Saturday, November 28, 2009
" As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said "No Trespassing."
But on the other side it didn't say nothing,
That side was made for you and me." W.G.,1940
The McCloud River has some of the best river fishing that is open to the public in the in the world. It is always beautiful but there are two times a year that draw special attention from fishermen. One is spring - that is generally any time after opening day in April and until early July. The other is the first two weeks in November - the last two weeks of the season.
Fall fishing is particularly interesting because it includes the presence of October Caddis and large spawning German Brown trout. Because of the trifecta of big bugs, big fish and the end of the season, groups of fishermen make yearly pilgramiges to the two public campgrounds below the the dam.
Typically, fishermen are a solitary lot but things are different this time of year. With these recurring visits by groups of divergent fishermen from parts of California, Oregon and beyond friendships and rituals have been established that are unique to the modern fishing culture. It has become a kind of "Burning Man" of fishing where interests and personalities meet, innovate and ultimately form culture.
The action occurs in the campgrounds of Ash Camp and Ah-Di-Nah. The weather is uncertain often raining, sometimes snowing, so the creation of a comfortable campsite is important to its social viability. To begin with a well managed campfire is of great importance. This means an abundance of fire wood must be brought in. Also, in the more established sites, the campfires and picnic benches are covered by a big external tents. The evolution of the"outer tent" is of particular interest to the urban anthropologist. It must be constructed to withstand the elements and high enough from the ground so that the smoke from the campfire can dissipate. The campsite must also be well positioned to attract and accept visitors from other sites. Because no two sites are the same the tents become a unique expression of its makers. But as with much human creation, the visible is secondary to the invisible and the "tent" becomes a Tent for the communion of personality, politics and spirit.
In my visits to the McCloud at this time of year I have visited Tents from Walnut Creek, L.A., Silicon Valley and the Northern Coast. Each Tent had elements common and unique. The most distinguishing characteristics to each Tent are what could be called the drug of choice. For example, when Chris and I visited the Walnut Creek Tent at Ash Camp there was great selection of micro-brew beer served. see : http://fishemail.blogspot.com/2009_09_01_archive.html ("Adverse Fishing 3"). At other times, I have experienced the generosity of a Silicon Valley Tent where many fine wines were to be had. Of course the best weed was from the North Coast Tent. For a few seasons there was a Tent known as the "Gourmet Brothers". "The Gourmet Brother's" were a gay couple from L.A. who were famous for their satellite T.V and lavish feats including live lobster, caviar and champagne - all presented under the canopy of stars in the wilderness on the McCloud.
However, all is not distraction and merriment. There is serious exploration occurring within these groups. No Tent is complete without the presence of a fly tying area. Established and original fly patterns are developed and processed, and of course, fishing techniques and observations are shared at these tables.
"Foster's' Tent" has taken shape under the the persistent presence of David Foster. Dave's experience on the McCloud spans over thirty years and includes fishing the private waters in the Hearst Wyntoon properties and the Ballibokka Club. Dave's adventures include, as do all who visit the McCloud regularly, numerous encounters with bears and rattlesnakes, but, he is probably unique in having spent an entire night, in the river, with his foot trapped under a boulder.
Dave and lately Tom, set their Tent for both the opening and the closing of the season on the McCloud. In my last visit I saw the emergence of a new faces - young men sometimes fishing the McCloud for the first time. Some of them made there way over to Foster's Tent. It was great to see their fresh passion interact with the experience and wisdom of the regulars at Foster's Tent. Guys like Jim Moloney and Charley Ivor. Men up to the challenges of catch fishing in public water.
'Foster's Tent' is an expression of a culture has arisen over the fifty years since the installation of the dam at Lake McCloud, but the McCloud River is steeped in fishing lore and culture since the nineteenth century. There are ruins at Ah-Di-Nah that attest to white man's enduring interest in the McCloud as a river to fish. There also an abundance of Indian artifacts to be found that demonstrate the aboriginal inhabitants realized this river here was a special and unique fishing area.
This current culture of fishing with its long roots to the past and its vibrant future is now threaten by a group of well placed kayakers. These people, some of them in public offices, wish to manipulate the flows of the water into the river to accommodate their desire to kayak the river. They would like the flows to be increased during the warmer months of the year because, naturally, that is the comfortable time of year to kayak. Unfortunately for fishermen higher flows would be disastrous. The warmer months - April through November - are also the months the river is open for fishing. The higher flows would essentially limit fishing the to one side of the river by making it impossible to ford. It would also make the center of the river largely inaccessible and push all the anglers to one side. The well established riparian insect populations would also be severely threaten.
The pristine quality of the McCloud has survived numerous onslaughts over the years from logging companies and most recently from "Nestle's Food Company" http://www.redding.com/news/2009/sep/11/nestle-drops-mccloud-bottling-plant-plans/. The success of these battles were due largely to the combined voices of dedicated fishermen who are passionate about the river. To allow the kayaker's to turn the McCloud into a joy ride and ruin the its amazing fishing characteristics would be a crime.
Sunday, November 22, 2009
I left for Oregon Tuesday and made it to 'Valley of the Rogue State Park' that night. It was raining and dark when I arrived. Tired, bleary eyed, I found a campsite one hundred yards from the piece of river I planned to fish the following morning.
Fishing sites along Highways is not to encounter wilderness in its pristine form. Often the sound of the rush of traffic is equal to the rush of the river and it is as common to snag a stray shopping cart as to hook a wild fish. But, these are the times we live in and I consider it a kind of reality check to fish 'trampled' waters.
After a good night's sleep I had no luck at this I5 hole. I did find a good cup of coffee in the town of Rogue River and this I sipped with warm satisfaction on my way through Merlin to 'Carpenter's Island'. There after fording chest high cold water I got to the island that cuts the Rogue almost in half. After a few hours of flogging the water, I found my way to success.
It happened as I was negotiating my way around a bush that was hanging out into the river. I was holding my rod away from the tree and grabbing a branch for balance as I manoeuvred my way about it. Having not reeled in my gear, the line floated freely, the fly anonymously downstream when like the flash of the paparazzi camera my fly was recognized in its aquatic milieu. The loosely held rod popped out of my hand; pulled away by an adoring fan. Watching my rod swim rapidly down stream, I realized I must act. I dove into the frigid river head first in time to catch the butt of the rod. Pulling myself and the rod up out of the water I felt the big fish tugging. As cold water moved inside my waders from my upper body, to my yet warm crotch, to my extremities I struggled to gain control of the fish. Just about as the water reached my feet the fish got off. Alas, though soaked and cold, I now knew how to fish. Comfort - a small price to pay for knowledge.
Armed with with the knowledge of what the fish were biting and how they like it served, I retreated to the my van for fresh clothes and a trip to Merlin. It wasn't long before I was back on the river (this time at 'Ennis Riffle') with dry clothes, a full belly and renewed confidence. What I had found was working was, one, a hanging fly after a long swing and, two, a brown 'Woolly Bugger'- a perfect combination for a spey rod.
I fished 'Ennis' the rest of the day and caught the fish shown in the picture, camped there that night and refished, with success, 'Carpenter's Island the next morning. I then started to make my way back south to my ultimate destination of the McCloud to meet up with Tom, Dave and Chris at Foster's Tent at Ah-Di-Nah to close the season.
On the way back south, again on I5, I passed over the Upper Klamath river. Remembering what the venerable Dunsmuir angler, Joe Kimsey, had said about fishing the upper river at that time of year, I pulled off at the rest area and drove up the dirt road that follows the river. There, the river is banked on one side by I5 and the other by soggy pasture land. When Joe first fished it, I5 did not exist. Instead, Route 99 wound its way around rugged rock outcroppings and the creosote bush of this high desert plateau and the kinetic energy of the river surpassed by that of the road. No more, now I5 is a main artery of commerce between the Pacific Coast states. Twenty-four/seven, in the once isolated valley where the Klamath River is bridged, the human presence at rest at the the rest stop and in motion on the hyway, is equal to that of a small town. Some day when humanity has lost its grip on this planet, the river's sound in the riffles and rocks will again be heard, but now it is the rush of big rigs, the percussive thumping of tractor trailer air brakes and the whoosh of cars that dominate. Nevertheless, the river flows here pretty much as it has for a millennium and beneath the waters, where the fish are, it is quiet.
After a few tries at different spots I find a likely looking length of river where the rocks bend the flow to make probable holding areas for migrating fish. Since my spey rod was still rigged up from the Rogue and, I know no better, I employ the same trick here on the Klamath as worked on the Rogue. Sure enough after a few tries the fly is stopped and I have a fish on. This one gives me quite a fight and when I finally land it I see it is larger than the Rogue fish and from the unclipped dorsal fin I know it is wild. My fly is hooked deeply and with a sinking heart I see some blood pumping though its gills. I clip my fly and while holding the fish in the current I don't see more blood. Feeling sad and victorious I watch it swim away and allow myself a little hope for its survival.