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Fins and Feathers

By Steve Van Ert



                                 Opening weekend of the stream fishing season brings hopes of warm days, camp fires, hikes and dreams of a creel full of fish. This weekend was to have a special addition: a pheasant hunt, thanks to Brad Henman, owner of Clear Creek Sports Club which operates behind the Rolling Hills Casino.

The Lead up

On the usual afternoon prior to the opener I would join my friends Dave, John and Mark, at camp site #50 of Hat Creek. We would scout the creek looking for newly developed holes and looking for fish so we could claim our spot early the next morning. But this was not a usual Friday before opener. I took on the job of coaching our high school softball team and we had a double-header that afternoon.

Now, instead of fishing poles, coolers, a tent and other camping gear filling my car, I spent Thursday evening packing the back of my Outlander with softball equipment. The middle seat would have to hold the sparse supplies I could fit in for fishing and the pheasant hunt on Sunday. As I replaced the line on two poles the excitement of what was to be a very full weekend filled my head. I was going to drive to the games, meet the guys at the camp, fish until Saturday afternoon and then drive sixty miles to spend the night with a friend before driving fifty miles the next day to hunt pheasant at the Clear Creek Hunting Club. After that it would be a two and a half hour drive home.

Fishing

Friday afternoon in Fall Rivers Mills was perfect softball weather; sunny skies, no wind and warm. Our girls played great ball and as we headed into the last inning of the second game I found my mind wandering again. What will the creek hold for me this year? Can I land another of those big Brook Trout that seem to hide amongst the smaller Rainbows? I left the field and headed south towards Old Station, stopping on the way to grab a roasted chicken at the local market. 

The campsite was set up but void of my fellow anglers. They had gone out scouting after fishing Clear Lake that afternoon. We sat around the campfire, recalling stories of our fishing adventures from last season and catching up with life’s events since we left camp last year. Plans were made for an early departure. Three AM? Is that really what Dave was planning? No way! I mean, sure, I want to get a great spot but I didn’t even know where that was going to be because we were all going to go our separate ways. 3 AM is just crazy. I set my alarm for 4:07AM.

2:22AM and I am awakened by noise outside of my tent. NO! It can’t be time to get up, not yet. I poke my head out of the tent, still wrapped in my comfortable down bag, to watch Dave as he loads his Pathfinder and heads out. Humph. The alarm wakes me at 4:07.

Jacket, gloves, headlamp, instant coffee and rods gathered, I hike to the stream in search of a great spot. How I am going to find a great spot in the dark is beyond me but I claim my spot along a beautiful little stretch that offers a deep hole at the end of a rapid and has a cut bank close by. It’s 5:19AM. The moon is full and I fully expect to see a parade of headlamps wandering about the woods for the next half hour.

I fidget in the cold air, carefully eyeing the handful of anglers traipsing about, ready to defend my hallowed ground.  Lights on the other side of the stream approach. I turn on my headlamp and face their way as if to say: “Not here! This spot is taken”. But they never get close and I go back to focusing on keeping my fingers from going numb due to the cold. 6:03AM – I scan the eastern horizon waiting for the promise of light. 6:12 – my shadow from the moonlight is finally gone. I can see the water quite clear. It’s almost time. I am at a perfect spot. The report from the guys the night before was that there are fish everywhere. I am going to slay them!

Where did they go? All of those fish that were supposed to be waiting for me to fool into my creel? Perhaps they moved down stream so I hike, tossing in my line along the way. I chat with others as I go. “Nope, haven’t caught a thing” is repeated as I move along. I pull out a solitary small Rainbow that is barely big enough to be bait. I continue searching until I find Dave. Thirty seconds after my arrival he’s exclaiming “I knew they were here!” as he pulls in the first of several nice-sized Rainbows from under a log submerged in the stream.

Landing the Big One

Dave is one of the nicest guys you could meet. He is always cheerfully working to make sure that everyone else is completely cared for. Want to go fishing? Dave will have rod, tackle, snacks and all ready for you and then he’ll point you to fish, wait for you to catch your limit and, of course, clean them all! I didn’t hesitate when he pointed at the underside of the log, telling me to try to present my worm “right there”. But there wasn’t enough room so I scanned the area. Fifteen feet away the roots of a small tree, along with other entanglements, offered shelter in the cut bank. I carefully guided about eight feet of line in between the snags that waited to entangle my line.

 With my index finger on the line, I slowly the bait back towards me. Stuck. Wait. Stuck? No, that was a light pull. I respond with a continuous light pull of my own. BAM! The tip Nice Brookie!bends, the line pulls down across my finger. Fish on! Now, how am I going to maneuver this guy out between the roots and snags? I have lost too many monsters due to impatience but after forty-three years of practice, I finally get it. Eight minutes is an eternity when working a trophy out of its’ home. It was five minutes until I finally caught the shimmer of its’ golden, spotted side. Yahoo! Patience pays off with a 23inch, 3.5LB Brookie.

Of course I walk the long way back to camp, making sure wanna-be anglers are given an eye full of my great accomplishment. I am obscure in my description of where I bagged this beauty but offer hope to all along the way. I try a few more spots but I have to settle with this solitary prize until we drive to another spot that afternoon where we all land several small browns.

On the road

I leave my friends late Saturday afternoon to spend the night outside of Redding, at the ranch of a good friend and regular guest shooter on the TV show “California Shot-Gunners”. We inhale some coffee, load the gear and dogs into another friends truck and head south towards Corning. James and Randy are both big boys; over 6’3” and 250lbs so there is no question as to who is riding in the back seat with the two dogs. Carriers in the back of the truck? Not for these hunting partners! The black Lab is 3 years old and trained for waterfowl. Raleigh, a German Wire-Hair. He was rescued from a kennel in southern California just weeks before and is still gun shy. We meet the other two at the club. One more dog joins the group. Abby is a 7 year old golden Lab with lots of field experience but not much time out lately. The local temperature has been in the low to mid 90’s. We are not expecting to hunt very long.

FeathersRuss, Randy and Randy watching birds being released in the field.

 

It is cool and there is a light breeze at 8:30AM when the first birds are put out into the field.  Five hunters, three dogs and a total of thirty-five birds; fourteen for the first round, twenty-one for the next round and then freedom to hunt the property for birds left over from earlier in the week. We watch the first five birds fly off into other fields before we even step into our designated site.  Seven birds are taken. Randy, Randy (yep, two Randys) and I bring them down with simultaneous shots from two of us six of seven times. We stop for a break at the truck where James proclaims that this is the last time he is going to hunt with a bunch of guys of who never miss!

One hundred feet in to round two and Abby is on the point. I am on the interior edge of our line and don’t bother with that bird. Instead, I scout the ground for the rooster that I just know is there. Bam! Bam! James and Randy each take birds. I quickly set my eyes back down, about 30 yards out. There, a movement. A red head and bam! My first solo rooster of the day. The weather cooperates with a cooling breeze and water is available for the dogs. We hunt out that field taking another thirteen birds before taking our lunch break.

Dogs and hunters alike enjoy a lunch of hickory-smoked ribs from the night before, lots of water and jerky. We decide to move along the northern border of our field before cutting back along that other side that has a stream and heavy cover. I move between the top and bottom of the small ridge that divides the two fields. The dogs are on my far right. Raleigh is settling into his role as he mimics the actions of the other two. He flushes out a hen. Randy O. swings his over/under up along his hip at the sky-rocketing bird that looks like it was launched from a missile pad. Bam! One shot from the hip and that hen drops practically at Randy’s feet. I catch a quick movement and so I scan the far edge of the bank. Another rooster! My shot knocks the bird sideways. I call the dogs and we search the blackberries along the steep ledge where it once sat. Ten minutes later I accept that I just became responsible for the only lost bird of the day.

It was a good day. The weather cooperated, everyone got in quality shooting, and Raleigh proved to be a natural hunter and great asset. Of course, in true fashion of all of my adventures, the hunt ended with the last bird coming with a bit of difficulty. We are headed through the last field of the day, staying along the water’s edge. Randy H had just trudged through the flooded field of

 
cattails. With just thirty feet remaining of hunting, a hen flushed out behind me, moving to my left. One shot and she falls into the cattails. Heck yeah! I am proud of that one! Russ and Randy spot her and Abbey jumps in for the retrieval. But Abbey has had a long, tiring day. She picks up the bird and begins to swim. Unfortunately, she swims in a circle and spits the bird out: she’s done. Randy does his best to convince Abbey to “get
the bird” but she just can’t go any further. Instead, Randy becomes the retriever, plodding through the marsh in water up to his knees. Bird number 25 will go home with us.