The McCloud River, Procedural Impatience, And My Resultant Angst

Let me just go ahead and get this out of the way: I ripped the Lilian out of my Tenkara rod. I did it because my assumptive conclusions about physics were correct. My conclusions about point-of-contact were not. I’ll get into that in a bit.

I had basically 4 1/2 days in McCloud, Ca. with my family. Now, being that this was a church/family outing and not specifically a week in which I get to freebase 100% uncut angling adventures, I had to maintain some restraint in terms of my venturing.

Essentially, the river is broken down–like many are–into an “upper” and “lower” reference point. In this case, the upper end flows into the reservoir. The lower end brags some twenty-five miles of river before entering Shasta lake. About five of this is fishable legally, before one has to beg and plead at the Ministry of Private Waters’ various and costly options.

So I confined all but one day to the strong–and numerous–amalgam of hatchery inbreds, worn-fins, and apparently-inclined-to-streamside-A-fib rainbows and brookies of the upper end. It had been a year since I had fished the McCloud, and a year ago my nymphing sensibilities were also patently horrible. Since that time, a fly-fishing legend in the West (who also happens to live and work here) took me out one day, and simply tweaked in a few hours what I had been missing for fifteen years. This paid great dividends this year, as I finally reversed my usual 20: 1 dries-to-nymph ratios.

I unpacked the Jeep and headed to the one place I had success last year (and mainly one morning on dry flies): Middle Falls. Not the falls themselves (a favorite place for the spinner casters who want to toss a spark plug into the deep pool with good results), but this one, prismic spot in which I noticed the cliff on the opposite side plays the slippery eel with the lighting. I figured, why not try to put the needle back in the groove of last year’s record?

I left my standard rod in the Jeep, grabbed my Yamame rod, hiked the misleadingly long switchbacks down a hundred feet’s worth of elevation, and found my spot: a semi-turbulent pool consisting of volcanic shelves ankle-deep dropping off to pools three-to-five feet deep.

For good measure, I decided to grab a non-ostentatious, brown-bodied (with tiny, silver-wire ribbing), forward-hackle traditional fly I had tied. Two casts in, and I had one. In an hour and a half’s time, I hooked probably twenty, but I remember landing nine–all with one fly over and over again (tied on a TFS 2500 size 12 hook). And this was from 1400 hours on.

So the next morning, I went to the same area. Zilch. Nada. Nil. Or, as Monty Python’s Flying Circus was so amazingly adept at making me laugh convulsively at the delayed delivery of a single word: Nought.

I was there an hour before the idea of “wrong fly” even entered my mind (which IS, by the way the one struggle I have with the doctrinal adherence to “one fly” approaches, but hey, this is one reason I find all of this so cool).

So I tied on another Sekasa Kebari fly–with the exception of it having a “might-be-a-little-ostentatious” red body formed from wire commensurate with a Copper John, along with a very slight collar formed from olive and rust-colored Ice Dubbing.

One cast and I landed a 14-inch fighter. I repeated this scenario for the next five casts before they apparently achieved a semi-useful fish quorum, and released a capture policy of “one strike per tens casts” with a chronological fallout that apparently pays sunburn dividends of which they have no idea.

To sum up the Tenkara vs. Standard Verdict, I’d say my -loss-of-flies ratios dropped precipitously–to an almost obscene level. The porous, volcanic shelving will grab a hook in a nanosecond. Fish a Panther Martin with a treble hook and a three-foot rod, and you may as well call Roland Martin and ask him if you can mow his lawn. It isn’t coming back. The Upper McCloud’s relatively navigable width, the length of the Tenkara rod make the un-snagging impossibilities possible. Barbless hooks even more. I’m not sure longer drifts with an indicator would have yielded me much here, but I don’t know. I didn’t use it until I hit the pristine and native-only waters below the reservoir. But the one comment I got from passersby on a nearby trail was the ability to high-stick around a rock–as opposed to ignoring the pocket entirely. This–all attributable to the 12 feet of the Yamame rod. Now I see where covetousness, and “three-more feet” can meet along the road.

So this upper-river is a stellar place to tap one’s Tenkara muse if you are so inclined. Mojo, if you want a cajun oversight (of course, I could get all Dionysian and stuff, and make references to the arpeggiating greatness of Niccolo Paganini while mentioning the solitudinous spirituality of Tenkara as well, but I’ll just hose down the tendency right here). I just mean time away from the electronic morass in which we find ourselves and the addicting minimalism of Tenkara rigging.

Oh, and a word about these fish. I’m not sure if part of the U.S.’s reductio ad absurdum, trillion-dollar, comprehensive stimulus package that has stimulated nothing went to funding the direct effects of cocaine on cold-water trout, but something is afoot with these fish. They fight like they’re on bath salts. They will NOT hold still for hook removal, and most certainly photos. Then, when the show’s over, they sink into some disturbing catatonia out of which they can barely emerge. No idea. Just thought I’d mention it.


Below the reservoir and thus below the dam and forward, exist two main access places that also grace the Pacific Crest Trail: Ash Camp and Ah-Di Nah campgrounds. With the exception of the Nature Conservancy that must be hiked into, these are really the only ways to experience and see the prolifically-peripatetic Salmus Shasta–the McCloud River native trout that has been shipped and bred in Chile, New Zealand, and just basically–all around the world. I’m sure they’re cool to catch anywhere, but it comes at the same incalculable tradeoffs as watching the Harlem Globetrotters play in Simi Valley. Home is home.

You don’t get to either place by accident, but especially Ah-Di-Nah. Established as a hunting and fishing outpost in 1896 by the Whittier family, later purchased by the Hearst (yes, THAT Hearst) family in 1936, who donated it to the Shasta-Trinity National Forest some 30 years later.

If you want to see Wyntoon, a place–or as the locals call it–“the Castle”–you’re going to have drift the river (or, walk the entire stretch below the high water mark while arranging for prosthetic ankles). This is the property still maintained by the Hearst family, which was also retreat for the Kennedy’s. John F. himself was known to dive into the ice-cold waters with an undiluted foolhardiness that has come to underscore the legacy of the family overall. It was apparently one of his favorite retreats. I’ll leave the subject of Ted and aquanautic facility to others.

The section of river boasts wary and vibrant natives. Big and small. Dorsal fins look like they’ve been cut from gun metal. Amazing. Strong. beautiful. And the best part? You DO have to put in a little effort to get here. The payoff is worth it just to behold such a regal fish.

I started out with Tenkara, as well as my traditional presentational setup. The problem with the nymphing presentation is the fact that the season opened three months ago. These genetically superior fish have seen a lot of presentations in that time, so the wariness of subaquatic trinkets is perhaps finely-tuned. I took what was perhaps one strike the whole time.

So I stowed the Tenkara rod, grabbed my five-weight, and opted for my longterm instinct: that tossing a dry fly in the pocket water’s seams would release the Kraken. I was right, and went on to catch about six fish–most of them small, but two that at least make the trip worthwhile in terms of beholding the species.

After the first five, I stowed the five-weight, and decided to see if my dry presentation on the Tenkara rod would do any good. And it did, I caught a small 10-incher that was remarkably beautiful.

All in all, magical. But now I must elucidate the trauma; that brief moment of non compos mentis that underscores exactly why I now sit with a backordered angst, waiting for a tip replacement set for my 7:3 Yamame.

See, I simply know that the sensible thing to do is to re-wind my leader and attached fly back onto the tippet spool on which it is stored. I know that. be that as it may, I figured that keeping both rods in that “half light” condition on the water’s edge would make me ready to employ either. I was right about that. What I should have figured was this: trying to walk back out of the fishing arena through the shrubs was going to result in a snag on something.

Usually, this involves the non-anchored fly snagging–or so I thought when my self-furled, kevlar leader snagged on a thorn bush. I, being the intellectual heir apparent to Richard P. Feynman decided that the old “point the rod and pull” trick would break off at the fly. And this would have worked–had the fly had ANYTHING to do with it. Out came the Lilian–along with my desire to refrain from weeping.


About Ron Giesecke

Not much to tell.
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2 Responses to The McCloud River, Procedural Impatience, And My Resultant Angst

  1. Did you know that the last “pure” strain McCloud rainbow trout reside in Crane Creek, Missouri?

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