It is around this time of year, in the waining days of summer, when the NFL spots start making their first reemergence and the days decrease in measured length that we here on the coast can again start to turn our eyes to the river and stop dreaming of steelhead. The time has come again to loop on a floating line and tie on a classic. It's time to start meticulously analyzing flow charts and weather systems. It's time to skate'm up in the morning, and dig 'em out by day. It's time to go fishing.
It begins with the Klamath. The anadromous superhighway cuts through some of the most rugged terrain in California as it carves an enormous V through the heart of the interior. At Weitchpec it makes a dramatic turn north and falls in line with its coastal cousins flowing northwest towards the sea. It was here, below the Pearson store, where the Klamath and Trinity rivers meet, that I first saw huge schools of Chinook rolling in the predawn glow of a late summer morning.
I recently picked up a copy of John Shewey's Classic Steelhead Flies and was immediately engrossed. This bibliography of traditional patterns and their origins is a must have for any serious steelheaders' fishing library. It was especially rewarding and fascinating to learn about the history of California's storied fly tiers. The rivers they called home and the flies they pioneered to fish this part of steelhead country is, in my opinion, one of the most unique qualities of this regions history. It affirmed the fact that what is so commonly thought of as new in our sport is more often what has merely been forgotten. The fact that John S Benn, noted Irish Immigrant and fly tier extraordinaire, is recorded to have caught a 30 pound Chinook in the Eel River on a 15 foot bamboo rod in 1892 would make one think twice about the modernity of utilizing two handers to target anadromous fish. I lost count of how many times Shewey would be profiling an individual tier only to conclude that once they found the Klamath their search for a home river came to an end. The Silver Hilton, perhaps one of the most ubiquitous patterns for steelhead of all time, was first tied in a ramshackle cabin aptly named Red Rats Haven above the banks of the Klamath river.