August 9th, 2010 browsing by day


The Simple Life

Monday, August 9th, 2010

Even in these mercifully emancipated decades, many people still seem quite seriously alarmed at the prospect of sleeping away from officially consecrated campsites, with no more equipment than they can carry on their backs. When pressed, they babble about snakes or bears or even, by God, bandits. But the real barrier, I’m sure, is the unknown.

-Colin Fletcher

It started for me in the United States Bicentennial year – 1976. My mom strapped a pack to my back and we headed off into the wild. I remember camping next to the creek and the fascination with the stove, tent, and trying to catch a fish.

I guess not much has changed thankfully. I still love the simplicity of carrying all you need on your back. Food, shelter, clothing……add in a little fishing gear and you have it covered.

A break and a view

Top of the hill

With the son now nine years old, I thought it was time to bring him into the fold with his first real backpacking trip.

I had just the place in mind. A few weeks previous, a friend had turned me on to a place in the upper San Francisco River drainage which has access to four trout streams. Two of them hold  brown trout. Another has hybrid native/rainbow trout as well as browns. The last  contains only the hybrids. All of the fish are wild and the area knows little human use.

On a Tuesday morning we hiked a couple miles up around a ranch and past to the confluence of two of the streams. We found a nice spot to pitch our tent with a trout stream on each side. After filtering some water, we took a break. Following the construction of a small fire ring (no other previous campsites were found) and gathering some wood, our chores were done.

Wild Brown Trout Stream

Brown Trout Lurk

We spent the balance of the afternoon working the larger of the two creeks. We caught too many wild brown trout to count, all on dry flies. As long as you kept a low profile and used a soft step they did not spook.

Matthew was still a  little nervous and concerned after counter-balance hanging our food. There was a lot of bear sign in the area. I assured him we were safer there than back in the city.  I also instructed him to watch-out for poison ivy and chiggers. This did little to assuage his nerves.

After dinner we started a small fire. I made us both a cup of hot chocolate and he finally relaxed. I knew this when he pronounced that “all I need is a warm campfire and a good cup of Joe”. I have no idea where that came from.

We slept well.

Wednesday morning came early. This was to be our big day. We had planned to hike up the creek on the other side of camp which contained both the browns and hybrids and then up a tributary which not only carried most of the water flow, but the source of the hybrids. The culmination of the trip would be a waterfall.

As we worked our way up, Matt did not want to fish much; he was more than content to watch me catch and release a score or more of trout.

Fishg a smal plunge pool

I Spy

Finally as we approached the waterfall, he peered into a pool and spied a trout on station. Asking for the rod and using the cover of the rock, he dapped the fly in the pool above the fish. I watched as it struck viciously and then popped off. Matt was crestfallen. I peered back into the pool and rather than go into hiding, the fish had returned to station. I encouraged him to try again. As I watched intently, the fly drifted past the fish on the next attempt. He gave it one more try. This time the fish jumped out of the water after the fly before it hit the surface and Matt reflexively yanked it away. This trout was hot!

The third time, the trout took the fly as soon as it hit the surface and did not slip the hook. It darted and dashed around the pool until I cupped it in my wet hand, snapped a photo, and released it.

Native-rainbow hybrid

Matt's Fish

Afterward, I could hardly pry the rod from his hands. Pool after pool he called and he caught several more on his own.

native-rainbow hybrid

Spotted Beauty

When we returned to the confluence and were crossing the stream, I spotted a fish in shallow water less than ten feet away which was somehow oblivious to our presence. Since the rod was in my hand, I flicked the fly upstream and it watched as it drifted by. “Try again, daddy”, Matt encouraged. The kid learns fast. I complied and this time the fish rose with a deliberate slowness to inhale the fly.

It was poetry in motion.

We laboriously made our way back to camp and by the time we arrived the sun was low in the sky. A honest tired had set in as we ate and enjoyed the fire with hot chocolate in hand.

Thursday morning we hiked out. Matt asked if we could come again someday. I sure hope so. Even more, I hope he lives a long and healthy enough life to enjoy the simple life for the Tricentennial. May America still have places so wild.