By Thomas Austin
CalTrout Volunteer since 2018
As a college student in Montana I am living the trout fisherman’s dream. There is an incredible amount of water to explore and cheap gas to get me there.
Each season presents exciting opportunities for large, healthy trout and every day has the potential to be one you remember for the rest of your life.
This became abundantly clear on a cold, clear morning last October on the Madison River. The steep, fast section between Hebgen Dam and Earthquake Lake supports fall and spring runs of lake-run rainbows and browns, and I happened to be there at just the right time.
In a few short hours, I hooked four of the biggest trout I have ever seen, and proceeded to lose every single one in the whitewater. That day left me speechless, and I will be returning to that stretch in a few months, with an eight weight this time.
Cover Photo: Lake Siskiyou by Phil Reedy
I have fallen in love with Montana’s rivers and will continue to fish them for the rest of my college career and beyond, but California is my home.
I learned to fish as a child in California, and during high school I spent much of my free time on California’s rivers, fly rod in hand.
I recognized the greatness of some California fisheries while still living in state, but I did not fully understand the diversity and potential of California as a fly fishing destination until I moved away.
Photo: Mossbrae Falls by Phil Reedy
A quick look at California’s recent history reveals that much of its wilderness has already been scarred or destroyed by the tools of mankind.
Once gold was discovered in the Sierra Nevada foothills, it took less than a century for old growth forests to be clear- cut, rivers cut off by dams and poisoned with mine tailings, and iconic native species hunted to extinction.
The fact that California still has self-sustaining populations of the majority of its native salmonids is truly incredible, and the fish we have left are a resource that must be protected fiercely.
Many ecosystems and watersheds have been dramatically altered, but if given a chance they can recover.
A precious few have largely been spared, and still offer a look into the historical greatness and incredible potential of California’s fly fishing opportunities.
The result of California’s post-industrial landscape is a wonderful patchwork of greatly varied fisheries that range from native steelhead in relatively untouched rivers such as the Scott, to introduced striped bass that eat five inch long clouser minnows in the surf, San Francisco Bay delta, and Central Valley rivers.
Whether you want to throw bamboo two-weights for golden trout in a pristine high-mountain meadow, watch small-mouth bass inhale poppers on the delta, or battle tuna on twelve-weights in San Diego, California has it all.
Some of these fisheries, such as the surf around the San Francisco Bay and the San Gabriel mountains near LA, offer incredible fly fishing opportunities within minutes of the metropolitan centers that they neighbor.
No matter where you live in this great state, it’s worth the effort to figure out what kind of fishing is right in your back yard.
Photo: Sunset Stripers by Nora Bowers.
My time at home this summer confirmed that there is world class fishing to be had in California, and more of it on the way if we are able to keep investing in the fisheries we have right at home.
California’s fisheries have great potential, but they need the resident men and women who love the outdoors to invest in their future.
Destinations like Montana and Patagonia are wonderful and certainly worth a visit, but most of us only spend a small fraction of our time in those places.
Putting in the time, money and energy, to support and protect our local fisheries will reward us with healthier rivers and better fishing, especially during times like this when our local shops, guides, and small businesses need our help.
It is extremely important to keep our communities safe in the coming months by social distancing, and fly fishing is a great way to do so without straying far from home.
This fall, stay close, fish hard, and learn something new about your local fishery.
Thomas Austin is a passionate outdoorsman and lifetime angler. He has been volunteering with Caltrout since 2018 and studies Economics and Water Resources at Montana State University.