Journal notes from quality destinations across the country...

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Blur of 2014

There were plenty of great trips to new water this year.  The San Francisco Delta was a favorite and so was the little-known Stehekin River in central Washington.  I was able to fish in five different states this year, something I rarely get to do anymore, and it was a blast.  Below are some of my favorites trips...
Fishing in the remains of a waterfall that was once 3 1/2 miles wide is truly a one-of-a-kind opportunity.  The fishing was better twenty years ago but then there was the giant Gore-tex hatch to go with it.  Today's average fishing offers solitude since the crowds have moved on to other trendy waters.  And that makes this a place I gladly seek out since I will trade fish for solitude any day.  My three visits here this year did not disappoint and I caught some healthy rainbows.

In October, during my last visit to the lake, I managed to find over a dozen fish willing to come to the net.  I had come hoping to find one of the elusive brown trout that inhabit these waters.  Having been lucky enough over the years to catch them, I was looking for a repeat.  I dredged the bottom in deep water and shallow but it was not to be.  Everything this year was a rainbow trout.  They averaged 8-17 inches and so did not set any records for me but the constant action was a lot of fun and I left knowing I would be back to search for the browns again next year.

Kelly Creek has become a Jones Family Heritage Site and we seem to need to return here every couple years.  My grown boys came with us this year in June and since my oldest is now married, his wife and little daughter were along, too.  I traded fishing for play-time in the cabin with my granddaughter but I think a new grandfather can be forgiven for that.  There were still some nice fish caught and there is no more wild or beautiful place than the Bitterroot Mountains of northern Idaho. 

We rented the one cabin that the rangers have available at their big work center on the north fork of the Clearwater.  It was our base for a week of wild exploring.  Each evening we sat at the campfire behind the cabin and enjoyed the sound of the river, fifty feet behind us through the trees.
Except for the dirt road we came in on, this area hasn't changed a single bit since Louis and Clark came through in 1805.  We were 49 miles from the nearest town and feeling very much like the adventurers we imagined ourselves to be.  

June is a high-water month with lots of run-off.  This year the rivers were higher than usual and we had to really search for fishable spots.  We focused on the edge of long runs, big pools, and those spots where a feeder creek might dump in and create a slower riffle.  The good news was that no one else thought it was worth being there with such high water so we had the place pretty much to ourselves.   
Pictured here is my oldest son, Tommy, with an average Kelly Creek westslope... 
I was back to float the famous river with my youngest son, Terry.  My cousin, Alex, was our host and took us out for a day in his drift boat.  He is a gracious and knowledgeable guide and we found plenty of fish.  Right after we launched the boat, I realized how much I had missed the place.  I just love the morning mist and cold air in October and, as the sun came up to warm the day, I saw the fall colors lighting up the trees along shore. 

I also found I was mesmerized by the tick-tick-tick on my line as a small weight bounced along the gravelly bottom with two egg patterns in tow.  When the Steelhead bite, you cannot help going negative and assuming it is just another hang-up on a larger rock.  Midmorning, I felt the line stop but there was no time to doubt what had happened since the fish immediately surged, pulling my rod tip into the water.  He charged forty yards upstream before leaping to throw his head back and forth.  Crashing back into the river, he took a hard right and ran thirty yards behind the boat.  It all happened so fast that my rod and line were still pointed back the other way.  I was amazed by his power and wasn't sure I would be able to land him but I did. Eight pounds...

This was a trip to go fishing with my baby brother, Mark, who lives in Michigan.  Since he is 2,000 miles away, we don't get to do a lot of this together so it was a special day on the river. 
There were a lot of other boats out on the water with us but we had enough separation to keep us happy.  Our guide ran us up and down the best stretches in his jet boat and even grilled some chicken for a great hibachi lunch.

 In late morning, we were anchored up twenty yards from shore where several downed trees were bouncing up and down in the fast current.  We were fishing behind salmon beds in the hope of finding a steelhead.  when my flies stopped bouncing and hung up, I wasn't sure what I had but the flash that followed confirmed it was a fish. 
Just like that I was able to meet my own expectations by catching my first Michigan steelhead.  Mark even managed to get a 13-pound Salmon and we went home happy boys. 
In late October I was able to hook up with my old college buddy, Rex, and fish not far from his place in northern California on the San Francisco Delta.  Here several rivers come together to drain into the San Francisco bay.  We got a guide to run us up the sloughs and channels in his 24-foot bay boat and we spent the day fishing mid-river humps and shallow bays for striped bass.  Mt. Diablo watched over us from afar as we ran from spot to spot.  The tall grass and tules reminded me of south Florida and I found myself looking for alligators.  Seals and jellyfish were all I saw. 
The stripers here have been protected for 75 years so the Delta flourishes as a baby factory for the adult fish that head out through the bay for life in the open ocean.  We knew we could expect to find fish that run 1-4 pounds but we hoped to luck into a big one.  Rex pulled that off late-morning when his rod's drag began to whine and an unseen monster motored off, firmly hooked.  We never saw the fish but had to start the main motor on the boat so we could keep up as the fish took off for deep water.  Eventually, the fish found some weeds to wrap the line around and bent the hook out straight, getting away.  Rex was disappointed not to land him but I thought it was great just to witness such a thing. 
2014 was a great year but I look forward to 2015 and so many possibilities...