Thursday, September 17, 2009

Adverse 3

The third event involved the McCloud and the Upper Sacramento rivers. I met Chris the first week of November to fish the October Caddis hatch and close the season on the McCloud. I had fished the Feather on the way up and had caught an kept a nice hatchery Central Valley steelhead. My intention was to cook it for diner the the first night of our stay at Ash Camp. We had the site that is situated overlooking Hawkins Creek. The fire pit is at the edge of a cliff that stands eight to ten feet above the creek.
When we returned from fishing it was completely dark. While preparing the fire to cook the steelhead and placing a support rock in the pit, I stepped around the back and stepped into thin air. One foot was left on the top of the cliff as my other sought the bank. Something had to give; it was my groin. Luckily, I didn't hit my head or I probably won't be writing this essay. I still had waders and boots on and was protected from the bruises and cuts that usually accompany such a fall, but the following day I knew I was in bad shape.
The McCloud is a rugged wade. To fish it well you need to be somewhat of a gymnast to climb/crawl over and around the man size, car size and even bigger boulders. With my groin pulled, my stride was reduced to 10" and even that was painful. The thought of quitting or remaining in camp was not an option. Crestfallen about my condition, I resolved to make the best of a bad situation. After all, the country was beautiful, the leaves were turning in the the crisp autumn air and I had the companionship of my nephew. With aspirin and ibuprofen I could manage to 'baby step'around. Hoping optimistically, I might catch something from the at the edge of the path I followed Chris out of camp on the the Pacific Crest Trail and crossed the foot bridge over the McCloud.
All day I stumbled and crawled my way along the river bank. Every step was a painful challenge and my difficulties were compounded by a lite rain that made the rocks, mud and leaves more slippery. Though I had adjusted my expectations downward I had not expected to be so thoroughly skunked. My disappointment and self loathing were made more acute in relation to Chris's bountiful successes. For once the end of a fishing day came as a relief.
Back in camp, I stretched out on my bunk. The thought of not moving for twelve hours brought a sense of intoxicating relief. In my reverie, I was contemplating the closed loop of pleasure and pain as taught in Hatha Yoga when my rest was cut short by the appearance of a shinny new Mercedes van pulling into the site above. I peered out the window a saw the entire inhabitants of the campground were gathered around it. Pulling myself out I waddled up and was offered a beer. Whether it was a Summer Fest, October Fest, Dark Stout, I.P.A. or some more exotic brew is a blur. I do know by the end of the night we had accommodated the owners of E.J Phair Micro-brewery in Walnut Creek and taste tested all their fine brews multiple times. We aided them in their search for good tasting beer and in the process I found some temporary relief from the pain in my groin.
Strangely, the medicinal effects of fermented hops did nothing to improve my fishing and by noon the next day I was relieved to leave. It had been frustrating to be so close to the best trout fishing in the world and not fully participate. The trip had not been a complete wash. I had caught that steelhead on the way up, Chris had done well and the beer truck guys were fun. The problem had been getting around that very rough country with out the full use of my legs.
Driving down I5 from Mt. Shasta south I was still wanting some sort of fishing success. The Sacramento River glittered in the canyon below. It was late afternoon - fisherman's 'Happy Hour'. When I saw a good exit (Conant), I took it.
The Upper Sacramento, The Pitt and the McCloud are like three sisters. They share similar features. But, if you were to line them up for a family photo or if you were at a party with them, all eyes would fall on the McCloud. She exudes beauty and purity. The McCloud is, after all, one of the few rivers the area that did not suffer the corrosive effects of gold. Likewise much of it is still in private hands and is managed very carefully. Fishing either the Pitt or the Upper Sac is usually a second choice for me.
Though the wading conditions in the upper reaches of the Upper Sacramento River are much like the McCloud; the nature of the river changes south of Dunsmuir. It levels out and the banks are more apt to be lined with smaller boulders or even gravel. For me, in my challenged condition, this meant easier wading.
I started at the lower end of the beat at Conant and worked my way up. The lack of obstacles allowed me to maintain a rhythm of casting and wading - something I had not been able to do on the McCloud. Remembering that dark nymphs were productive on this river, I cinched on a black bead headed stonefly nymph. I began to catch small fish right away. By the time I was at the top of the second riffle they were getting bigger.
There, a pool is split by a giant boulder and the two legs of the divided current had pushed gravel into a wadeable bar in the center of the pool. Both sides are more than five feet deep - deep enough to hold fish. Buoyed by the river water I had little weight on my legs. I was catching fish and feeling no pain. Continuing to work my fly further in the slot my indicator paused. The fish I had on this time was big - really big. Slowly at first and then with more vigor he dashed about the pool - my line zipped through the water surface following the fish. Unable to shake my hook or break the line, eventually, decisively it turned to go downstream.
Light simple tackle and small barbless hooks make landing a big fish on a fly rod is a battle of wits and instinct. No two fish are alike. Some hooked some fish remain calm and deliberative, while others expend much energy in panicky runs and leaps, but when a big fish turns downstream, it as if the referee just called:
"Advantage Fish".
The added weight of the water pressure caused by the fish being downstream and the fact I had to follow made for a dynamic battle. The "following" part was particularly difficult. The slippery rocks underfoot threaten to trip me up at every instant. The fish went through two long riffles which was the equivalent of a football field of slippery rocks for me. Luckily, it held up few times en route and gave me a chance to catch up. Finally I could coax it to shore and release it. It was easily bigger than the Feather River steelhead I had brought to the McCloud; that was 19". It was definitely the largest fish I had ever caught on the Sacramento. In a flash, all the pain endured for the past few days became worthwhile.
"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's mind there are few."* There is 'beginner's luck' in fishing, likewise to the experienced, resistance and challenge are often signs of proximity to good fortune and insight. If you sprain your ankle, brake your rod or loose your car keys in the river; there's a good chance the best fish you ever caught is, just dying to meet you.

* Susuki Roshi

About the pictures sent by friend Beckett:

more on thomson...if interested
as i remain uncertain as to whether or not you like thomson's paintings
but i trek forward with the interesting yet unsolved story of his demise
Thomson disappeared during a [[canoe]]ing trip on [[Canoe Lake (Nipissing District, Ontario)|Canoe Lake]] in [[Algonquin Park]] on July 8, 1917 and his body was discovered in the lake eight days later. The official cause of death was accidental [[drowning]], but there are still questions about how he actually died. It was reported that there was fishing line wrapped around his leg seventeen times and he had a head injury (which may have been post mortem).{{Fact|date=May 2008}} It has also been speculated that he was murdered by a [[German-American]] neighbour, Martin Blecher, Jr., or that he fell on a fire grate during a drunken brawl with J. Shannon Fraser, owner of Canoe Lake's Mowat Lodge, over an old loan to Fraser for the purchase of canoes. Thomson allegedly needed the money for a new suit to marry Winnifred Trainor, whose parents had a cottage at [[Canoe Lake]]. Rumours circulated following his drowning that she was pregnant with Thomson's child. Winnifred Trainor made a trip to Philadelphia with her mother the following winter and returned around Easter. She never spoke about her relationship with Thomson. A nephew, Terrance Trainor McCormick, an upper New York resident who inherited her estate, which included at least 13 small Thomson paintings and letters, said the letters confirm their engagement. McCormick has refused to produce the letters for scholarly investigation. Others believe that Thomson, who produced at least 63 landscape paintings that last spring, many of which he gave away or discarded, suffered severe depression and drowned himself. He was buried at Canoe Lake in Algonquin Park on July 17, 1917, without family members having seen the body. Under the direction of his older brother, George Thomson, the body was exhumed two days later and re-interred in the family plot beside the Leith [[Presbyterian Church]] on July 21. None of these theories are conclusive, and the wide range of speculation serves mostly to perpetuate Thomson's romantic legend.Town and Silcox, page 208.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Adverse 2, continue

I stumbled eagerly over the slick bowling ball sized boulders to where Jack had been standing.
"Cast straight out to that bush and let your fly swing into the deeper water" he called out over the sound of the river.
"Right, OK. " I yelled back, then looked at the opposite. bank - It was full of bushes.
"The green one ", Jack clarified.
The green one ? Big help. They're all green. I kept casting then moved closer to where I had seen Jack standing. Casting to some slack water on the far side I could see a teeny splash where my fly landed in the smooth water. Immediately, I mended the line, moments later the faster water of the riffle pulled my line even with my fly and the whole rig drifted in a straight line into the head of the pool. The fly was, maybe, six inches below the surface when suddenly it went taunt. I pulled up, it stayed fixed and my rod double over then jerked over further. Fish on! Wow.
" You got 'em! ", Jack called. I moved downstream to land my fish in the calmer water of the pool. As Bill moved into place and began casting, I saw the bush on the bank and sure enough, it was GREEN!
Within a few casts Bill had a fish on. Success. Instantly all was forgiven; hard was easy, black was white. What followed was somewhat unique in fishing practices. The three of us shared the "Spot" in a kind of cooperative dance. We took turns wading in, casting out ten or twenty times, maybe catching a fish and then moving off. In between turns we would exchange stories at the bench. At this time, it became evident that Jack was here on his own and that he had hiked in. Not wanting to repeat the gruesome journey we had made on our way in; I asked him how he had gotten here. In answer he pointed to another bush and said,
"There's a trail that goes straight up to the road".
I went to look. Near where we had crawled in, was a small cave-like opening and a well worn trail led up the bank. Satisfied we had a graceful exit, I returned to the bench where Jack was explaining to Bill the dynamics of this particular fishing hole. He was telling Bill why he had faith in this spot like no other. His message was paradoxical and compelling.
"You see", he said, drawing a broad arc with his hand as he pointed to the sky down river, "By noon the sun has cleared those trees and all the fish that are moving up shelter in the pool. Then, by one o'clock, there's a good bunch of 'em in there, and, with the sun on their backs, they've got nothing to do but bite."
Now, the sun had dipped below the trees on the far side of the bank, their shadows were stretching across the pool. As if to add weight to his theory, Jack was packing to leave.
After all we had been through, we weren't about to quit. We watched as Jack ambled across the gravel bar and disappear into brush. He had given us the keys and left. Ash darkened sky quickly made afternoon evening. The smoke filled atmosphere was tense. We alternately fished and watched as the proximity of the fire made the animals of the forest act unusually bold. Despite what Jack had said there were still plenty of fish to be caught. Again, standing in contrast to our environment, we recreated playfully while all creation was ablaze. A deer bounded into the river and swam across just above us. Later, a bear slid down the bank and waded clumsily in water on the far side. Then,a snake curled black and white, black and white amongst the grey stones of the beach. There it was; Apocalypse Now, End of Days. Tall trees stood bravely and creatures were set in motion by an impending inferno. With the disaster of the great Biscuit Fire so close at hand, the whole scene was made, at once, magic and real by the sense of fragility and doom.