Northern California

Alone in the Woods

As a principal of a school, I'm given many gifts.  I'm able to support teachers in growing their skills, connect with kids, and build a feeling of community at our school.  It's truly rewarding work and I love it.  However, it's a lot of long hours saturated with stress.  Fortunately, I get a good deal of time off to rest and reconnect with nature.  Over winter break I took some time out from family obligations and went north on my own.  Over the course of two days, I explored some of my favorite rivers and to my delight, they allowed me complete solitude. On one of those rivers, I spent the day being rained on while gliding nymphs through off colored pocket water.  The cold weather and damp conditions kept everyone near the fire while I was waist deep, balancing on submerged boulders. 

As anticipated, there were plenty of fish to be had.  I've fished this particular river for about four years now, mostly solo.  There are a few spots that consistently produce fish and they're always rainbows, sometimes big ones.  However, this time, I was able to hook up with a nice 19-20" brown that caught me by surprise.  Once I landed that big girl, the rest of the day was icing on the cake.  I fished slowly, reflecting on the beauty of the river, and took every opportunity to soak in the solitude.  Towards the end of the day I explored some new water that had piqued my interest on my last trip. The new water greeted me with good success.  I'm not sure about you, but when I'm on my own, I tend to fish the places I know well.  The places I know produce fish and that I know few people will be.  Sometimes getting away from that routine can be just as, if not more, rewarding. As the sun began to dip behind the pines, I took my last few casts and walked back up the steep dirt trial to my car.  With a deep breath and an even deeper sense of contentment, I packed up my fly boxes, broke down my rod, and drove back to the quiet hum of a small mountain town for the evening.  

Why I Fish...

In the past few months I've talked about some of the reasons fishing is such a passion for me.  From the complex puzzle trout and moving water present to the beautiful landscapes, and escape from the stresses of every day life, the reasons I fish are many.  Most of which are actually pretty hard to articulate in writing, it's something you just have to experience.  However, we all know the power of a good friend.  A solid fishing buddy is that and so much more. 

When I'm on the water, I'm more than happy to spend a few days adventuring on my own.  The solitude and silence of being alone in nature is a really great reset button for a self-identified introvert like myself.  On the other hand, fishing with a friend or two makes things that much better.  Over the years I've fished with quite a few really great people.  Some I met in college others through Instagram or at the Golden Gate Angling and Casting Club.   Regardless of where they've come from,  being immersed in nature with a good friend tends to magnify the experience of fooling a tricky brown trout or landing that pig that crushed a 6 inch articulated streamer. 

When I'm out on the river with a buddy our approaches vary depending on the water we're fishing.  Some days we get to the river and fish "together" giving thumbs up and the occasional hoot or holler from a few holes apart.  Other times we're on tiny creeks trading runs and riffles.  One of us sneaks up on the fish while the other tries to spot feeding fish.  By approaching the river as a team we get to trade tips, advice, flies, and help with the netting or photography of a really nice catch.  

Fishing with a friend also gives you time to share stories of fishing adventures past.  Long car rides or post river beverages give plenty of time to reminisce about that one pond we'd sneak onto in college, the last trip to Montana, or that rainbow that aired out three times before spitting the hook earlier in the day.  This type of comradarie make me enjoy this sport more that I would if I was on the river alone.  It's a chance to connect about the happenings of life, push each other to make a cleaner cast, and share in the beauty of the places that fishing takes us.

I'll always appreciate my time on the river alone but sharing the experience with a friend, building relationships, community, and a shared story makes this sport a really special one.  I'm not sure if it's just the people I've met through fishing or if it's just anglers in general that seem to be really solid people.  We're fortunate to share this great passion and I feel lucky to have friends willing to get out on the river with me.  Friends that will fish for 12 hours without hesitation. Friends willing to hike long trails or dip into unknown creeks to chase wild fish.  A good fishing buddy is hard to find and even more challenging to replace.  I fish because sharing this passion with a friend makes the experience of adventuring through mountains and rivers more memorable. 

Get out there and bring your buddy!

The Addiction is Real

We've all heard the stories surrounding steelhead.  Fly fisherman obsessively drawn to winter rivers swollen with rain, cold temperatures made worse by driving rain bordering on sleet, and cast after fish-less cast surrounded by endless wilderness.  Until this year, steelhead fishing was a once a year proposition.  Something my uncle and I did right before Christmas.  Nothing like the steelhead lifestyle I'd read about in books and magazine articles.  The authors always seem to describe people hypnotized by the chase of steelhead.  Most of the stories had more to do with surviving the elements and keeping warm with fire water than they did with fish. 

This season, however, I've begun to more clearly understand the steelhead narrative.  It started in October with a seemingly innocuous, unguided, trip to a Northern California steelhead river.  My friend Aaron and I spent three full days (sun up to sun down) relentlessly searching for fish.  Each run we fished look more likely than the last.  By the end of the weekend, we'd hooked and landed two smallish steelhead and I had shattered a rod while setting up my drift.  In all, a mildly successful steelhead trip.

Since then, I've been twice more. Each trip becoming more successful than the last.  Better river conditions, cleaner drifts, and bigger fish, up the appeal each time.  It's never easy, but when you hook one of these fish... there's no turning back.  Steelhead give real meaning to the phrase, "The tug, is the drug". 

The problem with steelhead fishing though, is that it's highly dependent on weather and river conditions.  In my case, most good steelhead rivers are about 5 hours from home, so access isn't exactly easy.  Rains bring the rivers up quickly, so planning a trip 2-3 weeks out is a practice in futility.  Sometimes, it all comes into place though. When you're lucky you hit the river just as it begins to drop, turning water from chocolate milk brown to steelhead green.  That nearly turquoise color sliding by the feet of tall pines and redwoods sets the scene.  You hook into a fish and instantly, it runs.  Never in a predictable direction.  If you're not on your game, you'll have fly line wrapped around your fighting butt and a snapped tippet in the blink of an eye.  When you do bring that fish to hand though, it's well worth it.  The effort, weather, and unpredictability all drift away when you feel the weight of thousands of years of anadromous evolution in your hands. Whether they're chrome bright with transparent fins or dark green with rosy cheeks, they're a sight to behold.  It's enough to have you dreaming about them in your spare time, tying flies late into the night, and forgoing plans with friends when the river conditions are just right.  

Steelhead fishing is more than the pursuit of fish.  It's about a state of mind.  A lifestyle.  The fish are a big part of it but it's the search, anticipation, and constant optimism that make it an addiction.  The feeling consumes you whether you land fish or not. I use to lament the day that trout season ended but for years to come, it will only be a signal that steelhead fishing is right around the corner.  

Why I Fish...

We all search for fish for different reasons.  Personally, each trip has a slightly different purpose for me.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, fishing provides a great opportunity to forget about the stresses of the day-to-day work I do.  It gives me time to intently focus on reading water, thinking about fish, and presenting flies in the most natural possible way.  

Stress relief is only one of the reasons chasing wild fish matters to me.  I was drawn to fishing as a child because of the beautiful, wild places that fish (particularly salmonids) tend to live.  These wild places make you feel truly small.  Whether you're in the High Sierra, Patagonia, or the massive landscapes of Montana, the search for wild trout will make you feel small.  

Earlier this fall a buddy of mine and I met up on one of my favorite Northern California trout rivers.  This place is truly wild!  Very few people come to fish here.  The access is tough, the wading is next to impossible, and the river flows are higher than most feel comfortable with.  However, this makes for happy, healthy fish!  Over the course of the weekend we spent nearly every sun soaked hour waist deep in the river's cold, nutrient rich waters.  The banks of this river are literally choked with vegetation.  Once you step foot in the river, you're almost instantly three feet deep, stumbling over bowling ball sized rocks covered in what amounts to grease.  Its a challenging river to wade that I don't recommend fishing alone.  

While we were there, we stayed in an old abandoned camp ground on the opposite side of the river from the main access road.  This led to a weekend without seeing a soul.  We had the river to ourselves and it was amazing.  The quiet, solitude of the river.  The deep, persuasive waters.  The strong, healthy wild fish, all made for a weekend where we felt truly immersed in the wild places we love.  It's a humbling experience to know the river you're in has the upper hand and that you've got to think about every step you make to avoid serious consequences.  It's humbling to be in a river completely surrounded by mountains, trees, osprey, and king fishers.  It's fishing in places like this that make me feel truly small.  This humbling experience brings perspective to my place on planet earth.  We're part of a system that is much, much bigger than we are.  It's important for us to recognize that from time to time.  We have the potential to have an impact on the resources we use, lets make sure our role has a net positive impact on the wild places we love to fly fish.