Old School on Old School (Reflections)

Vintage Trinity River

A wild-free flowing Trinity River/Old Bridge/Lewiston-pre Trinity-Lewiston Dams

Happy New Year! While I try to figure out what happened and why 2015 blew by I can’t help dig into the archives and reflect on good times; helps, at least in my case, slow the train down. Here is a fresh favorite and then some.

One of my fondest fly fishing memories surprisingly doesn’t involve fishing or catching but rather a fly tying session. This wasn’t just any social chat’n sweat punch’em out production tying session but rather a rare occasion to seriously tie flies, swap stories and become better acquainted with a well-respected and long term Lewiston resident and accomplished fly fisher—the late Bud Fine. Bud had the great fortune to fly fish the Trinity River, pre-dam 1938-2003, along with many of the headwater lakes and rivers. Ever since the very first time I fished the Trinity River, 1969, I thought I was the fortunate one until I met Bud, up close and personal, and listened to him elaborate about the Trinity River and his pre-dam experiences.

Snowy Trinity River

2016 has blessed us with promising rains and snows and a few empty lineups.

Overall Bud was a friendly easy going man. However, he portrayed an entirely different character when fishing; committed, focused, and aggressive— every cast counted and more often than not I witnessed his success. His dexterity and fly tying skills were spot on and unmatched for his vintage age. All flies, especially his favorite steelhead fly (Grey Hackle Yellow), were effective designs of yester-year (Trinity Brown-Van Zant Thor-Weitchpec Witch-Silver Hilton); simple consistent and attractively dressed with all natural lifelike materials on classic irons (Mustad, Eagle Claw-Herters) reflecting his era and time on the water. Above all, Bud’s pre-dam fishing stories, spoken with intricate detail, excitement and, at times, dry humor, were nothing less than a captivating adrenalin rush; especially when touting TR steelheading in the uppermost TR above Trinity Center and fly fishing, with his partner in crime the late Jess Freeman, for TR spring chinook, May-June in the belly of Billy Wright’s pool (aka-Rush Cr. pool). By his own admission, Bud revealed his favorite pre-dam steelhead waters—Coopers Gulch (what is now lower Lewiston lake) he referenced as the last series of staging waters for summer and fall run steelhead before dispersing into the uppermost tributaries (Stuarts Fork, Swift Creek, Coffee Cr. North and East Forks Trinity River). For three hours we tied, shared materials, fly patterns and theories. I asked as many questions possible before sounding like a drill sergeant. (For anyone in question about the TR pre-dam fishery, staggering is the read I got, leaving further details up to your own imagination). We enjoyed the camaraderie and as if lost in another world eagerly exchanging passions and savored the Golden yrs.. Strangely the tide changed. Unexpectedly, after prolonged silence and what appeared to be a deep thought, Bud looked up from his vice and turned to me, with a piercing cold stare and frown, then firmly stated, “Herb, they took our river from us.”

Trinity Steelhead

Beauty and the Beast—Winter Pacific Steel.

A lot has happened since that fly tying session with Bud Fine 34 yrs. ago and when I first began fishing the TR 47 yrs. ago. Trinity-Lewiston Dams have drastically altered and impacted the TR and its fish stocks, Supplemental hatchery stocks have been introduced to mitigate losses, Floods, Droughts, Gov’t agencies have invested MILLIONS of $ in years of controversial artificial main stem rehab projects, Year 2000 the ROD allocated additional 20% plus more water down the TR, State mandatory release of all “native” steelhead implemented, Electroshocking studies of non- native fish continue to sprout controversy, Commercial and sport fishing has erupted to unimaginable numbers during peak seasons while thirsty Central Valley water interest groups, dubbing the TR and NW rivers “wasted water flowing to the Pacific,” continue demands for additional water diversions.

Classic Steelhead flies

Anyone that can say the word STEELHEAD should have this book (available Trinity Fly Shop)

What hasn’t happened? Oddly, I haven’t gotten any younger and inquiries like “Herb, what was the TR like when you first started” and other questions of this nature seem much to frequent. Along with a few more body aches, brain drains, and inability to tippit up small dries first time, as much as I hate to admit it, time has caught up with me and I painfully realize I have become the old man; reflecting and enjoying memories more often, like this blog, still driving a stick, listening to 60’s rock, embarrassed to use my flip-phone (thank God don’t have my face glued to a screen 24/7), back to fishing glass yet still managing to stroke the oars and able to step in and tattoo a few on the swing.

Enough personal BS, where am I going with this? Despite adverse impacts and consequences, remarkably, the TR still represents amazing resiliency and fish stocks continue to adapt, perpetuate and withstand many changes. Certainly it is not the river or fishery of the past. Bud Fine and I successfully fished the Trinity River, pre-dam and post dam, and experienced two completely different river compositions, personalities and fisheries yet the quality and current state of this magnificent watershed has become recognized as one of the premiere and most consistently productive steelhead rivers in the Pacific Northwest. Few rivers can match its reputation, let alone survive the impacts and changes. The haunting question remains, how much can the TR endure and for how long?

1975 Era

TR 1975 era— Old School ain’t so bad

The New Year has arrived with a serious round of frontal systems bringing much needed rains and snow to most all of California, slowly replenishing reserves and fueling watersheds. Other than the Smith and Chetco most other coastal rivers have been out for weeks with only a few brief windows of opportunities. Lower snow levels, coastal range, and overlapping frontal systems have helped to sustain longer periods of higher flows in most all coastal waters. Coastal odds favor those closely monitoring systems and willing to jump the minute conditions ripen; he who hesitates, more often than not, wish they hadn’t. Locally, the Trinity River and its secondary’s have been pulsing with each freshet. The serious “wad” of mature hatchery fish, balled up lower JC to the North Fork, finally made their move and do what hatchery fish do—go to the hatchery (over 760 steelhead entered the facility in one week). Higher flows have spread fish out creating entirely new lineups and behavior patterns. Lower snow levels have dropped water temperatures (averaging 39-42 degrees) yet helped clarity. The upper reach, Lewiston down to the North Fork, has remained fishable and are the go to waters until the lower system subsides; plan on company. Another series of frontal systems are forecasted and will likely inspire additional fresh movements. Winter steelheading—keep you guessing while fueling the stoke for opportunity. See the chance take it! Welcome 2016 and make it a Great One!!!