It's 4 am, and I'm fumbling through my gear in the cover of darkness. I could turn on the lights in my room, but I prefer to make things harder on myself. I normally pack all my gear the night before, but a drinking session with the boys at the local bar the night before made that pretty much impossible.
I walked downstairs in the dark, counting steps off, making sure not to tumble down the stairway. 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7....landing. Then once more. A quick pit stop in the kitchen to pick up my water reservoir for my Camelbak that is sitting in the freezer. My two dogs come out to greet me, then retreat back to their beds once they realize there are no treats to be had this early in the morning and this wasn't a trip to the dog park since I did not have their leashes in hand. To free my hands, I put my wading boots and rod tubes down on the kitchen counter so I can pick up two bananas that will come in handy through out the day, and by 4:30, I'm on the road heading north, in search of the alchemist's dream.
I've stared at this area for weeks. But, I've never actually driven through it, or hiked through any of the trails. Part me of was suffering from 'new location anxiety,' which should be a diagnosis on the Fly Fisherman DSM IV, but I managed to reach the trailhead without too many navigation problems. Although getting there did necessitate traveling through some forest roads, it was no different than the roads I'm used to locally.
I was as excited as a kid on Christmas morning, and began rummaging through my truck to put on waders and get my 3 weight put together before I start heading for the creek. That's when I had the sinking feeling in my stomach:
I forgot my boots and rods at home.
There was no use yelling, or throwing a fit, since that wasn't going to do anything and not change the fact that I'm sitting here at 8500 feet with no rod or no footwear. I had worn my flip flops during the drive, so at least I could hike in them, although the promise of suffering a foot or ankle injury wasn't too appealing. And of course, a Camelbak full of flies, leaders, tippets, and other knick knacks was proving to be as useful as having a bullet with no gun to shoot it with.
"I could drive the 3 hours to Kernville and just buy a new 3 weight, and then drive back."
I sat in my driver's seat contemplating what my options were, and that contemplation lasted a few seconds as my options were slim:
1. You're screwed
2. You're screwed
I was angry, upset, and finally just accepted it, and laughed it off, as this would be an interesting story in a few months after the feeling of ineptitude has worn off.
I began to take off my waders, as without any boots, they would be pretty much useless. But then, I put on my shorts, and threw on my flip flops again, grabbed my Camelbak, and began my hike. I figure at least I can get a glimpse of the place for future reference.
My $1 Old Navy flip flops died 5 minutes into my hike, of course. I began walking just in socks, hoping that the trail here wasn't anything like the West Fork, where glass shards would be part of the obstacle course. I reached the creek after a fun 10 minute hike, and in that particular section, I swear it was no wider than 3 feet and about 6 inches deep. I sat there scratching my head as there was no life in sight.
I was actually a bit excited not having found anything really fishable, so at least the fact I left my rod and boots at home didn't seem like too much of a bone head maneuver.
"There's not even fish here. I didn't even need a rod!" i told myself to justify my absent mindedness. I've forgotten my sunglasses, even a hat, and one time I even forgot my fishing license. But this
took the cake.
I decided to keep walking upstream, and the creek did get wider and a tad deeper. In the distance, beaver dams created larger pools, but they were completely absent of any life as far as I could tell.
And then I saw him. Can you?:
He looked to be about 7 inches, and was holding in between vegetation that funneled the clear cold water downstream. He rose to an almost invisible insect, and the flash of gold created that rush of adrenaline.
"Good day to forget your rods, kiddo."
I grabbed my Kershaw blade and walked into the bushes. I found the straightest and longest tree branch and cut it off, and after I shaved off the remaining smaller stems from the main branch, I had fashioned myself a 9 foot Tenkara-esque rod.
I grabbed a 9 foot leader and tied it securely around the tip. And then I went to work, hoping to God nobody would see me. I would be the laughing stock of the fly fishing world, but at that moment, I could care less.
It was clear that I could not cast this contraption. I would have to meander upstream and float my caddis downstream, hoping not to spook the fish that seemed to be on alert for any type of movement or disturbance. Without any canopy to really speak of, my shoeless self was scaring everything within sight and my feet were already soaked. There was no way i could sneak above the fish, and then float my dry down to them. They weren't too keen on unnatural drifts either, as refusals were the status quo.
I needed some type of weight to be able to pendulum the 9 feet of line upstream. I sat down and did some MacGyvering and quickly tied up the ever popular strike indicator/elk hair caddis rig that all the young kids are doing these days. I finally had some type of weight to be able to use to cast my rig upstream.
The first time I made a successful cast, a nicer sized golden came out from the undercut and rose....on my Indicator! I mean, completely engulfed it. My Thing-ama-bobber was no where to be found, and a few seconds later, it finally reappeared on the surface. Ironically, my Elk Hair Caddis went untouched, as it drifted slowly downstream, seemingly asking, "What about me?"
I tried in vain to dig out a fly that resembled a white plastic sphere, 1/4 inch in diameter, but couldn't find anything remotely similar. At this point, my frustration had set in, as fish continued to rise on my indicator, but I finally got one to look at a small BWO but I missed the hookset. I'll blame the ultra slow action of my tree branch.
"Should've found a bit faster branch."
I finally connected a few yards upstream. I always knew my first Golden would be memorable, but this was definitely memorable in a different type of way. I stood there like Huck Finn, tree branch in hand, and the most colorful fish I've ever had the pleasure of catching wiggling on the other end.
I would get another dozen before having to call it day, because the moisture of the stream bed had made my socks a complete soggy mess, and cool wind was making my feet frigid.
I hiked back to the car for the long drive back to LA. I encountered a young lady sporting some Simms waders on the way back to the trailhead who asked me if I had caught any.
She then looked down to see my wet socks, then looked to see the 9 foot tree branch in my hand, leader dangling as I walked past.
"Um...is that a 3 weight," she asked.
I could only smile and nod in confirmation.
"What happened to your shoes?"
"Oh, they're with my rods."