Once you’ve caught a huge rainbow trout, you’ve caught a huge rainbow trout. Same goes for steelhead, brown trout, halibut, king salmon, yellow eye, etc. So how could it possibly stay fresh, especially if you did it for a living?
Chris Parsons is a guide for The Fly Shop in Redding. We answered this question through conversations during the half-day drift on the Lower Sacramento river Monday. Chris has been guiding for over a decade at The Fly Shop and he knows the river to the point I wondered if the routine became, well, routine.
The Lower Sacramento is a year-round fishery, so unlike my buddies back home who guide their heads off for three or four months then resume work, school or another job, Chris rows quietly from shore establishing a rapport with his client (my term) before a well-rehearsed spiel on the intricacies of fishing from a drift boat as he did with me. I admitted I’d been fly-fishing seriously for four years but had never been on a drift boat or out with a guide. I told him to just do his thing and assume I knew nothing. Turned out I did know essentially nothing about fishing from a drift boat. The casting, drifting, mending, hook-setting and fighting are all different than casting from shore. Things were a little slow at first, partly because the fish had lately been more active lower on the river, but probably more thanks to the three of us seeing how many ways we could miss obvious strikes. JJ, Eric and I all got our first fish about the same time, though the two of them were in a different boat with Lonnie, their guide. When the fishing turned on, it was on. Lonnie and Chris anchored the boats next to each other for a break and trash talk a few hours in. Lonnie had a photo of JJ’s monster fish which became the standard to which all other trout would be compared, but by the end of the day it was just one of four fish in the 25-inch range the guides put us on.
Clients see colors, wide bends, riffles and occasionally the bottom when they fish. Guides live in a photoshop world. The river is grey with florescent strips starting at that pipe or that funny tree. Stay in the colored strip, and your client is happy. They see big red X’s indicating snags or shelfs. I lost a fish in one of those. Ocean guides do the same thing. They are diligent with tides and find their lines by looking at spruce trees and rocks that form everything from crosses to pineapples and scream “FISH HERE” if you’re in the know.
When drifting through the line, the hookups were almost non-stop. Row up and float through it again if there’s a missed take or fish lost. Next boat through, more fish. Back through, more fish. There was no doubt that when the drift was over the three of us were satisfied, impressed, excited, hungry for more, whatever else applies. It was new for us and we wanted to do it again, and that’s all Chris and Lonnie do – drift this and surrounding rivers again, and again and again. To know such a big river is to be on it all…the…time.
I understand that fishing can never be ordinary or routine on my end. There’s always new water, pretty fish and the fishing-buddy variable that make every fishing trip unique and maybe even important. I asked Chris during the float if he gets father-son clients often. He nodded and said he recently took out a father-daughter duo. I liked the thought of that. It can’t be the same tired river routinely giving up two-foot rainbows when you add that human factor.
It dawned on me when we sat down to conquer a pile of Happy Hour nachos and quesadillas, that “routine” does not exist when you’ve got guys catching the biggest trout of their life (JJ and myself) or their first ever fish on a fly rod (Eric).
Maybe the thought of that is what got Chris and Lonnie up this morning to do yet another drift down the same river in search of more of the same huge rainbows.
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