My good friend, Bill Bergan, had arranged a trip with six of his clients to fish Henderson Springs as a “thank you” for their business. One of his clients cancelled, and Bill offered me the vacated spot. I didn’t want to intrude on Bill’s business development weekend, and the four-day trip was the weekend before Thanksgiving. It all seemed to come together so quickly that I was slightly antsy about what I was getting into with a bunch of business guys I didn’t know in a place I had never been. Bill must have sensed that I needed more reassurance, and he affirmed that it would be a great trip. With some apprehension, and after consultation with my wife, I graciously accepted.
Having never experienced a private fishing camp I had only my imagination to feed my expectations. Pre-trip research revealed that Henderson Springs was a 500-acre fly fishing ranch located in remote northern California, near Big Bend on the Pitt River, just north of Redding, California. The ranch has four lakes and a ½ mile meandering spring creek, all catch and release waters open only to guests of the ranch. The fishing is private and unpressured.
I found the food and hospitality to be delightful, better than I had imagined. The lodge was somewhat rustic but extremely comfortable. The meals were high quality, although I don’t want that to sound unexpected as I had no “fish camp” frame of reference. The first night we had barbecued pork loin with vegetables and potatoes. Dessert was cheesecake. Friday night was prawns with rice and vegetables. Dessert was homemade pecan pie, with ice cream. Prime rib was served on our final night with asparagus and baked potato. Butter lettuce with avocados, red peppers, and tomatoes was the salad offering each evening. Box lunches were made to order, using the prior night’s leftovers. Breakfasts were hearty and delicious. Staff was helpful but unpretentious; very much a comfortable environment.
Bill’s work associates were very affable guys, though most were a little out of my league, financially. I was somewhat of a novelty because I was not a client of Bill’s, but rather a government executive with that sinful little city of Las Vegas. Mayor Oscar B. Goodman was the new Mayor, and his mob-lawyer background was still getting national media interest, not to mention that “Mayor” Goodman was developing into quite a media caricature himself. Being somewhat affluent, comparatively speaking, Bill’s clients all had the finest of rods (Sage, Loomis, etc.) and reels (Abel, Ross, etc.) that were available at that time. I admit to being somewhat intimidated with my hand-made Fenwick HMG graphite rod from the early 1980s. Causing additional anxiety was the fact that I had never before fished for really large trout (i.e., measured in “pounds” rather than “inches”), let alone land one. On top of that it had been many years since I had done any serious fishing, years spent raising a family of five boys without much angling at all. All these thoughts were conspiring to cause me to feel unsure of myself. I didn’t want to disappoint Bill with a poor showing among his friends; after all, I was the one that taught Bill to fly fish. Bill had progressed beyond my abilities, and I didn’t want to embarrass him, or myself. He has a passion for the sport of fly fishing. He’s able to take time to feed it. Living in northern California, the heart of great fishing, his experience and interest broadened to multiple species, including brackish and salt water species. Traveling around the country to support his angling habit was an alluring quality woven into his fishing tales. I confess my sinful ego wanted me to make a good showing.
There was yet another dampening effect on the trip: weather for the entire weekend was overcast and rainy. I don’t recall seeing many patches of daylight. The rain was not hard, but consistently relentless. Most of us wore hooded rain jackets layered over fleece and thermals. Dark flies with sinking lines seemed to be the proper presentation, preferably woolly buggers or streamers.
Upon arriving late Thursday afternoon, November 13, we fished Long Lake from the shore in the waning daylight. Casting a green woolly bugger on the end of my five-weight sinking line produced some immediate results. I caught two nice rainbows, the largest being twenty-one inches with a hooked jaw. It was the largest trout I had ever caught at that point in my life. I also caught two small bass, which I later learned I was supposed to destroy to help improve the habitat for the large trout (staff said they killed about 2,300 bass last summer). Not only did I catch the largest trout of my life (only to be surpassed in the succeeding two days), I was proud to be the first to land a trout. A couple of Bill’s clients were on the opposite side of the very narrow Long Lake, and they witnessed the large rainbow as I brought him into the shallows for a quick picture and release. Yes, I was proud to accomplish all of that with my home-made Fenwick, eight-foot, five-weight, fly rod and my click-pawl Hardy LRH Lightweight reel. That early success cured any anxiety I had about competition. From that point on I just fell into my fishing groove instinctively and automatically.
Having been convinced about the size of these trout based on Thursday evening’s offerings, the next morning Bill easily persuaded me to use one of his nine-foot, five-weight Sage rods with an Abel mid-arbor reel. Frankly, I gladly accepted his offer. That Friday morning I fished Big Lake with Bernie and Mike. Bernie owns a Sacramento Fly Shop, and Mike owns/runs a Sacramento housing construction company. I watched Bernie from a distance, and he certainly was an accomplished angler. He caught a lot of trout that morning. As for me, I caught three rainbows (two over 24 inches) and three browns (one right at 20 inches), and lost two others (one very good fish).
In the afternoon, Mike and I fished Clear Lake where I caught two rainbows (18 – 20 inches) and three brook trout. The brookies where a very pleasant surprise. Two of them were eighteen-inch males in full spawning colors, sporting hooked jaws and humped backs. They were very large for brook trout. I also hooked and lost one other. In my excitement I never captured a decent picture of their brilliant coloring. No matter, I still have their images set in my mind.
On Friday, all my fish were caught on a black woolly bugger.
Saturday morning, day three, I finally got to fish with Bill and Mike on Frog Lake. I hooked and lost four fish that morning, one that could have been close to eight pounds (it leapt and the hook pulled out when it hit the water). I did manage to land one of about 24 inches, but rather thin compared to the other brutes (I guessed him at five pounds). All were rainbows. While I got a lot of action Saturday morning, I found it the most frustrating of all because I couldn’t seem to bring anything to the net. Perhaps I was overconfident from the early success.
The three of us fished Big Lake again that afternoon. While I only caught three trout, one was 24-25 inches, a rainbow trout of six-plus pounds. I caught another rainbow that was about four pounds; it was a male working on a hooked jaw. The third was a small 15 inch brown trout, which had eagle or osprey wounds on it. There are resident bald eagles in the area. I also caught two bass, and hooked and lost a couple of other trout.
Our departure day was Sunday, November 16. We had just 1½ hours to fish due to the drive back to Sacramento to catch my 4:40 PM flight home. Bill and I fished Long Lake, this time down by the islands. Long Lake is an intimate little lake; long and narrow but filled with large trout. Casting to the point of an island, I hooked up with a strong fish that seemed like a three-pound rainbow. It had been rolling off the island, and had I cast a green stillwater nymph with a midge emerger as a dropper. The trout took the dropper, and I played it for about three minutes, but when I brought it to net the nail knot (the knot connecting the fly line to the butt of the leader) came undone, which is highly unusual. Since I was still using Bill’s Sage rod and Abel reel I jokingly blamed him for the lost trout. Shortly thereafter, Bill landed a good six-pound Rainbow, also on a dropper. That last fish of the trip signaled it was time to leave.
Some day it would be gratifying to bring one or two of my sons to experience all that Henderson Springs offers. It’s a wonderful angling lodge with genuine hospitality and lovely wooded lakes, but most of all the varied and enormous trout make it feel like fly fishing nirvana. Once again Bill’s generosity and enthusiasm opened a door to an outdoor experience that will remain a favorite throughout my lifetime.