Friday, November 16, 2012

Matilija

The Matilija is a small stream.  Very small.  I believe I’ve caused more erosion than the Matilija just by spilling a glass of water.  But it is local.  And by local I’m referring to anything south of the Tejon or Cajon passes in Southern California, as well as anything between Santa Barbara and Palm Springs.
 
Clark took me up there on my first outing with a fly rod.  It was a two-hour drive, but since he was driving, I didn’t care.  I don’t get to be a passenger very often, and it was rather nice for a change.  We stopped at a market near Ojai and grabbed some things to chew on later, and then we drove the final few miles to the end of the road where we could park.  Actually it wasn’t the end of the road, but a gate prevented us from driving any farther.  At this place we put on the waders, assembled the rods, gathered up the chewables, and began the walk to the Matilija. 
 
I am a bit older than Clark.  Well, maybe I am a lot older than Clark.  He is compact.  I’ve grown sideways.  He is a fit outdoorsman.  I am an unfit indoorsman.  His boots are broken in.  My boots are new.  And the trail was either short or long, depending on who is recalling the hike.  But I had fun.
 
I caught my first trout on a fly on the Matilija that day.  It was a small wild rainbow that was all of five inches long, and it took me several hours to catch it.  The fly that did it was a gold ribbed hare’s ear in a size 16.  I was happy.
 
The Matilija allowed me to try out my new waders and boots.  I think the last time I wore waders was some forty years ago on a duck-hunting trip.  They were basically plastic coated canvas and were designed very well for letting the water leak in quickly and for chafing along the seams.  Oh, the chafing.  But it didn’t happen with these new breathable waders.  I did get a little damp, but not wet.  And the seams didn’t leak or chafe.  When I got home I turned them inside out and filled them with water to look for leaks, but no leaks, so I guess the dampness was self-induced.
 
As for the new boots, they could not have been better.  My last pair of hiking boots weighed in at about 15 pounds each, and took more than a year of heavy use to break in, and by then I needed new ones.  These wading boots are much better built than my old hiking boots, much lighter (although still about 4 pounds total), and I was able to have the insides rebuilt to fit my crooked feet exactly.  With these boots on I don’t need to wear the cumbersome brace I wear with my daily footwear.  I’m actually thinking about wearing them every day.  Maybe I’ll just wear the waders also—and keep a fly rod handy.
 
The walk to the Matilija was really a stroll by any standards, but I hadn’t been outdoors like this in many years and I am quite simply out of shape.  From the gate across the road we were able to cross through an access portal to follow the road over private property to the river.  While other hikers were trying to hop across on a few scattered rocks, Clark and I just waded through. 
 
We left the road to follow the trail alongside the river and again had a wade-through crossing.  After about ¾ of a mile, we came to another crossing, but this time we decided to wet our lines.  My 9-foot 5-weight rod was definitely overkill, but at the time it was all the fly rod I owned, so I used it.  I looked at the width of the river at this point and guessed that by extending my arm a bit I could simply drop a fly on the surface of the water by the bank across from me, and avoid casting altogether.  But then I looked upstream.  Beautiful.  And I could cast to the riffles from where I stood.
 
Nothing in my casting lessons at the Long Beach Casting Club prepared me for tree branches.  I raised my rod for a cast and hit a branch.  I tried side-arm and hit a tree.  I tried everything I could think of to cast that fly, but there just wasn’t enough room for my limited experience.  Then Clark mentioned the “bow and arrow” shot.  I have to admit that I felt somewhat stupid trying this method since it just didn’t match anything I knew about fishing—but it worked.  I got that fly exactly where I wanted it.  And a fish rose up to look at it.
 
I think the #16 mosquito I had tied on was about the same size as the fish that was looking at it.  The fish in this drainage are just not very big, and that was okay with me for this trip.  I considered the importance of this trip to be the experience of being outdoors again coupled with learning the real world use of my equipment.  Even I knew there would be a big difference between the casting pond and the river.  However, a 2-inch fish…
 
I “bow and arrowed” for a while, and discovered a 3-inch fish was also in the area.  Clark was downstream from me a ways, and when he reappeared he had caught and released a 4-inch trout.  I was jealous.  I wanted a trout, too.  But instead, we had lunch.
 
After our meal, I crossed the river and headed upriver about a quarter mile, past a camp with loud noise (I won’t say what kind of noise) coming from the couple in the tent, and on to a likely looking place.  The trail was about twenty feet or so above the water, but it was simple to pick my way down the slope to the falls with the pool below it.  I replaced my current fly with a gold ribbed hare’s ear and tossed my line into the froth at the bottom of the 8-foot falls.  I watched the drift, and I watched something rise up to look at it.
 
Four or five more attempts in different parts of the pool and a trout actually took the fly.  The 5-weight rod was way too big for this 5-inch fish, but I managed to get it to hand without ripping its lip apart.  It was just plain beautiful.  It was a small wild rainbow with a slight golden hue.  Wow.  My first trout on a fly rod.  Now for another.
 
I switched to a small pheasant tail and continued to work the corners of the pool and the edge of the froth under the falls.  And a second trout fell to my prowess.  This one was just 4 inches long, but just as wonderful to look at as the first.  I left the pheasant tail in place for a few more casts, then switched back to a mosquito. 
 
The mosquito was not effective except to catch tree branches and ultimately I left it in a branch.  I probably could have retrieved it, but I just left it there.  I went back to the gold ribbed hare’s ear and worked the pool for a while longer, but to no avail.
 
I gathered my things and climbed back up the slope where Clark was waiting for me.  He handed me a mosquito fly and said he had retrieved it for me.  He had been standing above me at the falls watching for a while.  I certainly didn’t see him, but it was a mosquito he handed me, and he knew I had lost it.
 
Such adventures come to an end.  We hiked back to the car where we shed the waders and replaced the boots with shoes.  Then we (he) drove back to Long Beach.  Clark did me a great favor that day.  He got me out of the house.  It’s something I had been threatening to do for a long time, but he knew just what to say to me that would get me moving—“Let’s go fishing.”

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