April 29, 2000 Upper Sacramento

Opening Day! It’s been some time since I’ve been able to fish on opening day. This trip was listed as a beginner’s trip and despite some last minute cancellations, I was joined by Fly Fishing Pupil Extraordinare Gino and Fly Caster Naturale Julie.

Fishing strategies on opening day are pretty standard- DON'T FISH or fish high on some favorite river above all the tributaries or better yet, the tributaries themselves. Wherever you go, water temperature is probably key and the sunnier and slower the better.  We fished the Upper Sac and stayed above all but one tributary.

The day started with an announcement from me that I had to return to the Bay Area that night but that I’d leave rods and reels for Gino and Julie to fish with. We then  proceeded to visit different parts of the river so that I could discuss reading the water  and entomology.  Our first stop was Castle Crags Park in Castella. The river here could be described in two words- blown out! Still it afforded me the opportunity to explain some high water fishing strategies. Next on the agenda was Soda Creek.

Soda Creek is a favorite area of mine, I visit it a couple times a year and enjoy the hike up to Soda from the Park. The river here was high but definitely fishable. It was also crowded. About a half dozen fly fishers joined by what was probably 10 spin fishers, judging by the number of cars. I’d never seen it this crowded before but that didn’t matter, we weren’t going to fish here.  We we’re there to seine the river and this we did. We found several small (October?) cased caddis, some growing green drake nymphs, some dark green rock worms and a few small stoneflies.  I pretty much expected this, so we where well prepared.

After a short trip to the Ted Fay Fly Shop, we made our way to Cantara Rd. Once on the river I set Gino up on a small run and took Julie upstream a bit. The plan was to show them how to nymph here and then make our way upstream. I’d set one up one place and the other at a different place and make my way back and forth between them. I set Julie up on a rock overlooking a riffle (she had no waders) and made my way back to Gino.  Gino was doing fine, I provided a couple of pointers and told him I’d meet him upstream with Julie. Upstream Julie had decided to stop fishing and take a nap. Taking the hint, I made my way further upstream in order to scout out some good water for Gino.

Gino was taking a little longer than I expected to catch up, so I decided to bide my time fishing the pool just above Julie. The water was beautiful and a perfect holding spot under these conditions. It was a large pool just below a riffle and just above another. The water swept to the far side of the pool and deepened  gradually out from shore.  As Gino made his way upstream, I attacked this pool from all sorts of different angles- up, down, across, from the near bank to the far, throwing about a half dozen casts to each likely spot. I definitely fished this pool too long but after finally getting some hook ups and figuring out where the fish where, I wasn’t prepared to leave it.

The fish it turns out where holding on the far bank just toward the tail of the pool. A rock outcropping created a little eddy and the fish where holding between this eddy and a seam of fast and slow water.  After some thought and trial and error, I figured out where the optimal vantage point was to get at these fish. I waved for Gino to come over and set him up about parallel to where the fish where holding, on the other side of the fast water. This was a vantage point from which, with the proper drift, the fly would drift perfectly through the holding lie, with the angler far enough not to spoke the fish and close enough to maintain good like control.

The problem was getting that perfect drift. The fly had to be placed in the slow water, across from a tongue of faster water. Between us and this fast water was more slow water. Cast to far, and the fly would end up in the backward swirling eddy and stall or get hung up. Mend poorly and  your fly would turn into the atomic nymph and shoot past the lie at mach speed or not sink to fishing depth. Maintain poor line control and just about anything could happen. Gino didn’t know it, but this was a tough nymphing situation which would allow me the opportunity to explain how to deal with multiple and alternating currents. It would be a good lesson.

Gino spent the next hour learning the importance of mending and keeping  line off the water in order to get that perfect drift. We also discussed when to keep a tight line and when to introduce slack.  He fished, while I barked out his mistakes to him. Twice while demonstrating two distinct methods of fishing this area, I had the good fortune of hooking fish.  I always like when this happens. First- because its…well… cool, second- it means I’M fishing (just kidding) and third and most importantly, it shows that the techniques I’m demonstrating work.

After flogging the water for a while, Gino took a break to warm up a bit. While he warmed up I attempted to fish the same lie with little success. I love my little Tonka Queen 7’9” Hi Quality Bamboo Fishing Rod but I’ve finally succumbed to the realization that (with my present skill level)  for distance nymphing, requiring heavy mending, the TQ just falls short. This would become more evident when an hour later I would return to the same spot with a 9ft rod and be rewarded with multiple hook ups.

Gino warmed up and we headed upstream, fishing the edges and quiet pockets as we did so.  Upstream from the pool was typical Upper Sac water and we had a hard time interesting fish in Gino’s nymph or my Stimulator. After about 45 minutes, we headed back down stream. Our plan was to get in the car and fish further upstream. On a whim I decided to have another go at that large pool we’d fish earlier. This time with the 9ft 5wt that I’d given Julie to fish with.

Too lazy to fish yarn, I lobbed one of Gino’s cork indicators and a duo of  flies toward the familiar lie. Within a few casts I hooked a fish and….promptly lost it.  This scenario would play again and again and again.  I must have hooked close to seven fish. I finally got the point where I simply wanted to TOUCH one of the fish. The closest I’d come all day was a fish that flipped off just as I was trying to cradle him in my hand. Then it finally happened. I hooked a fish and hooked it well. It ran down stream a bit and I ran after it, determined not to lose it.  At one point the fish turned and inches from the surface, shook it’s head like crazy. It was the first time that I’d seen such a small fish (11 inches or there about) head shake.

After releasing the fish, I waved Gino over. Set up in the same spot as before, Gino was able to hook a fish. Unfortunately, the scenario was much as it was before and the fish jumped off at the last minute. The sun had now left the canyon and it was time to call it a day. We packed out gear and headed to the Cornerstone Café for a well needed meal.

After dinner Gino, Julie and I parted ways.  Gino fished another day and would hook 8 fish. He's well on his way to becoming a great flyfisher.  I pointed the nose of my car south and headed home. A rusty brown colored Black Bear hopped the freeway in front of me while Mt. Shasta faded in my rear view mirror. It was a fitting end to a pleasant weekend.
(Pictures courtesy of Gino and Julie.)

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