Sept - 2001 Upper Sac Lower Sac/
This late summer trip to the Upper Sac and McCloud Rivers was very fittingly my last C.O.N.F.U.S.E.D trip. Over the past 5 years or so Iíve taught perhaps 2 dozen people how to fly fish. Gino used to say I was a ďdiamond in the roughĒ when referring to my teaching skills. A complement to be sure but I have no illusions, Iím afraid Iím all rough and no diamond! Itís been great fun though and Iíve learned a lot about myself and fly fishing in general. Each person takes to fly fishing differently, each has different problems and different perspectives.
I used to think that if I can share this passion of mine with just one person and make that person a fly fisher then it has all been worth it. In Gino, Iíve done that. Not only have I developed a life long fly fisher but also a life long friend. During the years, my two erstwhile companions have been Gino and Josh. In 2000 Gino managed to join me on each and every Pishing trip and since 1998, Josh has managed at least one trip each year. Thanks guys.
This trip was the largest yet, 8 persons in all. They were quite the crew and quite an interesting mix. Gina, Don and Ky-Van attended as beginners. Josh and his buddy planned to fish and hang out. Graham tagged along to watch and take pictures of Gina and Tim, a self taught fly fisher of a few years, was along to see how other people fished.
Uncharacteristically of Pishing trips, we met at the camp site and not at my house. This didnít exactly work out as our chosen campsite was taken Friday night but we were able to figure everything out Saturday morning. This was no mean feat as most of us had never met! The Castle Craggs campground doesnít really have a message board, so I had left a sign near the closest pay station. That morning when the campground ranger made his rounds I noticed the sign in his truck. I commented on the sign and asked if he had a ďGinaĒ registered on the campsite roster. He didnít but would keep a look out for an Asian women (which I presumed from her surname) named ďGinaĒ. Gina must have been taken aback when the ranger pulled up to her campsite knowing her name.
Once together, we planned the day. Josh and his buddy headed to Ash Camp on the McCloud. The others would hang out for some casting instruction. Next we headed to the Castella Loop for some on the water instruction. Surprise! The group hadnít purchased their licenses yet. No problem, I set them up with indicator and split shot- no fly! This allowed Tim to fish while the others got some on the water experience.
We spent about an hour discussing the concept of lies, how to read water and collect bugs. Each person took a turn at nymphing. I ascribe to the philosophy that when you practice, you make it short and work at it only long enough to do it well but not so long that you start to develop bad habits or get sloppy. Each person practiced just long enough to get it, while the others watched. I hoped by watching one another the group might self correct their techniques- that is see in what one person was doing right, what they were doing wrong.
This was a whirlwind day to be sure. After the quick lesson, we headed to the Ted Fay fly shop for gear. The group needed fishing licenses and Ky-Van and Don needed waders. For anyone up in the Upper Sac area, the Ted Fay fly shop rents waders dirt cheap! I highly recommend them. The crew also picked up some local flies to fish.
It was early afternoon when we reached the McCloud. Tim seined the river which produced an October Caddis Pupa, some Stoneflies and some other very small insects which in hindsight I do not remember. I do remember one ugly and larger helgramite. The first Iíd ever seen up close and personal.
I donít remember the individual fly set ups and they would change throughout the day to be sure. I set each person up with a fly I had confidence in and a fly the fly shop recommended. The only fly I can remember for sure is a size 10 Red Fox Squirrel Hair Nymph I tied on for Don. I remember this distinctly because I caught a fish on this fly while demonstrating for Don. I thought it was cool that the fish hit the Red Fox Squirrel Hair nymph and was quite pleased.
The Red Fox Squirrel Hair nymph was first tied by Dave Whitlock of Bass Fly Fishing and Daveís Hopper fame. Mr. Whitlock is the quiet man of fly fishing. Fly fisher, fly tier, fly originator, fly fishing artist and conservationist, he is a true renaissance man. His Red Fox Squirrel hair nymph is popular in the mid west but I feel underrated here in California. I donít fish it myself, but feel it would be killer on the Upper Sac, McCloud and Hot Creek. I consider my ďspecial flyĒ to be a cross between the RFSH nymph and Birdís Nest. I used to call it a Birdís Nest but Andre Puyans took one look at it and said, ďThatís a good tie but thatís no Birds Nest!Ē So I guess itís a Birdís Nest variant.
We hit the water just below the Ash Camp bridge. I set Don up at the head of the run, with Gina below and Ky-Van just above. Gina took to fishing immediately and was soon working the run. At one point I turned around to see her up to her midsection in water, casting away. I chuckled and yelled down something about her being a super aggressive wader. Especially because she was wearing a wet suit with the top rolled down. I was cold, bundled up and dry in my waders and fleece jacket; she must have been freezing.
I spent the next hour or so running back and forth between the 3 beginning anglers before starting to fish myself.
I waded in below Gina at the tail of the pool. In a fairly conspicuous manner, I climbed over some in stream boulders to where I wanted to fish. I rigged up to shortline nymph. I donít remember which flies I used, probably a Beadhead Dark Lord or Prince nymph and my Birdís Nest variant. A small fish quickly snatched my flies. I made a few more attempts and moved up stream to where Don had fished. Again, I landed another small fish.
After a short while with no success, I targeted a rising fish on the far side of the stream. I cut off the nymphs and tied on a caddis cripple- my go to fly when it comes to dry fly fishing, regardless of whatís on the water.
After flailing the water unsuccessfully, I tied on a Blank Magic- a wet fly whose efficacy I recently discovered on a solo trip to the Cottonwood Lakes. Within a few casts I felt tugs on the end of my line. My wet fly technique is none existent so hooking these fish wasnít an option. It looks like I have another aspect of this great pastime of ours to explore.
I moved upstream and traded my wet fly for some yarn and heavy nymphs. Josh and his buddy had joined us and together with Gina and Tim, I made my way up stream. Tim played the fly on the wall and watched us fish. I wasnít fishing the yarn well but managed to hook a fish after working a pool fairly hard. The fish was summarily given a mid-stream release. I became bored and again switched to the indicator less shoreline method.
I headed upstream in search of short line water but again switched to the Black Magic when I found some fish working midstream. The water was much too deep to wade so I made quartering roll casts from the bank into the midstream current. The current grabbed my fly and presented it drag free down stream. Again I felt consistent tapping on the end of my fly line as fish after fish sucked in the submerged fly. I experimented with several different rod positions and finally hooked a small Ďbow.
The others had headed down stream at this time. I was the furthest upstream and decided that I didnít feel like boulder hopping. Iíd been practically stepping on snakes all day and didnít look forward to the possibility of stepping on a rattlesnake at dusk. Besides I thought, I climbed out of this canyon in í98; I can do it now.
ďWhat was I thinkingĒ. Those words rang over and over in my head as I found my self 40 feet above the river, with no were to go. From below the route up looked fairly simple, now with nothing but large, uneven stones below and loose gravel and dirt above I wondered how I was going to get myself out of this mess. I couldnít go back the way I came. I had used large rocks and small shrubs as foot and hand holds on the way up but most of these had slide down the canyon wall as I used them. I couldnít go up because there was nothing but dirt and rock above.
I was in quite the predicament. My only chance would be to jump to a small tree to my right and hope that it would hold my weight. The tree was low, sparse and had limbs which shot out at every angle. I was sure to get a limb in the face at best and slide to a very painful death at worse. To make maters worse, the holds that I was currently using were giving way under my weight. The slightest motion and I started to slide. I kept my position for what seemed like forever, thinking about how stupid this was and what it would be like for the others to find my limp, broken body sprawled out on the rocks below.
It was getting darker and soon I wouldnít have enough light so see. I decided to give it a shot. I threw my rod across to the tree. It landed, slid a short way and stopped. I then made my jump. My foot hold gave as I jumped and my left foot gave out from underneath me. I was going to land short of the tree and stretched my hands to grab anything. I managed to grab a rock, not knowing if it was going to hold. I had four points planted on the cliff side and managed to arrest my fall. I found myself in another predicament. A rock above the tree which I thought was firmly planted was not. I was really worried now. I gave serious thought to jumping back whence I came but the foot holds had slide away and I would surely side all the way to the river if I tried to go back.
The only place to go was up. The rock above me was a possibility but there were no hand holds, just a slight over hang at its edge. It would have to do. Again I threw my rod ahead of me, this time on the open face of the canyon wall. Again I jumped. I grabbed the underside of the overhang with both hands and using brute strength and some long forgotten rock climbing techniques, managed to bring myself to the rocks edge. I sat there like a squatting frog, my feet just below my hands, sticking out at a 90 degree angle from the wall. From there I managed to grab the top of the stone and clamor out of the canyon. I returned to the car and my waiting companions, dirty but none the worse for wear.
That night the group treated me to dinner, which was an especially nice as it has never been done before. Thanks again guys.
That night there was an incredible moon. Ky-Van, Don, Tim and I bivouacked at the campground. The moon was like a spot light and woke me as it drifted over the trees and into direct line with us. During the night, I began to hear a sniffing sound around my head. At first I ignored it. I have a dog and am used to hearing sniffing around me. Of course, my dog wasnít here and I felt pressure on my leg. Must be a bear I thought, Iíve seen more bears and bear sign here than in Yosemite. The worse thing I could think was startling a bear as a result of me being startled by it. The pressure on my leg subsided and I counted to 5 before I opened my eyes. I found Tim, who was sleeping to my left (the bear side) sitting up, stiff as a board.
The next morning we fished the Soda Creek area. The plan was to fish from below the bedrock to the cars. We didnít quite make it. This was supposed to be a day of ďadvancedĒ fishing techniques but I decided it best to just let everyone do there own thing, develop their own grove.
Tim asked that I critique his fishing, which I did. I think thereís a developmental stage that we self taught fly fishers come to- a hump of sorts that requires a little validation to get over. I went through it and employed a guide to guide me on my home river. After the guided trip, he told me that I didnít need the help. This complement, gave me added confidence and my fishing improved. Iím guessing that Tim sort of felt the same way I did and he too didnít need the help.
Timís method of indicator nymphing was right on the money. I showed him how to stack mend in order to get his fly down faster and how to fish a slack line in order to increase his distance.
Gina, always the inquisitive one, had further questions. I answered them to the best of my ability and showed her how to do the roll-cast pick up, how to change the direction of a cast and how to fish the clock with a dry fly using the reach cast. A lot to ingest on your second day of fly fishing but when someone is so inquisitive it doesnít hurt to overload them a little. Most of it wonít sink in immediately but subconsciously it will be there. Doug Lovell of the Fish First fly shop showed me an aerial mend during my first year of fly fishing. I didnít get its significance and start to use it until 2 years later. Maybe Gina will have a similar flash back in years to come.
Ky-van and Don fished, picnicked and fished some more.
Instruction done for the day, I fished my Birdís Nest variant on a short line. I teach people indicator nymphing because, after dry fly, itís the easiest way to catch fish but I love the short line. Iím sure this confused Tim a bit as I had them fishing one way and I was fishing another.
Fishing a short line when fish arenít aggressive isnít easy. Many beginners have difficulty watching there indicator, let alone watching a near invisible strand of monofilament or worse yet, trying to anticipate the location of a submerged nymph and looking for the flash of a fishís side or ďwinkĒ of itís mouth. In addition, indicator nymphing makes depth control easy. You simply move your indicator up or down the leader and mend the line. With out an indicator, you have to feel were the nymph is and adjust. Each cast is different and you have to be able to consistently allow the nymph to attain and drift at the proper depth.
Short line nymphing excels in riffles and pocket water but is supper challenging in longer runs and deep pool. The Upper Sac has both and my highlight of the day was hooking a 14 inch rainbow in the run just below the bedrock. The current is swift here and I followed the fish around, trying to keep it on a short line. The fish ran high, low and across the river before ducking under the bank and breaking off.
Fishing was consistent but slow in the bedrock. Tim was catching fish but no one else was. I made my way past Ky-van and Don, with their small backpacking stove, to where Gina and Tim were fishing. They were in a good run and I expected them to catch fish. It was mid afternoon and I let them know I was heading to the pocket water up stream. I wanted them to join me but didnít want to coerce them. Each angler has there own fishing pace and I decided to let Gina and Tim find theirs. I firmly believe that a great deal of fishing is feel and instinct. You have to feel when itís time to change flies, techniques or move on. Each person has there own rhythm, mine was telling me to move on.
I did and proceeded to experience the best hour of fishing in my life. It went something like this- first cast, fish. Third cast, fish. Fourth cast, fish. Seventh cast, fish. After landing 6 or 7 fish in the first 10 minutes, I waded downstream to find the others. They were gone! A women sun bathing near by told me that one woman had left (Gina I presumed) and the others had wandered down stream. A little confused, I returned to the pocket water, hoping that the others would come looking for me.
I worked the pocket water casting 10 Ė 20 feet in front of me. Iíd make one cast to a particular current seam, take a step and cast to another. Once I had worked my way across stream, I retraced my steps to shore, took two steps upstream and repeated the pattern. I donít know how many fish I took and you wouldnít believe me if I did. For this stretch of water, on this day, at this time, it was a very effective method and loads of fun.
I returned to the car a bit tardy and found Don and Ky-Van waiting for me. We dropped of their rentals and headed home.