Last year I wrote some short stories describing my progress
as a newbie fly fisherman. This year has been a strange and
bizarre trip and as I look back on it I remember the highlights,
such as they are, while I'm trying to forget the lows.
I remember how last year I went out a dozen times or more
before I caught my first fish. Little did I know that I would
now consider that a good year. My fishing trips this year
remind me of that old description of the game of golf : 'A
good walk ruined'. Ok, 'ruined' is a harsh word. But I've
been skunked more times than I'd like.
The weather in the foothills of the Sierras was really strange
this year. The Bear river was warm and green and full of algae
because of the heat wave. I went out one day to see the biggest
mayfly hatch I've ever seen. As I waded out there were probably
a dozen or more nymphs in every square yard of surface. The
swallows, and later the bats, were diving and swooping to get
their share of the feast but not a single trout was rising. Dries,
nymphs, buggers, wet flies, nothing worked.
And yet, even with the warm weather we had a late snow pack.
My wife and I went camping in July and had to shovel out a forty
foot stretch of road that was three feet deep in snow. But it was
worth it because Milk Lake (just a mile from our camp site) was
recently stocked with trout. I hiked down to the lake, donned my
waders and went in. I got a dozen good solid strikes but couldn't
land any of them. I have a black beetle fly that's torn up with bite
marks but they fish couldn't seem to get it in their mouths. After
trying several other flies I went back empty handed.
That night we watched a thunderstorm come through just after
dinner. We didn't think much about it until the next day when I
was back down at the lake. I looked over my shoulder and a
huge cloud of brown smoke was coming up the valley. I didn't
even change out of my waders, I just hiked out as fast as I could.
We broke camp faster than we've ever done before. As we drove
out the highway patrol was already closing down the roads to traffic.
That was the weekend that the big firestorm started. We had over
seventeen-hundred fires in Northern California all at once this
summer. We were living in the smoke for over a month.
The next month we went back to the same spot and the
trout were feasting on little blue damsel flies. I had three
flies that matched that pattern and they were all slightly too
big. The fish would hit them but the flies were too big to get
in their mouths. I ended up cutting one down with my tippet
snipper and finally caught my first trout of the season. He had
swallowed the fly and I didn't think he'd survive so I kept him
for dinner. I thought that as long as I had one trout, I should
catch another one so we could both eat. What a tremendous
ego I must have had. Here I was half way through the year
having only caught my first trout of the season and I'm thinking
'well, I'll just catch one more for dinner'.
I did end up catching one more on a deer hair caddis. But not
before getting caught in a swarm of vicious mosquitoes. I ended
up hiking back (once again still in my waders) while slapping my
arms, neck and face to get rid of all the damn mosquitoes. The
next day we counted twenty-seven bites on one arm alone and
forty-eight bites total.
Then came the Yuba River trip. The local fly fishing club has
monthly fishouts and I decided to go on one of them up to the
North Yuba outside of Downieville. Long story short, we all
got skunked except for the one spin fisherman. (We call them
'dark siders'). I couldn't get my truck back up the steep dirt
road so I had to back down the hill and get a running start on
it. The bashing and banging that my truck took getting up that
hill resulted in a flat tire twenty miles later and a broken air
conditioner clutch that literally snapped off during one of the
Nine-hundred dollars later I had a new air conditioner
in the truck but no trout.
As the season was nearing a close a friend of mine's son was
having a birthday. His son wanted a fly rod so we found him
an inexpensive rod and reel set at Cabelas. Several of us spent
the weekend camping at the Bear river and Mike, the birthday
boy, and I went down to the river to fish with a very experienced
fly fishing buddy of mine, Danny.
Those guys were fish vacuum cleaners. I couldn't believe
how they were pulling fish out of that river. I learned a lot
that day about where fish hold up in the river. I still didn't
catch any fish that day but I did start to change where I
placed my fly in the water.
For the next four weeks I went back to the Bear every weekend.
And each time I'd hook two or three trout and land at least one.
My luck was starting to turn around. I'm learning. It may be slow,
but I'm learning.
So after a couple dozen trips to the river my fish count didn't
make it to double digits this year. Now the season is closed
and only certain rivers and lakes are open on 'winter rules'
(Catch and release only, no bait, barbless hooks). I fished
the North Fork of the American River this weekend only to
get skunked again. But I hear there are smallmouth bass in the
deep holes upstream from where I stopped fishing. I'm going
back next weekend to check that out.
It's been a weird year for sure. But I'm still getting out there.
I've fished the Bear river, the Yuba river, the American river
and several high Sierra lakes. I bought a new fly rod and reel
(which I absolutely love using). I lived through a layoff and job
change, my step daughter and her lazy boyfriend moving in with
us (and eventually moving out), a backpacking accident that
resulted in a cracked rib, broken trucks, flat tires, forest fires,
hornet stings and swarms of mosquitoes.
Sometimes I think the fishing trips are the only thing keeping
me sane. Even when I'm not catching fish I'm still enjoying
being outside and on the water. And that's the real gift that
fly fishing gives to me.
Of course, it would be nice to actually catch something now and then.
~ DruLee Parsec (Sierra mountains west of Lake Tahoe)