So I’ve never been in a drift boat before. I’ve had lots of them float by me on the Guadalupe while I envied the paying client being told exactly where to fish, when to mend, and how to hold the fish for the perfect grip and grin shot. Being ferried around to all the honey holes in a comfortable Hyde drift boat with no cares in the world except when lunch would be served isn’t my usual style of fishing. I’m used to wading chest deep for miles in order to get to less-fished water while trying not to take an iPhone-ruining plunge in the cold green water of the southern-most trout stream in the US. And that’s the way I liked it.
I recently had my 44th birthday. It’s not exactly a memorable number. For some unknown reason, Mrs. Angler Wannabe and I ended up planning a trip out to California to visit the Napa Valley vineyards and do a little couple’s fly fishing. We were originally going to fly in to Sacramento and stay up in the Truckee area for some unstructured fly fishing on the Truckee River. My birthday doesn’t coincide with favorable weather in the area so I attempted to find good fishing in the Napa or Sonoma area. No luck there. So I had the bright idea to book a trip through the famous drool-inducing catalog producer, The Fly Shop. I’ve always wanted to visit the shop since I took up fly fishing over 10 years ago.
The trout season in California doesn’t start until the end of April but the Lower Sacramento that runs right through Redding California, home of The Fly Shop, is year round. It’s a big river that’s only accessible via drift boat at this time of the year due to the high flows coming out of Shasta Dam. If I’m going to fish one of the best fisheries in the state, I have to book a drift boat and a guide with it.
That’s where Chris Parsons comes in. He was the The Fly Shop’s recommended guide for the full day trip that I booked with Mrs. Anglerwannabe. Since my wife isn’t a fly fisher lady (yet), he’s the best for getting beginners in to a respectable number of the Shasta Rainbow Trout that the Lower Sacramento River is famous for. Trip booked.
After a couple of days in the Russian River Valley at a charming inn called the Raford Inn (highly recommended btw), drinking more wine than any two people getting up before 5:00a to drive for 3.5 hours should, we made the treck to Redding, home of the Sundial Bridge.
To save time and avoid backtracking, I chose to drive over the mountain range separating the wine country from the agricultural country. This really tested the cornering on the rental car as we spent about an hour and a half winding over the mountains. I’m sure it was beautiful but we were experiencing it in early morning darkness. We’ll have to go that way some other time when it’s light out.
We arrived at The Fly Shop at about 9:30a. I met with Chris to go over any other needs we might have and then took care of the remaining paperwork. Note to the state licensing divisions – you might get more woman out fishing if you don’t ask them for their weight.
We hopped back in our rental and followed Chris and the drift boat to the launch site. After unloading the boat, we then followed him to the takeout, about 12 miles down the river. We drove back to the launch site and Chris and I chit chatted a bit about travel and books (he’s also reading An Entirely Synthetic Fish by Anders Halverson). It was then time to get on the water.
Chris gave us about a 15 minute lesson on how to fish the river. It involved a 3 rig fly outfit on a 6wt rod called a midget rig. The flies were very close together, much closer than what I’m used to.
The lead fly was an egg pattern and the two others were small nymphs. We had an indicator and a really large weight. The basic gist to the casting was you don’t really. Flop the line to the opposite side of the boat and then flop it back. Pay more attention to stripping out some line and mending it in order to get a good drift. Then watch the bobber, I mean indicator, for any dip and set the hook with a lot of force.
We were then ready to give it a shot. Chris rowed us a few yards and told me to give it a try. Immediately, the indicator went under and fish on. And then off. The hook set was probably the hardest part for me. I can’t even count how many fish I (and Mrs. Angler Wannabe) lost.
Chris knew exactly where all the fish were. So, we would make a drift through a run, catch some fish (or sometimes not), and he would paddle back to do it again. Not much fun for him I guess, but I enjoyed the hell out of catching fish after fish. My wife picked it up quickly and started catching fish, one after the other. I always stopped to either take a picture or just enjoy her fighting these healthy fish and therefore didn’t get much opportunity to do my own catching at that point because every time she cast, she would hook something. I think she sensed me getting a little antsy so she took a rest, plus her arm was hurting from all the action (a little guide joke).
After a couple of hours of pretty solid catching, we pulled over and ate lunch. We brought along a bottle of Thomas George Estates Pinot Noir that we poured into water bottles that Chris cut in half. It was awesome. There’s something really cool about drinking $60 wine on the side of a trout river in recyclable plastic.
Following lunch, there was more of the same. We did run into a few slower times but they always heated back up, all the way to the take out. Every fishing report needs a little fish porn, so here are a few scenery pics along with a couple grip and grin shots:
BTW, You shouldn’t see these awful sunglasses much longer. Mrs. Angler Wannabe gave me the OK to replace them, they are really that ugly.
It was a great day. Good discussions, great healthy fish on the fly, top notch vino and some time out on the water on an otherwise insignificant birthday year. But, I’ll remember it for a long time. Thanks Chris for being a great introducer to drift boating and fly fishing the wonderful Lower Sacramento River. And thank you Mrs. Angler Wannabe for taking a day away from the vineyard visits just so I can enjoy being rowed around a river for the entire day. You must love me.
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