Guest Blogger: Michael Vorhis, author of ARCHANGEL suspense thriller, OPEN DISTANCE adventure thriller & more to come

In England and still throughout Commonwealth countries, local roads made of crushed granite fragments are often called “metal roads” or “metalled roads,”  since “metalling” was defined as the practice of binding gravel or crushed stone in a bit of tar to render a rural road durable. If such a term can be applied to overland routes, perhaps a tiny little river that cuts its way through a canyon of granite slabs and litters its bed with the shards of those rocks can be figuratively called “metal” as well.

And so as I type this, I think back on yesterday’s fishing outing with the kind of feeling I suspect the old prospectors might have had when they struck a vein — when men like George Hearst or Pablo Flores hit a shiny seam or mother lode that put a family on the historical map. I think back to the mountain stream I fished yesterday, called the Silver Fork, and I realize that I too have struck “precious metal.”

In this case the effect was to take me off-map, rather than put me on. The Silver Fork of the American River is a tiny tributary of the American River’s South Fork, which itself is one of three separate larger forks of the total Californian American River watershed. The Silver Fork joins the South Fork from a small granite side-canyon high in the tall pines eco-zone; it is a flow of which relatively few are aware, given that most folks scream past the diminutive confluence bent only on shaving a minute off their time to or from the Tahoe casinos.

In this mountain range, such a stream setting is as classic as it gets. Across time, the Silver Fork has carved a small but noteworthy channel through High Sierra granite slabs, and even now slides mostly across them. Although there are loose pebbles in abundance, it is not really a freestone waterway because its real base is largely solid rock. As a result, insect life variety and quantity is somewhat less than what other river bottoms can sustain, and that affects fish growth rates. Terrestrial food supplies are a predominant source of nourishment here. Most water is shallow, and it’s all as clear as the air above it. Roll casts are indispensable, and floating fly lines are the only type that make any sense.

Although maps show that flow is affected by two separate dams far upstream, water levels still fluctuate between releases and seasons. There is no flow gauge on this little stream, but it accounts for most of the water feeding the South Fork American this time of year (and possibly any time of year, although one would have to do a study of snow melt to verify that). Judging from a gauge below the South Fork micro-town of Kyburz (which read 63 CFS on the day I went) and some photos published by kayakers that were said to have been taken when flow was around 1200 CFS, I probably saw about 45 to 50 CFS on the Silver Fork yesterday. If that’s a fair guess, then I’d say fishing would be safe and enjoyable up to 100 CFS to an upper limit of perhaps 200 CFS (which could show up as maybe ~270 on the Kyburz South Fork gauge). The Silver Fork is not bank-constricted except in a few places; so it can widen easily as flows in the hundreds of CFS range increase.  Widening stream width as volumetric flow goes up helps keep current speed in check.

Wading, however, might be a little difficult at 200+ on the Silver Fork. Wading would be unnecessary for accessing the fish-holding pour-overs and holes, which would generally be accomplished from atop rocks. At the low flows I saw, I was able to get ankle-deep in select places to minimally assist a sideways back-cast, and I could have easily waded in the shallower glides, but those glides at the low flows I saw were not likely to hold fish except perhaps during very low light. As flows approach 200 CFS or thereabouts, those glides might become much more interesting to fly fishermen…as a guess.

I dispensed with the waders (they leak anyway), and stuck bare feet into my wading boots, wet-wading up to rolled-up trousers. Felt cold; felt good.

Skilled kayakers can boat this stream up to a whopping ~2500 CFS…but their equipment is specialized, their abilities very, very current…and there aren’t many such people around to begin with. I used to paddle the white stuff, but I wouldn’t attempt this one on the strength of how good I used to be…the cost of a simple mistake would be high. Nor are there any “rubber tourist buses” here, nor any other “traffic” to deal with or suffer the noise of. And sit-on-top kayaks, open or air-bag-fitted canoes, anyone fancying themselves “whitewater proficient” courtesy of owning any department store boat (however full-featured or thrillingly named via decals), anyone in anything that can pop (including so-called “inflatable kayaks” and absolutely including inner tubes)…just a big plain NO. All this makes a tiny stream like this idyllic for fly fishing.

More pristine a mountain brook would be hard to find in a populated state. As nothing ever is these days, its solitude was less than pure — there were folks camped along it for several miles, although maybe a quarter mile apart on average — far enough that each camp could not see another. It being a Sunday, most were packing up to go home. I picked a spot where I could descend the bank down to the water, and had a nice little sliver of paradise all to myself for several hours.

Using the soft-hackle wetfly with which I always begin (burgundy-colored full body, red wire ribbing, barred white wood duck tail and hackle, size 16 hook, dark thread head, wire-weighted), I caught two little wild rainbows while the last heroic remnants of morning shade still lingered over the water. They were small, but just plain beautiful. It is said that rainbows and browns 12 to 14 inches long are here too, and in a setting like this such fish would truly seem huge, but naturally one doesn’t stumble onto those on an initial scouting trip — it will require more knowledge of the stream.

The noonday sun found my spot and the feeding stopped, so I retreated to “Czech-nymphing” that wetfly through a deeper pour-over hole…but even there the clear water let the sun in, and I caught nothing else. I think I could perhaps have had similar results with a little dry of around a “size 18” before the shade was gone. Dry action in a place like this is something no angler would turn down.

I delayed leaving by sitting for awhile under a ponderosa pine with a cold beer in hand, listening to forest birds celebrating their good fortune of living in such a magical place. It was all worth the long drive there and back, and as I sit here now at home I can think of nothing else. Fish size be damned; this is the kind of stream I love. It’s a mother lode of Silver, but of a more fluid, more exhilarating, more priceless grade of ore.

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