Back in the late 60’s my dad fell off a cliff while he was deer hunting and broke his leg in 17 places. It was more shattered than broken. The first part of his recovery was filled with pain and not much recovery for Dad. In the middle part of his recovery, when he could use a walker a little, but was still mostly in a wheelchair, he started to get antsy. Dad has always been very active and he wanted outside—NOW. Stir crazy was putting it mildly.
He knew a place that we could walk to and take him in the wheelchair to fish for bass. It was down by Richvale along the train tracks between rice fields. The destination was a pretty big irrigation canal. We took a bucket of minnows and some nightcrawlers and headed out. Now if you are thinking this was a pleasant little stroll in the country you are sorely mistaken. Try wheeling a 200 pound man over plowed fields and train tracks in a wheelchair sometime. I can guarantee that you will quit your gym membership and stop running those 5 mile races, because that is just too darn easy. Daniel and I were 19 and 17 years old and in prime physical condition. When we reached the fishing hole, about 200 yards from the car, we were huffing and puffing and sweating up a storm. We were relieved to be there, but already dreading the long way back to the car.
The fishing hole was ugly, I will admit. I could not imagine a decent fish would ever want to live in that muddy brackish water, but what the heck? We were there, we were going to fish. I don’t remember who made the first cast, probably Dad, but when the cast was made with a minnow, just before it hit the water, the entire hole exploded with bass coming from all directions. They were mostly all 12 to 16 inches. A few were bigger and some were smaller. Cast after cast we hauled them out of there. We turned them all loose, primarily because we didn’t trust the water they lived in. I’ll bet we caught 50. I think they would have taken a piece of salami on a hook or heck, even a bare hook. Those fish were starving.
I guess it wasn’t so bad after all. We caught some fish, made our dad happy and made a memory for me that has lasted over 40 years. I’ll bet that place is still there. I wonder if I could just sneak in there and…..
My dad taught us a lot when we were young. A lot of what I remember is about fishing. He seemed to know I would need fishing later in my life for my sanity. It seems to me that the more stories I write, the more I remember about my youth. I didn’t know it then, but I had a marvelous time when I was a young boy.
Dad started this lesson by telling us we were going fishing in the high lakes. One thing he didn’t do on this trip was bring fishing gear. We had no poles, line, lures, bait, no nothing. This puzzled my brothers and I to no end and we really let him know it. He said, “Don’t worry about it.” And that was that.
Up past Inskip a couple of miles we turned off the main road onto a pretty rough dirt road just before the turnoff to Philbrook Lake. A half-mile or so down the road we reached one of the prettiest meadows you have ever seen and Dad pulled over. We got out and walked a couple hundred feet to a crystal clear creek about 5 feet wide and a foot to two feet deep. We didn’t notice anything special about the creek until Dad pointed out that this stream had an undercut bank on our side that ran for 50 to 75 feet. He lay down on his belly carefully and quietly and slowly felt along under the bank until he came to a resting trout. Ever so carefully and slowly he put his hand under the fish until he had his hand all the way around it and suddenly squeezed and lifted the 12 incher out of the creek.
Here we were thinking and whispering that our father had finally gone completely around the bend and once again he comes through with a lesson.
Now it was our turn to try it. We tried it and I don’t really remember us boys actually catching one, but we all at least felt one before they got away. The important part is that we learned how to do it. The hard part was the freezing cold water and the “staying still” for so long. The great part was being together with my family in the beautiful woods and doing something that millions of other people never would.
I want to follow up about Murphy Lake a little here and I didn’t want to make the last story too long, so here goes:
I have been to Murphy Lake 3 times that I can remember. The first time was in my last story. The next time Dad took us while there was still snow on the ground. The lake was iced over at the shallow parts and had a deep channel flowing down the center. It caused a problem for us because the ice was not thick enough or solid enough for us to walk all the way out to the channel. What we ended up doing was to creep out as far as we could on the ice and cast a worm out into the deep channel, which was about 40 or 50 feet away, let the worm sink and when you have a fish on you reel him just to the ice and then give it a yank to get him up on the ice. Then you skid him on over the ice to you. Needless to say, this was not a catch and release situation.
The other time my Dad, brother Dan, and I were all walking on the easy trail from Long Lake and we happened upon a lady walking along the trail wearing pants, a bra and no shirt. She was reading a book. When she looked up and saw us she was so startled and so embarrassed that she gave a little “yelp” and ran away.
When we got to Murphy, we noticed that we would have to wade out to the channel. Not wanting to get our pants wet, we took them off and fished in our skivvies. We were doing great, catching fish after fish and every one of them was a beauty. Out of nowhere here comes two men and their wives. They were absentmindedly fishing and talking their way towards us. We didn’t want to be joined by any strangers right then so my Dad says loudly in his most couth tone, “Hey, you ladies better not come over here. We don’t have any pants on!” That did the trick. The whole party turned around and went the other way, never to be seen by us again.
Like some other fishing stories, these sound like they might not be true. But I swear, these are nothing but the bare, naked truth.
The other day my Dad said to me, “I wish we could do it all over again.” He was talking about some of the trips we used to take. Re-living it in print is great, but no comparison to the real thing. I believe we get to do it all over again, but without mosquitoes, rattlesnakes and falling down on the rocks. God tells us there are many mansions in Heaven. I am going to guess that mine, and Dad’s, have great fishing.
Howard Johnson, my Dad, has always looked for a challenge, especially when he was younger. He was feeling particularly frisky the day he took us to walk in to Murphy Lake in the high lakes north of Paradise, CA. Our cousin, Gary Elliott, was visiting from Yuba City and Dad decided to take him fishing. There is a hard way in to Murphy Lake that you cannot drive to. You drive to within about two miles and then walk a moderate trail, the last ½ mile of which is uphill.
This was too easy for Howard Johnson. He took us the back way, up Highway 70. We parked at Indian Jim’s School. My brother Daniel and I looked at each other as though our father had finally gone around the bend. Across Highway 70, there was a trail that led up a steep mountain for at least a mile straight up. Alongside the trail was a creek that flowed like a waterfall almost from the top to the bottom. That is Chip’s Creek, and we were on the Chip’s Creek Trail.
We criss-crossed the creek many times on the way to the top. We also stopped many times for air and water. We talked about bears on the way up and food on the way down. Our cousin Gary had a good time and I’m sure he remembered the trip as well as we did. We made it to a lake, however, we were not sure it was Murphy Lake. It turned out to be well worth the voyage—we caught some of the prettiest Brook Trout we had ever seen.
*High Lakes photo by Friends of the High Lakes.
Sometimes something really magical happens and you return to the thought of that moment often. This is about one of those.
In the 70’s Larry Warner and I fished quite a lot of times together. Larry is an athlete and the best spin fisherman I have ever fished with. He had an idea for us to go to a new spot and only fly fish. In fact he insisted that we only take fly fishing gear. It was a challenge and we were young, so what the heck? We decided to try it.
He knew of a way to get to Kimshew Creek that very few others knew about. We drove to the little town of Tobin on Highway 70 between Oroville and Quincy. There is a bar and a little resort there where we parked the truck. We noticed a little fishpond with some pretty good sized Rainbows in it out front. We went in and got a Coke. On the bar was a small sign that said “FISH 25 Cents an inch.” It seemed very weird to think someone would buy a fish while across the street from a very good trout stream. We asked the bartender about it and he told us that some men would bring their girlfriends up there, rent a cabin, stay in the cabin all weekend and then, just before going home, they would catch and buy a couple of trout to show the wife when they got home. “Yes Dear, I really was fishing, see?”
After a long walk on a dim trail we reached Kimshew Creek. We rigged up and split up. He went upstream and I went downstream. I fished hard with flies for a couple of hours without any interest from the trout, and you could tell just by looking that this stream has trout in it. I pulled out a big ugly fly that I had tied that didn’t look like anything else I had ever seen and gave it a try. Right away a huge brown trout showed a lot of interest. He swirled quickly under the fly several times without taking. I made several more casts to him and got a good reaction each time. Then he lost interest and simply sulked away to his home.
I just couldn’t believe that fish. If I’d have hooked him I would have had a heart attack. It made the hair on the back of my neck stand up and even the memory of it still does too. I really wished I’d have had a cricket or a night crawler, but the memory of that fish is better than catching one that big. It made me wonder what that fish was thinking. Was he playing with me? I’ll never know.
*Photo: Brown Trout from Graham Owen Gallery