Caught by the River

Tahoe Fly Fishing

9th October 2010

By Katie Tokus

I’m on a USA birthday roadtrip to find myself and the land of my father(s). I’m on a Pilgrimage (from Plymouth too!) to music meccas – place names on the map that all have songs written about them. I’m a soon-to-be-40 wannabe Squaw angler, which finds me tying my hair in plaits and going to hunt trout near Lake Tahoe, California, on my first ever fly-fishing mission.

Me and roadtrip buddy Amanda were decompressing after attending The Burning Man festival in the salt-pan Black Rock Desert of Nevada. Seven days of alkaline dust pushed us toward the pines and clear water of Lake Tahoe. After a week of freely and radically self-expressing at The Burn, we needed a simpler outdoor life. So we camped at altitude at South Lake Tahoe, in two Govt campgrounds: DL Bliss and Meeks Bay. But after a couple of days we were craving more activity in our simpler lives.

Picking up a free newspaper in town, we found an advert for a half-day’s guided fishing with Tahoe Fly Fishing. Sunday dawned and we rose at 5.45am to meet our guide Pete at the store in town. Fitted with Goretex waders and boots, we drove an hour to the fast-flowing East Carson River and Pete’s favoured spots. We were Indicator Nymphing – using a bobber float and a weighted caddis fly (great for brand newbies like us). Plus we were slap-bang in the middle of the good times: the cooler temperatures of September until the season ends in mid-November.

Immediately we saw fish. Big rainbow trout. A week before, the river had been restocked. But they weren’t biting. Which was lucky because we weren’t casting right.

Pete was a fish-looker and got us to aim our flies to drift over the fish’s noses. To no avail. We moved to another place, and another and another – all beautiful with the backdrop of mountains and pines. In our drive between spots, Pete told tales of bears in his back garden, arrowhead excavations of the Washoe Indian Tribe, pioneers winching wagon trains through the rocky pass in 1855, nuggets of gold found in the river. We were in Alpine County in Northern California – with a sparse population, a number of black bears and mountain lions.

As we approached another spot, Pete took his skilled eyes from the river and looked upwards, spotting a rare sight: a bald eagle. We were lucky enough to see the USA’s national bird.

The East Carson River holds rainbow trout, mountain whitefish and dace, but this seemed academic until I pulled in a tiddler trout, not even a pound in weight. But we’d broken our duck and we started to concentrate in earnest. Amanda landed another little’un, but it wasn’t until the final swim was reached that things hotted up.

We were at a fast-flowing confluence of overhanging and submerged rocks, just down from a roadbridge. Pete spied some fish in the shadow of the overhang and we swept our indicators past the hiding fish. It was about 12noon, the sun was bright and hot and we had another half-hour of Pete’s time.

Yet again our eyes were pulled upwards by another bird: this time, an osprey, spreading its black and white wings out to give us a big show. Two birds spotted by two birds. If we caught nothing else that day, we’d been treated to these rare sights.

But the session wasn’t over and Pete seemed to take on extra determination to land a bigger fish and give us the full fly-fishing experience. He took over Amanda’s rod and guided the bobber perfectly in front of a cruising biggie. It bit and Pete handed the rod to Amanda, who took on the fight bravely. This buck rainbow was pulling her rod over and down – running for rock cover, heading back to its refuge beneath the overhang.

Amanda listened to Pete’s patient landing suggestions while I photographed the struggle on the BlackBerry. She kept the rod tip up and after 10 minutes Pete was able to net the fish expertly and comfortably. He estimated it at about 21 inches long and 6lb.

By way of a salute, a family of ospreys flew over, the first one clutching its own rainbow trout. Our first day’s fly-fishing was complete.