Golden Trout Circle member Mitchie McCammon shares her experience fishing Bollibokka with California Trout this fall. We are lucky to have Mitchie so involved with our organization!
Written by Mitchie McCammon, Golden Trout Circle CalTrout member
This past month I had the opportunity to go to a CalTrout event at Bollibokka. The name sounds mysterious, exciting, and very special. It was that and so much more for me. This trip was emotional and empowering, as it was the first fishing trip I have taken by myself. I didn’t know anyone who was attending this event, nor had I ever been there. As excited as I was to be there, it was also bittersweet because I knew my late husband, Kent, would have loved to be there with me. In a way, he was. I carried him in my heart and fished a river that we both loved. I brought his rod and reel and hoped to catch a fish with his gear. That was a lot of expectation to be bringing with me, and I hoped I wouldn’t be disappointed.
Bollibokka is a private fishing club that was built in 1904 on a seven mile stretch of the McCloud River. It is located on the north side of Shasta Lake. The trout are wild and can be challenging to catch. The 17-mile drive from I-5 to the gate of the dirt road was winding and beautiful, and my anticipation was building. I had been told the water was murky due to glacial melt from Mt. Shasta, but I wasn’t prepared for the milky aqua color of the water when I finally saw it. How was I going to fish this water if I couldn’t see the bottom of the river? How were the fish going to see my tiny flies? It was now time to go through the gate and follow the dirt road to the lodge for my new adventure. I was headed to a rustic retreat, free from cell phones, TVs, and social media.
As I was driving to the lodge, I met Curtis Knight, CalTrout Executive Director, and his father, Buzz. They had been on the water fishing and were heading back to the lodge. Once at the lodge, I found my room upstairs. I had a view of the river and could hear the gushing water through the open windows. The water was beckoning me, so I decided to gear up and try my luck at landing a fish before dinner.
The trail to the water was not as easy as it appeared at first glance. I was alone and had to figure out how to get to the water. There were boulders and poison oak to maneuver around and only a few places that led directly to the water. Once at the river, you couldn’t see the bottom due to the pearly color. I was using a 6 wt rod and decided to start with an Autumn Splendor stimulator, size 16, with an October caddis nymph, size 18, dropper. My first casts were terrible, and I ended up wrestling with the foliage at the water’s edge. I hoped no one could see me because it was rather embarrassing. I finally managed to get a few casts in the water but had no strikes. I gave up after a short time so I could meet the other guests and get a snack before dinner. Although it wasn’t a great start, it felt good to be outside by the river.
Soon it was time for dinner in the beautiful dining room. The live-edge table and handmade twig dining chairs added such charm to this rustic setting. Gas wall lamps lit the room because there was no electricity. Dinner was prepared by a chef and was served family style to our small group of seven. We had pasta with shrimp and delicious tomatoes with burrata. Dessert was warm, freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. Conversation around the table was lively and mostly centered around travel and fishing. It was fascinating listening to the stories. It all felt so decadent.
The next morning, we made our way back to the dining room for a hearty breakfast of eggs, bacon, fruit, and other delectable offerings. After finishing our breakfast, we picked up our lunches from the kitchen and also met our guides, the Kennedy brothers. My guide was Greg Kennedy, a 6’9” wonderful man. I only mention his height because I am 5’1”. Greg’s brother, Chris, was guiding Curtis and Buzz. I was given a choice of fishing the McCloud or doing a float trip down the lower Sac. I chose to fish the McCloud. Off we went to get our gear and head upstream on the trail.
Greg put an indicator set up on my line with a tungsten head, rubber legs, top fly, and a smaller, weighted nymph on the bottom. Once again, I was dodging poison oak and climbing over boulders to get to the water, but this time I had someone who knew the trail leading me. We made our way to the water, and Greg explained to me where and how to cast. About the third cast, I hooked a fish. Unfortunately, he was an early release. At least we knew there were fish in that milky water and that they were feeding. A few more casts later and I hooked another one. This time, I was able to land him. It was a beautiful, wild, McCloud River rainbow. The elation I felt with that one fish can only be described as breathtaking. The splendor of the surroundings, the turbid waters, the joy of using Kent’s gear, and the adventure all combined in that one, beautiful, wild, fish. We continued upstream and hooked a few more fish, but that was the only fish I landed that day.
That night at dinner, we all had fish stories to share, including our CalTrout hosts. As we finished our delicious dinner of pork chops, veggies, and warm brownies, we were treated to a video about the Nigiri Project. The basics of the Nigiri Project is that small salmon fry grow larger in the flooded rice fields in the winter and therefore have a better chance of surviving. We were able to ask questions and have a conversation with Jacob Katz, the scientist in charge of the project. It is a fascinating concept that combines agriculture, water, and fish management for the benefit of all. I highly recommend learning more here. A great day fishing, delicious food, inspiring conversation, and the anticipation for more fishing the next day, what better way to end the day?
The day before, half of our group did a float trip down the lower Sac while the rest of us fished the McCloud. Today, we switched places. I was paired up with Tracey Diaz from CalTrout and was looking forward to getting to know her. Like me, she had not done a float trip either. It was all so exciting! After packing our cars, we began the drive down the dirt road and quickly came to a stop. In the middle of the road was a large tree branch that had fallen in the night from all the wind. Luckily, we were able to move it off the road so we could get to what we wanted to do most: fish.
Greg was once again the guide and met us at the boat launch by the rodeo grounds. There was a lot of traffic on the water that we later learned was because a women’s fly fishing club had come to fish the lower Sac too. Excitement was in the air at the prospect of catching large rainbows and steelhead. After a few instructions, we were off. As Greg rowed us down the river he pointed out the salmon spawning grounds known as redds. These were the areas we were going to target as we fished.
We used 9 ½ foot, 6 wt rods with an indicator set up. The flies we used were pink beads, which Greg had painted with light pink nail polish, a bare hook, size 16, tied a few inches from the bead, and an s&m nymph, size 18, tied to the bare hook. He showed us how to do a water load as we cast and how to set the hook. I had heard stories of how large, fast, and strong these fish are and was a bit nervous about what I would do when I hooked one. It didn’t take long to hook into one and find out. It felt like I was going to lose the rod overboard, so all I could do was hold on tight and try to follow instructions on how to reel it in. Even though I couldn’t get the fish to the net, I now knew what to expect with the next fish. Tracey hooked one and was able to get it to the boat. She was shaking with adrenaline and pure joy. The next fish was mine. The size was small but no less thrilling.
As we continued down the river, we saw zombie salmon. They truly looked like zombies. White spots on dark bodies swam hauntingly through the river. Greg told us to cast to their tails as we rowed by the redds because the rainbows and steelhead would be in those areas looking for salmon eggs. Almost every time, we hooked into a fish. Landing them was not always successful. Eventually, both Tracey and I hooked a big fish and landed them. Mine was about 24” long and about five pounds. It was the largest fish I had ever caught and by far the most exciting. At the end of the day, we each caught about five fish and learned so much. Greg was the most patient guide and was very fun.
By the end of the two days, I was tired, happy, and my arm was bit sore. This new adventure was all about fishing and yet, so much more. I gained more knowledge about rigs, nymphing, rivers, casting, setting the hook and fighting the fish, but most of all, I learned about myself. The river fills my soul and rejuvenates me. Adventure gives me energy. Catching a fish makes me smile, and releasing it gives me the hope of catching it again another day. Those high expectations I had at the beginning of my journey? Well, they were far exceeded. And I have taken to saying now, there is no crying in fly fishing.