A once in a lifetime moment is difficult to describe, let alone experience. I had the time for the long six hour drive from Sausalito California to the Fall River. As most anglers are aware, incredible numbers of Trout call this part of California home. On the way to Fall River, one can throw flies at the many rising rings on the Pit River drainage system or fabled Hat creek, this area is fly fishermen heaven in California. The next two days would include the pristine wilderness and emerald artesian fed waters of one of the most beautiful rivers in the state. Wildlife, especially birds, ducks, deer are in abundance. Because of El Nino, this place is rolling and stretching in all its glory! Wildflowers are big and bright, the water level is high and will remain so all summer.
| || |
Dan & Walt on Fall River, 4 1/2 lb. Rainbow caught by Walt
Fly fisherman can enjoy either dry fly or trolling for good size wild and planted fish. The water is clear enough to see down to 25 feet in most areas. The PH balance is almost perfect, with plenty of natural food and optimum water quality, translate to many rotund Trout removed from these waters by those with the right knowledge. If a more perfect place to toss flies at wild Trout exists, it must look and smell just like the Fall River. When Page Miller Boss of the Mountain valley Hunting & Fishing Club called and asked if I had any free time to spend a few days with Walton Powell and him fishing Fall River. After picking myself off the floor, restarting my heart and reaching for my favorite fly rod - I was in heaven!
Page Miller known as the local man responsible for the annual decline in both Duck and Trout populations, has fished and hunted every inch of the area. His new hunting and fishing club sits on the Fall River in a sparsely populated area. It would be just the three of us in a 22 foot jet boat, which allowed us to move in supersonic hyperdrive from one bend to the next faster then Demi Moore can take her clothes off. I had somehow been allowed to collect good karma bonus points. Two days fly fishing with one of the most famous fly fisherman, Bamboo Fly rod maker, sportsmen in America, upon one of the prettiest rivers in the state, that's about as good as it gets. ENTERING HIS KINGDOM
On the evening of the first day, by the time we got the boat fired and the gear stowed it was about 6:30 PM. A mosaic of refracted light patches blotted out some of the bright sunlight. Two hours of prime evening fishing lay ahead as the boat moved easily over the clear waters. Walton sat next to me sorting out his gear, not gear he bought at various tackle stores. The Fly rod, flies, leaders, all the delicate equipment was made either by Walton himself or his son Press. The Powell family beginning with Waltons famous father E.C. Powell, have been making, refining, innovating the finest Bamboo Fly rods for the last 100 years. Many famous politicians, Hollywood types, sportsmen have Powell Fly rods in their possession. The history of the Powell Fly rod dynasty reads like one of the great American success stories. Before this trip would end, a little of this fascinating history and the honor of listening to Walton Powell expound on his personal fly fishing philosophy would be indelibly imprinted on my mind.
As the cool Fall River spray brushed aside the hot Summer day, looking down at all the fine handmade Fly rods neatly ensconced in holders on the side of the jet boat, a rude flash of reality hit me. At some point in the next two days we would find enough rising Trout to stop trolling wet fly streamers and start throwing tiny hand tied flies. I suddenly felt as if batting practice at Yankee Stadium was about to begin and my coach was Mark Mcguire. A large portion of the Walton Powell legend known by friends and fellow sportsmen is the history of excellence and accuracy with which Walton and his father are famous. In 1936 Walton's brother Albert "Bud "Powell set a world record in distance fly casting in California at the San Jose Rod & Gun Club. Buddy shattered the old record of 124 feet - 10 inches, with a throw of 167 feet. (Buddy Powell was killed in a automobile accident in 1936) Beginning with Walton's famous father E.C. all the Powell clan became expert at both making and using their unique Fly rods. One can access a wealth of extremely accurate information on how to fly fish, proper casting techniques and general fishing information. In Essay's on Fly fishing by E.C. Powell first printing 1919, or in many other published works on the subject written by the Powell family. I asked Walton, what exactly did his father E.C. Powell discover that made his fly rods so famous the world over?
"That's a good question, most people I run into don't know the first thing about how bamboo fly rods are made? One day my dad who was also a bee keeper, was out checking his hives, he suddenly realized the configuration of the individual compartments of the honeycomb was the same as a bamboo fly rod! He used mother nature's own design and came up with the design for his rods. Within the essay written by Walton's father E.C. Powell' A Discourse on Trout Angling and Tackle" first published in 1919. One can find the original formula E.C developed and Walton improved on over many years.
HEART OF THE BEAST
"A fly rod must depend absolutely on the fiber of the bamboo for its casting power. To obtain the best possible results in building a fly rod, the fiber must be followed and not cut across as in bamboo rods that are made of machined sawed strips instead of split strips. One joint of a rod is generally made of six strips of bamboo. Each strip is fashioned in triangular shape, then glued with five other similar strips, mounted, wrapped, and varnished. The joint is now hexagonal, practically cylindrical, and tapers regularly from one end to the other. The joint must be exact and true in all dimensions. Each strip must, therefore, be exactly correct in size, shape and dimension. A strip cannot be cut down after gluing as this would destroy the better part of the cane. The fiber of bamboo is most dense near the outside and it becomes more pithy toward the inside. In making the strips only two sides are worked - leaving the original outside of the bamboo untouched."
Before we actually got into fighting Trout, I asked Walton to enlighten Paige and I on his expert technique for unwinding 50-60 feet of fly line in the direction of rising Trout, take us through a fly cast that is both poetic in beauty, yet functional in putting the fly in the Trouts eye sight. He referred back to his fathers treatise on fly fishing which states effectively what fly fishing experts are aware of, and what novices need to understand.
"If one masters the roll cast - almost any water can be fished, especially in places where hanging cover or other obstacles hinder an over the shoulder throw. The rod is brought up more slowly. At the time the line is well on its way to leave the water - the rod is given a sudden forward and downward movement causing the line to roll in a spiral out over the water." Walton explained, "Its all in the balance of the rod in your hand, feel the balance get used to the feel of your rod. You don't have to push your cast or punch through, when you understand how the rod itself provides the power for you, the rest of fly fishings mysteries will begin to slowly unravel."
The party was already in bit of trouble when the early morning light was not quite strong enough for my fifty year old eye's. I had managed to somehow create a ball of shiny fuzz instead of a perfect knot attaching the trolling streamer fly to Walton's hand made spider web thin tippet. "The boat pilot Paige Miller was imagining or hoping to see large schools of fish under the jet boat. He was really watching structure and grass, "OK you two ballerina's's, as soon as you get untangled throw those lines in and let out 60 to 100 feet or two colors. "Paige and I both looked at each other and laughed. I had the same feeling, I used to get in sixth grade, when the seat outside the principles office looked like the electric chair. We laughed and exchanged fishing tales until the next strike or fish on. While waiting for the first bite, I couldn't help but ask the question everyone who thinks they are fishermen or wish they could fly fish might ask Walton, what exactly is a fly rod? "Not many people thoroughly understand fly rods. A fly rod is a machine that converts power applied by leverage into spring power. The first and primary purpose of the machine is to propel a line on which is attached a leader and a fly to a spot in a manner that the caster wants."
While the Mallards sliced through the Fall River skyline, Mt. Shasta snow capped stood guard over this serene still wild paradise. I realized as did my friend and faithful guide Paige Miller, we would soon have the honor and terror of Walton Powells undivided attention as we struggled to pretend we knew the secret to the air ballet, properly throwing and presenting a fly exactly where we wanted? THREADING THE NEEDLE
Those not savvy to the watchmaker like mentality necessary to understand and master the art of fly fishing, cannot appreciate the moment. After spending years on many of America's finest Trout Streams, from Hat Creek to Yosemite. I had become a journeyman in the sport, or so I imagined... I never took any lesson's.
I can usually throw fine tapered lines up to 30-40 feet with varying degree's of accuracy. Its not the prettiest sight as my line unfurls, but I generally catch fish, always have. During the two days we would spend on the river, two prevailing conditions were at hand. The wind would pick up enough by late morning to cause a favorable ripple effect which turns on the Trout bite. During these times of consistent rippling the river gave us plenty of action. When the jet boat came to bends in the river -either going into a bend or coming out, the water might become calm and smooth like glass.
I was on constant look out for multiple rising rings. The variety of conditions were perfect for letting Powell's overall fly fishing, life living philosophy unravel like the meandering Fall River we cruised for two days. Walton provided an accurate explanation of the ripple effect on the Trout bite." Not sure if its the camouflaging or its the movement of water, seems like whenever we catch fish on this river its trolling through ripples, the bigger the better, Of course you two genius's 'know all about that right? You boys notice how much easier it is to take Trout with dry flies when the wind is up and they can't see you, especially in shallow water, like areas near the natural springs. Those high flow spring currents are deadly hangouts for fat over fed trout, Just get back far as you can throw into the head of the flow and take up slack quick or you might miss a strike, biggest mistake I've seen is people missing strikes because they can't get the concept of no slack- feel the attack."
During the nine hours of fishing that second day, we had plenty of time to listen to many of Waltons best memories fooling Trout from one state to the next. We saw as many birds and small animals that day as one could imagine. Everything from the occasional beaver to grazing deer everywhere, a tranquil paradise it is. I asked Walton what his latest plans were, "Got more irons in the fire then Clinton's got excuses, I been putting together my last series of fly rods commemorating 75 years in the business. There will be 75 rods in the series, called the Walton Powell Anniversary Rod. "I asked him if the family had enough fine Bamboo to last a while. He smiled," We got a ware house filled with some of the finest Tonkin cane, its the best for the Bamboo Fly rod, very uniform natural construction." TROUT SORCERY
We fished in water any where from ten to twenty-five feet deep, trolling hand tied Muddler Minnows with silver or Olive Leeches wet trolling flies. Three rods all Powell trolling rods with three colors of seven weight line, nine foot leaders with six foot thin tippets. this kind of trolling requires absolute concentration. The leaders were assembled by Walton as was everything else. During the first hour it became evident the slightest lapse of concentration would result in Walton and our trusty guide Paige staring at me as if to say "we saw the strike, saw your rod tip jump, but you San Francisco Angler missed again! "On three or four occasions, I missed setting the hook, our education in the fine art of fooling Trout would be swift and sure. Walton quickly hooked and played several good Trout. One in particular went 18 inches and weighed three pounds. Walton had reduced this precise form of fly fishing, into several absolute steps. When the lines were let out to about one hundred feet, drags were set to the right release strength, then the tip is moved back and forth just a few inches. The strikes are fast and hard, no second chance.
If you move the rod tip too much, you loose the tension needed to set the hook, its the perfect way to allow even beginners to catch Trout. The down side is the possibility of having to wait as long as several hours between periods of excitement and hooked fish. Every fishermen knows the drill, sometimes hours or days can creep by without a bite let alone a fish! Then look out, every time you cast, a bite or a landed fish. The big mystery of when and how this fresh water drama will begin, is why the sport continues to hold the fascination of angler dreamers all over the world. This trip would have both classic periods many times. By the end of the first afternoons fishing, we had not yet had to display our fly casting techniques, caught a few nice fish and listened to Walton Powell reminisce about flyfishing with Jimmy and Rosalind Carter.
PRINCESS IN THE KINGDOM
Old Jimmy was a pretty fair President,! I remember spending quite a bit of time with Jimmy and Rosalind at the Williamson River Fishing Party two years ago. Jimmy is a very enthusiastic flyfishermen, as president he only got in about 10 or 12 days a year. Consequently he became a daylight to dark fishermen. He and Rosalind were going to fish a special section of the Wood River where the big Browns were rising to grasshoppers. The water is very clear and slow moving. This meant 60 to 70 foot casts made with accuracy and delicacy. Rosalind was a little spooked. However, I fitted her with nice 8 foot rod and 25 feet of shooting head, and worked with her casting form for about half an hour. Following that little session she was casting easily up to 70 feet. She was all smiles and ready to take on the Wood River.
Walton has spent many years fishing & hunting in the company of American Presidents and well known sportsmen. Beginning with President Herbert Hoover, Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy and Rosalind Carter. Walton has either owned or started many famous duck clubs including these legendary retreats: Little Sutter Duck Club, California Duck Club, Grizzly Island Duck Club.
While watching a big doe and her yearling kick up dust next to the river. I asked Powell who he thought was the best all around fishermen/hunter among the celebrities he's known." No question, Phill Harris was the best all around sportsmen I ever came across, he had a way about him, was as big a star as most the others, but he was more soulful. On long waits especially duck hunting, he would really stop to enjoy his surroundings. Walton was not quite as kind to many of our illustrious leaders.
"Funny thing is many of the presidents (he wouldn't mention any names) were not the sharpest needles in the quilt if you know what I mean. I remember one guy who the world thought was some kind of western hero, could not throw a fly further then I can spit which ain't very far! "As the first day wound down to longer shadows and subdued light, the snow capped outline of Mt. Shasta was our beacon as we headed back to the Mountain Valley Hunting and fishing complex which sits on the river front. The count for the day, three missed opportunities for the San Francisco angler, three good fish and another successful day for the Lord Of the Flies.
That night while Page Miller, who not only knows where every fish and duck will be sleeping in the area, but also knows his way around the club kitchen, threw together a meal consisting of all the trout & game taken by club members. I asked Walton where he got the excellent Salmon salad we were enjoying on crackers "Every year, I go up Alaska way and catch enough Salmon to make 100 cans of Salmon. I give the fish to a local gal, she does the job for me. "We listened to Walton reminisce about the joy of growing up on 42 sections of what is now one of the most sought after wildlife refuges in California ,Tehama Wildlife refuge. The thrill of having all the ducks and deer and wildlife in your own backyard! When Walton was a youngster, his first inkling of his father's, notoriety, was the time his dad hosted a dinner party for several of the most famous innovative minds of the Twentieth Century, Including: Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Luther Burbank, and Mr. Thompson ( man who invented seedless grapes) were assembled to ask if E. C. Powell might join them in unraveling a few more of nature's secret. E.C. Powells mastery and invention of Bamboo Fly rod manufacturing had become known to many of the worlds most famous minds.
"By early 1900 E.C Powell had tapped into the realm of invention with grand success. The story of how he single handedly forever changed the way Bamboo fly rods are made by discovering techniques for designing and assembling the raw bamboo into rods which could be tailored into different weights. Early on the technical innovations Powell senior discovered were hailed as important scientific break throughs in both strength and assembly procedures. The sound of three of us telling and listening to each others life time of outdoor adventures echoed almost past midnight. A symphony performed by a delegation of local frogs and crickets serenaded us to sleep. The crackling screams of cock pheasants woke us up at dawn.
QUESTION THE LORD!
As the jet boat growled and easily moved across mirror like Fall River, puffy ground clouds of tuly fog danced with the occasional brace of duck or dove. Morning quiet, kept conversation down to just the business of getting underway. I couldn't help but wonder just how good was this 82 year old legend, could he by sheer skill and a life time of practical knowledge repeatedly take Trout? As if on cue, after the universal mandatory quiet time, we all shook the sandman loose. I asked Walton how old he was when he knew he was getting pretty good at taking Trout?
"I remember as a youngster long before I was twenty years old, used to travel to streams all over the state. I'd find a good place to toss my hand tied Royal Coachmen, pull the car over, walk that new piece of water and like usual catch a fat string like no one locally had seen for some time! Then, I'd head for the nearest restaurant or bar and walk in with that fat string of Trout and every fishermen in the joint would be asking me how I did it and what the hell kind of fly or gear was I using? I'd throw down twenty or thirty of my hand tied flies, maybe a few of my leader tippet sets. Before long, I sold all I had with me and paid for the days fishing and then some. Used to spend weeks, months doing that, went everywhere"
"We trolled up and down the many twists and turns of the glass like fall River, it was some time and distance before any action, about five hours past and many beautiful miles disappeared under the fast boat until we found any hungry Trout. I began to experience the almost mandatory fishermen's paranoia. THE WAITING GAME
I asked Walton what advise he would give a beginner fly fishermen having difficulty withstanding the at times eternal wait, "Easy, I give the same advise to all fly fishermen, listen carefully, if you learn to completely concentrate and use proper presentation and technique, if you get in the habit of fishing straight through Sun up to Sun down, you will eventually catch fish!"
This sage advise did nothing for my writers paranoia, what kind of story would this be without Trout on the stringer?
Would we get skunked, could it happen, all day on this perfect water, no bites, no fish, with Walton Powell ? Then as if by divine intervention, Wham!, Walton had a fish on, about a two pounder full of fight. He played it for several minutes back and forth, the whole time delivering a soliloquy on matching rods to conditions." Its Bull to think you have to have a certain strength Fly rod to catch a particular fish, if you know the god basics of letting the fish play itself out before you try and strong arm it in. You will take Trout nine out of ten hook ups, whether you have a two weight fly rod attached to three pounds of wild Trout or a one weight hooked up to a four pounder, its the fishermen not the equipment. My family and I have been making the best fly fishing equipment money can buy for almost 100 years, I have yet to see a 00 Bamboo Fly rod help an amateur catch fish! "I asked Walton about his years as a College professor teaching Fly fishing 101 to eager coeds." Many of those eager coeds were better at it then the men, like Mrs. Carter woman have a knack for putting the air ballet together. I remember my dear college associates didn't know what to do with me. I didn't have a teaching credential for flyfishing so they had quite a time finding a way to make everybody happy. It turned out my course was always one of the most popular at Chico State College." Walton finally brought the fat Trout along side the jet boat. A fine fish, our eager water dog, a young Lab named Nicky had a ball watching the Trout swim in the wake attached to a long stringer. We didn't need any more diversion. One after another all of us hooked into nice Trout. The mood of the day changed drastically with the advent of fast action, we caught several nice Trout and needed only one more to limit out.
I asked Walton about todays high sensitivity to all environmental issues and whether he thought about the impact on the sport." I spent about 14 years lobbying for the Fish & Game Dept. in Sacramento, great job, had a chance to fix a few problems and get some focus on hunting & fishing issues.
Only problem was, at about one in the afternoon the cocktail hour starts, hell you had to hoist a few with the boys to get anything done. After awhile, I'm no drinker, it dawned on me, as much as liked lobbying, the life style was detrimental to my long range health. Today young people care about what's left of this country's wild lands, how can that be anything but good." ITS GOOD TO BE KING!
The Sun was at about five thirty when all hell broke loose, for the first time since we started fishing that morning, high adrenaline surged through the 22 foot jet boat. Walton had pulled off the perfect capper for a 82 year old legend who fished & hunted with Bing Crosby ( an outstanding all around sportsmen) and Bob Hope. He had a serious Trout hooked and line screaming off his reel!
It took twenty minutes to tire the fish, every time we thought he was done, slam, the reel would scream again. Walton played it cool and easy, the Trout went 26 inches and four and a half pounds. It was one of, if not the biggest Rainbow I've ever seen! The whole scene could not have been written any better. In fact, if the famed movie "A River Runs Through It "(many of the fly rods used in the movie were Walton Powell rods.) were being filmed in our boat, this scene would be the perfect ending. Right on cue as if Oliver Stone or Spielberg were directing, here comes the local game warden to see if it really was the legend himself at the helm of the jet boat. The warden had watched Walton expertly play the big fish, he had already had us hold up our fishing licenses earlier, this was just a pure social call, with a taste of idol worship thrown in. The warden wanted his picture taken with Mr. Powell and his four pound bright colored Rainbow.
Having spent a life time watching fellow sportsmen and myself get a little nervous when the local game warden showed up. This scene was one to relish and remember. The warden an experienced professional in charge of the area was no different then any other sportsmen in the presence of royalty. I have never witnessed or experienced the warm respect Walton garners every day of his life, what a treat to behold. After the warden departed, I asked Walton if he ever tired of the excitement the outdoors provide.
THRILL IS NEVER GONE
"Of course not, no matter how old you get or how many big fish or ducks you take, its still a thrill, you bet it is. About seventy years ago when I was still a kid living on the 42 sections we owned. A guy in town was shooting his mouth off about the fact he believed no one, that is no one, could shoot 100 ducks with 100 shells in one day. I heard him and confronted him, now mind you that was back in the days when ducks were plentiful and I often would shoot that many ducks for my big family and friends. The next day with witness's watching and counting. I shot the 100 ducks, in fact I shot 108 ducks and had eight shells left in my pocket, won a ton of money on that one boys. I can recall many thrills in my sporting life, this was one of the sweetest."
In the two days we fished not one real opportunity came to throw flies. In the remaining hours, before this dream trip would end. We decided to take a short cruise over to one of the natural springs feeding the river. As we approached the shallow pools with their pulsating spring fed currents, we would finally go to school!
As all experienced fly fishermen are aware, one cannot expect to fool wily wild trout with anything less then the thinnest leaders and tippets. Along with tiny perfectly tied flies. We were rigged with at least nine feet of leader attached to another four or five feet of super thin tippet. This Hand assembled Powell set up is deadly, if fished properly. One has to cast gently and with some distance to take full advantage. We started with Waltons favorite dry fly, the ubiquitous Clyde fly.
OLD DOGS NEW TRICKS
The totality of the Fall River experience can not be appreciated without fly fishing these natural springs. The water is clear light green, vegetation is lush and the fishing is delicate and requires the sensitivity of those well schooled in the art of gently throwing silk thin tippets with tiny flies at least 40-50 feet. The jet boat was not the best way to enter this delicate zone. We crawled in so slow we were sucking grass into the aft drive unit. Paige was on the bow I took the stern, we waited for rings or any surface movements indicating hungry trout. Before I began false casting back and forth to get the feel of the 5 weight 8 foot graphite Powell fly rod, I felt a little like I did the afternoon my father taught me how to drive in the mid 1950s. I let out about 25 feet of line and after several dry casts, I let the line shoot through the custom guides and watched as the line went about twenty feet, instead of the 25 - 30 I wanted. Walton very gently corrected, "You need some lessons on how to basic cast, first always get in the habit of watching your back cast, you can never get the distance or accuracy if your back cast is not fully extended, now try it again." In the course of ten minutes my casting knowledge and distance improved dramatically. Later after an hours practice, I began to understand mistakes made born out of sheer ignorance.
What a joy to have Walton spend a few minutes going over the fundamentals. Paige whose father has owned the Fall River property for many years was watching and listening. Paige was about as well schooled as I in the air ballet aspect of fly fishing. He threw his fly about where he wanted it to go, didn't look too bad to my eyes, but Walton helped him over come the tendency to punch threw his cast. "Paige if you let your line go when the rod is ready to leverage its power - you won't punch or push cast in the future. Both of you need to practice more. Remember get to know the balance of the rod, you don't have to force the rod to do it's job, watch as I gather the line in my fingers and keep control watch my back cast, see how it is fully extended and now ready for the forward throw, let go of the line in your hand when the rod is forward and you feel it uncoil its leverage."
On the trip back to camp, I realized I had been blessed on this trip. Walton Powell had been kind enough to fly fish and educate two outdoorsmen who could neither sing or dance like Bing Crosby or Bob Hope. We would not be helicoptered back to the White House or jetting back to Hollywood. That didn't seem to matter one bit to Powell, he treated us like kings in his kingdom. The perfect day ended as gently as it began, as the Fall River Sun faded behind majestic mountain peaks. One could imagine Rudyard Kiplings nostalgic lament echoing over the water, "The Captains and the kings depart."
Dan Fallon is a fifth generation San Franciscan Irishman who has spent almost every waking moment of his life involved in outdoor adventures. He was raised in a family that regularly hunted and fished all over California. By age seven, thanks to his father and uncles, fishing and hunting became second nature.
As a young adult, Dan regularly fished fresh and salt water, usually alone, all over the outer San Francisco area. While serving in the Marines, he spent a year in Vietnam. On many occasions with co-conspirators, he fished the beaches and rivers near Danang Air Base. After being discharged, he spent time hunting and fishing up-state New York and Canada. His published works include plays, poetry, history, art, character studies, outdoor and military experiences.
His feature articles have been published in all of the last three decades. He has published works in newspapers, anthologies, magazines and the World Wide Web. Dan usually takes most of his own photos and has been actively in pursuit of breaking as many fresh water tippet records as possible using Bamboo Rods. Dan has fly fished around the world either with friends, celebrities, or alone and writing about those exploits has dominated his last decade. Dan can be reached through his website: Dan Fallon's World of Flyfishing
Click here to
view the archived articles.
to send comments or feedback on this
here to check out a river near you.