Bathtub Gin

September 2017

The Clavey is my favorite river in CA. Hands down. The fish are not the biggest nor are they the easiest to land but the scenery and genetic purity more than compensate. The river is the longest undamed (non-tributary) in the state. The falls that plunge it into the Tuolomne river significantly limited introgession cause by poor-stocking practices that overwhelmed many of the state’s waterways. There are only 3 points at which safe (vehicular) crossing is possible. Two of them are by bridge which are viable year-round dependent upon snow levels. The other crossing (far to the north) is a land-path and cannot only be utilized during periods of high flow most often encountered during runoff.

I wanted to introduce my father to this river. His newfound passion for fly fishing was birthed during our July redband hunt. He was jonesing to hit new a new watershed. Work took me up to Northern California and my wife decided to join me. The three of us decided to leverage our only Saturday together to wet our lines and we left my teenage home around 4:30am. It would be a 3(ish) hour drive to our intended bridge crossing. The drive took a bit longer than we anticipated due to some fog and a much needed coffee break. The drive really is quite beautiful through historic gold country and the associated sleepy towns. By about 8:00 we arrived to our take-in and prepped ourselves. Snacks, sunblock, water-pump, and fishing gear was squared away in dry-packs and we set out.

The descent to the river is hairy. It’s steep and powdery making for a “slippy” outward trek. After navigating the way down (around the very red and vibrant poison oak) and helping my dad and wife follow-suit we hit the water. The water levels were fantastic. I’ve not personally seen the Clavey in the midst of a good water year so I was very curious how navigable the pools would be. In short, they were not. Boulder hopping was required, and a lot of it. I was very proud of my father. This was difficult terrain with only moderate footing, cold water, and quite a bit of submersed furniture.

The water was crystal clear. and the granite formations, boulders, rocks, stones, and sand make for incredible colors reflecting in and on the water. This river is as much a joy to visualize as it is to fish. IF you have a spouse, significant other, friends, or even children with zero interest in fishing, there is plenty to fully entertain and captivate them. The Clavey really is that good.

My fourth cast found a lovely rainbow but I was not able to snap a picture. My wife was a few boulders away, my wet hands were freakin’ freezing, and honestly not all fish need their picture taken. They don’t all need to be showcased or featured on Instagram, the blog, or a forum. The nice trout zipped back into the pool and disappeared under a boulder’s edge.

The three of us worked as far downstream as we could (roughly 1/4 of a mile) before wet-wading was the only option….which was not an option for today. After exhausting the stretch in about two hours we slowed down and rested. We were spread out over about 100 yards and individually decided to hunker down in our respective perches atop the rocky outcroppings. I relaxed and watched various trout dart back and forth and surface for the occasionally bug. My wife found a sunny spot on flat perch across the way and used her jacket as a pillow. Within a couple minutes she was out. My dad was further back and would still flip out the occasional fly but for the most part was just content to take in the setting.

After a bit we decided to head back upstream to see what we could find. We knew it would be slow going but were not in a particular rush. After conquering a few obstacles that took some real teamwork to overcome we decided that an early lunch was in order. Upon finding a comfortable rock, out came various forms of crackers, chips, and cured meats including salami, jerky, and ham. It was so nice just to sit back and relax with two people so near and dear to me. Sometimes the international nature of my job can shift my focus away from what’s right in front of me. Sorry family!

The simple discussions that we had were really encouraging and joyous. They were not small-talk. They were legit chats about the future, plans, hopes, and dreams but without a tinge of anxiety or concern that it would become a lecture or teaching moment. Instead we just exchanged thoughts and perspectives which was incredible refreshing, Please, don’t for a minute, think that my father and I are at odds with each other or that we have any dysfunction whatsoever. The truth though, is that it seems to be that the (cultural) age-gap between people my father’s age and my age are at extreme odds with our respective generation’s world views. It seems like nothing but vitriol, hate, and bitter frustration emanate from our corners toward one another. I consider myself truly blessed that this is not the case for me. I love that my father and I can disagree on certain subjects and topics but remain civil with each other. We can intentionally listen to the other perspective with a willingness to learn and engage, not fight and “win.”

After lunch we packed up our bags once again and headed north. following the river’s edge. We came to a very technical area that was too much for my father. The rock face was steep and the footing mediocre at best. My wife and I were comfortable but years of climbing and bouldering gave us the required confidence. My father was too concerned about a potential fall into a 12-foot pool to give it a shot. With his full blessing we continued on without him with the intention of exploring another 1/4 mile or so. There were a plethora of pools, runs, and riffles to keep him busy in the meantime. The ahead stretches held more beautiful native rainbow trout but they were very wary of us and the slightest shadow sent them scurrying and with good reason.

The Clavey runs through a deep (and mainly) granite gorge that lacks much cover for the majority of its length. Atop the steep edges are pine trees which house many raptors and other birds of prey. Not five minutes could pass without seeing the shadow of a large predator zip across the water. The local trout knew all to well the ever present danger posed by looming talons. We picked our spots carefully and read the water as best we could but the fishing was not very easy. Large gorgeous pools that would seemingly hold monsters were completely void of fish. Meanwhile dark pockets under the boulders would hold four to eight 4-8″ O. m. irideus. The fishing highlight of the day came when we spied the largest trout of the day holding just in front of a descent pool.

Truthfully, I was not on my A-game. I just didn’t quite have the touch. I was shooting my line a bit too far and a bit too fast. I think I was a bit nervous about my father’s experience and that concern meant I could not be 100% fully present on the water. The short of the long was the my nerves were on edge and my footprint on the water was too heavy. Seeing this fish caused my blood pressure to rise and I knew I needed to play it cool. But, I just couldn’t sort things out. I ran through about 12 flies and none of them were hit by the targeted fish. It would give a look, come and inspect, and initially move toward the fly but never fully committed. Somewhat frustratingly, it continued to feed on natural bugs on and in the water. I was a but miffed and decided to move on with the hopes that I could make another pass as we returned to my father.

As we moved upstream my wife and continued to gaze upon beautiful stretch after beautiful stretch of jewel-toned water. It was delightful and with the strengthening rays of the sun the day became a comfortable 70 degrees. By the turn back to the car I was down to just a v-neck shirt. Please don’t call my a hipster. I don’t have a beard, don’t sip whiskey, don’t smoke a pipe, and hate IPAs. I successfully brought two more small trout to hand but never forgot about the larger fish a bit downstream. We reached that stretch again and tied the same non-bead headed Prince nymph that caught the prior two fish. I figured that I could target the eight feet above where we left the trout to see if the current could present the fly in an enticing manner. Nothing. I couldn’t even see the fish. Not discouraged, I worked the very back of the pool (roughly 25 feet away) to see if I could draw out an aggressive strike due borne solely from instinct. I have experienced time and again that occasionally throwing caution to the wind and zipping a fly through the water at breakneck speed could compel a larger fish to make an assertive move. It worked. I did not succeed in luring a strike. But, I found my target. Two casts later and a slower stripset put me right on the money and BAM, fish on. After a brief fight and a careful decent to the waters edge found my wife perfectly netting the lovely fish. My no means was it a monster. But it was a nice fish and largest I saw with my eyes that day.

We reunited with my dad and decided to call it. We looked in the occasional pool to see if a willing participant could be found but we had no such luck. We made the scramble up the steep hillside and while catching our breaths, loaded the car with our gear. It was a great day and a wonderful time with my dad and wide. Catching pure native trout only added to the experience.




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