Big fires and big trout

All of Northern California and Southern Oregon seemed on fire as we headed north out of Redding on our way to the Running Y Resort at Klamath Falls for a week’s vacation with our kids and grandkids two weeks ago.

Our planned route was to turn off I-5 and head northeast on Highway 97 once we got to Mt. Shasta. But lightning-caused wild land fires to the west, north and east of us required a change in plans. The air was thick with brownish yellow smoke.

Our daughter, Lisa, her husband Jan, and five of our grandchildren were an hour ahead of us. Jan sent a text message that they were in blocked traffic on Highway 97, 15 miles east of Weed due to a major fire. They had to turn around and head back to Weed.  Meanwhile, Dottie and I in one car, and son Chris and daughter-in-law, Jennifer, and two more of our grandkids just behind us in another car, got Jan’s report and stayed on I-5.

By a circuitous route that took us up to Medford and then across the Cascades north of the fires, we all made it to Running Y (in about eight hours instead of the usual five-and-a-half).

I rented two three-bedroom chalets for our family group of 15, including our son Ryan and daughter-in-law Rachel, who drove down from Portland. The accommodations were excellent and we had lake views from our spacious decks. Most of the smoke stayed south of us.

In addition to an Arnold Palmer designed golf course, the resort includes a full-service health spa and indoor swimming pool, plus outdoor recreation facilities that included tennis and basketball courts, a mini-putting course. Bike trails connect everything and the kids could safely ride their bikes to and from the sports center and pool.

The golf course had several large ponds, which probably contain fish, but I chose not to play dodge-the-golf-ball to confirm that assumption.

Instead, I arranged a guided float trip on the nearby Williamson River with Marlon Rampy, who has been guiding on the region's rivers for many years and knows all of the trout by name. The Williamson is home to Great Basin Redband trout, close cousins to the rainbow. They spend a good part of their lives feeding and growing big and strong in Klamath Lake, then head up the Williamson.

Marlon explained that these Redbands are primarily lake fish who prefer hanging out in quiet eddies and pools, rather than fast-moving riffles. Public access to the lower Williamson River is limited, so a boat and long-casting ability are required.

I threw dry flies, streamers and nymphs, catching really big fish with all three. At least a four of these bruisers were more than 20 inches long, and one was 25.

It was a challenging yet rewarding day of fly-fishing action thanks to Marlon, who seemed to know where every fish was hiding. He handles the guide services for the Lonesome Duck Ranch, 800-367-2540, on the Williamson, and you can also book his services through Rachel Andras at Andras Outfitters, 530-722-7992.

Winds have slowed local fishing on the Bay, but apparently haven’t bothered salmon anglers off the Sonoma coast, where excellent action has been reported. Capt. Rick Powers, of Bodega Bay Sportfishing, is bringing home limits and near limits of salmon for his clients most trips. The fish are running big, with some topping 25 pounds. Call Rick at 875-3344.

Kevin Stovall recently fished some Sierra lakes and reported that the fishing was just fair.