I’ve been thinking about the trout fishing I’m not doing right now on my home waters of the Upper Sacramento and McCloud Rivers. I see the pictures come through on Facebook of friends up there, getting after it, fishing those waters that once so captivated me and still hold a very special place in my heart.
I was remembering a trip over a decade ago I took on the McCloud at the close of the season. I was hiking up the river, fishing solo, and I came to a section where the banks meet high rock walls as the river flowed out of a gorge section. As I hiked up the trail along this section of river I looked into one run far below and saw a massive trout. The thing had to be 10 pounds, almost certainly a brown trout, and it marauded around the pool like it owned the place. I wanted that fish.
To get to the fish I had to scale down a rock cliff, which I did, rod in my mouth to keep two hands free to grab the rocky cliff face. When I got down to the water I got one cast into the pool and one of my flies (an egg pattern) was immediately hit by a good trout. It was a good fish, not 10 pounds good, but a good fish nonetheless. After a couple minutes I landed a beautiful 19″ rainbow. The big brown didn’t like the commotion and had vanished.
The way I fish for trout on my home waters and how my home waters fish best is by aggressively covering the water. You get in and walk up the river, climbing over rocks and logs and whatever else is in the way. It is a tight-line, short-line nymphing technique using two flies and one more split shot than you might otherwise consider wise. You pound the pockets and the runs and you strike on everything. Sometimes there is a fish when you strike. That’s why you do it.
I was thinking about that episode on the McCloud recently from my perspective today. I realized I wouldn’t have climbed down there now. I’m more cautious. I have two kids and a wife who depend on me and I can’t do foolish things. My body also doesn’t respond as well to challenges as it once did.
While I wouldn’t have made it down to the bottom of the gorge, I know if I did the cast I would have made would have been better than the one I made all those years ago. I’ve lost some of my aggressiveness, but I’ve gained some skill.
When out on the flats there isn’t much of a place for aggressiveness, but skill gets you everywhere.
I wonder if that’s one of the things I like about bonefishing, that shift in focus, that shift in what ends up being important.
I can still wade semi-irresponsibly and cover the water, but I find myself on my rivers much, much less often and the call I hear is usually from the flats in places too far away and too expensive to visit frequently.
Fly fishing is still a huge part of my life and I imagine it will be until I can’t fish anymore. Maybe the trout will come back around for me in terms of importance and maybe one day again I’ll get to know a river’s pulse and hatches and moods like I used to. Maybe I’ll come to appreciate different aspects of the trout game in the future that don’t rely on the aggressiveness so much.
Maybe I’ll seek out spring creeks or take up lake fishing. Maybe I won’t and I’ll still pine for bonefish and skinny water flats and the need for long and pretty casts. We’ll find out.