June 28th, 1999
California Dreaming

by Robert Lee


It was 6 am and I was sitting in my car outside of his house in the dark waiting patiently. I was not supposed to meet him until 7 am and we would then begin our road trip to do some stillwater fishing. However, I was too anxious. The night before I got little sleep, I tossed and turned with anxiety about my fishing trip.

I was going to go flyfishing with my mentor, Gary 'POP' Ghoul. A gentleman whom I would classify as one of the greatest stillwater and all-around fly fisherman today, next to my grandfather of course.

We were on our way to Rock Creek Lake in Northern California. It is a terrific fishery nestled in a mixed forest of pines, cedars and oaks. The lake is deep, with lots of visible bottom and weed beds. There are downed trees and shrubs along much of the shoreline that provide cover for insects and trophy trout. The lake harbors both brown and rainbow trout, with stories of browns being caught up to 28" and rainbows up to 27."

Needless to say, I was pumped! As we got closer to our destination, I began to get butterflies. I felt like a kid in a candy store. Though we were twenty miles away from the lake, I could smell the fish. The anxiety was there and I was shaking. My excitement overwhelmed me. I am 29 years old and have been flyfishing since I was 10 and it always feels like the first time for me. I hope that I never lose that feeling.

We arrived at our destination around 4 pm after fishing another private lake nearby. First thing we do is pump up our tubes and head for the lake. I cannot even remember if we put any gear in the cabin. Oh well, all I know is I wanted to fish.

The lake was beautiful. The water was clear and we could see large trophy trout cruising the surface and feeding on the abundance of midges. There was a small callabaetis hatch. I tied on an emerger and watched a fish sip it on the first cast but I was not paying attention and missed the strike.

The weather turned on us and it began to rain but this did not deter the fish at all. I put on a sparkle dun and BAM! Fish on. With the lake being 40 ft deep, the first place the fish went was straight down. Ten minutes later I pulled in a nice 22" rainbow. This was just the beginning of my weekend.

Nice Rainbow

We headed back up to the cabin and began strategizing for the next day. I could not get that feeling out of my system, that tugging feeling from a trophy trout. All through dinner I had butterflies and kept replaying in my mind the fish caught earlier.

The second day, the fish were cruising again but did not seem to take any imitations. I put on a leech pattern and it was the ticket. Throughout that day I probably caught six fish all over 20". That night we gathered in the cabin and I watched 'POP' tie a sparkle dun. I tied a few after him and set them aside for tomorrow.

We told each other stories and he told me how a fish sometimes reacts to a dry fly. He spoke of times when the fish will actually come up to your dry and balance the fly on its nose. He then began to go into more detail about how a fish reacts in still water. I was again PUMPED! I could not wait to go back out tomorrow.

The next day I was out early. Fish again were midging but they were not taking any imitations. I threw on my leech pattern and BANG, fish on!

I could have stayed with that pattern all day and been successful but I was there to not only "CATCH" but to "FISH". I was determined to figure out what the fish were doing. As the day passed I caught a few more, but I noticed one cruiser that was quite big. I tied on a small sparkle dun that I had tied the night before and then just sat back and observed.

As I watched the fish rise and sip every 20 seconds, I noticed the pattern that it was following. I softly cast my fly directly in it's path and watched the fish rise to my fly.

I was amazed when I saw what the fish did next. Just like 'POP' had said the night before, the fish literally pushed the fly out of the water with its nose and balanced it!

It took everything I had to not attempt to set the hook. I was shaking so badly in anticipation that the fish would engulf my fly.

"Patience Robert," I said to myself. "Just wait." My heart was going 100 miles an hour as I watched this fish play with and observe my fly. Then he let go and turned. I almost cried but remembered to twitch the fly. As soon as I twitched the fly, the fish took.

It charged right towards my float tube.

As I tried to retrieve the slack, it became airborne.

What a site it was. Again, the fish jumped, this time straight towards my tube!

I swear I thought he was going to land in it. Now I was in for a ride of my life. Fishing only 6x I knew I was in for a long one.

The fish then went directly down. I was tired, my arm hurt. Everytime I had the fish up close he would take off and get into my backing.

'POP' was watching in amusement and cheering me on. After a 15-minute fight, I finally landed a beautiful 26" rainbow.

Dream Fish

What a feeling of content. I was in heaven. I took the fly out of its mouth and softly set the fish in the water.

The Release

As I held its tail in attempting to revive it, I thanked God for His wonderful creation. The fish built up strength and dashed out of my hand.

That was it. I had just experienced a catch of a lifetime.

That weekend was a memorable experience. Not because of the size of fish that were caught, but because of the challenge set before me to adapt to the fish's environment.

Fly fishing to me is more than just catching. It is the pursuit that becomes a man-to-fish challenge. A personal quest to entice a trophy trout to take your imitation.

In addition, to share that moment with one whom you admire very much is icing on top of the cake. I thank my grandfather for passing the love for the sport down to me.

It is a sport that is not just for recreation, but has become a part of my soul, mind and spirit. I hope that you to will be able to experience flyfishing to this level too.

Remember it is not about "CATCHING" but about the "FISHING."

Tight lines, if you would like information on Rock Creek Lake you can email me. ~ Robert Lee


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