It all started off in the eye of a severe storm system, in the middle of a sopping wet January in 2016. It was a three boat, guided fly fishing trip, with 6 anglers total in the group. Our target river for that day was the Trinity River in Northern California and steelhead were on the brain as the last of the group downed the final sip of coffee. The light reluctantly etched its way into the soggy and drenched landscape, the fog hung in eerie suspense almost as another member of the group. It became apparent rather quickly that our emerald green river, chalked full of fresh fish from the Pacific had not only doubled in size overnight, but was the color of a thick glass of Nesquick; chocolate milk, chubby kid style. Scout for the group was veteran guide, Ernie Denison, one of the fishiest in the business. As we huddled in the early morning light at Indian Creek Lodge like the New England Patriots looking for way to cheat to victory on the quiet fringes of Highway 299, more information was received, and we learned that the entire river system was blown out. One of the few benefits in our opinion of smart phones and instant information, is that within minutes we were in contact with other members of our guide team and a Plan B was devised and executed. We were heading over to the Lower Sacramento River, which was fishable, but had color from incoming tributaries, even on the upper reaches.
It was’t too long when Lonnie Boles, Ernie Denison and the Kennedy Brothers were in the water and fishing. First cast after a nice mend and we were instantly hooked up and an obese 22″ rainbow was brought to the boat. Plan B was a success! Several passes later we were up four fish while the others boats still hadn’t made contact. I knew this wasn’t going to last long as the boats shared pleasantries and heckled each other. Knowing Ernie and Lonnie as deadly fly fishing guides that could bury us in a few casts, I knew we had to share the reasons for our success or face possible annihilation further down the river. Working together as a team is critical as a guide and often as an angler because you never know when you are going to be the one on the other end of the rod. After sharing information and adjusting setups, Lonnie was instantly into a nice fish that jumped incessantly and was into the flame orange backing that all anglers love to see, so long as it comes back. A few more passes in the run and both of our boats doubled and we struggled, but managed to land a pristine 24″ rainbow. After the release, we pulled up to watch and enjoy the moment as Lonnie and his clients still battled on with their fish that was head shaking and hugging the bottom of the run. The fight lasted longer than normal and the group cheered as the fish finally slid into the dripping net. I knew immediately from the chagrin smirk from Lonnie that something was up. Without hesitation, the words that are seldom heard rang out, “Brown trout!” As we peered into the submerged net we could all see the glowing fish resting safely under the surface of the water.
In my experience, since my first guide trip on the Lower Sac back in the Fall of 1996, it’s not all that often that we find brown trout in comparison to the copious numbers of rainbow trout, although the populations in the past were much higher than today. The general consensus in the guide community is that since the cold water conversion on Shasta Dam, many of the brown trout that resided in the river and in Keswick Reservoir have slowly become less common. Termination of stocking programs have also played a major role. My personal average is about one brown trout every 5 to 6 years for my boat.
I remember a similar story last year and it was also with Lonnie on another group trip. This time it was, “Brook Trout!” I witnessed this twice, once with Lonnie and once with fly fishing guide Shane Kohlbeck. I have to say, I would have had a hard time believing it without seeing it. Those are the only brook trout I have ever seen or heard of, but there may be more.
Brown Trout (non-native)
Brown trout, originally from Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Asia, were introduced into California in 1893. Since that time, brown trout have been distributed throughout the state. Brown trout are found in a high percentage of the waters with suitable trout habitat in California, due to their popularity and the resulting extensive stocking during the past century. Brown trout have adapted well to California waters and their ability to compete with other kinds of trout has contributed to their widespread distribution. Many of the waters in the Wild Trout Program, such as Hot Creek, East Walker River, Fall River, Hat Creek, and the Owens River support healthy brown trout populations. Cherished by many, the brown trout is a challenging adversary for California wild trout anglers. These wily gamefish find, occupy, and defend the prime cover and feeding spots in a stream and often live to advanced age and grow to trophy size.
Fish Kennedy Brothers
Professional Fly Fishing Guides
Trout and Steelhead