Saturday morning when I couldn’t sleep past 6:30, I decided to head east because even though the water would be high — still — and there would be a ton of people, I hate excuses.
I looked back through my fishing log from the summer and wondered what kind of lame excuse I made on the days I didn’t fish. Sure I had to paint the house, chop firewood, sand and stain the deck, but there were trout two miles away and some stupid reason kept me at home.
Not Saturday, because the Sierra Nevada are filthy with beauty and fish.
The river banks were packed in the most fishable spots as I expected, but I found a stretch of river on the Upper Stanislaus not being assaulted by anglers with spinning rods, and caught a little brown trout.
I continued hopping up Highway 108 until the road left the river and went up. I followed, deciding shortly before reaching Sonora Pass that I should keep going all the way to Bridgeport and scout the East Walker River.
Time on the water would suffer since even without the distracting enormity of the Sierra divide, it’s about an hour beyond the pass.
I stopped more than a few times to snap photos and dip Wheat Thins into peanut butter for lunch.
The road dropped me down into a valley, at the bottom of which was the West Walker River. Since it is unsafe to look out the passenger window while driving down a steep curvy grade, I stopped at a pull-out. The two Euro-looking dudes getting back in their Mustang eyed my shorts, wet from leaky waders, and socks split by flip-flops. I smiled and nodded hello, because they were probably going to tell all their Euro friends that they saw a guy that not only had an accident while driving, but had a medical dictionary grade case of athlete’s foot.
I decided to just be polite and let them conjure up whatever story they wanted.
Anyway, I stared up at the snow still stuck in sunless creases that birthed the West Walker and followed the jagged erosion lines down as best I could to the blue river that carved back and forth through the valley.
I felt small.
I like moments like that.
The road leveled and turned a few more times before I made it to Bridgeport, then took a left past the lake to the East Walker.
There are a ton of little trails from pull outs and dusty roads that provide access to the river.
I picked one for no reason in particular then stood on the shore, and was clueless. I had no idea where to start.
If I was at the Thorne, I’d put on a bead-headed prince nymph or orange scud-type pattern. I’d tie on a Jimmy Legs if I was on the Upper Sacramento, but I was on the East Walker, and felt unprepared.
I went through the normal battery of prospecting flies, red and blue Copper Johns, prince nymphs, birds nests and even a few dry flies. There were fish, just none that wanted what I had. After a few hours I retreated to town for a tri-tip sandwich and advice from the local experts at Ken’s Sporting Goods - probably should have gone there in the first place, but I was too excited.
I found that my fly selection wasn’t off, but the size was. I bought some size 18 zebra midges and Copper Johns, things smaller than pinky finger nail clippings, but obviously prettier.
The prospect of catching a 20-inch trout on such a tiny pattern drove me back to the river for another session.
It went the same, so I headed back over Sonora Pass and the familiar Stanislaus, and got into some rainbows.
I fished my way back down the western slope toward the central valley, watched the sunset then finally made it home, rank with the stench of sweat from the ridiculous day trip.
I couldn’t believe I had almost talked myself out of a day on the water.
Not only had I caught fish and seen serious nature, but scouted two new rivers and it only cost a tank of gas, one meal and a couple flies.
Days don’t get much better than that.
To contact Jeff Lund, e-mail email@example.com.