The dog days of summer can seem endless. Much of it spent waiting in anticipation for some change in the weather, the wind or the swell. The days are the longest of the year, and for the weary weekend warrior, being first on the water is a seemingly impossible feat. Here on the Northcoast, it is a time when the angler finds that they think more about fishing than they actually go fishing. And yet opportunities abound. It might be fishing 30ft sink tips with monster clousers for Lingcod or Blacks when those ocean swells finally acquiesce. I keep a beat up old Scott 10wt handy for just that occasion. There are places where the headlands sweep down towards the sea and meet rocky outcroppings that extend into deeper water. There was a day last summer when I was lazily stripping my fly back into me, had it right at my feet in the last foot of the water column, when something that looked like a baby harbor seal suddenly materialized from the fathoms and before I could say "holy shit" I was into my backing. It was a Ling. The fight that ensued was a slug fest. With each ruthless head shake I thought my tackle would give out or the fly would come free. My 10wt turned into a noodle. It was amazing.
There are mornings when the fog rolls in thick off the sea and creates the perfect cover for targeting coastal cutthroats in the snaky reaches of the small estuarine creeks and sloughs that populate the Northcoast. You will find yourself forging through brome grass high up to your head, half asleep still, walking in the tracks of Roosevelt elk. The water is dead calm as you tie on the best of your reverse spiders and try not to catch your backcast on a low hanging alder branch or derelict fence post. Half the time you cast to nothing, but every once in a while you hit it. The cutthroats will surge after the fly throwing a wake off of their dorsal as you furiously strip retrieve. The takes are violent and exhilarating, the kind of stuff that keeps you coming back for more. You will know a veteran angler of the coast by the way they gush over these fish, and for good reason. They are tenacious fighters, all mouth and muscle.
It is now the end of June and I am back at the lodge waiting for an old friend to arrive with his family in tow. The trip is less about finding time to fish than it is about spending time with one another, the Klamath river estuary our backdrop. I take them to a favorite creek, a picture perfect freestone tributary of the S. Fork Smith for an afternoon of swimming. The water is ice cold, a welcome respite for the few summer runs that will return to this inner sanctum. As we brave the frigid water a small cutthroat flushes from its cover and shoots down the pool. I let out a yelp of excitement as I've never been able to spot one in this creek until today.
We make plans to take it easy for the night and wake up early to swing Blakes. Joe Pa, as his two young grandkids affectionately call him, will take over parental duties for the morning. I rise early, somehow uneffected by the whiskey sours from the night before. I look at my phone. 5:23 am. Perfect. Mindlessly, I proceed through the busy work of getting all of my gear in the truck and wader up. The conditions could not be better. A heavy fog has crept in during the night and now lays thick over the river valley. There's no wind to speak of. After knowing Brandon for over half of my life I've come to understand certain things about him. First and foremost he is not a morning person. So when I shake his tent and beseech him to rise I'm greeted with language you might call colorful. He gets it right back. At this point it's become a time-honored ritual of cussing each other out before coffee.
The road into Blakes is not for the faint of heart. You pass several ominous signs forbidding your approach. Making matters worse is the fact that during this time of year the summer grass obscures your view to the point that it becomes nearly impossible to see if another vehicle is coming up the way. We pass an upturned SUV, its been gutted and shot to pieces.
Coming down onto the flat I can just start to get a glimpse of the run when I spot the white metal roof of a truck parked exactly where I want to fish.
Damn it. Someones beat us. Probably some gear guy parked in the best part of the run.
It is, of course, a gear fisherman. He's throwing a big gold spinner on a swivel, standing in the juiciest piece of water. We eye each other as Brandon and I step out of the truck. I start putting up our rods as he prepares coffee and breakfast on the tailgate. We both hum Marty Robins' El Paso as we set about preparing for a mornings fishing. As I get closer to having the rods put up, all the while shooting glances at the fisherman in the run, bemoaning his presence, he starts to step down. A gentleman after all. I suddenly feel foolish for being quick in my judgments. I take Brandon up river, give him a little tutorial on the double spey and leave him to his devices. Wading down a ways I step in and get into a good rhythm with my Meiser switch rod. Paired up with a 475 grain Skagit max short the thing is unstoppable.
Every once in a while I look back towards Brandon, just to make sure he isn't snagged or hasn't fallen in. I see him struggle with a cast, make the necessary adjustment, and then he sends one out with a nice tight loop. Behind him the fog is starting to lift off the hillside, revealing more of the surrounding country with every moment like a bride pulling back her veil. It is etherial. A just reward for us waking at such an unreasonable hour. A bald eagle ambushes an osprey on the far bank, making it drop a fish from its talons. Brandon and I hoot towards one another as spectators would cheer a good play at a sports game. I cast, I mend, I step down. I come to where we've parked when the gear fisherman comes down the bank and asks if he can step in above me. Absolutely.
The dog days linger on. It is a good time to become reacquainted with favorite fly patterns and favorite books. Lately I've been doing a bit of both. Soon, less than a week from this posting, I'll be attending Confluence outfitters guide school outside of Redding Ca, aka trout town USA. So I've been making myself busy trying to learn and tie all manner of trouty patterns. It's a world apart from the usual fare I have grown accustomed to here on the coast. Steelhead flies, especially winter steelhead flies, are the gaudiest most ostentatious things imaginable from the fly tiers perspective. They are as eccentric in character as the individuals who fish for steelhead.
By comparison the opposite could be said of the flies that fill my trout boxes. They are sparse ephemeral things. There is a zen like quality to tying a pattern as simple and effective as an elk hair caddis or pale morning dun. If tying a fly as time consuming and embellished as a dual stage intruder could be likened in literary terms to an epic novel such as Moby Dick or War and Peace, then by contrast a Parachute Adams or BWO would be a Haiku.