fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)

pre-season fishing on the Stanislaus

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Left town Tuesday about 7:00 p.m. for my “spring break,” setting the GPS for the cabin and expecting to arrive in Twain Harte in about three hours with time for a quick dinner. My late departure paid off as I breezed past Tracy on I-205 (usually an awful bottleneck). Got to the cabin about when expected, laid out my fishing gear and hit the sack.

Thanks to a suggestion from member on one of the fishing forums I visit, Wednesday morning I headed off to the Two-Mile Bar area of the Stanislaus River, despite light rain and threatening clouds. I parked and headed down to the river, amazed at the greenness of everything around me, even the abundance of new growth on the poison oak.

I originally set out to use my fly rod, and started heading upstream about 11:30 a.m. But faced with very few locations from which I could suitably cast from shore (particularly with my limited experience and without waders), I turned to my new ultra-light spinning gear. Just about the time I made my first cast and despite it being spring, the heavens opened up like normally would happen on a dark winter day. Thankfully, I was sheltered by some overhanging branches and had the foresight to bring a weather-resistant outer shell, so remained relatively dry. So, I did what most any fisherman would, I began to work the pool, starting down stream of some big boulders and working my way up.

It took about five casts before I saw the first flash of a fish and felt a quick strike. Inspired to keep going, I began to notice what looked like little bubbles on the water…but freshwater usually doesn’t hang onto bubbles, like saltwater, I thought to myself… Then it dawned on me, or more accurately hit my hat…it was hailing! For maybe 10 minutes I simply marveled at being alone on a river while nature did what it does, all around me.

But I was also there to fish. Once the rain and hail abated and the sky began to clear, I again began to cast in earnest and was paid off with a few strikes. Keeping track of my casts, saw that my favorite little Panther Martin (red body/gold blade) was being bumped after a long upstream cast with a medium retrieval that allowed the current to pull the lure into a long pool near the center of a gentle bend. Duplicating that cast got me a few more strikes and finally a hookup. Gotta love that ultra-light gear…even though it was only an eight-incher, it was great fun getting it to shore. I cast a bit more and brought in another shorty, maybe nine inches or so.

Figuring I had worked that first pool enough and speculating that the strikes might have caused whatever fish were there to be a bit spooked, I headed downstream to another area accessed through berry bushes. (Mabye one of the spots you mentioned, StuckinLodi?) This spot is right near a big sweeping bend that ends with riffles split by a small island. I again began casting, starting upstream and working down stream to the shallow end, where I finally began to get some strikes. A few minutes later I was reeling in another small trout with remarkable parr marks.

Now, I’m not one to be so focused on trophy trout that I’ll forsake the opportunity to catch any number of small trout, but I thought maybe I’d increase my chances of pulling in a larger fish by turning to the all-purpose Kastmaster, gold of course. It gave me a bit more distance, which was a good thing as the most promising pool was nearer the other shore. (Ain’t that always the case?) Anyhow, maybe a dozen casts or so and a few strikes, I hooked into a decent fish, about 13 inches. And I decided to let that be the end of my fishing for the day.

I explored a bit of the river downstream from what one might call the main access point (where I saw the only other two fisherman I saw that day), but didn’t see much in the way of promising water unless one were on a float trip. Have to say, I couldn’t have asked for a better first experience on the Stanislaus or a better pre-season trip.

I took Thursday as a “lazy day,” getting up about nine, kicking around the cabin for a bit before heading to the Mother Load Fly Shop, where I chatting with owner Marvin for a bit about local rivers that can be fished during the “off season” and that offer decent shore access. He’s a good guy, willing to spend time to provide pointers. I bought a few more flies as well to help fill out my tackle box. By the time I left the fly shop, the clouds had retreated and the sun was out in full force.

Thanks to a reminder from Karen, I then headed off to the Diamondback Grill for an awesome mushroom and Swiss cheese hamburger. (If you like a good burger, you gotta stop there!) Have to say, I am getting a handle on the whole idea of slowing down and taking a break…I took my time with lunch, reading a couple of local papers and savoring my hamburger. Grabbing a few postcards off the shelf, I headed down the road to good ol’ Columbia for a stroll. This historic town was a bit more crowded than I expected (school groups off for spring break), but I found myself poking around and just enjoying the sunshine. I also spoke with a counterperson at the mine at the south end of town and found out that with gold prices being what they are, the mine owners have put the mine back into operation, so no tours for now.

Just for grins, since I was back at the cabin about three o’clock, I headed up to Lyons Canal for a hike to the water hazards on the abandoned and now-fallow golf course. Don’t know what happened, but both ponds seemed devoid of any bluegill. (Sure hope not as they were a great source of entertainment during a few summer visits.) For those who’ve seen Lyons Canal, it was higher than I’ve ever seen it, probably within a foot of the top edge of the canal. After hiking back to the car, I returned to the cabin, where I let the day slip away, listening to a concert in the park and watching the darkness creep over the trees.

Friday I again went to the Two Mile Bar Recreation Area. The sky was clear and the sun was strong. Arrived about the same time of day, and within the first five or six casts had a strike out of the upstream pool on an all-gold Panther Martin, and over the next hour and a half had numerous strikes. I found that the fish seemed to have gone a bit deeper, and eventually hooked and lost one fish and landed two smallish rainbows in the 10 inch range. Figuring I had enticed all of the willing fish from this pool, and after sitting for a while to munch on lunch and soak in the nature around me — turkey vultures and birds and sheer cliffs above, the music of the water — I headed downstream to the bend.

Got to the bend about 1:00 p.m. and switched over to small gold Kastmaster, threw it out and immediately had a fish on before I began my retrieve. It ended up being the most combative fish of the week, clearing the water four or five times and running away as soon as he eyed the bank. Kept getting strikes every half dozen casts or so over the next 45 minutes, with three hookups and one smaller fish landed.

But just as the sun neared its two o’clock position, those dog-gone trout seemed to be spy-hopping, trying to get a gander at this creature on riverbank. I swear they were laughing at me because the bite just fell off. Then I began to see at least a dozen or more fish holding in front of the riffles at the end of the bend and slurping up something just off the surface. I’m no expert, but I would guess that some sort of hatch was on. I set my pole aside and started “trout watching.” I could not make out what they were chasing, but this went on for about an hour before the fish shifted tactics and began to take some thing subsurface, with their dorsal fins and backs periodically breaking the water. Quite a show… This day I saw four other fisherman, all using fly rods, and at least one fish landed. I finally hiked out before the sun set as I had to get things packed for the trip home.

Have to say, I couldn’t have asked for a better first experience on the Stanislaus River. What a good pre-season trip!

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