The weather report was showing a few more warm fall days. It seemed like this was my last chance to fish before the real hustle and bustle of the holidays hit and the fishing fell into the doldrums of winter. I had been talking about a fishing trip, out loud to myself, and Denise must have overheard me. Monday she stuck a note on my side of the mirror saying how much she appreciated my help and what it meant to her, and finished by saying that she wanted me to stay around through Thanksgiving and not go fishing… took the wind right out of my sails. After checking my calendar and giving it some thought at work, I asked her if I could go Wednesday preceding Thanksgiving, a workday, if I promised to be home by 6:00 pm. I argued it would be just like a regular workday to her, and she said “yes”.
So, after dropping Brian off at school I headed for Pine Valley. I picked Pine Valley for several reasons. First, I had enjoyed recently fishing Cold Creek with my little six-foot rod. I wanted to try Santa Clara Creek below Pine Valley Reservoir. I had fished the creek many years ago in the spring, catching trout fishing’s Triple Crown: brook, brown, and rainbow trout. The creek, although small, did present a variety of fishing opportunities, from boulder-strewn pools to long, deep glides. I really wanted to catch brown trout in that creek, hopefully finding them still in their fall spawn colors. Second, I had heard that the Pine Valley reservoir was producing good late season fishing, with rainbows in the twelve to fourteen inch class. I reasoned that if the creek fished slowly I could fish the inlet of the reservoir. Lastly, Pine Valley is close; 160 miles that can be covered in two-and-a-half hours, making it a fairly decent one-day trip.
I arrived at the creek just at 9:30am, assembled my six-foot rod, and proceeded to the creek. It was lovely, much like I had remembered it these past 25 years. I had difficulty presenting flies to the boulder pools because of the heavy growth around the creek, but I did fairly well in two pools landing four small brownies, and losing three others before I brought them to hand. All were dark and colorful, but very small, seven to nine inches. The nine-incher appeared emaciated. Perhaps it was due to fall spawning activities, I’m not sure.
It took me a while to get used to that little rod again. Often I had to side cast underneath branches or devise other methods of casting. It was much like working a puzzle or a game of chess. “Let’s see, how can I get the fly to that point without snagging on a branch or spooking the fish? What if I crawl to over there and kneel behind the boulder?”
The last section of creek I fished was very difficult. I remembered this section from my previous trip. It has a three foot deep pool at the head which flattens out to a shallow riffle before turning left through some boulders into another deep pool. The shallow riffles happen to lie under a small willow tree with overhanging branches. As I approached from below I saw several nine to eleven inch trout zip from the riffle just above the boulders; I had frightened them. That’s when I recalled this difficult riffle problem. It always seems to have large trout (for this size creek) working the riffle under the willow. It appears that the riffle has good gravel, which is likely the spawning redd of choice. After observing it for a while I noticed large trout over the gravel… but how to drift a fly through it?
Up to this point I was fishing small dry flies, a gray parachute and a black gnat fly. No matter how I positioned myself, crouching and sneaking up behind a small island in the middle of the creek, I could not find a way to get the fly over the large trout without spooking them. I even hiked around the pool to see if I could drift a fly from upstream. Turns out I could, but I still scattered the trout when they saw me approach from upstream. Frustrating, but fun. I glanced at my watch, and fishing these three pools used up four and one-half hours! At that moment I regretted my promise to Denise: “I’ll be home by 6:00 pm.”
All this “fish stalking” was wearing me out. Four-plus hours of creeping and crawling, stooping and kneeling had worn out this fifty-year-old body. Stopping to think about it brought the sore joints and muscles into my consciousness. I decided to try the reservoir.
There were just two other vehicles at the reservoir. I quickly assembled my nine-foot rod and hiked to the stream inlet. I was able to wade the sandbar about fifty feet until it began to drop off steeply. In about seventy-five minutes of fishing I landed six nice fish: five rainbows and one brown. I lost about five others due to hook pull-outs. The fish were deep, and I was using a fast sinking fly line. The strikes were coming deep, and the fish were strong and stayed deep until the end of the fight. Not much “jump” in them. Perhaps I was playing them too hard which was causing the pull-outs… don’t know. The one brown trout, obviously stocked, was of unusual color. It almost had an Atlantic salmon color to it, sort of a bluish hue. The red spots and adipose fin unmistakably disclosed it to be a brown trout.
Having enjoyed the day, with ten trout landed and eight lost due to hook pullouts, I headed home at 3:30 pm and walked into the house at 6:03 pm, “Honey, I’m home.” Not fast and furious action, but good, steady action commensurate with the slow-down when fall slips into winter. Exactly what I expected it would be.