet. At the dirt lot at the base of the mountain trail head, we noticed a dusty Jeep Cherokee with Korean martial arts stickers on it. We looked inside and observed several ice chests, disposable surgical clothes and gloves. After we worked our way further up the trail, the forest thickened up and we encountered some Asian guy and his two teenage daughters, who appeared to be around 14 and 15 years old. They were noticeably taller than he was. The father was dressed in designer sweats. He approached us rapidly from where a wheelbarrow was stashed near some tangled bushes. He kept the wheelbarrow behind him as he closed the distance between us. He spoke to us, with a friendly tone, in pidgeon English, which he might have been faking. He introduced his daughters proudly as we greeted one another. They just nodded without speaking and smiled in a knowing manner. They didn’t really seem shy, but rather appeared… interrupted. The girls were dressed in silk floral pattern pajamas and tennis shoes. They each had Remington 1100 youth-model shotguns with military slings, Hello Kitty knapsacks that matched their pajamas, and bandoliers filled with shotgun shells like those worn by cinematic Mexican banditos. The shells in the bandoliers ranged from #6 birdshot all the way to 00 buckshot and slugs. They were very polite, but would not tell us what they were hunting. All three of them lit up Lucky Strike no-filters with metal Zippo flop-top lighters as we tried to chat them up. The girls watched the smoke come out of their mouths as they blew plumes up into the splintered sunlight of the forest. The smaller one powered a smoke ring through a little smoke cloud that had stalled above her and then squinted as it dissipated. They seemed to be waiting for us to move on, so we leashed up our dogs and got the hell out of there.
We had an excellent lunch at the Lake Henshaw “Biker Friendly” café where they jar their own most excellent spicy pickles. We polished off the day with a few beers at the Swallows in San Juan.

December 31- Isaac, Victor and I headed out to Rahaagues pheasant club in Norco at 5:30 am. We had to wait a while for a thick ground fog to lift before we let Victor out for a sniff while we walked behind him with our cool Italian shotguns. It did not take long before Victor went onto a point that would have put him on the cover of Field and Stream. We dropped a chukar that didn’t flush from Victor’s frozen pose until we were assembled like a firing squad. Victor proceeded to quarter his way across the field like a champion and would suddenly lock onto beautiful points that he held without ever breaking. Isaac got several gorgeous birds with the Berretta Auto 302 he has sort of staked out, now that he has grown out of the youth sized Remington 1100 that is the starter gun for the Schmitt kids. I spanked a few with my new Benelli Super Sport. I just had to buy that one because there was no denying Isaac horning in on my Berretta, as he has grown like a weed this year. We flushed a total of 10 birds – six pheasant and 4 chukar. Two of the chukars were driven off by gunfire to fight another day, but all of the pheasant and two of the four chukar were able to make it to dinner. One of the nice things about Rahaague’s club is that they have a bird plucker, so if you don’t shoot the birds that hard, they clean them up with the skin on so that they look better than any whole chicken in the butcher shop. I generally prefer them skin on, but if I clean them myself, I am always too lazy to refrain from skinning, instead of plucking them.
We brined all 8 birds in my homemade marinade and smoked the five most pristine ones on New Years Day. We gave one pheasant away to a worthy person and put the last two in the crock pot. I made a painstaking reduction sauce, some wild rice casserole, and a salad. We served it all up for New Year’s dinner with our friends. I made a soup with the carcasses the next day and will be eating pheasant soup all week.
Wendy Jo has been trying to get me to go for a more vegetarian diet to get healthy this year. In her honor, as well as for the New Year, I had decided to eat only meat that I had personally killed until I lost the weight I had gained exercising my rights as a consumer during the Holidays. Although I froze some of the soup as a reserve against future deprivation, this resolution is harder than I thought it would be. I have come to realize that I require a serving of meat with almost every meal, even dessert. I suppose that is because humans are omnivorous and meat is in each of the five major food groups.
Tonight I got home late from the golf course. I had to spend almost three hours in a Ghillie suit near the water hazard on hole seven, waiting for the course marshal to make sure everyone was off the links at dusk. I am glad that we have this recreational resource in our community. It was cold and dark before I was able to leave with a pair of drake mallards I bagged with a pellet gun, which I have equipped with a home-made silencer. It consists of a duct-taped Red Bull can filled with tampons packed in a tight circle around a plastic straw. Thank God for the Boy Scout manual.
I was fortunate to get two ducks this evening, because I have little desire to go back out there for a the next few nights, especially with the rain we have in the forecast. I don’t want to seem paranoid, but I am a little afraid of getting caught. I think that this heightened sense of vigilance will assist me in my portion control and my appreciation for the opportunities I have been blessed with as an American. Plus, I think suburban poached duck just tastes better – you know, like how the same song just sounds better on a guitar you stole yourself, instead of one that your mom bought for you at a music store where they sell clarinets and trombones.

These are the days.