Friday, May 2, 2008

Opening Day on the McCloud

In the past I had always waited until the end of May to fish the McCloud. This year, however, business brought my to the area early so I decided to see what the river looked and fished like at the end of April.
When driving up from the Bay Area snow was visible from I-5 in the Coastal Range as far south as Williams. I encountered snow again the night as I drove around McCloud Reservoir to Ash Camp. It had been warm in the valley (the 80s ) a few days before so my first concern was that Hawkens Creek would be discharging snow melt and discolor the McCloud. The camp ground was full. I squeezed into a spot and turned off the motor. The vigorous sound of the creek filled the valley.
When there was enough light, the next morning, I picked my way around dormant campsites and big boulders to the mouth of Hawkins Creek where it enters the McCloud. It was running clear and that bode well for fishing.
The McCloud is known to be a late riser. Those who know it well don't fish it before 11 a.m. I figured if I got out there by 1 p.m I could see if there would be any surface activity. Loafing around, perfecting my campsite and observing my fellow pescadors I set in to pass the morning hours. "Better to have loafed and lost than never to have loafed at all" - my morning's motto. A band of Belushis pull in. Heavy set with thick dark arched eyebrows and nervous energy, they stood around on their heals waiting their turn at the outhouse. They came, they shat, they left. Then there is a contractor's truck parked near by. He has the name of his company emblazoned on the side of his truck - " Hand Nailed Homes ". I imagine the international red circle with a red diagonal strike through a depiction of a nail gun. Later I view himself - simple honesty is the impression he casts. I make a pencil schetch of my view of Hawkins Creek. Landscapes with just a pencil are tough. All renditions just tend toward the symbolic like letters in a word. At 11:30 the camp clears and feels private. I do Yoga. Some guys in camo return. They pay no attention to my contortions. But what if I had been a beautiful woman! My every move would be observed, studied and scrutinized. Thank God I am not - may I never be born a beautiful woman - what suffering, what fleeting power.
By 1 p.m. I am geared up and hobbling down the river's edge. They are few if any bugs in the air and certainly no fish feeding on the surface. The day is warming rapidly and I am hopeful. But, after an hour or so of casting about, I decided to just sit and observe my inner and outer life at this place on the river. Finding a comfortable spot, I put my attention on the more subtle goings on and try not to look for fishy activity. Nearly an hour later I notice there are more bugs in the air. I have not seen one fish rise. I tie a Parachute Adams to end of my leader. While still sitting, I let fly a cast of no expectations. I watch the fly bobble and glide through uneven water. As the fly begins to float below me, I maintain as dead a drift as possible. Suddenly the fly is pulled under and a fish is pulling hard and taking off down stream. I scramble to my feet, it jumps and I can see its a dark rainbow about 14" long. It continues a headlong rush down stream and just as suddenly as on, it is off.
Thinking I have found the key, I continue to fish the Adams. Nothing, so, as the sun lowers and shadows lengthen, I give into nymphing. With the experience of the Yuba informing me, I find a #10 or 12 bead head Pheasant Tail to tie behind a larger stone type fly. By this time I've worked my way back to close to the campground and found a spot where the river crashes at right angle against the high bank of the river. There is some obvious holding water that might still be productive this early in the season. Rhythmically moving upstream and laying my two nymphal offerings, the split shot and strike indicator before me, I carefully cover this hole. As I approach the top the indicator pauses, I pull up - too late. Three more presentations and another pause. This time I'm ready and as I pull up I feel a heavy throb and my rod tip doubles down. This fish also shoots straight down river but I am able to keep it in shallow water and rob it of traction. See pic - its the big one- the fish I mean.