Whenever Jimmy D is involved in the equation, that situation, whatever it might be, lends itself to being one of unknown and sometimes wacky adventure. You never know what might happen with us and that fact always makes me smile when I think about it. Our destination for this fishing trip had not been pre-planned, but I was leaning towards going to the Feather River and fishing the North Fork canyon section, which lies above the city of Oroville. If another worthwhile suggestion had been put forth, I would have listened and definitely considered it. Our trip the previous week to the Tuolumne was a great example of that. We discovered "new" water and had a lot of fun in the process. I arrived at Jim's apartment around 7:00 on Saturday night and the immediate discussion centered on where our trip would take us. We both said the word "Feather" at the same time, although it escaped from Jimmy's lips a little hesitantly. He had been up that way with another GRC compadre Duane, and they didn't have the results that I usually have, and always expect. My logic for choosing the Feather River for this trip was quite simple: My last time up to the North Fork with Jeremy in September had been pretty much of a bust. This was because of the kayak whitewater releases, which had blown out the main river making it look like a swirling mass of chocolate milk. Sure we caught trout, but they were small and we had to head up to Caribou and fish a tributary in order to catch them. With this most likely being the last trip before the general trout season closed in a week, I wanted to feel the pull on my line from the brutes that resided in the main stem of this river. I knew the fish would be ravenous at this time of the year, making them more than willing to eagerly take a fly. We both agreed that was where we would head.
On our way up to the northern Sierra, we stopped in Fairfield for an In-&-Out burger which has become sort of a tradition in our expeditions and with good reason. After this pit stop, Jimmy fell asleep for the rest of the journey. We pulled into a place that I have dubbed "kayak central" sometime after 10:00 pm. This is a large parking area directly off the highway where all the rafters and kayakers congregate when the river flows are bumped up for their use. I had decided on this spot for the overnighter, as it was far enough off the road and would provide immediate access for fishing in the morning. After parking at the end of the dirt road that leads away from the main lot, Jimmy & I picked our way through the darkness and down to the river. The rapids above our camping sight were roaring, and drowned out our conversation. We had a quick look and then it was back to the car for some sleep. When Jimmy & I car camp, we do exactly that - sleep in our vehicle. The air was cool, but not cold and although the wind howled through the canyon for the rest of the night, we were never uncomfortable. The gray morning light awoke us both about 7:00. Being deep down in the canyon this late in the year meant that the sun would not be on the water for a while.
Rather than getting his java fix, Jimmy immediately geared up and wanted to hit the water. I found this to be quite unusual, and a little peculiar to say the least. While fishing with him along the East Walker River in Bridgeport, we had to make a special trip into town each dawn so he could fill up on caffeine before we returned to the river where we had spent the night camping. We lost at least an hour each morning while accomplishing this coffee run. Today he was in the river before me and had set himself up to sling some streamers through the upper portion of the large pool that was just below the rapids.
I rigged up my 11' 6-weight with a double pheasant tail nymph tandem and waded down river a bit. On my second or third drift thru the middle portion of this pool, I hooked into a nice fish, which took out line and jumped down river. However, the fight was short lived and he was off after a 20 second tussle. That was it for the next hour, as we waded downriver to fish the tail end of this slack water and another run below it. Back at the car, we gathered up our sleeping bags, packed them away and hit the road to try some other places that were on my "must fish" list. The next stop was up the road a bit at a place I have nicknamed the Bluff Run. The wind was still howling through the trees as we crouched behind several large boulders and lit the small propane stove that Jimmy had brought along. We heated several mugs of water, which we then poured into a unique little French press coffee maker that kicked out a couple cups of steaming hot coffee. We sat hunkered down in the protection of our rock shelter, eating muffins and having the java warm our insides. With the wind drowning out everything within earshot, I never heard the truck that had pulled up in the gravel next to us.
Next thing I know, I was staring up into the weathered face of Mike, the angler survey taker who works with PG&E. I had become friendly with him over the course of this summer as we bumped into each other on all of my previous trips. It is his job to monitor the river by taking fish counts and talking with any fishermen he sees. I had garnered a lot of useful info from him, as he has lived in the area for most of his life and was always eager to chat him up. We sat and gossiped with him for about 20 minutes.
By now the sun was cresting over the top peak of the east canyon wall and bright sunlight warmed our faces, making us squint like old men. After parting ways with Mike I knew we would run into him several more times before the end of the day we slipped down the narrow path cut through the rocky ledge and worked our way to the water. I positioned Jimmy in the lower riffles, as that has always been a productive place for me. I cut inland and walked upriver to the head of a great looking plunge pool. While there, I hooked into two/three fish, none of which I could land while Jimmy had no luck below me. We flip-flopped each other with him fishing the far bank moving upstream and me doing the exact opposite. I pointed to the spot where I had hooked my fish and yelled for him to "nail 'em." This is exactly what he did, catching several nice fish and several smaller ones while drifting nymphs through the upper reaches of that pocket water.
While fishing in the riffles below, exactly where Jim had started, I hooked into a nice trout, which started racing downstream on its way to the Oroville dam. I let out an emboldened "whoop" so Jimmy could watch my action while doing his own thing. My hooked fish kept taking line out, and then when I fought it to a standstill, it really started taking line out. I began to wonder just how much line had ripped through my guides when I glanced down and saw my backing working its way towards the rod tip. Upon seeing this, I became a bit nervous and wondered just how nice of a fish I had hooked into. During our discussion up on the bluff with Mike, he had told us stories of seeing 24-28 inch monsters during his twenty odd years on the Feather, taking fish surveys and trapping spawning fish to take gill samples. After a spirited ten minute fight, I eventually reeled in all my slack line and brought this fish into the slow water where I was able to net it. What? Although this rainbow was fairly hefty, it only measured out at 14 inches. I would be lying if I didn't admit that I was a bit disappointed to not have this warrior measure in at a good 20 inches after the fight he had waged with me. Still, true fly fishing doesn't get any better than this, and that fight will always be memorable. Jim and I both had a great time fishing this spot, but things were slowing down and there was a lot of open, unfished water that I knew we'd not want to miss.
Our next stop was less than a ½ mile up the road at a rough campground area of the old, abandoned Indian Jim School. It always strikes me as sort of funny how things change through the years. In today's politically correct, rather vanilla bland world, I don't know how well it would go over with the masses if someone were to announce that they were the graduate of the Indian Jim School. We hiked into a secret spot that I knew very few would manage to take the time and effort to get to, especially with so much great looking water right off the highway. Jimmy and I were unsuccessful here although I did hook into a nice fish and after a short five-second fight it came unbuttoned.