Dateline: June 19, 2014 – Bishop, California
It began with the gentle strains of Simon and Garfunkel’s “America,” the 60s anthem of self-discovery through a trip across the states. And that was pretty much the last song I recognized for the next three weeks. This is because I had signed up to do a cross-country fishing road trip with two 21 year-olds, both of whom would sit closer to the radio than I did. The idea sounded perfectly idiotic, which is exactly why it was so appealing. Drive across the country for almost three weeks, hopping from fishing spot to fishing spot, searching out oddball species and world records.
This was Martini’s trip – his present to himself for four years of relentless work at Stanford, and he had asked his best friend Kyle and me to go along. We had talked about it for almost a year, and with Martini’s post-obsessive penchant for detailed research and planning, he had scoped out each day for target locations and species. It would be some 4000 miles of driving over nearly three weeks, but if things went well, it could be a bunch of species for me that I would never catch any other way. We would be specifically searching out some truly undermarketed creatures – anonymous beasts like the Guadalupe bass and the grayfin redhorse. Before any of you start thinking how hard it would be for me to be the adult supervision for that long, it is probably fair to admit that I would not be the adult supervision. Indeed, out of of the three of us, I might be the biggest risk to do something memorably stupid.
The guys spent the pre-launch night over at my house in Alamo. I had met Kyle a few times, and even though he is not as intense a fisherman as me or Martini (who would be?) he does have a gift for catching the biggest fish. (Details HERE) This ability would lead to some annoying moments later in the trip. Even though we would be in a car together for untold days, we still stayed up late talking about the trip. The western portion of the agenda would be heavier on driving and some mandatory sights, such as Death Valley, the Grand Canyon, and the Bellagio restroom in Vegas. The fishing was planned to escalate in intensity as we entered Texas, which seemed an awfully long way off, and then wind through New Orleans, the Gulf Coast, and end up in Florida and finally back home for the guys. It was early when we got into the Ford Escape. I failed to call shotgun and moped about the prospect of facing 4000 miles in the back seat. Martini made a u-turn and, at around 7am on June 19th, we were off.
Kyle calls shotgun while I was barely awake.
Many road trips begin with a surge of energy that fizzles out after about 90 minutes and settles into “Are we there yet?” Whether it was the Red Bull or the anticipation, we didn’t seem to lose momentum. It all seemed like we couldn’t miss. I couldn’t help but be reminded of my college road trips, which seem so long ago yet strangely entertaining to people who are not Marta.
Road trip, circa 1983. That’s Tim Bacon in the Nixon mask, me in the jockstrap, Kevin Gurney in the hat, and Mike Wilcox trying to hide his innocent face. I haven’t talked to these guys in years – I need to change that.
On road trips, some things never change – the endless conversation focused on intellectual topics, not inane things like sports and swimsuit models; the healthy food, not like Red Bull and Cheetohs; and the farting. I was getting a chance to re-live college, and get it wrong all over again. The day had one fishing target – the elusive Owens sucker, which is alleged to live in the Owens River watershed. Martini and I had taken a crack at this beast last year, and had been humiliated. (Peripherally mentioned in “The Road to Orick.”) This time, we would be going during the height of their spawning run and should have found quite a selection. At least that was the plan. We had a six hour drive to the first fishing stop, but our route took us straight through Yosemite, some of the most sublime scenery in all of California.
The first group shot of the trip. This is the best we would smell for 20 more days.
I have been to Yosemite only three times, including a trip in the 1970s with my stepmonster’s parents, who, as I may have mentioned previously, were inexplicably kind and stable.
General Yosemite scenery. My prose can do it no justice.
Well before lunch, the first enduring prank commenced. For no good reason, I purchased a can of baked beans and left them on the driver’s seat. (Unopened, for those of you who wonder.) Martini nearly sprained his buttocks avoiding a hard landing on them, turned to us, and said “What kind of idiot would do THAT?” Sheepishly, I raised my hand. For the next three weeks, at every stop, we placed the beans on Martini’s seat. He forgot about them only once – more on that later. The first place we went was a creek off the Owens river that was supposed to have a spawning run of the suckers. It did not. We did, however, get the first fish of the trip – a nice rainbow trout pulled up by Kyle. I smiled faintly that the least experienced one of us would catch the first fish.
On the scoreboard – first fish of the trip. A bit Guidoesque on the photo, though – see “The Minefield“
Martini followed up with a trout that might not have been larger but was certainly better-photographed.
We then headed to Convict Lake. The fish just HAD to be there. We just couldn’t open the trip on a sour note.
Convict Lake. The Eastern Sierra is full of scenery like this.
The hike to the back of Convict Lake is not particularly brutal, unless you happen to be fighting a nasty chest cold and are not used to any altitude. So it was that Kyle suffered through the walk, beautiful as it was, but not nearly as much as we suffered when we got to the creek and it was utterly devoid of anything but beautiful trout.
The creeks were full of trout like this. Naturally, we left.
This would have made anyone else but us three happy, but we packed up and pretty much had to admit defeat.
Martini snapped this shot of a deer on the way out of Convict.
It was getting to be a late summer afternoon in the eastern Sierra, and the view was marvelous. Martini had one more spot to examine – a bridge on the Owens that “looked” good on Google Earth. This was not Martini’s normal standard of planning. Martini’s planning skills would make even the Germans say “Wow, that guy thinks of everything.”
The bridge. It didn’t look like much at first.
I was the one who actually got out of the car to look in the water. It looked empty and sterile, but I stared for a few minutes, and then, for a precious few seconds, a fish head eased out of the shadows, giving the classic white flash of sucker lips. That was enough for me. Martini and Kyle had expressed their doubts and headed out to investigate other spots toward the lake, so I raced to the bank and began casting. There were two guys fishing below the bridge, and we began chatting. Over the next hour or so, I got two small trout. They had caught only one trout – I gave them mine so they would have a fish fry – but they told me they could see dozens of big trout in the creek just downstream from the bridge. They invited me to their spot for a look. There were dozens of big fish in the water a few yards downstream of the bridge. But they weren’t trout – they were Owens suckers, and I had found their mother lode. There was no cell signal, and Martini and Kyle were out of shouting distance, so I set up just out the shadow of the structure and cast. It was quick – as soon as my bait hit the bottom, two or three suckers would ease over toward it and I would get a bite. I missed a couple, then hooked up. Just as I was landing the fish, Martini and Kyle showed up. Martini netted my fish, and before I had even thought of it, he had pulled out his Boga Grip and weighed it. The Owens sucker was an open record, and my fish qualified.
The day suddenly turns good.
The next hour was a team effort to get Kyle and Martini their fish. Martini got one first, not record size but a rare new species for his collection, which I felt was moral judgement from the Fish Gods. Kyle’s came shortly thereafter. I played “goalie,” standing downstream to net their catches.
Kyle, Martini, sucker, and scenery. Not necessarily in that order. Things were now really good.
Just before we closed up shop for a well-deserved dinner, Martini got one more fish that was much larger, so while we all three would get credit for a record that day, Martini’s would stand as the current one, which he may have felt was moral judgement from the Fish Gods. (Or not. He isn’t nearly as spiteful as I am, as long as he’s had enough sleep.)
Martini’s big fish. The day was now officially epic.
An awkward moment.
I quietly mused that it was going to be hard to match today for pure epic – a new species and three world records. There were many high-fives and some quiet moments enjoying the view before we headed off for a well-deserved steak. A slow start had turned into an epic day. The trip had a high standard to keep up.
Looking across the valley to the eastern Sierras. Once we caught some fish, I noticed the scenery a lot more.
We crashed out that evening, three of us jammed into a room meant for two people who liked each other a lot. The next day, I would be doing one of the strangest things I have ever done – making a long detour to look at a fish – a fish that even I would never try to catch.