A young man’s game

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.

Tags: ,


  1. There has to be some reservoir carp to sight cast too around you. Or any coastal river. That’s the next best thing to sight fishing the salt.

  2. This is kind of the opposite for me. Granted I only started fly fishing 3 years ago. But I started on the flats here in Florida, where 6 fish on the fly rod where I live is an epic day. Now in other parts of Florida like the glades, or Stuart of the ‘Goon that is possible. But then in October of 2013 I was invited to Montana and have since been back there 2 more times as well as Colorado, Wyoming and twice to the Smokies. And I have another Smokey mountains trip scheduled for October and a Montana trip scheduled for November of this year. And one of the things I like about fishing the rivers is how many fish you catch. Before that first trip to Montana I had no interest in fishing out there. I would see pictures of guys holding little browns and rainbows and I just thought it couldn’t compare to landing a big red or a tarpon. I guess what you could say, is I am hooked on all fly fishing. Give me a flat in the Bahamas of Freemont Canyon in Wyoming, I don’t care, I’ll take it all.

  3. Been flyfishing since I was 6 – am now 52 – most of the above fits my type of fishing.
    However age plus major ligament surgery has certainly slowed me a bit – I still crave the chase “off the beaten track” – just do it more slowly. Was a bit cautious when my kids were small but now with them at 20 and 17 am heading back to more “on the edge” type stuff.
    You only live once and being a physician were time constraints and controll ruling my work life, my recreation craves the the freedom and lack of contraint – I do realize it is a “young mans game” but my time to quit will not be for a while yet!!

  4. You’re walking the same path I’ve taken but a few years behind me. I alive in New England, I’m 65 now, I started fly fishing for trout in my late teens. I migrated to the salt and got good enough there to guide for 20 plus years. I’ve also been fortunate enough to have traveled a bit and have taken blue marlin, sailfish, tarpon, bones, permit, tuna and a gazillion stripers. About 3 years ago I decided to go back to my roots and fish some of the streams I fished in my youth. I love the quietness and intimacy of stream fishing, it is so different from boat fishing the salt and so much more relaxing. As I write this there are stripers returning to my home waters and my boat sits on it’s trailer because the trout fishing is so good this year, about 2 weeks behind my usual schedule. The boat will go in this weekend. I certainly won’t give up fishing saltwater but now have a new appreciation for fresh. The other thing I noticed is after tying those tiny trout flies my saltwater tying has gotten better. Keep those freshwater memories intact, you may need to reference them in the future.

  5. bonefishbjorn

    I’m keeping those fresh water memories. Not to worry.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *