52768196-e20c-46b1-881e-c272830f3017Written by Paul Bradley, Volunteer with Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing-Martinez, CA A group of seven veterans from Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing-Martinez, CA program and two members of the Diablo Valley Fly Fishing club spent two days fishing two beautiful but distinctly different waters near Redding, Calif. Although Northern California’s winter weather can be iffy, scattered clouds let the sun shine on the fantastic scenery surrounding Eagle Canyon Lake and along the Lower Sacramento River.

The trip began March 22, 2016, when most of the group met at the VA’s Martinez Outpatient Clinic just after sunup. There participants Byron, Dan, Mike and Jim took seats in cars driven by volunteers Paul Bradley and Jim Yeakel. They grabbed another program participant, Jose, on the way out of town, before heading north on I-5 to Eagle Canyon Lake, where the group expected to meet by Felix, Chris and Keith. Unfortunately Keith’s motorcycle broke down and he was unable to connect with the group; maybe next time.

The veterans and volunteers fished Eagle Canyon Lake’s private water on Tuesday, and then drifted the Lower Sacramento River on Wednesday. The beautiful weather was accompanied by great fishing. Everyone hooked fish and, better yet, some got hooked on fishing.

While at the lake everyone hooked fish, not all were landed…the fish were huge. A few notable memories come to mind:

Jim J. was the most laid back fisherman of the day. He contently worked one spot to hook and land a nice size rainbow. Dan hooked the greatest number of trout while smoking a cigarette; unfortunately he would not land any this day. Paul hooked the largest fish of the day but then his luck waned. Felix likely caught the highest number of fish. He was the only one to do some deep wading out to an island where the fishing was hot. He also greatly improved his casting during the course of the day.

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Paul with Fishzilla

Chris likely had the largest fish but, unfortunately, we never saw it. He was taken into his backing as the fish fought its way across the entire lake before breaking off.

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Hard to see, but Chris fighting his across the entire lake, it must have been a monster.

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Looking good Mike, Jim J. and Sam. Mike would burn to a red crisp on tomorrow’s drift, but promised to be a beautiful brown the following day.

While Mike did not land a fish, he did have a beauty jump right out of the net to freedom. We’re calling that a catch. Jose had his fish right up to the net, where it snapped the line. During the fight Jose’s line became entangled into what is likely the biggest knot ever seen in the history of fly fishing. Jose was a good sport; 45 minutes later it was untangled and back on the reel.

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Jose with knotzilla

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Nice fish Felix

Byron hooked numerous fish and landed a sweet rainbow without the aid of a net and boy were these fish slippery. Byron almost did a header into the lake while he and Paul worked to get the fish unhooked and snap a photo. Jim Y landed one and hooked others on the lower lake.

Around 5 p.m. the group returned to Redding. After cleaning up it was time for dinner at CR Gibbs American Grille. The food was great and the conversation better. Everyone had a great time and even drew the attention of a few ladies from a nearby table.

At 8:30 a.m. Wednesday the group met the five guides who would guide them down the Lower Sac. The river was high and off color at 20,000 CFS, but very fishable. Luckily, the water had dropped quite a bit since the day before – something hard to imagine that day on the river. It was high enough to convince anyone that the drought may be over this year.

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The water was fast enough to make it hard for the guides to row back up river, so the group took two drifts down the river. Most everyone caught a fish.

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Jim Y. was by far the hot rod, losing lost count of the number of trout he caught. Others like Jose and Byron came back without hookups. As they say, that’s fishing. Most of the group caught one or two or a few more. While the high water made for challenging fishing, the weather was beautiful and everyone had a great time.

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Our band of 9 had a lot of laughs, built lasting friendships and got to catch nice fish in the process. All are now thinking the same thing – when are we doing this again?

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The PHWFF-Martinez, CA gang taking a brief rest from fishing for the obligatory team photo. From left to right: Participants Jim J. and Dan, volunteer Paul Bradley, participants Felix, Chris, Mike, Jose and Byron and volunteer Jim Yeakel. Not shown are the guides from Confluence Outfitters. Guides Andrew Harris and Sam Robinett did a great job, not just landing fish but teaching the fine art of fly fishing to our novices as well as our more experienced fly fisherman.