A phone call came out of the blue a little over a week ago.
The call was from out of state and with all the spam calls these days, I let the call go to voicemail. When I checked my phone and listened to the message, the caller spoke two brief sentences.
“You need to get here. The run has begun.”
Thankfully, the voice was a familiar one. It belonged to a longtime steelhead buddy I’ve known for more than 40 years. Within a few minutes, I had redialed the number on my message and we were chatting like we had just been on a river together recently.
His enthusiasm was hard to contain as he enlightened me on a fresh run of wild steelhead that had entered the Klamath and Trinity river system in northern California and the numbers were surprisingly good given the fact these rivers have been clobbered by drought and other environmental factors in recent years.
West Coast steelhead fishermen are well known for their eccentric behavior and language. I heard a lot of “Dudes” and “Far outs” during the course of our conversation as I desperately absorbed every detail he was giving me in vivid, if not lurid, phrases.
The thing that really caught my attention was that in certain parts of the Trinity near Willow Creek in Humboldt County, the steelies were eating dry flies.
“Dude, I’m telling ya. There are Callibaetis the size of hummingbirds hatching and the males are laying up in the tailouts and feeding these mayflies like trout. Not only that, man, these fish are so bright and firm, they still have sea lice on them.”
That clinched the deal for me. My thoughts turned immediately to visions of large B Run steelhead, a sea running rainbow trout, essentially, eating dry flies? The temptation was too great to resist. My buddy had firmly set the hook on my imagination and enthusiasm.
As soon as our discussion ended, I hung up. Now, I had to clear my plate and remove obstacles. I next called my wife and said we need to go to lunch and discuss an emergency. Once I explained what had happened and boy, did I want to go, permission was soon given to pack and leave.
I checked with some friends to see if they wanted to join the fun, but the Coronavirus had them spooked, closeted and unwilling to travel. After clearing the second hurdle with my staff, my bags and steelhead fly rods, reels, lines and flies and a week’s worth of clothes were packed and I was soon on the road and heading to northern California to see if the steelhead were still be in the mood for flies, particularly dry flies.
Nineteen hours of driving passed trying to avoid contact with others who might be infected by the COVID-19 bug while also obtaining food, gas and motel rooms for my time going, staying and returning during my trip. Before, I knew it, I was climbing out of my vehicle stretching stiff muscles and standing on the banks of the Trinity River not far from where the New River, a tributary, met the main stem of the river.
For the next two and a half days, I had one of the best times fishing for steelhead that I can ever remember before a major Pacific winter storm moved in this past Saturday that dictated a hasty retreat back to Cody before I became caught in the storm and a proposed state government quarantine on travel due to this blasted virus. I fished some of my favorite runs on the Trinity and found fish in all but a few.
Many were caught on my red tungsten bead and black body North Fork Special in size 10. This just added icing to the cake I was eating and made the trip that much more special. Since my buddy who called couldn’t even join me for the quick trip, I found it difficult to land and photograph these magnificent fish by myself, so, to keep the steelhead and alive and wet, the releases were not captured on film, unfortunately. I will tell you each one of those bright, chrome fish is burned permanently at the back of my retinas and in my old brain’s memory chip.
What a hoot. Not only that, but the steelhead were, indeed, eating dry flies. I found the best time to be early afternoon and all were caught on a size 8 tan Klinkhammer emerger or a size 10 parachute Adams. Both were equally effective but the bigger fish just swirled on them while smaller juvenile steelhead in the 16-22 inch range ate dries with abandon. None of my fish had clipped adipose fins and were as wild as the river I was fishing. Awesome, dude.