I was stuck out in California over the Easter weekend, so I resolved to turn that lemon into lemonade and I worked over three of the top trout / steelhead rivers in Northern California.
I beat my way out of San Jose late on Thursday; fighting through traffic that was much worse than I95 on a holiday weekend. A couple cups of coffee and an eye constantly to the North finally got me to Redding, California late in the evening. Bright and early on Friday, I made a beeline to the Fly Shop. When you fish up here, the first stop has to be the Fly Shop. It’s a small store, maybe 40 x 30 in the downstairs, but is packed with everything to delight a fly fisherman – even a novice like myself. Racks and racks of colorful flies in colors, shapes and sizes designed to hook a fisherman’s wallet with dazzling dreams of future potential catches as much as actually catching a fish.
I checked in with Bill who, like everyone who works there, is an expert in all things fishy. He promptly took me under his wing and laid out the next couple of days for me. I had already signed up to go to the Pit River on Saturday, so we were looking for productive water for Friday and Sunday. After some careful map study and some consultation with the guide staff, Bill concluded that I needed to fish on the Trinity on Friday and hit the Upper Sacramento on Sunday. The cold logic of pressure drove the decision – the Trinity was hotter and it would see more visitors on the weekend instead of a Friday.
The Fly Shop has prepared maps like the one at the bottom of this post that will lead you to all the water up in the Mount Shasta region – so – for those of you who are reluctant to share a location, I’m not giving away any secrets. All the maps are reproduced and posted in racks by the cash register and he yanked a few for me, identified the current hot flies for those two locations, sold me a license and I was off.
The Trinity is about a 45 minute drive West from Redding. It’s like heading to the North Branch through West Virginia; a small tortured road full of logging trucks. The key difference is that the scenery includes spectacular views of the lower Cascade Range which still included snow capped peaks even this late in the spring.
Bill recommended that I go all the way to the end and check the area near the dam at the bottom of Lewiston Lake. Upon arrival at the lower end of the stretch, I saw signs posted that said that fishing was out of season. Whoa! I remembered that Bill mentioned that they just changed the law, so I stopped in at the Hatchery next to the dam to confirm that I was legal – yes – good to go. I drove back down to the water and noticed a few other early risers were already out and had staked out some good ground. Since I prefer being away from crowds, I decided to head farther west and see what it looked like there.
I drove to the bottom of the FFO section in Lewiston and, as I drove across the bridge, I just about had a wreck. There was a top water feeding frenzy going on right there. Solitude – who needs it when the fish are “on”. I yanked the car into the large dirt parking area just across the bridge and suited up. This was my first real day of fly fishing… hands shaking, I rigged up a dry fly, pulled on the waders and slowly splashed out into the swift 3 foot deep current of the Trinity by the bridge.
First cast was screwed up. Tangled everything. Second cast, holy S**t, something rolled my fly! Third cast, same thing, but this time I was awake and jerked the fly out of the steelhead’s mouth. Calm down… let’s remember what Lefty said in the tape. When they take the fly on top, say “God save the Queen” and then set the hook. Gives them time to suck it in and close their mouth. Fourth cast, BANG. Got that sucker! Fish on! My first fish ever on a fly rod was a nice 10 inch Steelhead who fought like a junkyard dog. I was in heaven!
Normally, I work a pool and then move on to the next one as I am driven by the desire to work and see as much new water as possible. With the action hot here, I locked down. Just about every cast produced a strike and I was getting a hook up on about every fourth one. As the day wore on, I got better and better at both casting the dry and setting it. It was the perfect practical exercise as follow on to the “classroom” of my backyard.
During a break, I spoke to a local who came by to meet a buddy of his. He was going to be the shuttle driver to get his friend’s boat back up river. He said that the hatchery had just released 800,000 fish for their annual journey to the sea and we were at the tail end of that release. I was about 4 miles from the hatchery and was seeing a part of that migration. No wonder it was a hot spot! Fish in a barrel? Maybe, but this new fly guy was not about to complain – I needed the practice and the positive reinforcement!
The fishing was so good, I did not get in much of a hike. I just worked around the bridge.
I probably caught about 60 fish between 10 AM – 5 PM. My best fish count day ever. Towards the afternoon, I worked my way back up to the FFO section just north of the bridge and was working the dries hard up there as well. I decided to take a few more casts and then call an end to a perfect day. My fly was pretty worn out, so I tied on a new black gnat with a red tail, size 14 and gently cast it downstream. It drifted about 10 feet and the world exploded! I set the hook and let him run with gentle pressure on the line to get him on my reel. With the drag screaming, I adjusted it up a bit to tighten down and make the beast work. Just then, the line went slack and I looked downstream in panic fearing I had lost this guy only to see a huge steelhead blast skyward, shaking the fly like a cat shaking a mouse. Holy S**t again! Don’t panic…
What a day! First real fly fishing day and I got this 18 inch steelhead on an Gnat. Wow. What an experience!
I worked that fish for five minutes before I got him close enough to start to net him. Since I was scared of breaking the 4 lb tippet I was using, I did not want to just haul him in. So, I took a few steps toward him as I reeled in slowly. The Trinity saw an opportunity and swept my feet out from under me. Ack! I pitched forward, one hand down to grab a rock, the other holding the rod high and back in an effort to keep some tension on the line. No way was I going to lose this beauty! Thankfully, it all worked out as I staggered back to my feet and swooped him into the net.
Once in the net, there was no time to waste. I read that you only have a max of 60 seconds to release a fish before they start getting stressed; 120 seconds and they are dead. But this was the immediate action drill I had done many times – I whipped out my tripod, opened the camera, set the timer, stepped back, click, done, back in the water.
Wow. What a perfect end to my first real day of fly fishing. As I sat there with the cold water working its way deep into my waders and marshalling for a bold attack on my crotch, I concluded that I was a goner.
This fly fishing is the way to go. I was hooked. An addict in a day. All I could think of was the next day with bold anticipation and delight – a full day with a professional guide on the Pit River. How would that go? That’s a future post.
Rested, happy and a bit weary from the work of the day, I heaved myself back up, staggered through the current to the bank and tried to dodge most of the poison oak that lines this river as I walked back to the car, content, satisfied.
Getting There: Stop in The Fly Shop in Redding and pick up a map. The Trinity map is at the bottom of this page
Looking upstream into the FFO section. This is the “Old Lewiston Bridge” you see on the map below.
Looking downstream from the parking lot
Even the area by the bridge had great structure. There were hundreds of fish holed up in here
My FIRST fish on a fly rig! He hit an Adams.
I caught about 60 of these guys on dry flies. A perfect day of practice for the big leagues.
Taking a short break a bit downstream from the parking lot. In terms of pressure, I did see folks up by the dam. Later in the afternoon, four other guys were within eyesight, but I never really felt pushed or pressured.
Here is the map that you can get when you check in at The Fly Shop. They have similar good directions to all the good trout and steelhead water in the Redding / Mount Shasta area.
Unless stated otherwise, this article was authored by Steve Moore