We drove, we dug, we got stuck, we dug more, we hiked, we fished.
Several brown trout were caught. Much celebrating was done. Report coming soon.
We drove, we dug, we got stuck, we dug more, we hiked, we fished.
Several brown trout were caught. Much celebrating was done. Report coming soon.
You have to be a little wary of any fly fishing trip that begins with you throwing up on the side of the road just 150 yards short of the hotel (damn you Hwy 299), but then, things can only get better, right?
Small stream fly fishing imposes no real timelime; you sneak up on the trout at your own pace, because unless you do something stupid like wave your arms or fall in, the trout probably aren’t going anywhere.
Blasting downriver in a drift boat while fishing for steelhead — who may or may not even be there — imposes a different reality; you better hit the right slot the first time, and there isn’t much time to screw it up when you’re throwing mends.
To a small stream guy, it turns out fly fishing for steelhead has the feel of a lottery; you don’t know if your numbers will hit, but when they do, you expect something spectacular to happen.
Then there’s the question of scale.
I’m a guy who — within the context of a small stream — can pretty accurately identify a trout as either 8 inches or 10 inches, yet after Jacob Katz and I dragged our five steelhead to the boat and released them, I couldn’t even hazard a guess at their length.
Sixteen inches? Twenty? Twenty-six?
I still have no clue.
Embarrassingly, in the parking lot after the trip I saw a picture of someone’s measured 33″ steelhead, and mentioned that Jacob’s last fish might have been close.
And it was, if you consider getting within a foot “close.”
Then, towards the end of the drift, I asked guide Dave Neal if the brown trout I caught would go 16 inches. He suggested — without snorting even a little — it was more like 13.
OK. Fish size really is relative, and calibration isn’t just for scales.
And yes, it turns out the small stream fishing you’ve experienced the last three years actually does influence your perceptions.
I’m calibrated for small streams, so I react to blasting down a steelhead river the same way a first-time tourist walks into New York City light poles because he’s distracted by the skyscrapers.
On the other hand, I did catch some steelhead, though even those moments were fraught.
Instead of realizing the fighting butt was added to the fly rod for a reason, I fought my first steelhead entirely off my wrist, then wondered why it hurt the rest of the day.
In other words, it was a good trip and a fun one, but I wouldn’t necessarily want the video posted on the Internet.
Fly rods may have grown improbably expensive, but it turns out that expense also offers limp-wristed types like myself built-in cover: Jacob was fishing Dave Neal’s “second-mortgage” Sage One from the front of the boat while I fished a much-cheaper Sage VT-2 from the back, so I can safely suggest he caught three adult steelhead while I only caught two because his fly rod was twice as expensive as mine.
It turns out fly rod economics aren’t as dire as we all thought.
When it comes casting indicators, lead and weighted nymphs, it’s hardly surprising that guide Dave Neal provides 9.5′ and 10′ fly rods for his sports, and while he does it for all sorts of good, sporting-based reasons (hardly anyone practices their roll cast, yet you roll cast a lot on the Trinity), I’d suggest self-preservation ranks pretty high on his list.
He’s just a hair too classy to mention it.
For that matter, he had to put up with a lot of heckling from the back seat, including the stretch where he introduced me to the bobber, shot and weighted nymphs that were to become my best friends for the day. I responded by making Darth Vader breathing noises and saying “Luke, I am your guide.”
I’m sure it totally cracked him up.
When it comes to slinging lead for steelhead, Neal thinks the fly line is probably more important than the fly rod, and as someone who once tried to throw an indicator and a pair of nymphs on one of those delicately tapered “presentation” fly lines, I’m tempted to agree with him.
He has some other theories regarding fly fishing and life, but I’ll let you get those directly from the source.
See you on some river making 100 foot roll casts (see “scale” above), Tom Chandler.
If I had thirty usable hours today I couldn’t get all the work done, but I am taking a minute to post dramatic proof that I can, in fact, catch the odd steelhead on a fly.
Two of them, actually.
On heavily weighted nymphs. Hanging below indicators.
I know. I just turned your whole world upside down.
Altered your perception of reality.
Blew your mind.
It’s how we do it here at the Underground; you expect us to zig and we zag instead, heaving giant rubber-legged nymphs and many split shot at big anadromous fish instead of #16 dries at 8″ trout.
A full report as soon as my 30 hours of work are done.
See you gloating just a little, Tom Chandler.
UPDATE: Ok, I’m suddenly struck by the possibility this is the first steelhead caught by Jacob (in the front of the boat) instead of the first steelhead caught by the knucklehead in the back (me). I took very few pictures, and in my old age, I grow confused. For now, let’s just say this is a generic steelhead caught by one of two people on the Trinity River sometime Monday. Good?
MORE UPDATES: The guide’s right, this is my fish. First one of the morning. I am vindicated.
It’s been crazy. Everybody’s been sick. Everybody needs something. A meeting was called.
All the usual stuff.
Here’s the short course.
The McCloud River should reopen this weekend.
The October Caddis are coming off on the Upper Sacramento (as is a midday BWO hatch).
Sage has sent me a 3wt, 8’9″ Circa to test.
I am too sleepy to say more.
See you with my eyes closed, Tom Chandler.
I’m tempted to stand on a large rock, hold my arms out to the sides and pronounce myself the King Of The Fly Fishing World (hey, it worked out great for that Titanic guy).
I took a 90 minute tour of a local small stream (in the world of the self-employed fly fisherman, that qualifies as a slightly long lunch), and once again, I’m the beneficiary of a pair of excellent water years.
This stream is small and is typically home to a lot of 6″-7″ trout. Today I caught one that went 10″ (the largest I’ve hooked in that water), and the average was in the 7″-8″ neighborhood.
And I caught many trout.
In other words, I mirrored my experience at last week’s expedition; after two good water years, the trout were 8%-10% bigger than normal (and hungry).
A smarter fly fisherman (and a better outdoor writer) would pocket the difference and chalk up the extra size to skill and cunning, but I’m told that — as a daddy — I need to exercise restraint.
Something about being a role model.
Sunday I flog the Subaru towards Lassen for a rendezvous with Older Bro, where I hope to catch the season’s first Brook Trout (still The Official Char of the Trout Underground).
Expect another self-congratulatory post soon.
See you on the Brookie Highway, Tom Chandler.
Returning to a favorite alpine stream after eight months away is a little like Christmas when you’re a kid; there’s a slim chance it’ll suck, but even though you don’t know exactly how the happiness will manifest, odds are you’re going to be happy.
And we were happy.
Older Bro and I parked my 200,000 mile Bronco (a truck guaranteed to draw the bare minimum of attention from thieves) and walked the extra mile to the creek.
And for the first five minutes, not much happened.
Then it did.
Two fish here. One there. Three from that run.
Now repeat for many hours (it slowed a little around 1:00, then came back to life about 2:30).
And despite the lack of practice, I felt sharp. The fly dropped where I wanted it and drifts weren’t the problem.
The problem was keeping the Beetle Bug floating after repeated maulings.
It was, frankly, the kind of problem that plagues me too rarely.
It wasn’t stupidly easy, but the trout were there, they were looking up and hungry, and yes — after two excellent water years, the average brown trout was just noticeably bigger than in prior years.
In the past, I’d suggest 8″ was an average for this stream. This time it was more like 9″, and I caught four in the 12″ range (no, when the fishing’s that good, I don’t measure).
Those are big trout in this stream.
And if you haven’t already suffered enough, I’ll express my appreciation for the concepts of perfect weather and stunning lack of mosquitoes (the bugs can be brutal up there), both of which were in attendance.
Frankly, all we lacked was a beer chopper crewed by the Swedish Bikini Team. (Older Bro promised to work on that for the next trip.)
I fished my 8.5′ 4wt Diamondglass, a rod only found lacking under the windiest of conditions, though I had the 8′ 5wt Beasley Leonard 50DF sitting in the truck.
Older Bro fished an 8.5′ 3wt Orvis Superfine Touch that is an impressive fishing tool, though it offers just a skoosch less feedback than the truly impressive 8′ 4wt Superfine Touch.
I’ve also come to the conclusion that a 7.5′ leader is just a hair long for these kinds of streams (lots of trees and brush on land and downed timber in the water); after 15 minutes I cut mine to 6’9″ and suddenly I was the Slightly Overplump God Of Fly Fishing Casting Accuracy.
I’m heading back soon, though the mosquitoes have no doubt noticed the nice weather. Let’s hope I avoid a repeat of my last mosquito nightmare, and that on this small stream, Christmas comes at least twice a year.
Many trout were caught. Many were bigger than normal for this small stream.
Zog left the building early, and frankly, I’d have to be a pretty miserable shit to think it should have been better.
More in the morning.
For a couple hours Saturday, my life was neatly contained by the following: boulders, cliffs, and giant fallen logs.
This was the result of a bad gamble, but then, you probably already guessed that.
Instead of a long drive to a known-fishable stream, I thought I’d try a couple local streams, figuring they must have fallen into shape by now.
Which highlights the following reality: my predictive powers need some work.
You go into this stream at the bottom of a tiny gorge and come out at the top. You could say it requires a certain commitment.
This stream is smothered in willows, boulders, bluffs, cliffs and fallen timber (often in devilishly Gordian combinations), and while you can usually escape the worst of it by simply going up the middle of the stream, it turns out you can’t if the stream is running high.
Every ill-advised trip has a moment — the go/no-go decision when the smart money says “this isn’t looking all that good.”
Apparently, I drove right by that moment, and at freeway speeds.
Instead of exhibiting common sense, I climbed up and down and over and under and through things until my legs retained the raw masculine strength of cooked spaghetti. Fortunately, I was able to console myself with the fact it simply means I’m criminally out of shape, 51 and fat.
The Old Guy Trifecta.
I did manage to scrape up four nice little rainbow trout, which — if I’d eaten them — would have returned approximately 1/10 the calories I burned on the trip.
Behold the mighty hunter. Feel my rippling thews.
See you trying (and failing) to pry the lid off the extra-strength Tylenol, Tom Chandler.
Last week I noted that the Upper Sac was still running high, but that the snow was disappearing fast from the surrounding mountains, and that I expected flows to start falling rapidly, and soon.
Well, it has.
Suddenly the Upper Sacramento is in the 1200 cfs neighborhood, which isn’t necessarily fun, but it’s certainly getting fishable.
Helpful Mysterious Hint Of The Day: those who are prone to throwing giant, prehistoric-looking dry flies might want to get their butts up here sooner instead of later.
That’s all we’re saying. At least for now.
Older Bro fished a fav Brookie stream and sadly reported that it was barely wet. The lake that feeds it is usually — at this time of the year — surrounded by several feet of snow.
Not this year.
In fact, there isn’t any snow up there at all.
The farther south in the Sierras you go, the worse it seems to get.
In other words, if you’ve been daydreaming a lot about fishing that small Sierra stream, then sooner might be better than later.
That reminds me it’s probably time to reconnoiter the handful of nearby small streams that have been too high to fish. When they come down, the fun really begins, especially given how much trouble I’m having coming up with daylong fishing trips right now.
Though we pay for it with higher gas, food, insurance and health care prices, one of the benefits of living in the middle of nowhere is the ability to find yourself standing on a happily fishable piece of water less than 20 minutes after the decision was made.
See you on the river, Tom Chandler.
No matter how much we stared at them, the snow drifts covering the road refused to melt.
I wasn’t really surprised; in this part of the world, the snow level is currently around 5500 feet. But you know, this road and this pass were going to be different. Then we rolled around the corner just past 5400′ and the dream of being the first into a small alpine stream died.
Every time this happens I go through the usual stages; denial, anger, bargaining, depression over the lack of realtime satellite intel and finally, acceptance.
Usually, I don’t reach acceptance quickly. For a minute, I knew — despite the old tires — the Bronco could blow through the drifts, but even my fevered brain couldn’t ignore another set of *deeper* drifts waiting up ahead, and many more after that.
I pointed at the medium-sized streams of water running down the road and said “two weeks” and Older Bro nodded, though we both know it’s still just an attempt at grownup behavior.
That’s still too early to expect to make it into this stream, even given the light snow year.
Fortunately, our backup stream fished beautifully, and:
Unfortunately, because were a little reluctant to walk away from catchable fish, we got to our Highly Experimental Stretch Of A Creek That Should Fish Great But Hasn’t a little late. This is the water that we’ve now fished (admittedly briefly) three times, yet despite looking absolutely perfect, it has yet to give up a single fish.
Or even a take.
We’ve crafted a whole series of worthwhile excuses for it — and I’ll be back again sometime soon — but after a while, you start to wonder about the nature of reality.
If a damned trout would just eat a dry fly, the universe would snap right back into its proper place.
Until then, everything feels just a tiny bit out of true, and I suspect it will remain so until I go back and invest a couple hours in the place, figuring it out or writing it off.
More to come as I get things written for my clients, Tom Chandler.