by Scott Sadil
Growing up in southern California, I always had a fairly ambiguous relationship with opening day. Trout season, anyway, was sort of an abstraction. Surrounded by freeways, tract housing, and other emblems of suburban sprawl, I tagged along with my grandfather to openers without any sense of timing or seasonal change other than notices he read somewhere about truck loads of “catchable rainbows” dumped into L.A. basin reservoirs.
What I remember most about those openers was sitting in lines of cars, waiting for gates to open, my grandfather’s mood as tense as if we were trapped on the freeway, headed for a Dodger game.
About the same time, I began to think of myself as a genuine fly fisherman, I discovered there was a long history of southland anglers who made an annual pilgrimage to Crowley Lake, on the upper Owens River, east of the Sierra Nevada, for Opening Day. Thinking we’d outsmart the crowd, and avoid the icy high desert weather, a buddy and I drove all the way to Lake Shasta, at the north end of the state – only to find we got our dates wrong.
A week early, we had no option but to fish for smallmouth bass.
That’s not unlike the time I dragged my father up to Yellowstone to demonstrate that, as a fly fisherman, I had arrived, capable now of fooling genuine net-stretching cutthroat, not just piddly brookies and, occasionally, half-starved goldens of the sort we found during trips into the High Sierra.
One problem: Pelican Creek, scene of so many lovely cutthroat, hadn’t yet opened for the summer.
(For the record, the lower two miles of Pelican Creek is permanently closed. The Bear Management area above the permanent closure opens for day use starting the fourth of July.)
Of course, now that so many of our rivers and streams remain open year-round, the hoopla surrounding an annual opener has pretty much faded. Hard to get too excited about the start of a new season if the past season never ends. Yet most of us still recognize some sort of trout opener – if only because there’s that moment in the year when we feel we’ve finally made it through another winter, and it’s time to get serious about trout again.
It’s more than just the longer, brighter days. Mallards pair up. You spot an osprey. The lawn fills with dandelions. Fruit trees up and down the valley explode into bloom.
You may still be looking for steelhead when you come upon your first morel mushrooms of the season. Or the earlier, stringent, false morels. The woods down to the river are suddenly laced with turkey sign. And those are blue-winged olives in the eddy inside the run, with six-inch salmon and steelhead smolts dimpling the surface with enough enthusiasm to rekindle an interest in single-handed rods.
Somebody mentions the idea of a float. You open six fly boxes and can’t find a single soft-hackle that looks just right. Three nights of tying and maybe, just maybe, you’ll have enough in the way of semi-decent flies to make it through a couple of days of fishing – that is, if you can find any room in those same six boxes to stash your new, first-team, Triple X lineup.
What were you doing all winter, anyway?
Too late to worry about that now.
Opening Day has arrived.
Gray’s angling editor Scott Sadil leaves it to others to recall what, besides fishing, happens from one opener to the next.