The why behind the will

 

Recently I was able to attend a guide school with Confluence Outfitters, in Northern California. At this top notch school, I was able to hone my skills with some of the industries finest guides. Dax Messett, Andrew Harris and Gino Bernero helped me develop my instructional skills as well as fine tune my rigging techniques and angling skills. For anyone who is aspiring to become a fly fishing guide, there is not a better program out there. Three different perspectives from industry experts and hands on experience is essential in developing a well rounded perspective of what it means to be a guide. After all, guiding is much more than getting your clients into fish; and I love that Confluence recognizes this and encourages its students and clients to be stewards of the water,  promote responsible angling and instruction based guiding.

 

Rowing practice!

 

To many people the choice to pursue guiding is bewildering and invites a diverse range of queries. Why would someone who has a variety of other skills seek out a career being fly fishing guide? Have you really thought this through? Young lady, why don’t you find a nice boy and settle down? Ha. A week immersion into the life of guiding and I’m 500% sold that this is it for me. Personally, the tedium and melancholy that go hand in hand with working a typical 9-5 corporate job simply does not exist when I’m on the water. And I don’t expect it to be a walk in the park either. I am very aware that this is not an easy path to venture, but I have never been afraid of a challenge or hard work.

 

We don’t see fly fishing guides towing their drift boats with Ferarri’s, so clearly it’s also not the hefty pay checks that have drawn me in, like a moth to the flame. Being outside, meeting people from all walks of life and creating a memorable angling experience for someone is absolutely priceless. I could go on and on, but it simply comes down to the fact that at the end of the day, I cannot imagine doing anything else. There has never been anything else I have wanted to pursue as much as becoming a fly guide (career wise… or pretty much anything else actually, except maybe more fishing….).

 

 

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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.

Oh the places you’ll go

OH, THE PLACES YOU’LL GO!

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
Any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And
you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who’ll
decide where to go.
You’ll get mixed up,
of course, as you already know.
You’ll get mixed up with
many strange birds as you go.
So be sure when you step.
Step with care and great
tact and remember that
Life’s A Great Balancing Act.
And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and ¾ percent guaranteed.)Dr. Seuss

The Truckee River, so many memories

As I drive back into town from my long journey, I look around at the familiar sights. There is nothing quite like a California sunset. It’s not quite dark as I drive through town, so I head down the the river across the street from my childhood home and take a walk. I notice small things that have changed since I was here over two months ago; the long grass is tall and I can run my fingers through it as I walk, the flows are lower and the water is warmer. A bit of the bank here and there has given way to erosion as well. But mostly it has stayed the same; an ever constant in my life.

I sit on the bank and just watch the river that nurtured me and taught me so much in my early days of fishing. So much was accomplished here, so many things learned. Lessons that had taken me on the journey of a lifetime. As I soak in the orange and pink sunset and then the moonlight,  I reflect on the places I had been all summer, the great people I met, the time I spent flying solo and what I had learned about myself.

On my own for the majority of the trip, I enjoyed a quiet bliss that is impossible to explain, but easy to regonize in others. There were also moments that I was terrifed of the unknown and isolated by my singularity. But cliche as it sounds, the more I fished and explored, the more muted these feelings became and were replaced by a silent calmness and acceptance of living in the present.

Always a challenge for me to not dwell on the past or worry about the future; fly fishing has taught me to rule these faults and enjoy the moment of each cast and fish at the end of my line. Before I embarked on this trip, I had expected to catch tons of fish and meet wonderful people. I wouldn’t have imagined that I would be one of those people I became acquainted with among the streams and mountains.

The majestic Grand Tetons

With my return to the real world and responsibility, I have found that the calmness starts to slip away, first slowly and then in a rushing tide. My arrival back home signaled to me that it was time to start another adventure. Now it is time for me to find a new place in the world. Leaving much of my old life behind, this fall and winter I go in search of steelhead and a place where I can fish every day and even surf ocasionally; return to the wild places that sooth my spirit.

San Lorenzo River, I shall miss this place where I fell in love with steelhead.

The San Lorenzo River; home for such a long time! I shall miss the place where I fell in love with steelhead and surfing.

Pinch me, I must be dreaming

Ahhh, back on the road again, exploring new waters and absorbing the grandeur and brilliance of the new places I visit.  Along for the ride with me for a bit is none other than Jordan Romney: guide,  conservationist, fellow fly fishing enthusiast and undoubtedly one of my favorite people to go fishing with.

Jordan with a giant brown

Jordan with a giant brown

I drive through the night and we arrive in the early hours of the morning at a river I had never heard of, and one which I have been sworn into secrecy not to share; the river who’s name we shall not speak. All I can glean through the darkness of the night are steep canyon walls silhouetted against the starry sky and the sound of a river nearby. Its late and the moon has already set; camp is quickly thrown together for a few hours of sleep before the sun rises and it is time to fish.

I awake to the sound of birds and bright light pouring through my tent. I open the flap and am momentarily rendered speechless. It’s as though I have been transported to a different dimension. I know we had headed north but the landscape brings to mind the canyons and shearing rock formations of New Mexico or Arizona. Red earth, steep canyon, a brilliant sunrise and amazing rock formations carved into the canyon meet my gaze and astound my still sleepy thoughts.

The savage desert beauty is still assaulting my senses when it occurs to me that I’m going to be fishing in a desert canyon. Fishing in a desert? Ok, sure, I’m game; there is always a first time for everything. As we grab our gear and head down to the river I’m not sure what to expect. And then I see it; the river.

I feast my eyes upon a plethora of noses slurping bugs off the surface. I am immediately taken aback at the size of these fish!  Then I see the way the fish swing their tails out when they eat and I know not only are these big fish; these are big browns.

Next stop brown town

Next stop brown town!

It turns out these fish are gorging on Tricos, scientific name Tricorythodes, which are a small crawler mayfly. In my experience, Trico hatches are a pain in the ass; trout get picky and the tippet you must use  (6x-7x) can be the difference between landing a fish or breaking it off. Despite the frustration of the Trico hatch (aka the white winged curse), I still catch a fish on a beetle. Ha, take that Tricos’.

The hatch is over by around 10 am, and then the fishing becomes more versatile. While at this river we caught fish on terrestrials (ants, hoppers and beetles), PMD’s (late afternoon hatch), and various nymphs.  Different from fishing most rivers in California, all the fish I caught were good-sized browns. Not a single rainbow to be had. Also not a small fish to be had.

I can’t believe a place like this exists: the abrupt, jutting architecture of the canyon walls, the vivid colors of the landscape  and insane fishing. It’s juxtaposing contrast of cold water and hot dry air along with the astounding scenery is the stuff of fly fishing dreams.

Jordan, thank you for sharing this amazing spot with me; thanks for also putting up with me two energy drinks deep and then exhausted the next day after a crazy long drive. Such a trooper 🙂

Farewell and it’s been swell

Well, I certainly have dropped the ball lately on blogging my fishing adventures….. but in my defense, I’ve been too busy fishing. Dad and I finished up our trip in Oregon with the Fall River and the headwaters of the Rogue River. We only spent a few hours on the Fall River, but it was beautiful and chalk full of fish; one day soon, I will be back to spend more time here.

The headwaters of the Rogue was a special place. Back in the wilderness near Crater Lake, it’s hard to believe that these waters will draw thousands of steelies further downstream. I have always wanted to fish this river for steelhead. I actually had no idea that the headwaters were such an excellent fishery for wild brooks, bows and browns. Both nymphing and dries caught us abundant fish back in the wild beauty and cold waters of this river.

 

A little brookie

A little brookie Dad caught

Since we were in the area, we checked out Crater Lake; unfortunately a fire near the Deschutes made for a pretty hazy view. Regardless, the grandeur was stunning, and the brilliant blue water reminded me a little bit of the waters of home; Lake Tahoe. I really want to come back here and fish. When we were leaving the park, we saw a guy heading down with some conventional fishing gear. Apparently there are rainbow trout and Kokanee in the lake. Fish were stocked there in the 1850’s and they are trying to return the lake to its natural fishless habitat; so if you do catch a fish here, you are required to keep it. Not a fishing reg you stumble upon every day. I love catching fish amid gorgeous vistas, its one of the many allures of fly fishing. Crater Lake would be a great place to bring lunch, a good camera, fishing gear and spend a day soaking in the scenery.

 

A view from the top of Crater Lake

A view from the top of Crater Lake

Reminds me of home!

Reminds me of home!

 

That evening we make the last campfire of the trip and enjoy a game of cards. I can tell by the content smiles upon our faces that this has been a trip that neither of us will forget; and will take again for years to come. Coming up…. Idaho, Wyoming and Montana!

A picturesque end to a perfect trip.

A picturesque end to a perfect trip.

 

The Cascade Lakes Basin

Days 8-9: Crane Prairie Lake, OR

Back on the road again Friday after work, it was a late in the day when we finally arrived at the Crane Prairie Lake Campground. No fishing this evening, the sun had already set. We set up camp amid the incandescent twilight and started a quick dinner for the night.

Sun setting over Crane Prairie Lake

Sun setting over Crane Prairie Lake

Realizing we didn’t have water for dishes; I set off to find the water pump in the campground. Not exactly an easy task, since by this time night had settled in and it was quite dark. After wandering around for a few minutes, I decided it would be easier to ask.

As fate would have it, the next camp I stumbled upon was a lively group playing some texas hold ’em. After a brief exchange and coming to the conclusion they have no idea where the water is since they have an RV, I notice some fishing gear. Score! I sit down for a few rounds of poker and inquire about the fishing. After a few rounds of poker and some serious fishing talk, I realize I am slacking on dishes duty.

The 2 Eric’s, Dave and Chris tell me to come back and bring my pop’s for a few more rounds of poker. Dad, ever the social butterfly and card aficionado is more than happy to oblige. An entertaining evening, even if Dad  did give away my poker strategy.

After a late start the next day on account of the beer and whiskey from the previous evening; we paddle out on our float tubes. Man, what a tough day of fishing. Dad breaks one off, and I get skunked. To top it off, Dad gets a flat tube before we’re ready to call it a day. I resign myself to the fact that there will be no fish for me today.

Patchin' up the tube

Patchin’ up the tube

Days 10-11: East Lake, OR

After deliberating, we decide that it is time to try a different lake the next day; we are going to head further up where it is a bit cooler; East Lake. Great decision. We arrive in time for the chronomid hatch that evening and whoa is it on! I land three gorgeous fish and miss out on a really big guy that breaks me off in the weeds.

First fish of the evening. So stoked!

To frozen to smile all the way, but the fishing is worth it!

Too frozen to smile all the way but the fish are worth it! I may or may not have had an altercation accidentally splashing myself with my fins and was thus pretty soaked

We camp right next to the lake, and I awake the next morning (hangover free) to the lovely sound of copious amounts of fish rising. Oh what a morning. I paddle out in my tube and catch another fish on a parachute adams; all before morning coffee. Dad joins me a bit later after the hatch and catches three good sized fish on a nymph set up. Can’t wait for the evening hatch tonight!

Changing flies from dries to a nymphing set up

Changing flies from dries to a nymphing set up