River of Skulls
El Rio de las Calaveras
Getting lost is part of the whole reason to go fly-fishing.
However, you don’t want to be getting lost driving to the place of adventure.
After we left Stockton, like Marysville, you begin to intersect tiny towns hit hard by the recession along with demand on the local home laboratories.
Driving Hwy 26, Many of the street signs, removed or missing like the teeth of a few locals we asked directions from, made it a challenge to navigate.
After a few misguided attempts, Roger and I finally found “The Bridge” and then the River of Skulls.
While we geared up for our hike and new adventure, another fly fisherman hiking out was kind enough to give us advice about the place since it was or first time there. Roger prudently took the Obama decal off the back of his car and we headed off.
After a few minutes hiking, I began to imagine in my mind images from the Spanish naming of the river.
"In 1805, Lieutenant Gabriel Moraga was ordered by the Spanish Governor of
California to explore the Great Central Valley. Displace the local Natives, and
re-name everything he found. Well, one day Gabe and his horsemen came across a river
the banks of which were littered with skulls. No one knows for sure how the skulls
came to be on the banks of this river. Perhaps they were the remains of an ancient
battle, or a terrible plague. Or perhaps it was a really great party that suddenly
went horribly wrong. Whatever the case old Gabe, being a true master of the obvious,
named this river "El Rio De Las Calaveras" or in English, "The River of Skulls".
We started with pretty much the same rig, two-nymph setup; size 16 Pheasant Tail with a 18 copper BH midge behind.
The First few access seemed quite, we were just getting warmed up, swing casting, like Pete Townsend playing the guitar, just get’en into the rhythm, nothing fancy.
Then, we hiked upstream a bit more enjoying the solace of the stream, just looking around. At the next pool we noticed a few trout rising. We peeked in to get our game plan on. Roger would take the access first and I would go play just downstream from him.
A few swing casts, and Boom, there’s the flash of silver in the drift, zoom zoom and yow, hang on! Luckily, Roger had his camera ready and snapped a few pics, plus the landing, yow a beautiful young Steele, maybe a 2 year old. She was beutiful to see tear off after the release.
I hiked up stream and l gave Roger some room. It was a perfect day, overcast and cool. I had a banana and hung out looking around, woh no garbage, it was so refreshing not to be picking up garbage as I hike like at Putah or Lower Stan.
I hiked into another access and waded in quietly, that’s the trick the more stealthy the better, however my cast was crappy but I let it finish the drift, instead of ripen it out of the water early just to get it out 16 more inches and yow it paid off, boom! I got into a big one, I could see a deep large flash and the rodeo was on. After a few giving and taking of line, she was able to get down stream and tie me of on a limb… yow good fight she was big! I reeled in, tied on a size 18 brassie and waited for the area to cool off. Took some pics from where I stood in the river and enjoyed watching Roger upstream from me. He was getting some good takes from what I could see. After 10 minutes, I took careful aim and swung cast upstream from where that last drift originated, slowly it came right over the same spot, boom same as before, repeat performance except this time I kept a little more tight on her. She gave it to me for a couple of minutes, and then I guide her into the net, Yow 16 inches. She was beautiful! Simply stunning! Took a portrait and then she tore off into the abyss. I thanked the spot and headed for more new territory up stream.
While hiking along and enjoying the oaks, and willows, the stream meanders along unpretentiously with tight snaggy runs and riffles to play in. Along the way, I caught a few more bows in the precious size and gently let them go. Arriving at the dam we switched to dry fly and got one looking with an October Caddis Emerger right at the spillway. After letting him go, Roger had a go at it for a bit.
Soon we headed back down trail and across the stream, and went back to the first two areas and I got a couple there one on the caddis emerger and another on the caddis pupa dropper below.
When the Lower Stan is closed, The River of Skulls is my new winter sweet spot.
To see photos of the day:
River of Skulls
Posted by Tony Bellaver