Peninsula Fly Fishers
  

On the Feather River With Jimmy D.
November 7, 2004

by

December 2004

Whenever Jimmy D is involved in the equation, that situation, whatever it might be, lends itself to being one of unknown and sometimes wacky adventure. You never know what might happen with us and that fact always makes me smile when I think about it. Our destination for this fishing trip had not been pre-planned, but I was leaning towards going to the Feather River and fishing the North Fork canyon section, which lies above the city of Oroville. If another worthwhile suggestion had been put forth, I would have listened and definitely considered it. Our trip the previous week to the Tuolumne was a great example of that. We discovered "new" water and had a lot of fun in the process. I arrived at Jim's apartment around 7:00 on Saturday night and the immediate discussion centered on where our trip would take us. We both said the word "Feather" at the same time, although it escaped from Jimmy's lips a little hesitantly. He had been up that way with another GRC compadre Duane, and they didn't have the results that I usually have, and always expect. My logic for choosing the Feather River for this trip was quite simple: My last time up to the North Fork with Jeremy in September had been pretty much of a bust. This was because of the kayak whitewater releases, which had blown out the main river making it look like a swirling mass of chocolate milk. Sure we caught trout, but they were small and we had to head up to Caribou and fish a tributary in order to catch them. With this most likely being the last trip before the general trout season closed in a week, I wanted to feel the pull on my line from the brutes that resided in the main stem of this river. I knew the fish would be ravenous at this time of the year, making them more than willing to eagerly take a fly. We both agreed that was where we would head.

Serious Car Camping

On our way up to the northern Sierra, we stopped in Fairfield for an In-&-Out burger which has become sort of a tradition in our expeditions and with good reason. After this pit stop, Jimmy fell asleep for the rest of the journey. We pulled into a place that I have dubbed "kayak central" sometime after 10:00 pm. This is a large parking area directly off the highway where all the rafters and kayakers congregate when the river flows are bumped up for their use. I had decided on this spot for the overnighter, as it was far enough off the road and would provide immediate access for fishing in the morning. After parking at the end of the dirt road that leads away from the main lot, Jimmy & I picked our way through the darkness and down to the river. The rapids above our camping sight were roaring, and drowned out our conversation. We had a quick look and then it was back to the car for some sleep. When Jimmy & I car camp, we do exactly that - sleep in our vehicle. The air was cool, but not cold and although the wind howled through the canyon for the rest of the night, we were never uncomfortable. The gray morning light awoke us both about 7:00. Being deep down in the canyon this late in the year meant that the sun would not be on the water for a while.

Rather than getting his java fix, Jimmy immediately geared up and wanted to hit the water. I found this to be quite unusual, and a little peculiar to say the least. While fishing with him along the East Walker River in Bridgeport, we had to make a special trip into town each dawn so he could fill up on caffeine before we returned to the river where we had spent the night camping. We lost at least an hour each morning while accomplishing this coffee run. Today he was in the river before me and had set himself up to sling some streamers through the upper portion of the large pool that was just below the rapids.

I rigged up my 11' 6-weight with a double pheasant tail nymph tandem and waded down river a bit. On my second or third drift thru the middle portion of this pool, I hooked into a nice fish, which took out line and jumped down river. However, the fight was short lived and he was off after a 20 second tussle. That was it for the next hour, as we waded downriver to fish the tail end of this slack water and another run below it. Back at the car, we gathered up our sleeping bags, packed them away and hit the road to try some other places that were on my "must fish" list. The next stop was up the road a bit at a place I have nicknamed the Bluff Run. The wind was still howling through the trees as we crouched behind several large boulders and lit the small propane stove that Jimmy had brought along. We heated several mugs of water, which we then poured into a unique little French press coffee maker that kicked out a couple cups of steaming hot coffee. We sat hunkered down in the protection of our rock shelter, eating muffins and having the java warm our insides. With the wind drowning out everything within earshot, I never heard the truck that had pulled up in the gravel next to us.

An Angler Survey Taker

Next thing I know, I was staring up into the weathered face of Mike, the angler survey taker who works with PG&E. I had become friendly with him over the course of this summer as we bumped into each other on all of my previous trips. It is his job to monitor the river by taking fish counts and talking with any fishermen he sees. I had garnered a lot of useful info from him, as he has lived in the area for most of his life and was always eager to chat him up. We sat and gossiped with him for about 20 minutes.

By now the sun was cresting over the top peak of the east canyon wall and bright sunlight warmed our faces, making us squint like old men. After parting ways with Mike – I knew we would run into him several more times before the end of the day – we slipped down the narrow path cut through the rocky ledge and worked our way to the water. I positioned Jimmy in the lower riffles, as that has always been a productive place for me. I cut inland and walked upriver to the head of a great looking plunge pool. While there, I hooked into two/three fish, none of which I could land while Jimmy had no luck below me. We flip-flopped each other with him fishing the far bank moving upstream and me doing the exact opposite. I pointed to the spot where I had hooked my fish and yelled for him to "nail 'em." This is exactly what he did, catching several nice fish and several smaller ones while drifting nymphs through the upper reaches of that pocket water.

Down to the Backing

While fishing in the riffles below, exactly where Jim had started, I hooked into a nice trout, which started racing downstream on its way to the Oroville dam. I let out an emboldened "whoop" so Jimmy could watch my action while doing his own thing. My hooked fish kept taking line out, and then when I fought it to a standstill, it really started taking line out. I began to wonder just how much line had ripped through my guides when I glanced down and saw my backing working its way towards the rod tip. Upon seeing this, I became a bit nervous and wondered just how nice of a fish I had hooked into. During our discussion up on the bluff with Mike, he had told us stories of seeing 24-28 inch monsters during his twenty odd years on the Feather, taking fish surveys and trapping spawning fish to take gill samples. After a spirited ten minute fight, I eventually reeled in all my slack line and brought this fish into the slow water where I was able to net it. What? Although this rainbow was fairly hefty, it only measured out at 14 inches. I would be lying if I didn't admit that I was a bit disappointed to not have this warrior measure in at a good 20 inches after the fight he had waged with me. Still, true fly fishing doesn't get any better than this, and that fight will always be memorable. Jim and I both had a great time fishing this spot, but things were slowing down and there was a lot of open, unfished water that I knew we'd not want to miss.

Our next stop was less than a � mile up the road at a rough campground area of the old, abandoned Indian Jim School. It always strikes me as sort of funny how things change through the years. In today's politically correct, rather vanilla bland world, I don't know how well it would go over with the masses if someone were to announce that they were the graduate of the Indian Jim School. We hiked into a secret spot that I knew very few would manage to take the time and effort to get to, especially with so much great looking water right off the highway. Jimmy and I were unsuccessful here although I did hook into a nice fish and after a short five-second fight it came unbuttoned.

Rustling through the dense undergrowth like a foraging bear, I head a voice call out, "Is this spot really worth the effort?" It was Mike once again, checking up on our progress. I reported back that today it certainly wasn't, but that I had caught some really nice 'bows at this run in the past. He stated that he was going to show us a new place that he had recently found which would be worth the effort. With this in mind, Jimmy and I didn't waste any more time at this hole and hiked out back towards the car. Mike said that the spot we had just been fishing was once a favorite of his, but after the last big flood of '96 it had dropped off of his top 10 list. He showed how that El Nino year flood had changed the course of the river and deposited a huge amount of large boulders right at the elbow bend. He also showed a spot that ran through this boulder field where he is trying to entice the powers at PG&E to position a man made spawning channel.

Our next stop was a pull-out above the Rogers Flat area. Mike stated that he and a friend had landed 15 fish within an hour along a 100-yard stretch of the river in this spot several days prior. From the road above, it looked like promising water. It was a combination of shallow riffles, large plunge pools, and slow moving dry fly water, which had a foam line running within 15 inches from an undercut bank flanked by thickets of small, densely bunched willow trees. Well, to make a long and rather boring story short, we spent way too much time fishing unproductive water at this spot. We all hooked into smallish fish, but there wasn't anything caught that was worth the effort to brag about. It was well into the later portions of the afternoon by now and I wanted to move on and hit other water that I hoped would prove to be more productive.

End of the Season

One of those "other" spots was a stretch of river that's located directly below the dam. It was a typical tail water run. However, it was hard to get to and even harder to see while passing by on the highway. I had hiked down into this canyon from the roadway up above only once before. That had been during early May of the previous year when the high water from the spring runoff had prevented me from giving this place a truly decent try. Now that the late season flows were much lower, I knew Jimmy and I would have a better chance of getting into some prime looking water. We hiked down an over grown 4x4 jeep trail that lead us to the river. Jimmy cast a streamer into the slower moving lower portion of the large pool, while I set the pace to get us upstream to where a long, sloping gradient of cascading white water dumped into the head of this deep pool. Earlier in the season, I had inquired to Mike as if this was a worthwhile spot to fish. He had told me several stories of big fish caught here and that had peaked my interest to try it. Upon reaching the best-looking water of this run, I retied on a couple of nymphs that included a size 16 Prince and a size 10/12 golden stone. I waded cautiously out to a rocky outcropping that was situated in waist deep water.

One of the advantages of using an 11-foot rod is that it enables me to get my flies to water with less effort than an 8-� or 9 foot rod. I can often high-stick nymph the other side of a fast flowing current, while keeping my line off the water by simply reaching out and across. With a shorter rod, the slack line would get swept downstream making it impractical to present the flies in a natural looking state. From this vantage point I was able to get my line through some great looking seams on both sides of this faster moving water.

My first three casts resulted in hookups with all of the fish coming undone. The second fish I hooked into bent my long 6 weight like a young willow sapling and I knew this had been a brute. Finally, on my fourth drift through the slot, I hooked into a fish that I managed to hold on to. With a nasty fight raging on the end of my line, my left foot became lodged in between two rocks that I had been bracing myself against in the current. I was unable to move for several minutes and all I could do was look over at Jimmy who was standing on the bank and laughing. Eventually I extricated my boot from the under water trap and I was able to reel in and net a fat and healthy 16" rainbow that had beautifully colored markings. While fighting this guy, I yelled over to Jimmy, "This is what I'm talking about!" (Meaning that I could tell we were finally going to get into some serious fish - worthy of our long haul up to this place).

Jimmy & I inspected this nice trout before we let it slip back into the cold water. It was a typical NF rainbow that I had been telling him about all day. I felt something special was about to break loose and shake us out of a rather uneventful day of flogging the water. I encouraged Jimmy to replace me on the outcropping and hit that run hard. He told me later, while on the drive home, that he had felt there would be no more fish ready to bite once he took over from me. Little did he know that this run was stacked up with some real horses waiting for the opportunity to give us a ride. He immediately hooked into a nice fish and the fight was on.

But Wait, There's More

Over the next two hours, with the daylight fading to a steely gray tint, we hooked into so many fish we lost count. Jim managed to land a really nice 19" rainbow, which enabled me to make time for a photo op. I took several shots of Jimmy posing with the beast. He thanked me for finally tracking this hard fighting fish down and netting it. Trust me, it wasn't that easy stumbling and bumbling over slippery rocks in waist deep water, chasing a fish that doesn't want anything to do with a net, and then bolts abruptly when that mesh netting comes into its wide angled sightline. Probably the best fish of the day for Jim was a huge (and I mean friggin' huge) rainbow that battled him for a long while, only to come unhooked right at our feet. This hog was as wide as a football and the coloring on its torso was so vividly pink that it glowed like a neon "OPEN" sign. My best trout was one that I hooked and while watching where my lime green line disappeared under the water it broke the surface and arched its body in a twisting jump that was a good 25 feet away. Yes, it was my hooked fish and both Jimmy & I looked at one another with an expression of disbelief, as he tore off more line. We laughed some more and every time we hooked into another fish the other would yell, "nice fish!" That statement being shouted out by us was true, as the smallest fish landed was 12 inches and he was by far the smallest. Well, that was with the exception of one other. All around us, fish were making rings on the surface, while slurping tiny midges.

Anyone that knows Jimmy D. will attest to the fact that when he sees rises like these, he starts going into a nervous little tick that he exhibits while tying on a parachute Adams. After having no takers for 15 minutes or so, he was finally able to entice one of these beasts. It turned out to be an eight inch squaw fish. As fast as he could say "Shazaam!" Jimmy retied a Hot Luv nymph back on and was soon into some really hard fighting rainbows. I wasn't fortunate enough to land any pike minnows, but I did land a nice trout that took one of my nymphs after a slack line drift of about 60 feet downstream. Hooking these fish was rather easy. It was landing them that really made a person work like an over weight rookie football player in his first week of training camp.

Mike Again, For the Rest of the Year

Eventually Mike had wandered on down into the canyon and was standing on the rocky bank behind us. I've come to find out that if he spotted your car parked along the highway, he would eventually track you down no matter how far along the river you had bushwhacked. He asked about our fishing luck and we had to admit to him that we hadn't kept count. The action had been way too fast and furious. With a blanket of darkness descending rapidly upon the three of us, we broke down our rods and hiked on out of the canyon. Luckily, Mike knew a short cut and led us up a trail to the road in short order. He told us he had been the one who had created that trail and had been using it over the past 25 years. We thanked him, and both of us told Mike that we would be seeing him next season. We all shook hands and watched him drive away into the night.

Jimmy and I stripped off our waders, packed away our gear and just kept grinning at one another. The ride home that night was sweet, with both of us feeling tired and yet, very content.

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