Dateline: September 10, 2011 – Plymouth, California
Sometimes, when we really want something, it is actually right in front of our noses, hiding in plain sight. But mostly, these things are nowhere near our noses and get tucked away in really difficult hiding places where there isn’t any parking.
Let’s face it, I am running out of new species to catch in Northern California. I have long since caught the well-known, easily-found creatures, and am now working to land lesser-known species such as the Tule Perch, Splittail, and of course, the Redeye Bass. Don’t worry, I hadn’t heard of it either, at least not until Peterson’s Guide to Freshwater Fishes of North America became my standard bathroom reading. These small relatives of the Largemouth Bass are rumored to live in a number of our northern California lakes and rivers. However, after fishing in this area for 20 years, I still hadn’t gotten one. So I decided to do some serious research and make 2011 the year I finally added one to my list.
The definitive source of information on freshwater fishes – Dr. Peter Moyle – happens to be a professor at my esteemed Alma Mater, University of California at Davis. Dr. Moyle has written a number of my favorite fish ID books and is also very generous with his time, having aided my quest by giving advice on fishing spots and identifying such exotic beasts as the Lahontan Redside.
Dr. Peter Moyle. The backdrop appears to be Putah Creek, where I spent much of my college career fishing when I should have been reading English lit or something.
So I emailed the good doctor, and he let me know that his Redeye water of choice is the Cosumnes River outside of Sacramento. He told me to go upstream from Rancho Murieta, and that there are Redeyes to be found all the way up to the Highway 49 bridge. Oh, and he did warn me that parking and access would be “a bit of a challenge.”
This was one of the biggest understatements since Marshal Petain said “The Germans may be advancing faster than we hoped.” In April, Mark Spellman and I made a reconnaissance trip out to Rancho Murieta and spent 2 hours trying to find a place to leave the car. Our eventual parking spot, which was still faintly illegal, left us with a mile of walking back and forth to the river. To top it all off, it had been raining quite a bit, the river was way up, and nothing was going to bite. We saw spots that would obviously hold fish in-season, but it wasn’t in-season. So we caught nothing, but I got to drive 250 miles with Spellman. No upside there, but at least no one ended up covered in doo-doo.
What is it that they could be hiding here? Amelia Earhart? Scott Boras’ conscience? Waldo?
This is the most protected, private piece of water outside the fountain of youth. While the freedom-loving USA makes all navigable water public, the actual access to such water is often private or difficult. And every inch of the Cosumnes River shoreline seems to be owned by hostile farmers who post signs like “HAVE YOU SEEN DELIVERANCE? ENOUGH SAID.” And just in case some freedom-loving citizen accidentally finds some sliver of access, every road anywhere near the water is posted “No Parking.” This includes areas with plenty of safe parking space – I strongly suspect that local law enforcement is in on the conspiracy.
In early September, five months after the April debacle, when the weather was perfect and there had been no rain for months, I set out to this same location. It was a hot late summer day in the valley, and I planned to fish the evening and add the Redeye in short order. It was a nice walk over the old rail bridge, and I had a lovely stretch of river all to myself.
The Cosumnes River near Rancho Murieta. A lovely Smallmouth spot.
Walking upstream from the bridge as Dr. Moyle had suggested, I caught a bunch of bass, and I thought some of them had faint white markings on the tail and the telltale red eyes. I was filled with hope.
I emailed Dr. Moyle the photos. He confirmed that I had caught Smallmouth Bass, not Redeyes, and advised that I had to go further up the river, to the Highway 49 bridge, like he had told me in the first place. I needed to go at least a bridge farther up the river, but this was some 20 miles from the only known semi-legal parking.
I set Saturday the 10th for a return trip, but I struggled to pinpoint legal parking in the new spot. I discussed the problem with Ed Trujillo, expert Steelhead guide and all-around good guy – you may remember him from https://1000fish.wordpress.com/2011/01/29/trout-blasphemy/. Ed suggested that he meet me and drop me off, avoiding the whole parking mess.
Ed Trujillo, Steelhead guide extraordinaire and all-around good guy. He wouldn’t even take gas money from me.
We got out there in the early morning. I had actually been across the Highway 49 bridge before, but looking down at the water, it looked so much like a trout stream I had presumed no bass species could live there. The scenery was lovely, and the sun was just reaching down into the deep gorge to hit the water.
I scrambled down the rocky bank, and worked my way over and around boulders to the first decent-looking pool. I couldn’t help but admire what a beautiful trout stream it appeared to be, but I kept telling myself “There are Bass here. Dr. Moyle says there are Bass here. Doctor Moyle is a professional.”
Tell me this doesn’t look like a trout stream.
I cast, and a few minutes later, I experienced a moment of ironic cruelty that must have been a conspiracy between the Fish Gods and Jaime Hamamoto. I caught a trout. A lovely trout. But I was not here for trout. I was here for Redeye Bass. Could it be that Dr. Moyle has a sadistic sense of humor and was giggling to himself back in his office? Was he also in on the conspiracy?
You have to be kidding me.
I tied on a different lure and kept going. About 10 minutes later, I got a smaller hit and started battling something from the end of the pool. It came off. I then lost another one. These couldn’t all be trout, right? Right?
Moments later, a fish hit and stayed hooked. It was a small bass, and as I swung it up onto the rocks, the white markings on the tail were obvious. They were so well-defined that it was clear I been imagining them on the other basses I had caught. I stayed for a few hours and got about 20 of them – great fun on light tackle. Dr. Moyle verified my identification later that night, and species 1101 was in the books.
A lovely Redeye Bass. This is about the standard size, but they do fight hard.
This was the largest one I got. It hit a Rapala about half its size.
And those of you who might think me imbalanced for driving 750 miles to catch an 8-inch fish clearly missed the Golden Trout episode last year. (https://1000fish.wordpress.com/2010/09/25/the-cottonwood-death-march/) At least the parking there was better.
It’s amazing what you discover when you Google “Funny no parking sign.” Of course, as search engines are incredibly random, I also discovered, among other things, that Leonard Nimoy released 5 music albums. Judging by http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XC73PHdQX04&feature=related, it is probably best that we remember him as an actor.