fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)

red is the color of this opening day

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No whining here about the high water, high winds, or the high mileage added to my car’s odometer because, after all, Opening Day of Trout Season often is somewhat of a crap shoot. This year we added geography lessons to those taught to us by the smarter more finicky more skittish trout.

Allowing extra time to poke along at a comfortable pace, with a stop at the Manteca Bass Pro Shop, and aided by the opening of a third highway lane through Tracy, I had opened, aired out, and prepped the cabin by dinnertime. After dinner, rods were assembled, with leaders secured and ready to go.

Friday was devoted to maintenance as Wes of A Rose Plumbing in Twain Harte dropped by to repair a few sink valves and clean out a drain. Wes departed, Sean arrived; so Sean and I gawked at the trout dumped by DFG in Lyons Canal, a short drive from the cabin. Two older gentlemen joined us in gawking and conversation. Apparently sharing a tendency to avoid such an accessible location when the freezer-stocking, bait-drowning and hardware-chucking folks appear in force, one of the gentlemen suggested we seek out Rose Creek; supposedly a skinny creek that offers good fishing for wild trout.

Sean agreed to a bit of exploration, so off we went with directions to head “straight down this road” (the old guy pointed behind us) for ten miles. After about two miles the pavement became an unimproved county road. Thanks to the rain of Thursday night and the resulting redish mud, my dark blue Accord quickly sprouted freckles. After eight miles at no more than twenty miles per hour, I was anxious for a wide spot to turn around. But at eleven miles — exactly — we came to a bridge crossing the aforementioned creek. Sure enough, there were quite a few of the aforementioned small wild trout. But it would be another fifteen hours before one could legally chase them with a fly, or any lure or bait, for that matter.

After driving that same eight miles, maybe at twenty-two miles per hour this time, I threw together a dinner of grilled halibut, veggies and rice just about the time Christopher arrived with his girlfriend. We chowed down and in preparation for an early morning, I was soon asleep.

Five o’clock came early Saturday morning. Sean and I headed up Highway 120 in search of new water. The first stop was Cherry Creek, a supposed home to wild trout. Much boulder-hopping go us to the water. Cold, clear, and high water. While the canyon and creek were striking in the early morning sun, it took only a few casts to convince me that getting close to the fishy water would entail risk to life and limb. This would presage much of our morning.

Returning down the road we came, we crossed the Middle Fork of the Tuolumne, but without suitable parking, we continued on to the river’s South Fork. Moving upstream got us away from the numerous folks pounding the water just above and below Rainbow Pool waterfall. At best the water was a tad more fishable, but still high and fast. Sean solicited a strike before personally testing the water temperature a controlled descent into the river. Luckily he was up before being pulled over the falls or suffering hypothermia. Sean warmed up in the sun and soon it was time to press on to Moccasin Creek, our last stop down the hill.

The Best Way to Retrieve Lost Flies

Though Moccasin Creek should be considered a playground for anyone wanting to catch rather than simply fish, it’s also somewhat akin to a supermarket fish counter for locals and semi-locals alike. Plenty of hatchery fish and relatively easy access to some of the best holding water ensures a crowd on Opening Day. It wasn’t different this day.

[singlepic=572,150,,,right]In the few hours before we would sit down to a meal of some of the most reasonably priced and delicious hamburgers and buffaloburgers, Sean and I tempted a number of trout to strike. I was able to land two…the first on a white bead-head nymph given to me by a fly fishing friend who was sidelined Opening Day by shoulder surgery.

Later, a bit downstream in one of our favorite runs, I hooked into a decent fish that took me and my red Copper John nymph for a bit of a ride. I should explain here that I was using a new 3-wt. rod, which is the equivalent of an ultra-light spinning rod, and it was unlikely that I’d be able to horse in any fish over ten inches in this fast moving water. And this fish was a tad larger; large enough to break off my 6x tippet and take my flies with her. A few more fruitless casts brought me to a short pool just beyond the run. A few more casts, a grab, and the fight was on again. This time I put more care into playing this trout and, with the [singlepic=571,150,,,left]assistance of Sean and his net, landed a 16-inch rainbow to find it was the same fish that broke off upstream. I know because I was able to retrieve the flies I previously lost to this fish. And this time the fly that worked was a tiger midge (gold over red). (The next two days I’d rotate through various flies but would always end up hooking a fish on something red.)

Good Food, Good Brownie

Saturday evening found us at the oft-mentioned Diamondback Grill, joined by the wife, her coworker and kids. Nine people well fed for $109 — not a bad deal. Since there were a couple of hours of sunlight left upon our return to Twain Harte, Sean and I took a quick drive to Lyons Canal. Without great expectations, knowing that it had been hammered all day, we cast a few nymphs. In swirling water just below a flume my indicator made an uncharacteristic move, so I set the hook into what I would find to be a small, six-inch wild brown trout.

I had been told that the canal was home to a few browns, but didn’t put much credence into it. Now I wanted to hunt down some more. But dark descended and it was time to head back; with a little time devoted to double check leaders and flies.

By Sunday morning everyone except me was headed in the general direction of home. Sean had some homework to do, but squeezed in a few hours at Moccasin Creek. Unfortunately, he again had a bit of difficulty hooking fish, but not for a lack of strikes. (I attribute it to getting a bit rusty over the winter, so he has to go fishing more often.) I landed a few more fish as well.

[singlepic=570,150,,,right]When Sean left, I switched back to my 5-wt. rod and returned to one of my favorite deep runs. As luck would have it, without anyone to provide witness or photographic evidence, my fly (red Copper John), was slammed. And it felt like a submarine. Slight but continuous pressure brought it to the surface and it headed downstream. Then upstream. Then towards the far bank. Ten minutes later I gingerly measured a 24-inch rainbow trout. Too big and tired to hold out for a photo. After a careful revival and thanks, I released him and rested.

That big fish capped my day, but I lingered to hook and land a few more fish before heading to the cabin during the early afternoon. During the drive back a message told me that Sean would be returning. He left his history book at the cabin. So, bringing a laptop, the plan was that he’d work on his essay, spend the night, and leave for school early Monday morning. That evening we enjoyed a good dinner (I had a great beer) the relatively new Courtside Bar & Grill.

A quick and mumbled “good morning” and “dive safe” and Sean was off and I was back in bed. Fast forward a few hours and the morning sun was warming me along the trail beside the canal, but without much in the way of fish-sign or likely water. I figured it’d be a challenge to pull out any of the fish not caught during the canal’s hammering Saturday and Sunday. But the birds were signing, the sun was shining, and flowers were blooming.

Acting on Christopher’s observation of life in an old water hazard on the nearby and abandoned golf course, I tied on a streamer (yes, with a red head) and made a few casts. It was ambushed by a bass no more than eight inches long. Under the guise of practicing casting and stripping streamers I spent another hour at this little pond pulling out about a dozen small bass and one small bluegill and another of decent size.

[singlepic=566,150,,,left]Reinvigorated by the catching I continued my hike along the canal. The same spot that yielded the wild brown trout Saturday evening gave up two strikes and one rainbow to the net. Walking further up the canal, pretending I could actually “read” the water, I cast to likely spots. Call it dumb luck but during this walking and casting virtually every three or four casts led to a strike and a fish to the net. One of the bigger holes further up the trail was home to three more brown trout and about as many rainbows that ended up in my hands.

A busy, fun, somewhat crazy but at times amazingly Zen-like Opening Day weekend. We’re ready for the new season.

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