And then there was Spey

In October, I moved up to Douglas City, into a place right on the river. My goal: to discover the hidden secrets of the Trinity River. I devoted many of my first days to driving along the water and discovering spots I hadn’t fished before. Just me, my rods and my dog Marlee. We hiked up and down along the river; trudging through thick brush, steep ravines and bear poop; nymphing and swinging flies.

We wait patiently for fish

We wait patiently for fish

I must admit that getting back into the rythym of steelhead fishing was a bit of an adjustment. The summer offered up such an abundance of beautiful fish; but now it was time to switch gears. Steelhead are elusive, and there will be days, even weeks were you may not catch anything. Dues well worth paying; the tug of a steelhead is the most addictive drug of all.

Fall on the Trinity

Fall on the Trinity

October drew to a close; and I must admit that towards the end of the month I was spending more time working, than on the river. Fly fishing is not a cheap habit to support.

While flashes of chrome flashed through my dreams, none had yet come to fruition at the end of my line. Already the beginning of November, I finally had an entire day off; I was ready to hit the water hard. With no rain to encourage an abundance of fresh fish up the river and no boat, my best chance to catch a steelhead was by covering lots of water and being the first out and the last in.

After making sure I was set for an early morning, I was in the mood for a beer. I decided to head down and check out the local bar a few miles down the road. The Diggins is a divey mountain bar. It was like walking into my favorite bar in Boulder Creek along the San Lorenzo River.

As I sipped a cold one, I noticed a couple of guys who had to be fly fishermen. The attire is usually a dead giveaway. Never one to miss an opportunity to talk fish, I decided to ask them how the river was fishing.

“Hey, you’re that gal gone fishin’ chick from Truckee, right?” Whoa. That’s never happened before. The fly fishing industry is such a small little world. Turns out, I ran into the Kennedy brothers; both kick-ass local guides who grew up in the Mammoth area; both experts on many northern California rivers, not to mention Alaska and parts of Russia. Not only did they clue me in on some awesome spots to check out, but they also had lots of fishing stories to tell.

With an early morning start on the river beckoning me, I thanked Kris and Greg for the fishing tips and colorful stories, then headed home. Little did I know, the next day would be one I will remember for the rest of my life.

A pre-dawn alarm, lots of warm layers of clothing and a coffee later, I waded out into the cold, rushing water. I spent the morning swinging flies on a mid-section of the river.

The result was a few little taps and four smolt, but nothing substantial. Throughout the day, as I moved from spot to spot, I intermittently switched from swinging flies on my two-handed rod and nymphing with my single-hand rod, depending on the run.

Lots of these little guys!

Lots of these little guys!

Driving to the last spot I would fish for the day, I reflected on how lucky I was to spend the whole day on the water. The towering peaks of the Trinity Alps in the distance and the warm autumn colors of the trees embraced me. I was in my element, reveling in the primitive solitude I’ve come to crave.

After a daring wade across some fast water, I reached the final stop on my day of fishing. It’s a beautiful run that just begs to be fished on the swing. I checked the fly at the end of my line, and launched a double spey cast to the other side of the river.

I luxuriated in the steady tug of my fly swinging across the current. A few steps downstream, and I made another cast, then another. My next cast, just short enough to miss being caught in some low overhanging branches, swung a few feet out into the current and then I felt it. Not the small tap of a curious smolt, but an electrifying grab, promising something bigger.

Resisting the urge to lift my rod tip and set the hook, I waited. Two seconds later, my reel exploded into action; its high-pitched scream sent a jolt of adrenaline though my body and goosebumps rose on my arms. Reality seemed to shift into slow motion. Each turn, jump and run that fish made is forever engrained in my mind.

Fumbling for the net

Fumbling for the net

By the end of the fight, I could hardly believe that I had done it. Swimming in my net was the first adult steelhead I had caught on the swing. Chasing that fish downstream there had been moments I was sure I would lose her. My legs were shaking from the excitement and I couldn’t stop the wild cry of victory that escaped my lips.

Never in my life has anything made me feel the way catching that fish did. It was nothing short of a life-altering experience. Better than sex, booze, riding my first wave, chocolate or any drug I’ve ever experienced.

I’d always heard the elitist hype about swinging for steelhead, but I suppose it takes catching your first fish using this method to understand the euphoria. Not to say that I’ll give up my single-handed rod and nymphing; some water is fished better that way. All I know is that there is no going back; I can never forget this feeling.  I will be chasing steelhead on the swing for the entirety of my life.