Sunday, July 17, 2016

Hubris Bites on the Lower Sac

When we pulled into Redding at the end of June the temperatures were soaring to well over 100 every afternoon. Though this is not unusual for the area it was a bit of a shock to us given that we have been traveling around trying to avoid such weather.

We had come to this part of the country so I could fish some of the famous rivers in the area. As it turns out they are all suffering from the heat. Crack of dawn fishing I was told has been okay but late evening is when the action really gets going with caddis and PMD hatches being pretty reliable.

Best Laid Plans

With maps in hand and flies in my boxes Sharon and I set out for some visual recon of the Upper Sacramento in the afternoon. The plan was to look at some of the parking areas and the river to determine which ones I can get my gimpy self into alone and still be able to climb out in the evening. Driving north on I-5 from Mountain Gate we were enjoying the scenery and views of Shasta Lake.

You know how you go to a fly shop in the area before heading out to acquire information that keeps you out of trouble? Well I did that. As a traveling angler I find it best to pop in and see what the locals have to say ask a few questions and go from there. Maybe I didn't ask the right questions but then again if you're from out of town you may not know what question to ask because as a doctor I used to see like to say "You don't know what you don't know until you know it".

Here's what we now know. The last big bridge along I-5 over Lake Shasta is being rebuilt necessitating all traffic to be funneled into a single lane. Here's what we didn't think about. On Thursday evening before the Fourth of July weekend everybody in central California seems to be heading north out of the Sacramento Valley on I-5 So much for quick recon and fishing the Upper Sacramento through the holiday weekend. This is our third time to pass through Redding and every one has been around July 4th; it's never planned but somehow has worked out that way. In some instances timing is everything and this is one of them. What should have been a 20 minute drive turned out to be 2 1/2 hours and we never even saw a single fishing location. Back to the old drawing board.

Well as it turns out the drawing board looked pretty much the same for all the other locations I had hoped to get to except one. Where do you go to fly fish in peace when the masses are flocking out of the cities? Back into the city. By process of elimination and a bit of somewhat reliable information I ended up less than 100 yards downstream from the CA-44 bridge on the Lower Sacramento.

The guys at The Fly Shop, really that's what it's called, had told me there was a caddis hatch here every evening so that's what I came prepared for. I'm not sure if the guys I talked to didn't fully explain the situation or I was daydreaming while they spoke; most likely it was a combination of both. Anyway the first evening out I tried to fish a really good looking riffle but couldn't get into a position to get good drifts with nymphs or dries. The water was flowing pretty powerfully and I wasn't going to risk having my body turn up somewhere around San Francisco just to catch a trout.

After picking around the edges of the riffle I almost gave up and called it in for the day but the little voice in my head said to keep going. I picked my way along an overgrown path beating back bushes and spider webs until I came out onto a big wide groomed and heavily used path. This is where I realized I may have been daydreaming back at the fly shop when the one guy was explaining where I should go to fish. For those who don't believe it ADHD is real I mean it! Now where was I? Oh yes.......I found out when I left later that the path leading straight out from the parking lot leads to a beautiful, easily waded long run.

I worked the current seam nymphing waiting for the surface action to start but other than a few stray feeders out in the fast current nothing materialized. It was getting dark and I wanted to make sure I made it out not yet knowing of the easy path out and I forgotten to grab my headlamp before leaving the truck. I did spot one surface feeder close in but wrote it off as a straggler and decided to come back the next evening for another try.

Gotcha Suckers

The next evening I showed up with a new game plan which was to do a little nymphing and wait until the action started right at dusk. It's a glorious thing when a game plan actually comes together.

With an hour until the magic moment when I thought things would start I worked the current edge with nymphs hard. I tried high sticking, indicator nymphing and free-line nymphing with not a single touch that I detected. By the time I thought the surface action should be happening I had only seen the feeders out in the heavy current 50 feet away. A 50 foot cast is no big deal but a drift at 50 feet with multiple current speeds in between is a different story. I was starting to believe that the surface action wasn't going to happen, There were caddis and BWOs everywhere in the air and on the water. I was casting a good imitation of the adult caddis but no takers nor were there any surface feeders close enough in to cast to. Then it happened. The plan came together.

A fish rose upstream and right on the current line I was stalking with nymphs earlier. As I moved up to cover that spot I was casting to feel out the seam hydraulics and get my eyes in focus in the fading light. As my upstream cast drifted parallel to my position a head poked out of the surface and the silhouette of my fly disappeared in a swirl. I lifted the rod and came up tight on what felt like a small trout....until I applied some pressure. The next thing I knew all the slack line was off the water and it was on the reel and taking drag. The problem with carrying a net big enough for a steelhead is that it makes a 20" trout look like a dink when you photograph it in the net. It doesn't diminish the experience though.

A few minutes later I slid the trout back into the water and watched it swim away, dressed my Elk Hair Caddis and got back to it. A few casts later I was tight on another big rainbow that made a long run, a heroic jump and released itself 60 feet away. I made my way up the seam squinting at the surface following my fly as it drifted on the silvery reflection. Twice more a head broke the surface and I came up tight on hefty rainbows, one I landed and the other pulled lose when I applied too much pressure. There were more refusals than takes and it occurred to me they trout were actually keying on the emergers. The splashy rises and all out leaps were the giveaway. But light was too far gone and I had again forgotten my headlamp. A few more casts and another head popped up from the river and I was tight on another fish. This one fought like a champ from the instant it felt the hook. It took a couple minutes of what was left of the fading light to land it and get a good photo.

With little time left I made two more casts before I was hooked into yet another strong fish but this one I knew wasn't coming in soon and I needed to go. I pressured it until the hook pulled lose. With a big smile and a feel of "Gotcha" I called it a night.

Hubris Bites

The next evening was July 4th so I left the park, the river and the fish alone for the evening to enjoy the fireworks in peace, But the evening after I showed up with a half dozen freshly tied Elk Hair Caddis dries and another half dozen LaFontaine Sparkle Emergers. This time I arrived with little time before the surface action would start. I got some funny looks in the parking lot heading out in fading light. This time I set up to in a position just to see if I could time a heroic 60 foot cast to one of the early fast current feeders. I stood with 60 feet of line and 12 feet of leader dangling in the current waiting for a riser to target. The first three shots failed. The fly would travel a few feet then drag horribly. On the fourth shot I sailed the fly out and executed a flawless upstream mend with the line in midair. The fly landed, I spotted immediately and the riser porpoised on it as if in a dream.

"These trout don't have a chance." That was my last positive thought for the evening. I raised my rod and the small amount of slack line I had off the reel wrapped itself around my left wrist and immediately came tight around my wristwatch. All I could do was struggle for the two seconds it took for my freshly tied Elk Hair Caddis to snap from the tippet.

The hatch came off just like the night before but instead of poetry in motion my casting was something more akin to sex on a hammock. The few rises I did get I over-struck and either pulled the fly away or snapped off two more freshly tied flies. There were wind knots without any wind, Sparkle Emerger in my neck and bushes behind me that didn't exist the night before.

I left without ever coming tight on a trout without breaking off immediately. My confidence was crushed leaving me wondering why I wanted to fish in the first place. It was just one of those nights. Before I turned and waded out I counted over a dozen actively feeding trout. I tipped my hat and reminded myself once more that hubris bites.

Don't get cocky, the trout don't like it.

No comments:

Post a Comment