As I got close to Redding, 3 hours north of the Bay Area, I was met with a wall of ash. There was a fire, a new fire in months of never-ending fires, and it was close. More forests and homes burning up.
So much has burned this year. 2.4 million acres up in smoke. It was so thick. I wore my N95 in the car and it still smelled like a campout.
Once past this latest fire I emerged just beyond Shasta Lake and into areas which had already burned by other fires in the past couple years. Miles of burned-out forests, no canopy, no undergrowth, just the slightly reddish earth and the charred skeletons of trees.
It is apocalyptic and I wouldn’t have been surprised to see the characters from “The Road” walking along the shoulder of I-5.
Arriving in my little home-town the smoke was background level and the forests the clung to the canyon walls were still thick and dark green. A stop at Ted Fey’s Fly Shop and a quick stop off at my dad’s now former home and I set off for the river.
In September you don’t need waders and I stepped into the waters to find them cool. I had been expecting the worst after my drive up and was almost surprised to find the waters so frigid and trout friendly.
It was just so nice.
This summer started off rough up here. June had temps over 100 every day, all month. That didn’t happen when I grew up here. Temps like that were reserved for late August and early September, but not June. June can still be cool. June can still be cold in the early mornings. June can be cold at night. June has runoff swollen rivers that are both a little high and very cold.
This year there wasn’t much snowpack to come down, so the river was not high at all when I saw it in May, and no where near as cold as it should have been. I feared for the summer months.
Now, in the waning days of September, I could see the river had made it though the unprecedented heat. It survived.
I hiked up the tracks to the Falls, which are always beautiful. They are worth the hike all by themselves. They are also about as far as most people get. I started fishing upstream from there.
Over the next four hours or so I enjoyed some of the best fishing I’ve had in ages. It was a throwback to how this river fished for me 15 years ago. I caught fish and then more and then more. I saw a mink. I landed a very nice fish at or above 18″ which is a really nice fish for this river. I didn’t see another soul above the Falls. I had the place to myself to enjoy, to reconnect with, the play in.
It was odd, how I felt on the drive up, how it all felt like it was all being lost, and how I felt standing in that bit of paradise, having it all to myself. It was hard to hold both things in my head at the same time.
I hope this little bit of perfection survives the next few decades… the droughts and the fires that are likely to keep ravaging California and the West as we struggle to come to grips with what exactly we are losing. I want to hold onto this a bit longer.
My Facebook Memory today was me with a very nice tarpon on a trip I had with Yellow Dog Fly Fishing Adventures and Jim Klug in Cuba. I wrote Jim just to thank him for that experience and we got to talking about fly fishing travel and where things stand now. I sent Jim some questions and he took the time to respond. Thanks for that Jim.
For me it is going to be a while longer. I’m vaccinated and employed, so that’s good, but child care is much more complicated and my wife’s doctor schedule is unpredictable for the time being. We’ll need things to settle a bit before I find myself on a flat, but I am thinking a lot more about it these days… looking at pictures, going through my gear, thinking about what plans I need to set in motion.
Jim provides some insight and good advice in the answers below.
How did Yellow Dog weather the pandemic?
Well … We’re still here! There is no doubt that 2020 was a difficult year for our business and for destination angling in general. We had thousands of trips that were cancelled or postponed
What did you learn about the travel business and your own company as a result of the pandemic?
We had some interesting and important take-aways from 2020, and we learned some valuable and important lessons about both our business and our customers. All told, Yellow Dog navigated some tricky waters in 2020, and along the way, we identified some key take-aways from the past 16 months:
We learned that for our clients, having a legitimate agent working on their behalf is incredibly beneficial – especially when things get difficult. We saw this play out time and again in 2020. While we were not always able to immediately fix things or deliver the perfect answer for cancelled trips, we worked tirelessly for our customers – operating on their behalf and looking out for their interests. Having an agent like Yellow Dog (the largest creator of trips for many of the lodges in the industry) often-times made a difference. For people that had booked on their own or through a smaller shop or hobby agent, the outcomes – and the solutions offered – were often-times markedly different.
Patience is everything. We’ve learned that tenacity and persistence goes a long way when it comes to re-bookings, re-schedulings and other resolutions. In the beginning of the pandemic, many operators and lodges were unprepared or unable to provide optimal solutions for cancelled or affected trips. Over time, however, we were able to work with many of these operations – on behalf of our clients – to secure better solutions and improved offers. Patience pays!
Being nice matters, and when the shit really hits the fan, you truly see the very best of people, and also the very worst. Luckily, the vast majority of our customers and clients were patient, nice and incredibly understanding throughout the pandemic, realizing that the world shutting down was not our fault nor the fault of the lodges or guides. The entire destination angling infrastructure took a devastating hit in 2020, and – unlike major airlines or cruise ship companies – there were no industry bail-outs or easy money. Every lodge, guide, outfitter and agent was hurt by this, and for every one of our clients who was kind, patient and understanding in the face of cancelled trips and disrupted fishing plans, know that it was very much appreciated!
Trip insurance can help, but it is important to understand the fine print and details. For years, trip insurance was the security blanket that promised to make things right if a fishing trip was cancelled or disrupted. And when it came to work conflicts, illness, hurricanes or cancelled flight routes, these policies usually paid off. The problem with trip insurance is that – like all insurance products – the companies know how to cover their asses against big-time cataclysmic events, and way down the list in the fine, fine print of things that were NOT covered was … you guessed it … “worldwide pandemics.” It turns out that most insurance policies would not cover trip cancellations that were pandemic-related, which meant that travelers who seemingly did everything right (booking early, securing a trip with the right deposit, and of course covering themselves with a travel insurance policy) were left hanging when their trips were cancelled due to lodges (and the world) being shut down. Moving forward, we fully expect that travelers will remember this, and we hope that those companies and products that have failed to protect travelers in the pandemic will be replaced by innovative policies and new products which actually deliver.
Having a solid and healthy destination angling infrastructure is crucial to our sport. Throughout the pandemic, we’ve known that – eventually – things would get back to normal and we’d be able to get back to doing what we love most: traveling and fishing the world. Having a lodge to return to (or your favorite guide still around to fish with) is a big deal, so being supportive of this infrastructure matters. For everyone that accepted a trip roll-over, re-booking fee or new dates, and especially to those that sent along the equivalent of a guide’s tip or donated to industry economic relief efforts, thank you.
Are you seeing the pent-up demand from a year off?
Oh yeah! Things are absolutely crazy right now. Once January 2021 hit, things started ramping up, and it has only gotten crazier since then. After a brutal 2020, Yellow Dog just closed out a record-setting first quarter of 2021. It was as if someone flipped a switch in early January, and people are now booking and reserving trips at a pace we’ve never before seen. Trip dates are being snatched up as quickly as toilet paper was selling out ten months ago, and the biggest challenges for the year ahead will unquestionably revolve around availability. If you are thinking about planning a trip for the near future – or even 2022 or 2023 – my advice is to start the process now. Getting out in front of the demand will ensure prime dates and great guides at the best lodges and destinations. “Last-minute” trip planning – while still possible – is going to be more of a challenge than in years past. If you know that you want to travel and fish in the near future, then get a jump-start on the planning process and get your dates and destinations on the books.
Many waters got an unanticipated rest over the last year. What are some of the benefits or silver linings after a year-long COVID shut-down?
Obviously, one of the biggest positives that has come from the pandemic is the environmental benefit that comes from literally shutting the world down for months on end. Global satellite images from space in late-2020 showed pollution levels that had dramatically decreased from those of only eight to ten months earlier, showing how nature can heal and recover when we simply reduce our footprint and let the planet do its thing (even for a relatively short period of time). For anglers, the effect of this “global rest” has been evident and abundantly obvious over the past several months in the quality of the fishing and the behavior of fish that we’ve witnessed across the planet. For many of the destinations that have already reopened (Alaska, Belize, the Bahamas, the Yucatan, Costa Rica, the Seychelles and numerous other destinations), we have already seen off-the-charts fishing and numbers that have not been seen in years.
Were there any operations that didn’t make it through?
That remains to be seen. This is something that will likely play out in the year ahead, but sadly, we are going to see some lodge, outfitters, guides and agents that will likely be gone by the end of 2021. The travel industry and destination angling as a whole were absolutely crushed when the world shut down. People stayed home, lodges closed, and airlines stopped flying. Small business loans and programs designed to keep people employed provided some assistance here in American; however international lodges, guides, outfitters and support businesses were largely left to survive on their own. Many of the guides we’ve fished with and come to know over the years were dealt a serious financial blow, as there was literally no work and no income for most of the year. Some guides were forced to sell their boats. Lodges terminated large numbers of staff, and many in the fly fishing community left the fishing world all together. Every international operation (along with many domestic operations) was hurt by the shut-downs, widespread cancellations and the lack of sales, and it will likely take years to fully recover.
When folks are booking now, do they require proof of vaccination or testing or what is it that has to happen to get back out there?
Proof of vaccination is not required to actually book or reserve anything (at this time) but there are plenty of countries that are requiring proof of vaccination for entry as a tourist. Regardless of how you personally feel about vaccinations, the fact is that life as a traveler and as a traveling angler will for sure be easier in the months (and possibly years) ahead with proof of vaccination. This is going to be true for some time to come with many foreign destinations.
Are there places that are still closed/highly limited?
For sure, and some that are likely to remain closed into 2022. Right now, New Zealand, Australia and the Cook Islands are all closed indefinitely. Argentina, Chile, India, Canada, Russia, Christmas Island and several other popular fishing destinations are all still closed as well, although we are hopeful that things will open in the months ahead. We’re thinking August for Christmas Island, although that is not a for-sure opening date!
Is there somewhere in particular you are excited to get back to?
For me personally, I’m really excited to get back to the Seychelles for the coming fall season. Honestly, any place that requires a passport stamp is going to get me excited at this point!
Any recent trips that you’ve been able to do?
I actually just returned from an incredible week in the Yucatan, fishing Xcalak and Chetumal Bay. An incredible fishery with some of the best permit fishing I’ve seen in years.
What would you say to the traveling angler who is still hesitant to get back out there?
You need to be comfortable to travel right now, and that is a personal thing for everyone. DO your homework, research what is involved in traveling to a destination, and above all have someone in your corner that can help if problems or unexpected delays pop up. But travel is possible right now, and there is a lot of great fishing that can be accessed and enjoyed in a safe, easy manner. Regardless of your destination, however, when you are ready to get back out there, we are absolutely recommending that anglers begin their planning and booking processes earlier than normal. As a result of losing the entire 2020 season, there are countless trips that have had to be rolled over and rescheduled for the 2021 and 2022 seasons, which means that availability for the foreseeable future will be tight. For those destinations such as the Seychelles, Cuba, prime permit destinations in the Caribbean, and others that were already in high demand, it will be even more important to look ahead and plan well in advance. Even destinations in Belize, the Bahamas and the Yucatan are likely to book up quickly for this season and well into 2022. Our recommendation for those that know they want to get back out there is to start the process now.
I live on an island. It is a nice place. We have great neighbors and live in a great neighborhood. I love it here, deeply.
At the tail end of April it will be 61 here as a high and there are large swaths of the summer the high will be 68. We’ll get a week of 100+ heat at some point, but, it isn’t the tropics.
While this island, sitting on the east side of the San Francisco Bay, is worlds away from the Bahamas, we do have a palm tree we can see from our back yard and if you look at it real hard and actively exclude everything else from your vision, you can almost transport yourself to the Caribbean.
I just got my coffee and looked out the kitchen window to see if there was much wind out and saw the palm, calm and still. If I were fishing for bones today, I’d be comforted by that sight. I can remember other mornings on other islands where the sound of the wind through the palms was the first thing I heard when I woke and I would know from that sound that the day would be tough.
I can’t turn that part of my brain off. I don’t want to turn that part of my brain off.
I love this palm… this little bit of island mentality, or island memory.
Years ago I tried to put together a trip to a lodge on Ragged Key in the Bahamas. I couldn’t pull it off. No regular flights in or out and charter companies to sort though and, yeah, never got it to happen. I ended up diverting to Long Island, which had regular flights, and had a good trip. But Ragged has always kicked around in the back of my head.
It is isolated. It is small (~60 people live there, maybe less). It looks juicy.
Flats on the west and deep water to the east looks like a very good big bonefish scenario.
So, I was excited to talk to Will Blair, who happens to be making a go of it at the newly opened Lost Key Lodge. He was just about to fly out there when I got a hold of him for a few minutes to chat. Seems he might have the flight situation more or less sorted out, which is good. He’s keeping the numbers low, four anglers a week, and there’s a lot of water to cover. Sounds a bit like paradise.
I just checked, and… well… it might be going well. I stole this pic from his facebook page. Holy bonefish.
Yeah, this place is going to be stuck in my head for a while longer.
My 7 year old son is into wildlife. A lot of kids are at this age, but he seems REALLY into wildlife. Bugs, birds, mammals… he loves it all. It is fun, what can I say?
On our last morning in Central Oregon, on our way to drop me off for a couple of hours of fishing on the Fall River, we cam across a heard of elk stampeding across the road. The kid was elated. Fifty, or more, elk crossed before our eyes. It was the first time my wife had ever seen an elk as well. I had been trying to explain the difference between an Elk Crossing sign and a Deer Crossing sign without much luck, but now she gets it. Elk are huge.
A minute later a coyote crossed in front of the car as well.
That’s some Yellowstone-level wildlife viewing and all before we got to the river.
I was meeting Vinnie, a local guide, for two hours of guiding, some special presented through AirBnB Experiences. We found him easily at the Fall River Camp Ground and he led me to the river, which was a stunning little jewel. It was very easy to spot the fish in the totally clear water.
The fish were both large in number and in size. Deadfall gave plenty of cover for the fish, but it was clear whatever happened, I’d be able to see it all play out.
There was a midge hatch that started and then raged a bit and I decided to put on a #20 zebra midge, which fooled the first fish it encountered. It was a nice, healthy fish with a bit of mono extending from some deeply hooked fly (not this fish’s first rodeo). I got it on its way and looked forward to the next fish.
There was no next fish. The word was out and the fish shut their mouths and for the rest of the short session I just cast futilely at large trout who showed no inclination to eat and a very keen awareness of the artificial flies coming downriver toward them as they deftly slid out of the way of each presentation.
Really pretty place.
The highlight was the elk.
Then, it was the road home… back down 97 and by the grand lady of Mt. Shasta. That view never really gets old.
A good trip North. I saw my dad and gave him a hug for the first time in a year. Fish were caught. Memories were made. Old connections were strengthened. Beautiful country was seen and appreciated. Hard to complain.
The boy and I had a day of fishing on the books and so, we went fishing.
First, we went to a lake a neighbor told us about. The road in still had a bit of snow on it, but nothing that would keep you from getting there.
Now… I don’t fish a lot of lakes, but said neighbor had told me the general game plan and I followed it, complete with the fly he gave me to try.
Funny thing about the neighbor… we were staying at an AirBnB up near Bend and when I introduced myself to the neighbor it turns out he recognized me from a fly fishing message board that we were both very active on back in the late 90’s. So, that was fun. The old Northern California Fly Fishing Board was the source of a lot of knowledge, some lasting friendships and some great memories until the trolls took over and pretty much ruined the thing. Thanks trolls.
We managed to catch a couple nice rainbows under the watchful gaze of a bald eagle who was crying from one of the trees lining the lake. Pretty fun and a great bit of Central Oregon scenery.
Next we went to the Fall River (the Oregon one, not the California one) to the hatchery, where I was told there were fish in all the holes and, yeah, there were.
The hatchery is an odd place… people lined up at all the discharge pipes and fish (large fish) just kind of hanging out there. Unclear if any of these were wild or if they were all planters or what exactly the story is there. Someone probably knows, but I didn’t ask.
The previous day on the Metolius I had seen a guy who looked like he knew what he was doing fishing a large streamer under an indicator. I don’t know that I had ever seen someone do that and I watched him for a bit and I decided to try it out. I didn’t get any love on the Met, but then, no one else was catching either. I tried it out again on the Fall and, ya know what? It worked. Had this fish take on the first pass with the good ole’ wooly bugger. It turns out I rather enjoy big fish, even if they might, possibly be from a concrete river. I don’t know if this fish was wild or not, but it sure looked clean to me.
The boy and I had a good day fishing. Weather was nice. Fish were caught. We created some memories. He worked a lot on his casting and he got to reel in most of the fish I hooked. We were all smiles at the end of the day and that, I’m pretty sure, is what it is all about.