A Painter's Journal

August 10-13: McCloud River, Sightseeing with Sean

A nephew Sean has barely been out of Kentucky and has come out to visit our western part of the family before he starts college. He wants to try fly fishing and see some California sites. My brother Pete picked him up at the airport and they were at his home when I returned from the east side. Together with sister Lizzie we had a few dinners and a barbecue. Pete and Lizzie are highly technical computer engineers; I appreciate their deep interest and talent in the technology that makes all of this possible, but as a topic of conversation it is just what I need to get away from for a while. My attention was elsewhere.

Thursday we walked San Francisco, an on Friday Sean and I took a hot fast blast across the central valley to see Yosemite. We hurried on the short hike to the small Merced grove of Sequoia Bigtrees, then stopped briefly in the valley to get snapshots of nearly dry waterfalls and to watch a few tiny brightly colored ants that were climbers, inching their way up the vertical mile of El Capitan.

Sean is an accomplished scholar, seemingly more ready to start school in earnest than I was when ten years older as I graduated. He very quietly observed our dry summer landscape, with only an occasional "cool" or "wow" to my bits of historical or natural local lore. He will do well in business or poker, as he gave me no hint of what he thinks of California or my ramblings, but I do know he liked City Lights Bookstore, the wildness of the McCloud River, and hooking a very big trout on a dry fly.

We only had a three days left on his week here and not sure how he would feel at the high altitudes that are the only place I know where August is really a good time to fish, we drove up to Mt. Shasta and the McCloud river. In Dunsmuir we stopped for gas, food, and the "best water on earth" and the obligatory visit to the time-honored Ted Fay Fly Shop for local flies and info. This shop has skinny body Humpies and fat weighted Bombers unlike any sold elsewhere, and these flies have worked for me all over. The number one geezer Joe Kinsey was out of the shop but two guides gave us some info. "Fish prince, stonefly and caddis nymphs early and nymphs or caddis dry flies late, and do something else during the midday." We took the dirt road down to Ah Di Nah camp and found a shady site; hardly anyone was there at 5:30 on a Sunday . That evening we fished right around camp as a follow up to an hour at the Oakland casting pools, a few trout rose to our Caddis and skinny Humpies but none were hooked. Sean had good practice casting with open room for backcasts, as last New Years' storms have removed many of the fly-catching trees that formerly lined the banks.

Monday morning we were two of only three anglers fishing the Nature Conservancy section. I rigged Sean with "the fly formerly known as Prince" and a split shot to help him with the critical depth of the drift. I tied a bead head Hare's Ear above a Prince nymph on my favorite rod. We alternated between the deep turquoise pools and the fast boulder and falls pocket water, with me trying to find pockets slow enough to get the flies to sink enough so I could show him how to put slack above the fly to get it to sink. In the still back eddy by a rushing torrent I pulled tight onto a solid weight of trout, vibrating the rod and not seeming to notice. The rod flexed to the handgrip as I applied pressure to pull the trout from its hold. I had seen friends hook these big bottom-hugging brown trout but hadn't ever had one on myself, but I knew right away that was what it was. I moved position to play the fish outside the heavy white water then found a shallow place to land and release.

Photo by Sean Vinsel. Actual fish was bigger.

After that fish I was too satisfied to fish in earnest, so I put my efforts into getting Sean into a fish. At the famous pool of Jonnie's five-pounder I caught two rainbows while demonstrating throwing the slack into the cast to let it sink. I painted a sketch looking downstream and another rough one of Sean fishing, and although Sean had some good deep an natural drifts and a few tugs, we had to give up when the action slowed with the sun now on the water.

Back at camp I poured down two quick boilermakers and two more beers and set up the hammock. I mentioned in my last entry how I am dedicated to full comfort and enjoyment on these travels; the hammock too takes but little space in the truck. Suddenly after one chapter of Mary Austen and what seemed like a ten minute nap, it was five o'clock, time for some dinner before the evening fishing.

Some recent dental work reintroduced me to the joys of real mashed potatoes, and with some chopped garlic they were as good from the campstve as from any restaurant. After filling up we started upstream along the Pacific Crest trail above the river. With so few anglers in camp we saw no reason not to take the first access trail to the river. I had fished the area many times but never found it so uncrowded; I had never taken this trail. It led to an enormous pool, far too big for a novice to cover with confidence. We moved upstream to a smaller pool below a run of pockets and riffles. Sean stayed at the pool while I hopscotched the boulders to the pocket water. I caught one and was missing small fish rises when I glanced back and saw Sean holding his rod tight to the line and gesturing. I clambered back down to find him snagged with the line straight down into the depths of the pool.

"It's stuck solid down on the bottom", he said.

"How'd it get down there - with the dry fly and floating line?"

"I didn't see it, but something big must have taken it. It was pulling line out and I couldn't do anything. It went all over the pool but I never saw it. Then it went down there and I could feel it pulling but it felt like rocks and I couldn't pull any."

"Did it make your reel sing - like ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ?"


"OK, Sean, you hooked a LUCY!"

We made a few more casts but it was about dark, time to leave. The trail was sparse and confused but we made it out without brushing too much of the poison oak that we noticed everywhere on the way in. That evening back at camp we made a compact campfire from some downed wood along the river. Sean was eager to get home and go to school. I was eager to take care of some city business and get up to the high sierra.



Copyright 1997 by Mark Vinsel