Winter Fly Fishing on the Tuolumne River near Yosemite

Last week, on a crisp California winter morning, my guide Bryant from Echo Adventure CoOp led me down a trail along Cherry Creek to some of the best lake run steelhead fishing in the state.  My only experience with fly fishing was from the wonderful book The River Why by David James Duncan, and reading Norman Maclean.  I decided it was time to have my own A River Runs Through It experience.

Cover of book The River Why with scene of a large fishhook and a canoe iwth figure fishing in the background.At the trailhead we donned our river booties, farmer-john waders, and water-proof boots.  We started with a little theory and demo of the basics, then I practiced casting on the empty road.  Bryant made it look easy, ‘piece of cake’ I thought.  Ha!  Once Bryant felt confident that I wouldn’t hook myself or the nearby foliage, carrying our rods in front of us, we headed down the river trail.

Most people know that the fishing season begins on April 15th – most don’t know that there are stretches of rivers open during the winter as well, when the lake run trout are spawning, the rainbows and browns are fat and sassy, and the fishing is at its finest.

Scene from movie A River Runs Through It showing man casting a fly fishing rod, while bathed in green-tinged sun beams.Except for an eagle cruising slowly overhead, we had the canyon to ourselves.  We could have been in deepest Montana or Alaska, the setting felt so remote and serene, the river rugged and pristine.

Once we reached legitimate fishing waters we shed our coats, gloves, and lunches on the river bank and waded into the river thigh deep.  Planting my feet firmly in the sandy river bottom, I turned sideways to the current and cast out my line.  Dud.  It pretty much landed right in front of me.  Two hours later, with much encouragement from my coach, I found I could lay down a pretty nice rolling cast just about where I wanted it.  Half of the time.

Woman standing in a river in waders with her back to us with a fishing pole in her hands.Time passed swiftly/slowly.  Focused on the moment, on the cast, on the water, I didn’t realize that I could no longer feel my feet.  Luckily, Bryant was there to take good care of me, so we hobbled out of the water and warmed up while we fished another spot from shore.  While I learned how to read the water and perfect my cast, Bryant filled me in on the area’s history, flora and fauna – my own personal Wikipedia tour guide.

Though we caught no fish that day, I had a wonderful time.  As they say, a bad day fishing is better than a good day (fill in the blank).  The fish had apparently gorged themselves during the recent high-water storm event and were taking it easy during the lower, slower flows.  It didn’t matter.  I had FUN, and I’m going to try it again.

Before heading out yourself, make sure you have a fishing license, know the rules, and know where you are going.  Or, even better, hire Echo Adventures CoOp.  They’ll take care of everything (license, gear, lunch, transportation) so you only need to focus on the main event.  Echo guides tailor the day to your needs.  Just learning – they’ll guide you graciously.  An experienced angler – they’ll show you new tricks and the ‘secret’ spots.  Every guide at Echo is an owner/member, invested in the company and invested in you having a memorable experience.  Even if you don’t catch “the big one.”

Melony Vance is the General Manager of the Groveland Hotel.

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