When I head out of a metropolitan area for a long trip, I like to leave early in the morning, an hour or so before sun up. This is when you get to see a part of the city that most people, except for police, garbage collectors and EMTs, don’t.
It’s quiet, the streets are empty, and the sun is just hinting on the horizon. Most important, for a city like San Francisco, where all the best trout fishing is on the other side of a large bridge, stop and go traffic that quickly sets in after 6 a.m. is void. At this hour, the freeway is truly a freeway.
In tribute to my birthday brother I’d be meeting in couple hours, I hit the play button on my mp3 player. The Edgar Winter Group’s “Freeride” filled the speakers of my Dodge Ram, and my two-year-old fishing and hunting buddy, Ziggy, perked his ears up and looked around as Ronnie Montrose gave his best with that magic guitar open and roll that has been part of video game and movie soundtracks for years, not the least of which, for an addict of anything that flies: Air America. Dan Hartman wrote it, but that’s all Brother Montrose on the guitar…it’s also one of my favorite songs from the ’70s, because it became a hit the year my family left Vietnam War, 1972.
Ziggy and I arrived at our secret trout stream and Montrose and his wife, Leighsa, a phenomenal florist, whose work has graced the grand events of many celebrities and influential people, were waiting for what would be a definite good day.
I went through my plan of what I thought was best. This was Leighsa’s first time, but Ronnie, a definite San Francisco-born and Colorado-raised Colorado boy, was well-versed when the topic comes to trout: rainbow, browns, cutthroats, you name it, he’s caught it.
As I’ve become more and more drawn into the music world, I find that many musicians love the outdoors (like for writers, it’s pretty much the only place you can truly get away)…and these rockers don’t just do it like sterile surgeons.
No, these folks really get in there and get intimate with Nature—there’s my buddy who introduced me to Ronnie, 80’s rocker and pig hunting maniac T. Michael Riddle, whose new album is being produced by Montrose. And there’s Dokken drummer Jeff Martin, who I hunted with during a celebrity hunt at the Riddle’s Native Hunt dove opener…and you’d be surprised how many music and film celebrities not only love flyfishing but also pick up a gun and put organic meat on the table—It’s refreshing…and more importantly, it’s honest!
All squared away with how we’d be using light 2-4lb line, a split shot and a small, size-10 to 12 (not too small or the barb it won’t have time to hook into the trout’s jaw in the fast water) salmon egg hook, on a light spinning rig, we made our way through the thorn-laced blackberry bushes that line most of the great trout streams in the Sierras from Kings Canyon on north—I made a note to myself to pick some when we were done.
When we got to the stream edge, I saw a rainbow trout, belly up on the bottom. It had been a warm week. It’s one of the reasons when I’m fishing hatchery raised trout, I just fish my limit, and keep my limit. When I’m done, I leave—I don’t catch-and-release another 50-100 as many are proud to tell me they’ve done.
Would they be so proud to know how many of those ended up dying, out of sight, recorded only by biologists next down the waterway, collecting the actual number of fish that die as the result of catch-and-release practices? If asked most catch-n-release anglers couldn’t tell you how to properly release a fish if their lives depended on it: each fish type has different requirements. A simple search on Google will give you a hefty number of how many fish die as the result of catch-and-release.
I prefer to make sure that the fish I kill go into my cooler and into my frying pan, and not floating down the river belly up…and then I’m sure that the kill on those hatchery fish is appropriate to what the department of fish and game assesses as not detrimental to the ecosystem and a wild trout population.
Isn’t it so much nicer to just catch just enough for your meal, reel in your lines and settle down by the stream for a lunch of salami and French bread, perhaps a bottle of wine, as Hemingway might have done on the Big Wood River in Idaho, or on Spain’s Irati, during a break from the bulls of Pamplona?
Then, when you’ve had a nice nap, collected your equipment back to your vehicle, you can drive home and remember the peace and beauty you had enjoyed the week earlier, with a perfectly prepared trout at home. Yes, I actually talk about, and do, these things when I’m out on the stream with friends—I often pine for a peaceful time, even if that time was just before WWII in Spain…not a peaceful time at all…
It peppered my conversation as Ronnie took a break from fishing the other side of an inlet and Leighsa came over to my side for a quick lesson in trout fishing. A quick study, she learned how to slip a hook into a single Pautzke’s salmon egg (bright red is my favorite) without crushing it. Then, we went through the cast and lead, something that fly anglers will recognize as a bait angler’s adaption of the “high sticking” method.
As this stream was so small, there wasn’t really any casting, per se. The cast was more of a swing out and drop into the head of the current, with a static length of line. Skipping along the bottom the single splitshot led the way for the salmon egg, about six inches to a foot above the bottom, prime feeding zone of the trout in a stream, especially as they try to keep out of the sun and heat, and under the cool and oxygen-rich froth.
It’s important to keep the tip of your rod high, and slightly downriver of the splitshot and bait, so that you can feel the hit when it comes. Doing so, also keeps the splitshot going at the proper speed down the stream and free from snagging.
In one cast, Leighsa had a nice 11-inch rainbow in the net. Then, she got a lesson in how to quickly dispatch a trout for better eating. If your fish aren’t as tasty as you thought they’d be, it’s probably because you kept it struggling for air, with a piece of plastic or metal running up through its gills and out its mouth.
Better to just pick it up while it’s still in the net and bring the top of its head down hard on a large rock or boulder by the water. You’ll save the fish from a bunch of needless distress and have the best tasting trout you can find!
When you’re done putting the trout out of its misery, place it on the stringer to keep it fresh in the cool running water. Remove the innards by sticking your index finger through both gills, ripping through the chin, freeing gills from the jaw.
Then, sticking your index finger down into the gullet and holding onto the gills and pectoral fins, pulling down and out removes all the gills and most of the entrails. A quick run up the body from the vent to the head with a pocket knife lets you draw the back of your thumbnail along the inside of the spine to remove that blood line that also leads to poor taste if left in…
This day, we were averaging a fish on every first or second cast, but it’s the first one that’s the most exciting, shown on the Leighsa’s face and the pride in Ronnie watching his wife catch her first high-stick caught trout—what I consider the most effective form of trout fishing in a stream, next to a spear: but unlike spearing and gigging, high-sticking is legal.
By 10:30 a.m. we were done catching our trout limits, and Ronnie and Leighsa had to return to their hotel to prepare for the gig to be performed at a cancer charity concert in Oakdale. Ziggy and I went off to fill up on two pounds of fresh blackberries…
To Get Started Salmon Egg High Sticking
You’ll need a sensitive tip spinning rod of between six and seven feet long, and a light fishing line. I prefer to load my trout stream spinning reels with between two and six-pound monofilament.
Then, snell a laser-sharp salmon egg hook with two-foot leader of four to six-pound fluorocarbon leader material, using a surgeon’s not to attached it to the end of the rod’s line.
Depending on the speed of the current, and clarity of the water, I clamp a piece of splitshot on the leader a foot to a foot-and-a-half from the hook. With the hook buried in a single salmon egg, you’re ready to go.
The key about this type of fishing, like any type of fishing, especially with stream or river fishing, is that you need to go where the fish are. It’s probably why I like this style of trout fishing most. You never get bored, like perhaps in lake fishing, where you cast out your bait and just wait.
It’s like elk or pig hunting. You need to keep moving until you get into the fish. And when you do, you can expect to catch a few more, especially with hatchery trout that act more like lake trout, or sea-run steelhead and salmon, that have been in a school most of their lives, much unlike wild stream trout.
Remember also, that the reason you caught trout in a specific area was that it was a comfort zone—cover/safety, fresh oxygen (especially with rainbows) and food. In the cool of the evening and morning, the trout spread out into the pools and slow runs. As the sun rises high, the water warms and loses more its oxygen, so that the best place to fish for trout is right there in the cold, oxygen-saturated water.
NOTE: I’ve used this same single-egg hook rig to catch steelhead to 13 pounds in the fall and spring!
Catch Ronnie Montrose Tonight in Livermore!
Ronnie Montrose will be on stage with his band tonight at 8 p.m. in the Bankhead Theater of Livermore, CA. If you’ve enjoyed those great songs by Montrose and Sammy Haggar (Rock Candy, Bad Motor Scooter, Rock the Nation, and Space Station #5), they’ll be available for listening—LIVE, tonight! See ya there!