Over the summer I had a brilliant idea. Hey, why don't I go back to school! It seemed like a good idea at the time... I wasn't happy with my current employment and realized that this might be my last chance to finish my degree. In September I quit my full time gig, moved closer to campus and re enrolled for the spring semester after a decade long "break".
The last couple months have been busy moving, preparing and working as much as I can to pay for this endeavor. I knew my fishing time this winter would be cut short and didn't think I would make it to my usual haunts. Then a few days before new years I got a text from bomber saying he was watching the graphs and had two days off next week. Figured two days was do able and could be pulled off relatively cheap. So a motel was booked, I dug the steelhead gear out of the moving totes and tied some bugs...
Well new years day rolled around and having fallen asleep early the night before I woke up without a hangover. Checked the weather, checked the graphs and said fuck it. Texeted bomber "i'm on the road see you tomorrow" and headed over to get most of a day on the water.
This river is special, as are most rivers that steelhead call home but this one, for me, is unique. It was the first coastal river I ever fished. I showed up quite a few years ago without any real clue as to what I was doing. The river was high and basically blown that trip but just being there opened my eyes to something far different than the valley tailwaters and mountain freestones I grew up on. The size of the river that can flow at 1k one day and 100k the next, the towering redwoods, the vastness of the watershed and the chance at a winter steelhead blew me away. I had found something I didn't even know I was looking for. I somehow hooked a fish that trip despite coffee colored water and my complete lack of experience and I have been back every year since.
I neared a familiar run I like around noon the first day. I was just going to check the water and keep driving downriver but I got close and just couldn't pass up the spot my first fish came from. It's changed quite a bit over the past few years, as most of the runs here do. The river eats away at the far bank and brings down a few large redwoods every winter constantly shifting the currents. This year there's a nice small bucket and tail out. I got my waders on, rigged the rod and headed down. I stepped in, made a few casts and had to take a couple deep breaths to try and calm down. My heart was beating out of my chest as I swung through the emerald water, I was just so stoked to be there standing in that run again, fishing that river, with another chance at those fish...
After a run to calm the nerves I continued on downriver and followed through with my original plan. I'd find the cutoff where the water gets a little higher and colored and from there work back up. I wanted to scout out what float to do in the morning and also thought my best chances would be the furthest down river I could get. Got to that point just above a trib and started fishing runs in the area. With about an hours light left I stepped into some grade A water and everything was feeling right. Good speed, good depth, a little tricky swing around a swirl from a sunken log but right behind that log...tap, tick, tick, tap, yank, big head shake and gone...I fished out the run, warmed up my feet, poured a tailgate shot and had high hopes. After a completely void winter last year I was happy to feel life at the end of the line once more.
With a drift picked out and confident fish were around I made camp for the night and awaited the early wake up call...
Day two started early for me, I woke up well before the alarm. The combo of brauts, IPA and brown water made for a quick shuffle out of the sleeping bag and a hastened walk to the head. The air was cold and the fog thick, the heater buddy accompanied me for the morning chores. Pack up camp, eat breakfast, make coffee, and await the arrival of bomber and white. As soon as they pulled up there was a brief discussion about the put in and take out, details of the fishing yesterday, optimistic predictions for today, and off we went.
We decided on a drift that would end just below the run I had luck in the day before. As a bonus it's a very scenic drift through the heart of some of the last remaining old growth. The water and air temps stayed pretty chilly and even though the fog burned off the sun rarely makes it over the tree tops. We swung all the good runs and kept an eye out for the more subtle buckets that you might be able to get a fly down into. Came across a lot of healthy half pounders that are good for a yank but not what we were after.
See you in a few years.
The river continued its steady drop and by day 3 was in great shape. We drifted down low looking for a fish just out of the salt. The weather warmed up a bit but the water temps were still as cold as I've felt out there. The chilly water had me searching out slow runs and really soft seams, fishing light and letting the fly swing all the way in. Half way through the first run of the day I felt it again, this one even more subtle than the first. Just a peck and slight tension on the line near the bottom of the swing. I waited....and waited...and waited, for the fish to make any sort of turn or move, it didn't move. After what felt like an eternity I raised the rod and the fish took off. Screamed out 50 feet of line, a couple big head shakes and again...gone.
That one was tough... Checked the fly, check the leader, changed hooks and kept moving. Trying not to question myself too much, I mean, hell, I had the hard part dialed right? Now just get the easy part figured out.
White felt bumped towards the end of the day but that was that. At the take out we broke everything down and bomber and white hit the road. I had planned to follow but with the river in such good shape, fish around, a storm 2 days out, and what might be my only shot this winter...screw it, checked back into the motel, supported the local brewery and planned for one more day on foot.
I fished 3 favorite road runs on the way out and even found some new water. Drove through giants and made one last stop in the afternoon. The river had dropped a foot since hooking the fish behind the log day one and the swing changed a bit but everything was still feeling right. Good speed, good depth and just a bit further out past the log...a good heavy whack... but nothing stuck. I smiled, I guess there's always next year.
I can't complain about touching 3 winter fish in 4 days, especially in a place like this... Though it would have been nice to shake hands with a fin before sticking my head back in the books.