Guest Blogger: Michael Vorhis, author of ARCHANGEL suspense thriller, OPEN DISTANCE adventure thriller & more to come
It started with that miserable lockdown year, when most everyone around here was forced to either work from home or lose their jobs entirely. I was one of the lucky ones, but that meant long hours each day in front of a computer screen, never getting up to stretch, never speaking live to colleagues...never shaving or getting a haircut, never rubbing bleary failing eyes. The net result was that thousands of co-workers and I were basically on the job 24/7. We never really left the "office." The pressure, the stress, was getting to everyone. Still we knew it was better than the poor slobs out there who were out of work, losing family businesses and homes...most of us didn’t complain.
Our CEO, a stand-up guy, declared that going forward we'd all get a couple of extra days off each quarter, same days for everyone so that emails and tasks wouldn't pile up while we took a breather. We kept our shoulders to the wheels and looked forward to those days.
And in mid-September of 2022, two of those days came along, and I decided to take a fishing road trip. Solo. Blood and guts...teeth of the gale...like I used to do as a single man. I'd follow the pavement in the direction of trout water, and the water I chose was the infamous blue ribbon Truckee River in the high desert of northern Nevada, 200 miles from where I live.
Hitting the Road
I dropped my daughter at her high school, pointed the hood ornament (which is a dead bug stuck to the car's paint) northeast, and hit the open road. My other few-and-far-between fishing trips of the past summer had been just quick out-&-back half-day jaunts to local water, always with a deadline looming on the wrist watch and always to water that never served up more than smaller fish...or none at all. This one would be different, I told myself; this one would not disappoint. The river was noted for its large rainbows and I'd have seven hours on the water that day and another seven next morning. I'd combed through internet videos, identified specific locations by cross-checking land features against satellite photos, and picked three seemingly prime but accessible pull-outs on the map. The color prints were in my glove box and the coordinates were in my phone. It was gonna be epic.
Fly Fishing Road Trip Lesson #1
Up high near the Sierra divide, smoke from some unseen California wildfire filled the valleys, swept over the pass by the westerlies, reminiscent of what driving in fog is like back east. Due to a lack of traffic to the high country I made the 4-hour trip in three hours flat, eating my breakfast as I drove...crossed the 7200-foot Donner Pass and arrived at my first choice of river stretches, ready to go. And here I (re)learned my First Lesson of Road Trips: There's no substitute for local legal access knowledge. The river looked low, but more importantly the access was nonexistent. Private land. A sign mentioned prosecution. So I wasted the first hour finding that out and re-routing myself to Plan B, which was going to require a mile walk with fishing gear along the eastern stretch of a Truckee town bike path called the Legacy Trail.
Got to the small parking area, and here was another sign...the county had chosen these same two days to rope off the trail for "paving," and the sign warned that any parked cars would be dragged off to who-knew-where at the owner's expense. So Plan B was a bust as well -- fate had pulled out all stops to oppose my plans on this day.
Third and last choice was miles east, down the canyon on the way to Reno, where river access was much more sparse and difficult. Interstate-80 was the only way to get down there, which meant I'd be limited to exits (or highway shoulder pull-outs if I wanted to take that risk...which I didn't). With each mile I descended into the canyon the smoke in the air grew a little thinner. Made it to the "Floriston" interchange a few ramps down; the off-ramp became a dirt clearing where a car could park. The river was a pipeline of fast choppy water lined and paved by large jagged rocks. Here and there, if you could get down to the water at all without falling and breaking your leg or your rod, you could see a few places where you might be able to step into the water about a foot or so, but it would immediately get far too deep on the second step and you'd be quickly swept in over your waders and away. This meant back-casting would be out of the question, and to avoid snagging the wild bushes lining the flow I'd have to sideways-cast out over the water, flipping maybe 20 feet of line upstream and letting it whoosh past me until the rod loaded and I could flip the line upstream again. Maybe I could try to target eddies behind rocks. If a spot failed to produce, I'd be facing another perilous scramble trying to find another spot to stand.
Fly Fishing Road Trip Lesson #2
Lesson #2: There's no substitute for current local knowledge of water level and what kind of access it might afford in a given season.
I spoke with a fishing couple who'd returned (skunked) to their car, then made a choice. The area of river directly under the I-80 overpass, hardly pure from an aesthetic perspective, was looking better and better. Once I got down to it there would be places I could stand and even move around, and back-cast, and wade to knee depth...and cast to a couple of eddies behind rocks.
So this is why there were paths down to the river under the highway, where other fishermen had done the same thing and where many of those online videos had been filmed. I swallowed my pride, gave up on the pristine all-natural picture in my head, and scrambled down under there.
It was actually enjoyable. The shade made more pockets of water seem viable. I was using my standard red-wine-colored soft hackle wet fly with barred white tail and hackle, and was pleased to feel a few takes, which meant whatever bug it looks like was in this watershed as well. I alternated between relying on the weighted fly itself and using a small split shot to get it down faster, depending on the rush of water I was trying to fish. Snagged bottom a few times...then moved in directly under the concrete above. A take resulted in a hook-up and I landed what I think might possibly have been the first brown trout I've ever caught (I'm always fishing rainbow water). It was only about 7 inches long but I was happy to appreciate its different color patterns and that it had been fooled by my fly. I released it and watched it hide by my boot for a minute before making its way into the current.
No more strikes for the next 30 minutes, so I decided to switch flies...maybe the red wine wet fly didn't really match what's in the habitat...maybe that 7-incher had been a fluke. I tied on a soft hackle wet fly with different coloration (the one I wrote about a few months back, which I call "Partridge and Ruffles"). Then I noticed a separate very intriguing tongue of water to the side of the main flow...a place that almost looked like magic could happen there...and...but, well, let me come back to that story later.
Mid-afternoon eventually descended upon me while I aimed casts here and there out into the main flow; I decided to pack up and descend the canyon another ~7 miles on the recommendation of the fisherman I'd met earlier, who'd said there was wadable water at the Farad exit. It was true; got two strikes at the top of a riffle, but no hook-ups. The smoke in the air lent a surrealistic touch to the scene. I headed back up the canyon to an exit called Hirschdale. Got there and wet the line one final time for the day, but no strikes there. Evening and hunger were upon me now, and I drove back to Truckee town in search of affordable pizza, finding none and settling for a cheap burger wolfed down in the car.
It was already dark; had to find a place to toss the sleeping bag out on the ground. Road Trip Lesson #3: All land served by roads is private, and visible if accessible...and it's your car that gives you away.
I sought a place to bed down....
(To see if I lived...as opposed to writing all this stuff in advance and then perishing out there...you can find the dismal tale continued in Road Trip Part Two....)