Driving North felt like descending into hell.
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.