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River research: A fisherman’s homework

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POSTED December 22, 2010 3:16 a.m.
My fishing buddy from this summer, Steve the cook, is up before the sun.

That’s not saying too much because the sun rises at 8:18 in Klawock, Alaska (it sets at 3:20). It’s supposed to snow today until the temperature hits the high of 36, then it will melt into sleet, turning the ground snow into slush.

When the sun sets it will freeze, locking tire treads and footprints into position until sunrise. Driving is miserable, and the trip to the river for steelhead intensely uncomfortable; but when the rumor is that someone pulled out a 15-pounder it’s worth it.

No one I’ve talked to knows exactly who caught it, but in a town of 750 someone is bound to find out pretty soon.

What Steve is up to sounded much more interesting than my last week, though I did find three marabou steelhead jigs and four salmon spinners while cleaning the gear room.

The Christmas tree is now decorated and I built a frame for a photo of a trout I caught on a homemade franks fly this summer, but if I couldn’t wade into the small but efficient Klawock River in search of steelies, I wanted nothing more than to troop around the spot on the Lower Stanislaus I usually nymph some trout.

However, the river is closed.

For those not heading into the Delta for bass and striper, November river closures bring a slow if not a complete stop to the moving water season, so the temptation is to spend a ton of money on gear because there is little else to do.

Lake fishing is fun, but to fly fishermen craving currents, drifts, runs and pools, river closures for salmon spawning feels like standing in the corner of the playground in timeout.

That’s when the lives of others begin to sound so much more interesting.

So I pulled out some maps and did some working rather than wishing. I looked up and down Highway 49 from the Merced to the American River for pull outs, spots, private land and public access.

I poured over back issues of magazines, newspapers and blogs about winter fishing and stuffed everything plus day trip and camping routes into my California fishing binder. I planned out fees, mileage, food, tackle and river flows, because blind scouting or learning on the fly can lead to tough fishing. It’s better to call an audible when at a planned spot than be caught completely unprepared.

Sure, it’s nice to have a special spot that pays off, but few things feel better than putting yourself in front of new water and figuring it out. I want my fishing world to be big, even if I have little desire to leave North America.

Some people are creatures of habit and fish the same sections, which is fine, but a spot is only a section of the river, and one section on one river is but a speck when compared to the water flowing to California’s Delta. That’s a lot of missing out.

So I kept looking and plotting.

I even scrapped four years of dust off highlighter-traced maps from a road trip to Montana a few springs ago. For no other reason than to input more river data to my stockpile, I traced flows on both sides of the Continental Divide.

 I found Lund, Nev.; Lund, Idaho, then wondered if Horse Lake, Hungry Horse Dam and Lost Horse Mountain are all referring to the same beast. I’d read that biography.

It was not nearly as satisfying of drifting Montana Specials through tail waters, but there is no need to try and live vicariously.

If anything, I felt more excited about my future exploits in the coming year than Steve’s. That’s the way it should be.

To contact Jeff Lund, e-mail aklund21@gmail.com.
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