If I can’t be on the Thorne River, I’d take the Upper Sacramento, McCloud or Pit. If I can’t be on any of those, or outdoors period, the next best place is to be at the annual Sportsmen’s Expo in Sacramento.
Last Saturday I was in the parking lot at Cal Expo by 9:45 finishing my coffee, watching big trucks with big tires and hunting stickers fill the spaces around me.
When I added myself to the line for tickets, I stood among Mossy Oak and Realtree camo fleeces, jackets, purses, hats, pants, gloves and key chains. Those not in camo were in the familiar Simms or Patagonia-style shirts of warm water tarpon or cold creek trout anglers. These are my people.
I decided to play a little game called, If I won the Lottery.
It’s a great game, because I always win until I leave the Expo, get home and realize no confirmation emails, travel packets or arraignments are coming. I am not the type of person a lot of lodge owners or salesmen waste time on since I don’t match the middle-aged, well dressed gold watch-wearing demographic they are looking for. So I get ignored sometimes in favor of cell phones, computers or paper clips, but it doesn’t bother me.
The first trip I bought in my head was a moose adventure in Canada. There was a guy from a stretch of British Columbia which I have driven through twice on my way up to Alaska. I hadn’t seen a map of that area in a while, but I remembered it all – the high central flatland that turns into severe mountains carved by rivers and polished by glaciers. It’s beautiful country and the guy and I talked for awhile. I took his card, a symbolic gesture to satisfy my If I won the Lottery fantasy.
With a hunting trip “booked”, I was able to just window shop the rest of the hunting building. I stopped at a taxidermist. The big animals were expensive, but fish seemed cheap, only $14 per inch. Since my brain’s calculator is quite slow I considered stuffing a fish for real. I extrapolated the price for a king salmon and resorted to taking the business card and returning to my dream.
In the big building I methodically worked my way up and down each row making sure I saw each booth and talked to each Alaskan business. A couple were from Prince of Wales, so we talked secret spots on steelhead rivers and high school cross country trips. One place offered me a guiding job, two invited me over for dinner and another suggested that teachers make good ocean guides thanks to their patience. I’ve thought about guiding, but I’d have to sacrifice my own fishing to take clients out. Would it ruin everything? Maybe, but it might be awesome. I should try it, but it’s easier to be selfish.
Some of the owners didn’t live in Alaska, so we didn’t have as much to talk about and they saw a side conversation with me as a potential revenue killer, so I didn’t linger – or pick up a brochure. Take that.
After three hours I started my serious walk around the fly fishing building. The guy trying out a premium rod had an open shoulder problem and was back-casting over the heads of the crowd rather than the roped off area and even wrapped his leader around another demo rod which fell. At least he tried. I too open my shoulder in the back-cast sometimes, so I’ve always been too chicken to try casting in the narrow ponds at Expos.
I watched a couple presentations on fly fishing and while taking notes I drifted to the fictitious trip I’d take. I’d get the pontoon boat and drift down a river, pulling onto sandbars to catch 30-inch brown trout before making camp and eating jerky as the sun stopped overpowering the stars.
I left with six business cards, and though my angling year will look different than I dreamed Saturday, I’m sure reality will be just fine.
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