Catching Fish and Memories in the Eastern Sierra

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There is a whisper in the trees. A soft song that comes and goes as faithfully as the wind, emanating from the needles of pines. It is the hum of Mother Nature, quietly reassuring anyone who listens that she is there and she is in control.

If you do choose to listen, you can hear just how vast and grand the world is. You can hear time itself blowing by. In these moments, you might find a certain peace in your insignificance.

I didn't notice it until I was grown and had already moved away from the Pacific Northwest. The challenges of cramming as much activity into my summers and racing from sport to sport, band practice to drama, and from friend to friend kept me so diverted and unaware that I missed it entirely, even while living in one of the largest expanses of evergreen and mountain. I didn't necessarily take nature for granted. I simply invested the currency of time poorly. My priorities were based on the future, so I paid little attention to the present. Everything in my youth was ceaseless and rapidly moving forward. A scholarship in sports was my only chance at affording college, and I was fully committed.

Now, degree in the bag and four children afoot, time still seems to be slipping by as quickly as before. However, I can almost feel the weight of it washing over me like the surge of a fast-moving brook. It bubbles and bellows as it maneuvers by and the faces of my children grow older. I can see it now, and it is not painless. It aches a bit more each day, knowing this is finite.

I have learned now that it is imperative for me to invest my time wisely. Not just for myself, but especially because of its value for my boys. I want to show them that not everything has to be done in the fast lane and not every occasion needs to be choked down. We can, in fact, take the time to enjoy the song of nature, to stand still as the wind rakes the needles of pines.

A couple years ago, I discovered my passion for trout fishing. Not to say I had no clue it existed before, just that it was never really something I looked forward to, or took part in. During a camping trip into northeastern California, we found ourselves perched next to a babbling brook that wound its way through the forest – a small corner of the chain of mountains we call the Sierras. After waking one morning to the ringing of copper bells hung around the shoulders of a thousand-something flock of sheep, I was hooked. A marker was placed in my mind and in those hills, binding me in a personal contract to return.

Even with as little experience as I had (mostly YouTube and vague memories as a child) we caught fish in that brook with ease. I also learned that I enjoyed pulling my dinner from the water, cleaning and cooking it myself. Another important lesson? It's critical to get rid of fish scraps in a place like the Sierras, or a bear somewhat less friendly than Winnie the Pooh might come around looking for something more substantial than honey.

And so, with a year of small adventures softly blowing by, we again prepared for the pines. As I packed the camp gear into the trailer, I looked forward to the cool, thinner air at that altitude. The earth from a forest floor in the Sierra Mountains has its own unique smell, the product of years of decomposing tree bark. I had spent many hours preparing and modifying my truck and trailer for these trips. We mounted a rooftop tent to the truck to accentuate our involvement with nature. I also installed a fishing rod holder in the camper shell to ensure an impromptu cast could be made.

We headed up Highway 395 and found our way back to the ol’ stream, much like many other fish that return to their beloved waters. We brought along our rooftop tent and drove down the dusty road to our camp spot in the free open camping areas near Buckeye. We were pleasantly surprised to find a place right next to the water. With a blanket of rich green grass and a canopy of pine branches overhead, we set up camp. This year had been extraordinarily wet and the melting snow on the mountains brought the creek's water level – and noise level – up. Cold mountain water surged over the backs of once-dry boulders as swirly pools teased the shores.

After getting camp in order, I set off to test the waters at the nearby bridge. The cool air kept me company as I tried a new power bait on my slippery prey. A truck loaded with college-age guys drove up and parked down the road. They hopped out and immediately took to the edge, near me. I guess I looked like a wise old fisherman or something. Things were getting relatively crowded, and I decided the trout might feel a bit harassed, so I returned to the boys at our campsite. Wanting to exercise my patience and our enjoyment of nature, we played at the water's edge with our toy tractors and swim shorts.

I tried again at the creek early in the morning, but it seemed that the fish had moved on. I spent a few hours trying to coax a small group of trout to sample my bait. They must have had a big breakfast or something. Eventually, with the sun high up in the sky, we decided to move on to greener pastures. Our next stop was Twin Lakes outside of Bridgeport, where Chelsea tried her hand at casting. It was fun to watch, and she did her best for a good while. Ultimately, though, we decided to press on southbound.

Chelsea, nearly as frustrated as me, did some mobile research to find promising lakes and streams we could drop a line in. It turned out there had been a big fishing competition the week before, which could have explained the apparent lack of trout. I stopped at Virginia Lakes – where I had seen a few people ice fishing a month prior – but left when I encountered a half-dozen disappointed faces on troubled trouters at the shore. Chelsea directed us to a small chain consisting of the Grant, Silver, Gull and June Lakes. Yet again, we were teased by a school of fish apparently on a hunger strike.

Finally, with the sun moving toward its resting place, Chelsea and I found ourselves near the last fishing hole in the Sierras, Crowley Lake. The light of day hinted at its departure, and I desperately cast my line out into the deepest part. The boys – wondering when something might bite – kept themselves entertained by making a small construction site near the truck. But it was Chelsea who came away with the only trout of the trip. She did her little dance and song and called the boys over to celebrate her spotted acquisition.

It’s weekends like this that strengthen our family. When we slow down and take time to enjoy what's available around us, we pass so much on to our kids. They may not have done much of the fishing themselves this time, but they learned through the experience. This trip, they learned persistence. As we put the boys to bed that night, Sidekick asked, “When do we get to go back to the river place?” That’s how I knew – despite getting only one fish from a last-minute lake stop – we had brought more than enough home.

We weren't just catching fish. We were catching memories.


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