Dateline: June 8, 2013 – Monte Rio, California
I went looking for 1993, but I found 1984 instead.
The day started with an almost certain recipe for disaster – I went fishing with Mark Spellman. (For those of you unfamiliar with fishing’s next big accident waiting to happen, see “A Glass of Milk.”) Most kidding aside, I don’t get to fish with Mark as often as I’d like to. Between my travel and his adult responsibilities, it’s hard to catch up, even when Heather is trying to get him out of the house. Even this trip was set up to be a short one; I promised a morning session for a few hours, lunch, then back home.
But every time Mark and I do catch up, it immediately reverts to those 1993 road trips, Monty Python on the stereo, horrible food, the intestinal consequences thereof, and the boundless enthusiasm of heading out in the morning. That is always the best part of any fishing day – anticipating that THIS is going to be THE day, when the talk is rapid and optimistic despite abbreviated sleep, and there is still the possibility that everything will go right. It can happen, though it rarely does, but it can, and this was our mood as we drove north of San Francisco and off into the wilds of Sonoma county to explore the Russian River.
The Russian river, one of the weekend playgrounds for the San Francisco area.
And why was I going there, you ask? Well, you probably wouldn’t, but play along – this is my blog.
I have caught just about everything that swims in Northern California, but from time to time, some rarities come to my attention that are not yet on “the list.” One of these curiosities is the tule perch, which is actually a member of the surfperch family that apparently didn’t get along with the other surfperches and moved into fresh water. There is no surf in fresh water, and I lay awake at night worrying about such things.
We drove up Highway 101 toward Santa Rosa, then made a left onto River Road, which picks up and parallels the river. It’s a beautiful drive, and one that brought back a lot of memories. (And later, on the way to lunch, we got to drive down the actual Bohemian Highway.)
Yes, it’s really called that.
My first trip to the Russian river was in 1984, with a college girlfriend named Tania. She was unlike almost anyone I dated back then, because she was sane – AND her father actually owned two fishing supply stores. Tania went on to become a successful optometrist, but she apparently didn’t see too well at the time, because, as we covered, she went out with me. She had set up a day of canoeing on the quiet waters around Guerneville in the summer of ’84 – that magical year the Tigers won the World Series – and I of course turned it into a fishing trip. (And got a pound and a half smallmouth on a gold J-9 rapala. Yes, I remember those things.)
I know you’re all waiting for some ridiculous picture of us from college, with wild hair and period clothing, and believe me, I looked. But in 1984, there was no digital photography, thank goodness, and there was absolutely nothing compromising of Tania I could toss in here. That might be a good thing, as the shortest of her three brothers is something like 6’5″.
As Spellman and I drove up the Bohemian highway toward Guerneville, we began to acknowledge that we had done almost no advance planning. We knew where to find the river – the wet thing on the left – but that was about it. That’s where King’s Sport and Tackle (Click here for details) came in to play. With one quick visit, we had great advice on where to go for the oddball fish, specifically a hard-to-find boat ramp in Monte Rio.
The Monte Rio bridge. Little did I know that the boat ramp was right in front of me, just to the right of a sign that said “Boat Ramp.”
Of course, these guys are also the ones who broke the bad news that NO BAIT is allowed in the river. NO BAIT. What have these communists done to us? California makes a lot of things unnecessarily complicated. For example, our budget is deep in the red and yet we still publish our fishing regulations in everything from Esperanto to Ancient Greek. Sigh.
We tried a few spots by the bridge that looked promising. The areas definitely held some small fish, but the no bait thing was tough. We relied on Berkeley Gulp plastics, which are the foulest-smelling artificial substance not found in my hockey bag. We looked around for the boat ramp, but it eluded us for some time.
We fished the pools on the far bank without result.
About two hours later, we found the boat ramp the bait store guys had been talking about, which was exactly where they said it was, by the sign that said “Boat Ramp.” We were getting hungry, but I promised to make it short. While I probably meant it at the time, no one should ever believe me when I say this.
I tossed out a tiny smelly plastic bit on a #18 hook, and finally, there was some activity. The float dipped, then dipped again, then wandered off. I pulled up a California roach. Casting again, ever wary for the tule perch, I watched my float go and I hooked something a bit more spirited. Pulling it onto the bank, I was surprised – and thrilled – to see I had caught a hitch, species # 1212. I then got a few more hitch – they were everywhere – nothing was going to be close to a pound, so a world record was out, but it was a species on the board. The perch was another matter – I saw nothing that looked remotely like one.
The hitch. Spellman casts for shad in the background.
I tried both sides of the ramp for about an hour, and as the sun got higher, we had to consider calling it a successful day. There was, after all, a marvelous Italian meal awaiting us at Negri’s in Occidental. (Another place I learned about from Tania.) Oh, and as I had sold the trip to Mark as a morning-only thing, so we hadn’t eaten. It was then, in the very shallow water right up against the bank, that my float dipped. I swung back, and for an instant, I had a tule perch up out of the water. It came off in mid-air. I could have thrown up. Spellman could have thrown up too, because he knew that this would mean at least another hour in the same place, even if that had been the only tule perch within 50 miles.
Regardless of both of us being near starvation, I stayed at that spot for another 48 minutes, which must be the exact memory span of a tule perch, because that’s when it bit again, and this time, it stayed hooked. I had gotten two species within three hours, within 100 miles of my home. There was hope yet.
The savage tule perch. Mark is smiling because we could eat now.
And yes, I paid for lunch. It was the least I could do.