The Upper Sacramento River is a spectacular cascade of 30 miles of crystal clear, cold trout water that runs right next to Interstate 5 between Redding and Mount Shasta. But don’t make the mistake of thinking this is road fishing! While there are plenty of turnoffs and easy access to 17 different spots on the river, each of these is just a window in the wilder wonderland beyond. Hiking shoes are a must.
In June, after some token whining for the benefit of the Basswife, I agreed to stay two weeks in San Jose on business. But, as soon as the whistle blew on Friday, I was OUT OF THERE! Blazing north again on I5, I rolled into Dunmuir and spent the night in a very nice Travelodge for $85. Early the next morning, I met up with a great guide, Steve Bertrand , and gave him the mission that I wanted to go “pig hunting”. After dealing with the small East Coast trout, I needed to feel a massive amount of tension on my 6wt rod. Steve did not take me anyplace secret – so I can share the map with you on this post – we just headed to the sections of the Upper Sac that were closer to the lake.
The Dog Creek section is well documented on both the tourist map produced by the Cantarra Trustee Council you can pick up at the Fly Shop in Redding. It has a very, very detailed map of how to find the access point at Dog Creek. It has the same level of detail for the other 16 noted access points. Steve did point out some others to me as we spent the day together – those will remain forever secret since they were given in confidence.
We rolled out of the truck around 8 AM and started working the area next to the bridge on the map. Steve took this opportunity to help me refine my nymphing skills and improve the roll cast that is critical to working these waters. After catching a fish that would result in huge bragging rights back East, we headed south down the river, passing by a large family encampment of 4×4 enthusiasts on the other side of the bridge. Another 1/4 mile put their memory out of our mind and we worked our way to a pristine pool. It, and several runs above it, yielded several great fish as I improved my technique. Remember that this was June. I had only been fly fishing since March, so that technique needed substantial fine tuning.
Once the newbie jitters were shook off, we moved downstream and started to work a spot next to several good chutes. I worked each in turn with a tandem nymph set up. We had a small red copper john on the bottom and a generic looking bead head pheasant tail on top. The fish ripped into it with abandon!
We were working this area quickly as I wanted to go see the McCloud River later that day as well. After catching plenty of nice fish, we headed north to the McCloud. But, I still had another day on the river and returned to fish this section again the next day with similar results.
And then it happened…
It was a normal drift – amazingly perfect for a new fly guy – when the indicator did a quick dip, I reacted with just the right speed and jerk and my line almost burned my fingers as a massive beast took off with the fly! I was struggling to keep tension on the line, but not enough to snap the 4 lb tippet I had on. The fish was wise to the ways of the world and knew it had me in a bind as it worked its way into the current and scooted downstream. The line was whizzing from the reel and I started to feel a bit of panic as I could see the backing start to roll out.
No choice. Had to follow the fish downstream. I looked to my left and saw the trees and bushes pictured below!
Holy S@@#! The water was at least 5 – 6 feet deep at the edge of this bush and small tree. No choice. I plunged into the bush and weaved the rod on the outside while keeping tension on it all the time. Note the “trouble spot” picture at the bottom of the page to get another view of this challenge.
Once I worked through the first obstacles, I stared at a deeper pool with an overhanging big bush. After the bush and this tree, there was no choice. I hopped into the water and held onto a the larger branches and jump/hopped my way through it one handed with the other hand held high while trying to maintain a bend on the rod. The backing was still whirring out – no mercy – as the fish continued to push its way downstream. Finally, I was through the obstacle course and able to work my way as quickly as I could down the bank, tripping twice, banging shins and knees but maintaining that tension.
At the rock in the middle of the picture to the left, I finally caught up with the beast. Both of us exhausted, I gently pulled him in, snapped the picture below and then spent the next five minutes gently holding him in the stream so he could get his breath with the final satisfaction of watching him swim away.
Here’s a picture of the “beast”.
What a great two days in a great spot.
It’s not that demanding physically to get back into this area as long as you can do a reasonable amount of rock scrambling. Be sure and take a wading staff as the current is strong and you will need it to keep your balance on the slippery rocks.
Getting There: Just go to the Fly Shop in Redding and pick up the brochure. There is also a special map you can buy that is huge and shows every access point on the brochure as well as some others. The map also has guidance on what to use and a description of the type of water to expect.
To get to Dog Creek, take the Vollmers exit and then turn left on Fenders Ferry Road. Work down to the river and park away from the train tracks.
Looking North from the bridge.
The first nice hole after heading downstream
Picked up several good trout out of this run
Typical “pig” – they are wild, native rainbows
Looking upstream at the “trouble spot”. Note the overhanging trees and bushes and appreciate my dilemma!
The biggest fish on the first day – this sucker was big!
The morning was filled with these guys
We really needed a bigger net.
Unless stated otherwise, this article was authored by Steve Moore