As alluded to in my last Friday post, the excellent fishing just over a week ago was often centered on a certain little red humpy. Accompanying the good fishing was good weather. I couldn’t have asked for any better; it was in the mid 80°s those four days. The following week the average daily highs climbed above 100°.
When it comes to fishing unfamiliar waters, I’m a big fan of hedging my bets. While specific locations and tactics will be obfuscated in conversations with just-met fly fisherman, and stops at local shops often require filtering out hyperbole, it’s usually fellow fly fishing club members that will usually — with a caveat that certain tidbits never be shared — give the most accurate information.
That’s what led me to Calaveras Big Trees State Park to check out Beaver Creek and the North Fork of the Stanislaus River.
I’ll get the North Fork of the Stan out of the way first. I fished it later in the day and did land a few fish. It’s not my favorite type of river. It’s certainly scenic, shadowed by groves of ponderosa and sugar pines, incense cedars, white firs, mountain dogwood and, of course, giant sequoia redwoods. It looks to offer a great opportunity for rafting and I probably should reserve final judgment until there’s a chance to visit when the water is lower. But it’ not the easiest stretch of water to fish as it tumbles through truck-size boulders that mean edging a few yards downstream might entail a half-mile hike just to get around those boulders.
[singlepic id=1228 w=300 h=225 float=right]
Missed hatch on Beaver Creek.
Beaver Creek, however, was a reminder of why I enjoy fly fishing smaller waters; they require a more personal involvement with nature. Though it took bushwhacking to move upstream, Beaver Creek offers the intimate style of water I favor, and that certainly made any difficult terrain less of a burden. My hope was to find the wild fish I had been told about, but if they were there, they weren’t as aggressive as the stocked rainbows. I was pleasantly surprised, however, by a wild brown that nailed the humpy only seconds after it landed near a likely seam.
I fished a few other less remarkable sections of the Stanislaus, revisited Herring Creek, and wet a line in some of the ol’ regular spots. It was a good few days. And when the humpy didn’t work, one of my “confidence” flies, a stimulator of nearly any color, did.
I’m glad I went exploring when I did; it’s likely that within a month some of these creeks will be a bit too skinny.
The thought last weekend was to get away for a rare five-day retreat, spending some time at the family cabin, entertaining ourselves with visits to wineries in nearby Murphys, squeezing in a bit of fly fishing on one of the few open rivers in the Sierra foothills and generally stepping away — far away — from the everyday.
We had enjoyed three weeks of spring-like weather prior to our departure, but the moment we publicly announced our plans, Mother Nature decided she knew better.
[singlepic id=1076 w=300 h=199 float=center]
A better use of snow.
The drive that got us up to Hwy 108 was easy enough, with stops along the way for lunch and gwaking at Bass Pro. It was after the last stop at Covers Apple Ranch that Mrs. Nature gave us fair warning with steady snowfall as we wound the seven miles to the eastern (and higher) edge of Twain Harte. By the time we reached town, the inches of snow that frosted the familiar with a fresh coat of newness also dictated extreme caution.
While I don’t mind clearing the white stuff to pull into the driveway or the nearly two feet of snow that that muffled and covered the world outside the next morning; I didn’t like the resulting power outage, the excavation of that 60-foot driveway a second and third time, and the increased release of water in the only nearby and fishable tailwater. Though we were thankful for the propane-fired heater, stove and water heater, the lack of power for 48-plus hours wasn’t fun. It was dark by 6:00 p.m. and it’s difficult to read, much less tie flies, by candlelight. Fishing was out of the question the next day as flows on the Stanislaus rose in 40 hours from less than 250 cfs to nearly 1,100 cfs.
We surrendered about 42 hours after our arrival. In that time I learned the value of a snow blower after shoveling the driveway three times, clearing an estimated accumulation of four feet of snow. (My arms agreed with rusty mathematics that suggested I moved over 1,900 cubic feet of the stuff.) Proving that Mother Nature maintains a healthy sense of irony, we were greeted by blue skies just as that last of the gear was packed into the car.
[singlepic id=1082 w=600 h=399 float=center]
Mother Nature, The Joker. The skies cleared after nearly four feet of snow snuffed out the power and we went about departure preparations. (More photos below.)
However, we both enjoyed being in a winter wonderland for a while, spending one afternoon tucked into The Rock resaurant with a good draught of Smithwicks ale, a few appetizers and a cozy view of dime-sized flakes floating to earth. I personally enjoyed introducing The Wife, for the first time in her life, to real, heavy snowfall. We also learned that the Prius can do well enough in the snow.
I don’t begrudge Mother Nature for cutting our trip short with piles of snow; it’s the resulting runoff that’ll keep the trout happy and make for excellent Sierra fishing in the late summer and fall.
I responded to Mr. Rosenbauer’s podcast of a week ago, “Gear Maintenance in the Off-Season and Ten Tips for the Aging Angler,” with a personal anecdote that there are indeed exercises that could help the aging angler. Though I have yet to be officially recognized for my longevity, a gym membership put to good use during the last year or so seems to have improved my balance during wading, something I attribute to core exercises, namely crunches, bridge, planks and rotational movements.
Admittedly, as a generally lazy meditative lot, exercise may be foreign to most fly fishermen, and the most widely practiced workout is casting, which coincidently builds up muscles used to also hoist a beer or scotch.
More of what we saw during our shortened stay at The Cabin last weekend:
To the chagrin of some folks I’m not retiring like other bloggers we know, but I am “dropping the ball” this week to spend a little time in the Sierra foothills. It comes down to simple logistics. The family cabin is truly that; a few rooms insulated only by a couple of inches of siding, a simple affair with no connection to the Internet.
That’s not to say it’ll be time away from the everyday without sacrifice. There is a plan afoot to fit in some fly fishing — regardless of weather forecasts that include snow at elevations not too far from where we’ll be chasing wild trout.
I won’t jinx this unusual winter trip with any details, except to say that even The Wife has taken notice of my itch to fish and freely volunteered that I might visit one of the few open western Sierra foothill rivers. Maybe the feverish tying of flies and a continuous parade of fly fishing television shows gave me away.
It’s been more than a year since I’ve tested this tailwater. For the most part, I’ll be going subsurface, mainly through riffles and tailouts. Though this time of year it’s the more imaginative fly fishing technique nymphing that’s more effective bringing up the fish, with some luck late afternoon might include a decent blue-winged olive mayfly hatch.
To anticipate one question; no, I won’t be taking the new rod. Even it were fished, there be steelhead in this river and the one fish that broke me off in 2009 suggests that it’s better to carry a rod with a little more backbone.
Hopefully, I’ll be back with more than a tale of a riverside hike.