The reality of fishing is that more often it’s about people, the adventure that comes with it and what we’re taught than about the fishing. Sure, without the fishing you probably wouldn’t have made the trip at all, and the timing and location naturally center on when you think the fishing will be best, but regardless of the amount of planning every fishing trip is shadowed by uncertainty.Last weekend fall was in full force and winter’s influence was yet to be felt, but in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and foothills the name of the season regularly has little to do with the weather. Weather is never limited by the season there, or anywhere else, as I’m sure all five of my readers can attest.
Anyway, it was just after the first snow showers of the season that my son and I were enjoying an ‘end of trout season’ fishing trip on moving waters in the foothills in and around Twain Harte. It was the uncertainty that comes with fall weather that kept us to the west slope of the Sierras. This same weather was enough to keep a good many of the less hardy fishermen away, but that didn’t mean we’d be alone. These rivers and streams are within an easy two-hour drive of a few Central Valley cities and less than four hours away from the San Francisco area.
Regardless of a great summer, spring and early fall of fishing, there’s always a sense of urgency to land that one last fish of the season. As a father who readily allows his inner child to emerge there’s always a friendly competition between me and Sean. There’s little doubt that he can beat his old man at arm wrestling but, at least so far, he hasn’t when it comes to catching trout.
Fall on a few of the small rivers feeding into one of the reservoirs offers the thrill of hunting wild browns on the spawn. The last few years I’ve been lucky enough to land one of these browns, including a well-developed 14-inch male with a nice kype. That day, of course, the camera was not-so-handily still at the cabin.
Friday found Sean and me warming up at the small canal where nymphing generally means hooking more wild browns than stocked rainbows. The afternoon was cool and comfortable and overgrown sections of the canal could pass for a small stream elsewhere in the foothills on either side of the Sierras. During the summer, families equipped with spinning rods and bait casting rigs in every bright color imaginable usually line the banks, but this day our company was mostly limited to dogs and their owners out for a walk. We rigged up our rods, picked up a few fish as we walked upstream and called it a day when the growling of our stomachs was louder than the babbling water.
In the usual fashion, it was easier to wake up early knowing that we’d be hunting for browns, so we were out the door before the vaguest light of sunrise. The darkness gave way to the grayness that lends everything a ghostly appearance. We pulled on waders by flashlight and soon ambled down to the creek. The downside and upside to this creek is the abundance of easily fooled hatchery rainbows which we’d have to sort through as we sought Salmo trutta coming up from the lake.
The fish would be hunkered down and absolutely not looking up until midday, dictating an AP Nymph and a red chironomid pupae for me, two of my ‘confidence flies.’ Sean was similarly equipped as he headed downstream. I waded upstream to a deeper run. The rainbows didn’t disappoint, though most seemed to short strike the flies.
Eventually Sean moved downstream, confident in the stability, flexibility and healing ability that come with youth. Many of the downstream pools, pockets and runs are ignored by others, dismissed as to overrun by blackberry bushes and overhanging trees or deemed too small to harbor many, if any, fish. That meant more for us. Sean found the fish, hooking a few, though landing them seemed to be another matter.
I eventually joined Sean and we spent the late morning and noontime hoping to get into a brown between catching rainbow trout. A few of the fish that we didn’t land acted and looked suspiciously like brown trout; these un-netted fish appeared better proportioned, more of a torpedo than a football, like fish that, living in the wild, had to work for their food, unlike the stocked rainbow that tended to put on more gut.
The next few hours we returned upstream to pools and deep runs where the cookie cutter rainbows stacked up but offered a challenge through the fact that shortly after midday they developed a severe case of lockjaw. We met this challenge by changing over to small green midges and scuds. We did well enough, though Sean was remained a bit displeased that I was out-catching him. Despite my son’s complaint that I landed more fish than he, a gentlemen fishing just downstream offered perspective.
This older gentleman and a younger guy, wearing waders that were too clean and waving barely used rods patiently waited for hookups that never came. Chipping away at that patience, every ten to fifteen minutes, were the fish hooked and landed by Sean and I. Apparently it became too much. The older of these two gentlemen quietly waded to within a rod’s length of me. Tentatively and allowing that it was okay to refuse to answer, he asked, “Could you tell me why you guys are catching all these fish and we got nothing?” With a baffled look that turned into a grin, I think Sean learned that even without keeping pace with dad, he does quite well.
As for how I answered the gentleman from downstream, that’s something for next week.