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A Honda Runs Through It
Motorcycles and fishing expeditions, it turns out, go together like trout and almondine.
When my MO superiors asked me to do something the opposite of Sturgis, I offered to take my son fishing up in the eastern Sierra of California, a place famous for its trout streams and lakes. I was half kidding really, but they bit. (Get it?) We’d rather stay on the couch or camp out with 10,000 beery guys on open-piped Harleys, but work is work. Honda insisted on loaning us a couple of new motorcycles, and I already have closets full of great gear. Sometimes it’s hard to say no. The kid was pretty enthused, which surprised me a little because the older he gets the less up he is for my schemes. SeaWorld and the zoo are right out now that he’s got two years of college under his belt. We rode motorcycles a lot at SoCal’s finer MX parks when he was younger, but not so much lately. He did just get his motorcycle permit not long ago, though, and this would be our first real street ride together. Once you’re geriatric, one of the great advantages of having children is that they feel obligated to hang out with you a little. Take full advantage.
Ryan Burns: Very true, pure guilt and pity were the motivating factors for this trip. Why would I want to ride brand new, free motorcycles on a fishing trip through the most beautiful parts of California when I could be shirtless in my boxers on my couch watching cartoons?
Well, I didn’t want to bore the kid right off the bat, so we went over the mountains exiting the LA basin instead of around them – up and over the famed Angeles Crest – and every time I looked in my mirrors (nearly constantly), he was right there. Once on the backside of the San Gabriel range that Sunday morning, we watched the clouds we’d just climbed through billow over the crest of the mountains and instantly evaporate as we headed north toward Mojave, Tehachapi, Kernville. I love stuff like that. As I get older, motorcycling for me is more and more about getting out there in nature, less about how fast I can move through it.
Another thing you get from your children, me anyway, is a strengthened sense of empathy. When the kid attempted a little seat hop on the CTX700 over a mound of dirt after we’d stopped in a big turnout up in the mountains, and crashed the thing in the finest Burns tradition upon landing, my first reaction was to wonder if he was okay. I didn’t even laugh until after I’d picked the bike up off him and ascertained that he was. My bad for not telling him a CTX700 is not like an RM85 in the dirt. I really feel like I have passed the torch.
RB: I now fully grasp the handling differences. Yeah, that was dumb. In my defense the CTX felt very light and easy to maneuver and in my inexperience on street bikes my dirt senses took over and I ended up with dirt in my senses. Haha?
Highway 178 matches the Kern River turn for turn as it climbs alongside it toward Lake Isabella, an even more beautiful sight than usual in the middle of a drought, and maybe the first river the kid has seen in California that actually has water in it. Chili cheese fries and plenty of hydration in Kernville. We’d made really good time getting there – just four hours I think – so I decided we’d do Sherman Pass, which is definitely the long and winding, also bumpy and gnarly way back down to 395. Still no complaints, even though we wound up putting in about a 12-hour ride to make it to Bishop that first day. Maybe the kid’s tougher than I thought?
RB: Sherman Pass needs some damn road work. Butt cheeks operating at maximum clampage in much of the dirt covered, pothole-riddled road. Did make it exciting and adventurous feeling though.
I admit it, I really have spoiled the kid. I think that happens when you just have one. He liked the CTX700 fine in the curves and fun parts of the ride, but didn’t like its really forward-set footpegs much at all on the long straight bits of 395 to Bishop: He felt like he was having to hang onto the grips to keep from being blown off the bike, so I mostly rode the 700 on the straights. He’s right. I don’t like the forward pegs either, but my spine seems to have developed some sort of ratcheting mechanism over the years that locks me in place like a piece of mountain climbing equipment. One foot on the regular peg, one on the passenger peg, mix and rotate, works for about 140 miles at a time. In the absence of cruise control, the el-cheapo Crampbuster is the best $10 you can spend. In fairness, our 700 is the “N,” for naked. I’m going to guess the faired version is probably way better for travelling.
Meanwhile, with the kid in the saddle of the CTX1300, I for one am glad Honda retuned it to make many fewer horses than the 110 of the 2013 ST1300 MO dynoed last year. Technical difficulties precluded us getting our bike on the dyno, but reliable Google sources have the CTX at about 76 horses (and 5 foot-pounds less torque too), which is just about how it feels. Much like a governor you can’t turn off. I’ve said all I have to say about that. Until later.
RB: Maybe it was nerves, or inexperience, but I did feel like I had a death grip on the bars of the CTX700 on the long straights (pretty terrifying on the freeway). Using the passenger pegs to get yourself in a better position for the wind helped but did feel awkward, I wouldn’t recommend it for extended periods unless you’re my dad. The 1300 felt great on the long hauls, pretty comfortable and stable feeling. It did feel kind of tame on acceleration but that’s what I expected from a larger bike.
In truth, we have done this drive before in the old Ranger truck, to go snowboarding at Mammoth. While I soaked up and waxed poetic re: the scenery of the Owens River Valley and Mt. McKinley from behind the wheel, the kid mostly played his Gameboy and wanted to know how much farther. Motorcycles change everything, don’t they?
We are not big fisherpeople, really, but what could be more wholesome and antithetical to Sturgis? In fact, one of the kid’s college roommates is a fisherman, and they had been doing some guerilla fishing in San Diego, in golf course ponds and Lake Murray after dark, so he knew more than I did about catching a fish, which is not saying a lot. He knows how to tie knots, which probably saved us hours. We did indeed find some awesome fishing holes thanks to the friendly locals, and most of them I could’ve driven right up to in my old Jaguar. But it wouldn’t have been the same, would it?
Most people entering Yosemite from the east, through 9943-foot Tioga Pass, are in a hurry to get there, too busy to pay much attention to the creek that cascades down from the pass and winds along the floor of the valley, through the aspens and pines and tall green grass. I assumed you needed a Jeep or “adventure bike” to get to such a gorgeous place, but we pulled right up to the rushing clear snowmelt on our CTXs. We were in a hurry too; child was stoked to be going to Yosemite and had already made clear he could take the fishing part of the trip or leave it. But we made a few preliminary casts with our new Zebco Dock Demon ($16 at Walmart) just to try it out. Amazingly, we knew they were in there because a) all these places are stocked and b) we made eye contact with some good-sized trout. You lookin’ at me? We’ll be back, fish …
It had been pushing 90 degrees in Bishop that morning by the time we got our usual not-so-early start, but the thermometer on the CTX1300 registered 63 at Tioga Summit. On the first day, the kid had made me stop every half hour for a clothing adjustment: open vents, close vents, put the sweatshirt on take the sweatshirt off … by today, he’d gotten it. On a motorcycle and in life, sometimes it’s better to adjust the conditions inside your head, press on, and wait out the minor discomforts. Everything reverts to the mean.
I knew the $16 rod and reel probably wouldn’t last forever, but I did think it might be good for the couple of days we might fish for small trout in small streams, and it seemed like just the thing since it’s only three feet long and slipped neatly right under the cargo net on the back seat of the 1300. (We went in looking for the Popeil Pocket Fisherman for editorial effect, but they were fresh out.) Our new Zebco did last through Lee Vining Creek on the way up to Yosemite, but once inside the park, as soon as the kid made about his third cast into the Tuolumne River and began dragging the spinner bait back across the current, the crank fell off the reel and into a deep hole. Nice. Game over. Zebco, a name you could trust when you were 12. (Maybe operator error really, since we later learned there’s a nut that lets you move the handle to the right or left side of the reel that we didn’t know to tighten now and then …)
RB: Crank casted right off. Spent a few moments trying to determine what important object I had just thrown in the water and realized what it was when I began to reel in and grasped at nothing but air…
We knew there were trout in the Tuolumne (which I believe is not stocked) because they were giving us the hairy eyeball the whole time. At least the fact that we were done fishing for the day freed up time to do some other tourist stuff, like climb the boulder field to the bottom of Yosemite Falls, which was big fun – nature’s own adult jungle gym/water park.
Conventional wisdom since I have lived in California is that you should avoid places like Yosemite during the tourist season. I know not whether the current economy is to blame or what, but the park wasn’t all that crowded really, at least not with Americans: The most common language in and around the park was German. (It’s probably just a coincidence they have strong labor unions there and a middle class that can afford to travel. A family of four Deutschers was actually doing a happy holding-hands song and dance in the Motel 6 pool in Mammoth like something out of an old Esther Williams movie.) No traffic jams inside the valley, and none on the way out highway 140 that evening, which twists smoothly alongside the Merced River as it drains toward the west coast – the side most tourists get to Yosemite from. There was no trouble getting a room in the touristy little town of Mariposa (though $150 was almost twice what we’d payed in Bishop the night before), and the friendly guy in Ace hardware fixed us up with a six-foot made-in-China Executive (!) collapsible rod and spinning reel that breaks down into a handy canvas carrying case, for $32. At first, the whole fishing deal had been a hook to hang this story on; now we were the hookees. Now we needed to catch a trout. Our fishing license was good for another day, our Yosemite pass for another six. The kid doesn’t have to be back in school till next month. And, sweet Jesus, I am at work. Pinch me.
Next morning at the crack of ten, we are heading back up 140 toward a few likely fishing holes we had reconnoitered the previous evening. The Merced along here is wider and deeper than the other streams we’d been fishing and we didn’t catch anything, but it was no loss since you can park your bike in a turnout, hop the CCC-built stone wall, and there you are. A few locals were up there picnicking on the lovely sand beaches and swimming in the deep holes between boulders while again, 99.9 percent of the cars made a beeline to the main attraction up in Yosemite Valley. The flowing water nicely masked the sounds of their cars. Trunks under an Aersostich would’ve been the cool gear selection for certain, but we didn’t spend a lot of time because we had a rendezvous with the lunkers we’d already spotted up in the Tuolumne and on the other side of the park.
We backtracked through all the pines and curves and granite monolith vistas with one goal in mind, to seek revenge on the Tuolumne trout and his Lee Vining Creek brethren. From the bridge over the Tuolumne, we watched them watching us. Shortly after, the kid hooked into his first angry four-incher on a gold spinner bait. After a milliseconds-long battle, he landed him. Sadly, the shiny little bugger had ingested the whole treble-hooked deal, and expired on the operating table. We felt terrible and decided since all we were seeing was babies, we should move on. At lunch, the kid called me a trout murderer for not buying the barbless hooks you’re supposed to use in the park, an inaccurate but cruel accusation which drove me to drink and gave me the opening to lecture the Beav on criminal intent: This was a case of troutslaughter, not murder. Anyway, the pressure was off. If anybody asked did we catch a fish, we could say yes and move quickly to the next topic. The kid pinched the barbs on our one lure closed.
Back down to Lee Vining Creek we rode, dying to get our bait back in the water. Feeling all Hemingwayish, we hiked back upriver from where we parked the CTXs, a distance of some 30 grueling yards. There we came upon a beautiful sun-dappled pool among aspens rattling silver-green leaves in a light breeze against high-altitude blue sky. The kid tossed the gold spinner to the other side of the pool, maybe 15 yards. By now his accuracy was pretty good.
On the third cast a silverpink thing a foot long exploded from the deepest blue part of the pool and danced across the surface on its tail. It dove deep as it could go, maybe six feet, doubling the cheap rod over and flashing from one side of the pool to the other. It felt like two minutes but it probably took five seconds for the kid to pull him in, and when he did the trout jumped from the hook and landed in the sandy mud at our feet, where he flopped from side to side.
“Grab him!” I screamed in a voice that sounded like Little Richard’s.
The kid did. The beautiful thing was covered in sandy mud on both sides, but you could still see a few of the deep pink portholes along his gleaming sides that identified him as a brook trout.
“Quick, rinse him off so I can shoot a photo!”
“I don’t think I can hold on he’s slippery.”
RB: I reiterated several times that fish have a slimey coating and are built to excel in water, it’s kind of their thing. I knew it was doomed from the start but he compelled me to “rinse it off”.
“Hang on tight and just give him a quick dip!”
The kid did what I asked, and with a flip of the tail (which is a trout’s whole body really), as soon as the water touched him, the fish was outta there. I looked at the kid, the kid looked at me. And I think we decided to just not blame each other, for the fish and maybe for some other things too.
It was the most exciting thing I’ve seen since I watched Rossi pass Stoner in the Corkscrew that year, one of those three-second interludes you play over and over again in your head wondering if you imagined it? Maybe it’s a good thing we have no photographic evidence to document the actual size of the trout. In the years to come, I think he’s only going to get bigger in my mind.
At the time it didn’t really matter, because now that we were in the zone we both assumed we would catch another even bigger one. Didn’t happen. Our trout warned the others. We rode up Bishop Creek on our way home and tried our luck in that also beautiful clear stream. By now the kid was dropping his lure on their heads as they held station, noses into the current, and trying different lures given to us by guys who had already left with full stringers. But the fish just weren’t interested. Wrong time of day? Wrong bait? Blind fish? I know not. (Actually, I was told our ten-pound line was too heavy.) I was having a great time there in the aspen shade anyway, dangling my dogs in the river and watching the kid fish. The beauty of fishing on motorcycles is that you’re riding motorcycles in great places whether you catch anything or not. In fact I think one was the perfect amount of trout to catch to make me want to go back again. Like they say in golf, the old “come-backer” shot. I bet I might be able to drag the kid along next year too. Maybe this fall even.
RB: Well, yeah, ahhh, I’ll be back in school in the fall, Pops. Let me check my calendar. But seriously, this was an awesome trip, I am super thankful to have the opportunity to do these things. 10/10, would do again.
Really no finer fishing platform than this, with a low cg for navigating dirt roads, big trunk and bags and good bungee attachment points for strapping on gear. The seat’s low and way spacious for moving around, and while the powerplant is ideal within national parks with their low speed limits, but it’s hard for me to understand why Honda would de-tune the ST’s excellent V-Four for CTX duty. Furthermore, though it runs smooth on the highway, the 5-speed transmission has the 1300 turning more rpm than the 700 – well over 4000 rpm at 80 mph. It did return 43.2 mpg over the course of these 1180-some miles, as compared to the 40.3 of the 2013 ST1300. Our CTX is the Deluxe version, which adds ABS and a Bluetooth-ready sound system.
If you like forward footpegs, you’ll love this motorcycle. I’m a huge fan of the NC700X, which shares this 670cc parallel Twin. The fact that it’s considerably lighter actually makes the 700 feel almost as fast as the 724-pound 1300, and the little bugger returned an amazing 62.7 mpg. It also gives up a smoother ride down bumpy roads and has a better headlight, for less than half the money of the 1300. Too bad it lacks the NC700X’s live bait well/storage compartment. That bike might be my ideal troutslayer.
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