Klamath River Club

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Talk about a weekend getaway! Dax, Marlee and I had the opportunity to spend some time with dear friends and clients Anthony and Tom on the middle-lower Klamath river. Situated on a side road off the State of Jefferson highway, it boasts river front property with epic home water for swinging flies.

While the river was high and turbid, we still went for a leisure float and checked out some new water. After all, we had just towed their new raft down from Medford. “Betty” as Anthony christened her, needed to take her maiden voyage. After being baptized with a Sierra Nevada beer (of course!), we pushed off.

One thing is for sure, with all the high water, there are quite a few more braids and side channels! It was a short float, and aside from crazy hydraulics and reversals, there wasn’t much in the way of technical water. However, for all of you who are thinking of floating somewhere, be careful! We did see some big rapids in certain sections of the river while driving. Most of the West coast rivers have a lot of run off at the moment and can be very dangerous! Proceed with caution.

The rest of the weekend was spent; cooking amazing cuisine in the commercial outdoor kitchen (which is set under a sweeping pavilion), reveling in great company, and delighting in a bonfire for our last evening.

While Tom describes his property as a work in progress, I quite frankly see it as the perfect weekend retreat. A great place to bring friends and family for some quality time outdoors. From the amazing kitchen and bathrooms (see photos), to the fully appointed wall tents with porches and string lighting, KRC truly is camping with an upscale comfort and polish that is rare to find.  Thank you again Tom and Anthony for hosting us at your amazing camp! Can’t wait to make it back there soon.

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A room with a view

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Chief Anthony hard at work!

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River view shower? Yes please.

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Steel plate window coverings, perfect for the zombie apocalypse….

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Reclaimed wood, modern fixtures and historic photography adorning the walls give the washrooms a rustic feel

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Extremely thick steel doors stand sentinel to the kitchen when not in use.

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Cheers to next time!

Spey-O-Rama

 

Such a spectacular group of people.

Spey-O-Rama crew! Such a spectacular group of people!

If you’d told me a little over a month ago I would be competing in the world championships of spey casting, I would have busted out in hysterical laughter. Not that my casting hasn’t come a long way since I began wielding the mighty spey rod a little less than two years ago, but I just never imagined that it would be something I would do. I’ve always had it in my mind that bringing competition to fishing wouldn’t enrich my fishing experience at all.

Well, a month ago, I competed in the world championships of spey casting. I was at the Spey-O-Rama event with Gino Bernero and Dax Messett, my fellow guides at Confluence Outfitters, and we were promoting SpeyCamp. (SpeyCamp is an epic four day camping/fishing/instructional experience on the Klamath river. My favorite river in CA and such a mind blowing experience. Click here to learn more.)

Another guide pal of mine, Travis Johnson (a world champion spey caster), started giving me a hard time for not competing. In fact, at the encouragement of Travis, the entire Gael Force team started egging me on to complete. After all, there were only two other women competing this year. The worst that could happen is I would get third place. Never mind that I’d never practiced casting with my left hand, had very limited experience with long bellied lines, and had never even touched a 15′ #10 spey rod. Well, never one to shy away from something new and challenging, I decided I was in. Bring me some gear to use, give me some instruction, and I’ll do it!

Travis helping

Travis giving me some coaching instruction

I now had two days to learn how to cast these set ups. Originally, we decided on a 50 foot line, since I could still do double spey and cack-handed casts so I would not have to cast with my left hand. According to the rules, any line over 55 feet required the traditional right and left handed casts (snake rolls and single spey). Martin Kiely from the Irish team, graciously allowed me to borrow a rod he had built himself. Before it had actually hit me that I was in fact doing this, I was wadered up and beginning a two day journey I won’t soon forget.

The first thing I noticed was how heavy the set up was. The muscles all over my body told me so the next day. Unlike rods I typically fish with, competition casting technique uses your whole body and quite a bit of strength. But by the second day, I was starting to get the hang of it. I decided that I would still do the left handed casting. Snake rolls have always been a favorite cast of mine while fishing, and these were the first of the two casts that I began to really jam out there.

But the timing, rotation and arm elevation on my single speys were still vexing me, both right handed and left handed. I just couldn’t quite get it. And then after lots of instruction and help, I finally started to connect the dots. I went home that evening with sore, limp arms, but I felt much more optimistic about competing than I had the previous day.

Left handed snake roll

Left handed snake roll

Practicing in the competition pond with the targets was an entirely foreign environment. Put me on a river, and I know where I want to cast, and how to mend my line. Put me in a pond with still water and targets and well… let the confusion ensue. Time in the actual competition pond was limited, so I did my best to pull it together and dial in a program has quickly as possible. Start with the left handed single spey, then the right hand single spey, followed by the left handed snake roll, and finish with my favorite cast a right handed snake roll; then repeat twice.

Before I knew it, it was competition time. Kara, Donna and myself lined up to measure our comp rods, leaders and collect our special yarn fly. Just minutes before I was to compete I was hit with a bit of a shock; the rod I had practiced with for the entirety of my competition casting practice was too long by about a half an inch. I couldn’t use it for the competition.

Tying on my yarn, Maxine is examining my knots closely :)

Tying on my yarn, Maxine is examining my knots closely 🙂

Kara and Donna both offered to lend me one of their spares. I quickly attached my reel to one of Kara’s Pieroway rods, and gave it a few roll casts. It was stiffer than my trusty practice rod (as Kara uses a 70 foot line thus it would need to be stiffer to load a longer line), but it would have to do, I was up. 

Right handed snake roll

Right handed snake roll

The last minute rod change had shaken me up a bit, but as I waded out to the casting platform, I calmed my nerves. Years of competitive swimming at a high level in combination with years of classical ballet performance seemed to have mentally prepared me. The next 12 casts were methodically made, even though they weren’t my best. My short line just wouldn’t load the rod enough. And two days just wasn’t enough preparation. However, the experience was exhilarating. Although I was disappointed with my performance, I left the pond with a smile on my face and determination to come back next year with more practice under my belt and a properly balanced set up.

Competitors from around the world came to compete, and the best part of this experience was the wonderful friends I made along the way. Thank you to everyone who helped get me into the competition and support me along the way!!!

All smiles afterwards

All smiles afterwards

Half full or half empty?

This past week I took a trip to the Lost Coast to fish some of my favorite coastal water. There’s something magical about those rivers. Their color-modulating blue-green waters, old growth trees covered in moss, perfect swing runs and spell binding ocean sunsets make me long for endless days of winter. Not to mention, a dime bright winter steelhead caught mere miles from the sea is a reward all in itself.

 

One of infinite perfect coastal sunsets

One of infinite perfect coastal sunsets

 

 

Sadly, this trip was cut very short. As I lay dreaming of mist lingering above beryl waters and fish yet to be caught, my rig was being burglarized. Discovering that every bit of steelhead gear I owned,  hip pack, dry bag, waders and all, had been plundered away in the night was heart rending. It was less about the possessions, than the sentimental value many of them held for me. Items handed down from my dad over the years, my first spey rod that Bill Lowe taught me how to cast with, all the hand-tied flies I’d spent hours carefully crafting; the sense of violation was staggering. Not to mention, as a guide, some were also tools of my livelihood.

 

I’ve rarely used Facebook as a platform to vent, but seeing red, I took to social media and proclaimed my fury. It had been enough for me to simply rant to the great unknown of the interweb that I was furious. Frankly, I was taken aback by the number of comments my post generated. So many friends and acquaintances in the fly fishing community reached out to me, offering to help in any way they could. Mike, the proprietor of the Eureka Fly Shop, upon hearing what happened, even helped me get a few of my items back when a nefarious character came into the shop trying to peddle a couple of my stolen reels.

 

What I had witnessed was a community of fly fishers rallying to a comrade in distress. On one hand, the violation of having my property stolen shook my faith in the good nature of people. However, the kind gestures of so many in our small, but tight knit community restored it.  I still choose to see the glass half full and keep on smiling. I would like to thank everyone who has ever lent a hand to a fellow fisher in need. Your goodwill and generous spirit help make the sport of fly fishing truly remarkable and cathartic.

 

When life gives you lemons, drink a beer ;) Thanks again for reading and being awesome!

When life gives you lemons, drink a beer 😉 Thanks again for reading and being extraordinary!

Just in case…

After a long day of work, I’m gazing at my laptop screen again; my mind eases back to my last adventure. It started in Denver. I was there on business for a few days and I couldn’t wait to wrap things up and escape into the Rocky mountains; trading the city lights for those of the Milky Way. Many of the river reports I had read reported high flows due to run-off on most of the rivers. I’ll have to fish the Gunnison on my next trip. Trouts Fly Shop in Denver gave me some pretty solid advice, in addition to the advice I got from all of my lovely Coloradoan followers. The day after meetings were wrapped up, I was on the road to the South Platte River.

Wine and camping....pure bliss.

Wine, fishing and camping….pure bliss.

An hours drive out of Denver, Deckers, CO was much smaller than I had expected it to be when I’d looked at it on a map. I absolutely loved it. A place where cell phone reception doesn’t exist and there are 4 shops in town, one of them being a fly shop. After buying my Colorado fishing license and sharing fishing tales at Flies and Lies, I headed to find a campsite and fish. Whipping together my tent with the efficiency of an expert and haphazardly tossing together my bedding, camp was set and I was ready to fish within the hour. The flows were about 250% above optimal fishing levels, but word on the river was the nymphing was still productive. Typically, I like to drive and hike a bit to find fish that haven’t had every fly and the kitchen sink thrown at them, but the water by my campsite looked too good to pass up. I waded out in a few hundred feet from my tent and made a few casts. The river bed was a very yellow color, with lots of fine gravel. Despite keeping an eye out, I didn’t see any fish. Until I looked directly below my feet. I had two big rainbows following my wake just a few feet downstream. My pet fish. Avoiding the temptation to thrown on a San Juan Worm and fish by my feet, I continued to fish upstream, sans indicator. Frank and Ethel (Yup, I named my pet fish) kept me company until I caught my first fish by dead drifting a salmon fly nymph. They scattered as I landed the first rainbow of the trip; a fat well-fed 16 incher.     The rest of the afternoon went by with only one more fish caught, another similar sized rainbow in a riffle upstream from camp. As twilight crept over the canyon, I looked across a the river to a promising bend in the river. The water was too fast to wade out very far, and fishing from the other side wouldn’t give as good of a presentation; a conundrum to be sure. Unless you happen to have packed your spey rod, just in case. I jogged back to camp and set up my graceful 13 foot Anderson Custom spey rod. Second cast out, a few feet into the swing, I felt the familiar jolt lightening through my rod, waited a few beats to make sure the fish has eaten the fly, and then set the hook. Immediately I could tell this fish was bigger than the ones I had caught earlier in the day. My reel screamed like only a Hardy can as the line zipped off the spool. And a few minutes later I was netting a beautiful 21″ rainbow I caught on the swing. Not bad. I knew there was a reason to lug the Spey set up halfway across the country, despite a shortage of space in the car.     It just goes to show that when the fishing is a bit slow and the flows aren’t cooperating as much as you would like, there is always a way to productively fish a river. Fishing is a combination of knowledge, observation, skill and creativity. A bit of imagination and thinking outside the box can truly elevate your fishing experience to the next level.

Updates: Part Deux

 

 

With my first camping trip of the spring/summer season, it occurred to me that steelhead season is officially over. Aside from swinging streamers from time to time, I’ve pretty  much hung up the two-handed rod until steelhead season is here again. My first season wielding a spey rod was a huge success and I will be anxiously waiting to whip it out again. While the weather was fickle and didn’t always cooperate, I still got a huge amount of satisfaction being out on the water and learning how to cast a two-handed rig.

 

 

I had the immense pleasure of learning casting techniques from Bill Lowe, Travis Johnson, and Simon Gawesworth. While no where near perfect, my casting has improved by leaps and bounds since that first time I struggled to assemble that awkwardly long, 13 foot rod. I even caught that first, addictive fish on the swing.

 

 

As some of you may know, the legendary Bill Lowe recently passed away. Bill was my first spey casting instructor. That first lesson with Bill was what inspired me to keep practicing and improving. With a laid back attitude and epic sense of humor, Bill taught me more than just casting; he emphasized the joys of simply being out on the water, fishing. A lesson I will never cease to forget. Thank you Bill for being such an inspiration, you are honored in each Snap T and swing of the fly.

 

 

A trip up to Oregon to fish the Sandy with my Dad and take a class from world-record spey caster Travis Johnson was another highlight of this season. What a beautiful river! A deep emerald green and full of perfect swing runs. We didn’t catch any fish, but spending the time with my Dad and passing on my spey addiction was an experience of a lifetime. Travis was a great teacher and had may useful insights into steelhead fishing and life. I’m hoping that this will become an annual trip I can enjoy with my Dad.

 

 

 

Finally this spring, I closed out the spey season with Spey Day on the American river. This was an afternoon filled with testing out different Sage and Redington model spey and switch rods, demoing a wide range of RIO’s Scandi and Skagit lines, and epic tutorials by Simon Gawesworth, Bill Lowe and Mike McCune. With all this info, my brain was forming new neural paths at an alarming rate and laughter was always on the tip of my tongue. I was in some pretty legendary company, and I am grateful to be invited. I learned so much in a single day, met heroes and made new friends. The perfect way to close out the spey season. The only question I have left is, “Is it winter yet?”

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.