Guest Blogger: Michael Vorhis, author of ARCHANGEL suspense thriller, OPEN DISTANCE adventure thriller & more to come
Road Trip Part One, the smoky half of the story, left me alongside the Truckee River in northern Nevada, tired and cold, seeking in the darkness a place to toss out a bedroll where no one would bother me. I was a one-night transient; a drifter; a fly fishing bum. I was proud of that last one.
Had to descend the canyon again to the Hirschdale off-ramp to find a likely snoring spot. Turned south and found what called itself a church, with open space and several parking lots including one covered with chipped/mulched wood -- clean and thermally insulated from the colder ground. Surely a church wouldn't turn away a tired old man...? Someone was moving around in a cabin a hundred yards or more from the spot I chose, but didn't come out with a shotgun, so I quietly spread a small tarp next to my car and put the sleeping bag on it. Feeling the night's chill, I knew I'd stretched the high altitude season a bit, but I stayed the course, and just like in my youth decades ago I settled down to let the bright High Sierra stars lull me to sleep.
Fly Fishing Road Trip Lesson #4
You never know about people in the dead of night. In the wee hours another car pulled into the same lot and made a bunch of noise seemingly trying to settle down like I'd done -- but was making lots of loud clanking, and I feared that whoever was in that cabin might call the sheriff to roust us both. I kept one eye on that car and calculated how long it would take me to get to my feet with a stick in my hand. Dozed off eventually, and an hour later woke to the sound of that idiot's car alarm going off like a carnival -- whoever it was had locked themselves in their car, set the alarm, then had wiggled enough to set the damned thing off. It took what seemed three minutes for the night-piercing alarm sirens to end. I waited for S.W.A.T. teams and rehearsed my both-hands-visible move and my yes-officer-no-officer story...but nothing...so again I faded off to sleep. Another hour or so later that car revved its engine and drove right by mine, saw that it couldn't get out that way, turned and aimed its high beams on me while I tried to wave it the hell off...and finally found the road and zoomed loudly away. I finished out the night in peace and comfort, awakening about 7am feeling amazingly rested.
Fly Fishing Road Trip Lesson #5
Weather in the mountains can surprise you even in mid-September. My sleeping bag was damp. But no wind, and I'd had the good sense twenty years prior to buy expedition-grade synthetic instead of a goose down bag. So…
Fly Fishing Road Trip Lesson #6
…was that I wasn't as young as I used to be, was a lesson I'd managed to dodge this day. I grabbed a crushed left-over crust of bread and had breakfast by the river, then chose a spot for my first casts.
Again under a bridge, where a path gave access...time spent there wasn't fruitful so I moved to what would be my final stretch of river.
I spotted a path that led down and out to where another fisherman had been wading and was now leaving. Went down there and we talked for a bit, he assured me I could wade all the way across, described the flies he normally uses, mentioned how good a place this is in winter, and left. A side stream comes in through a tunnel here, down from Boca reservoir, to join the river. Twin riffles are split by a dry bushy island at this water level. I worked the beautiful glides, tops of the riffles, and on down through to the water below the first drop on one side...but again it was the heat of the day now, bright blue sky...and no strikes.
The Truckee River
I finished with a cold swig of water while watching a freight train thunder down the canyon, the sides of its dual locomotives proclaiming a well-earned love for the Great American West. I knew I'd found a great stretch of water to begin my next expedition, if I ever got up this way again. I took a few more photos, then packed up and began the long 200-mile trip home.
It had been a terrific long-distance scouting trip; a solo wing-and-a-prayer adventure like in days of old. I felt rejuvenated. To do it again, I’d probably opt for earlier in the year -- a little more water -- and then fish closer to the top of the canyon, where wading was achievable but water volume would still support the fish population...that is, I might skip the whole “unwadable jagged-rock pipeline” scene. Still, this trip had been an education.
But...what had happened that first day, under that first highway bridge, when I'd found that special tongue of water? Well...
The main current had been charging down in parallel torrents, split by rocks like a table saw blade splits wood. But on the side where I stood, a side tongue of water stretched for maybe 30 feet, fed by small 6-inch pour-overs formed by rocks that softened the speed of the flow and separated it from the main. The deeper run below the small pour-overs looked like just the spot for stealthy fish to feed -- good clean flow with probably 3 or more feet of depth, not too swift, a little off to itself. I quietly waded to just upstream of it, as is my style, and flipped the fly into the stretch, letting it sweep over the pour-over, and sink, and swing...then slowly I brought it back upstream in slow intermittent three-inch strips in the softer part of the little flow. It all felt about right...and then something just about yanked the rod from my hands. Immediately I knew it was a good strong fish. Holding breath, I kept the rod tip bent and did what I could to recover line and keep the fish from tangling with a downed branch near the pour-over...which twice it tried to do. I was happy I'd gone to 3x tippet that morning, and on one of its headlong runs to the head of the stretch I added just a little aikido-esque "oomph" of my own and eased it over the low pour-over into the water in which I stood. Now it was in my zone.
The fish wasn't huge by length, but it was thick and powerful, and had real fight. It tried to run around me, pumping the bent-double rod with its speed, but the rod length did its job. I extended the net but lost sight of the fish -- too fast -- it wasn't ready. I got the net out there again anyway, made a lunge and a scoop, and got away with it, and I stood staring at one of the best rainbows I've caught in a number of years. It was fat and strong and had fought like the devil himself. I stood there admiring this beautiful fish with its blunt nose that suggested rapid growth, did what I could to get a (poorly warped) photo of it without stumbling on the large rocks around me, watched the fly fall out of its mouth into the net, and released it -- a beautiful Truckee River Rainbow, on its way to becoming a 20-incher. I think it'll make it.
Weeks later, I still replay the moment in my head at night, when it had pounded my fly with such electric force. Road Trip Lesson #7, and the one that beckons strongest whenever we dream of hitting the Long and Winding: Wonderful things, memorable things, can happen at any moment.