The last Saturday in April has been my favorite day of the year for almost as long as I can remember. It was, for most of my youth, the opening day of trout season here in Sonoma Valley. It is still the opening day of trout season in most California streams but, sadly, there are almost no places to fish for trout in Sonoma Valley any more.
The Sonoma Valley of my youth was wilder than it is today. But as counterintuitive as it may sound, there are more wild animals living closer to us now than when I was growing up.
In those days, no deer would dare graze in a local garden. No Canada goose would land on a golf course and no wild pigs or turkeys would survive long if they fed in our local orchards and vineyards, probably because few people hunt them here anymore.
The rainbow trout that used to inhabit our creeks are much scarcer now. There’s just not enough water for them these days.
In the late 1940s and well into the 1960s our streams had plenty of water in most years, and I fished them as often as I could.
In the 1940s, hunting and fishing reports would still make the I-T front page from time to time, but by 1946, a regular column by Jordan Basileu entitled “Huntin’ and Fishin’” was a feature at the top of the I-T sports pages.
Jordan Basileu was a pioneer El Verano businessman who immigrated to the United States from Greece in 1909. He ran a one-chair barber shop in El Verano next to where the post office is today and in 1910 purchased a small ice cream parlor on Laurel Avenue, moved his barbershop there and began added sporting goods — fishing tackle, bait, guns and ammunition and two pool tables.
An avid hunter and fisherman, he began sending regular reports to the Index-Tribune and eventually became its outdoor columnist until his son, Bill, took the column over in the 1980s. Then, local businessman and sportsman, Bob Smalley, kept Basileu’s fish and hunting legacy alive at his Sportsmen’s Headquarters store on Highway 12 in Boyes Hot Springs.
Jordan’s column was the first thing I read in the I-T every week. He kept us abreast of where the fishing was best and also the upcoming season openings.
My favorite was the opening day of trout season. Then, our local creeks had lots of water in them, and it was still legal to catch and keep trout. We all had our favorite spots. Most were tributaries of Sonoma Creek.
I caught my first trout ever in the Adobe Canyon headwaters of Sonoma Creek. Later, Stuart Creek, which ran through David Bouverie’s Canyon before dumping into Sonoma Creek near Glen Ellen was my secret fishing spot. David was especially kind to me and all I had to do was call ahead and let him know I was coming. Over the years, I spent many days fishing in his beautiful, mystical canyon.
Basileu’s column was always longest in the issue following opening day. He would run lists of people who caught limits of trout locally.
The opening of duck hunting season, and deer season were also thoroughly reported in Basileu’s column.
By the time I finished college, plus three years in the Navy, and returned home to work at the I-T, the quality of the fishing and hunting in our Valley had diminished. But it was by no means gone.