1800 Air Miles, fortified by a bag of pretzels, a cookie, and 2 beers.
1100 Road Miles.
4 different beds.
Snow. Rain. Fog. Wind. Flooded rivers. Low rivers. Deer, Turkeys, and Lockjawed fish.
RoadTrip '07 came to its sordid conclusion this morning. 9 days, logging more continuous ass-time in a car that we have in 15 years, all to chase one more fix.
After the initial delay, things got started in the FanzMobile, tootlin' up I-5 headed to an area that we haven't seen for 18 years. As we got close to the destination, certain facts became clear:
1.This valley got waaaay more rain that was called for...
2. That rain had made it to the river, in the form of 3000+ cfs additional flow.
Oh well. Run what ya Brung, huh?
The first few holes had less than 8" of vis, so we decided to head downstream to some feeders to see if we could find a window in the dim torrent. The next stop had some promise, a little slow braid with chums zipping over the tailout, but nary a trout to be had. Figuring it was the low vis and not the absence of our finny friends, we Fired up the AK Mojo and threw some SE love at the hole... Nuffin'.
Next stop had a little more promise.
Nice feeder, good clear flow, little bucket on what used to be a gravel bar 5 hours ago. We worked it over with the Love and got a taptap on one drift, and a wicked takedown on the next. A few headshakes, a run, 2 feet of trout thrashin' on the surface...slackline.
Mustad hooks suck.
After a few more runs and one "Hey, why is my leader moving back upstream, and what is that fish jumping for?" moment, we decided to throw in the towel, beaten down by the river, getting nothing but fin from our cold-hearted lovers.
The next fishing day was called off in the middle of that night's long beer session, and it was decided instead that we would sleep in, then hit a Dim Sum joint with friends and shake off the fog of weissebier and bad bar food...
Note to the Itinerant Fisherman: Fried Chicken Feet and Tripe is NOT the way to start the day. The Pork Intestine Noodles, however...those were delicious.
Day 3 involved driving more ridiculous distances, this time to a small college town to meet up with Shaky J and Junior and hatch a plan for a full-frontal assault on yet another river. After yet more beer and bad bar food, it was decided that 6 am was as good a time as any to get rollin'.
We arrived at the river a little before noon, only to hear that the rains we had been so anticipating had, in fact, come and gone. The river was "in great shape this morning", according to our cheery host, but had since fallen 200 cfs and cleared a little...
But hey...Run what ya Brung, right?
We hit the river for an optimistic session of swinging with the 2-handers, but after an hour or so, it became apparent that these fish were not in a swingin' mood. A quick dip of the fingers provided more evidence of this fact, as the water temp was rapidly falling towards the south side of the 40's. Heedless of the signs and deaf to the murmuring of the fish, we soldiered on, swinging stuff that these finny folk would probably love to eat, had they not been wearing sweaters to ward off the chill. After 3 dumb hours of huckin' the 6126 around in a 25mph breeze, we gave up and went in search of more beer, the required fuel to hatch more plans.
In the chill of the clear night, Beer was drunk, Poker was played, and plans were hatched. No more Mr. Nice Guys. Tomorrow would be the day of reckoning for the fish, and we were abandoning all pretense of the swung fly. Dredge was the philosophy, dredge and nook and cranny with lead, weighted flies, and long leaders. No fish was safe. We were going to their home, and we meant business...but first les' have another beer.
Shaky J, finding out the hard way that Beads are Legal Tender at steelhead camp. Do not lose your Beads, lest ye be required to perform acts of silliness.
If we had more sense, we should have just stayed in bed.
When it is 20 degrees outside, dawn breaks with a particularly tinny sound...it is the song of the cold, sung in shrill tones of frozen lines, iced-up guides, stiff waders, and runny noses. As we crackled our way through the frosted grass flats that led to the river we understood that this day was going to be a knock-down, drag-out affair, and the fish were going to be hard to move.
After 2 hours of numb fingers, frozen flylines, and spitting on the guides to get the icebergs out, we reached a run that HAD to have fish in it. If anywhere on this desolate, frozen wasteland of a river had fish, this slot was it. If there wasn't a fish here, it would be a soul-crushing event.
And there were. Steelhead, mindless of the high 30's water temp, were rolling in the tailout. We threw big. We threw small. Bright. Dark. Neutral. Weighted.
Nothin' but fin.
At this point, Shaky J suffered an existential meltdown and stomped off across the desert in search of fish that were interested in eating, or moving, or anything besides flaunting their finniness to us in such blatant fashion.
We followed to the next pool, but the siren song of the fish had us turning back to the soul-crusher, not willing to admit that we could be bested by some genetically aberrant hatchery beast of suspicious origins.
We let Junior fish the pool out, then started in with the focus and intensity of the tardy junkie, looking for something, anything to get the angle to the next fix. Weight was added. Flies were changed. Then we got the takedown.
After a little meet n' greet with our new friend, we parted ways. We fished the pool out with one more takedown, then went to find the Old Man, Junior, and Shaky J. J was in good spirits, after getting over his crisis with the help of a few hookups and a fish to hand. Junior and the Old Man had no fish love, but were not to be dissuaded now that they knew in their hearts that fish were to be had.
We went downstream to some new water, a riffle/drop/pool that had all the trappings of fine steelhead H2O. Shaky J and Junior opted to leave it to us, while the Old Man went in search of his own water.
We fished through the pool with some very suspicious takedowns, as if the bottom was spongy...after one particularly odd touch, a closer examination of our terminal rig revealed part of the reason: the hookpoint of the fly had broken off at the barb. A fly-switch was in order, along with a reset upstream to further investigate the "spongy rock" phenomena.
2 casts in and Takedown. Quick headshake, pull, gone. A heartbreaker under most circumstances, we chalked this one up to hubris and inattention. With the light failing, we rendezvoused with the rest of the party to swap lies, tell stories, and drink beer.
Next morning, We dropped Shaky J and Junior off upstream with a plan to meet in the middle.
We went back to our drift of folly, only to find lower, clearer, and colder water that the day before. Switching up, we stepped in with a new game plan, one that we were sure no fish could resist.
As it turns out, they couldn't... but they weren't really the right fish.
We were under the impression that all of the smolt had left the building, so it was with surprise that we set the hook on these tykes. Scrappy, they were...one even had a 1/0 lodged in its head, but appeared no worse for the wear. Leaving the small, we soldiered on.
Riffle...pool...glide...slot...bucket...nothing. Met up with Shaky J and Junior to listen to the tragic tale of woe, one that starts with J getting a fish to hand in the first 10 minutes, and ends many fishless hours later, cold, wet, tired, and hungering for more. All manner of flies had been used, all sorts of incantations uttered, but the first hole/first fish feat was not to be duplicated.
With the clock ticking, we changed locations yet again, to what was to be the last pool of the trip. Frantic searching, the closing time upon us...and one last cast. A no-salt, this one probably got a few hundred miles away and started pinin' for the home-pool. A fitting end to the journey, both his and ours.
Just like in the epic safari stories, as we parted ways with the river, the rains began. One last furtive look over the shoulder, one fleeting thought of connections that could be missed...and then it was time to go.
Blurred memories of the long road back, mired in the mist of mentally processing all that had taken place. A new river, a new challenge. A night, a morning road out of the desert, punctuated by a somehow-quite-appropriate fog as if we were trekking out from some forbidden hinterlands... and we returned to civilization.
We know where you live, fish. We can feel you, hear you. We know what you like, and we'll be back.
Someday, we'll be back.