The Educated Fly Rod (Part 2)

May Day of each year was an undeclared school holiday for high school boys as May 1st was the opening day of trout season, and nearly every boy skipped school that day whether they went fishing or not. I always eagerly awaited the opening of fishing season and every school day afternoon, while seated in class, I was afflicted with a tremendous itch to be out in our local trout streams. I was not the only one afflicted as many of my fishing buddies would be equally tormented. There was no football practice, basketball was over and we felt that we could best train for the track team by hurdling over rocks and doing the broad jump across the creek. One of my closest friends was Barney “Max” Barnett, who equally loved fishing. We would squirm until the 2:25 bell rang and by 2:30, we were out the door, heading for the creek. School was officially over at 3:30 but we were long gone by then.

One memorable trip began in 1939. Hitchhiking was popular, safe and easy then, and we caught a ride in a 1932 back Buick sedan heading for Alma, three miles upstream. (Alma is now a ghost town under the waters of Lexington Reservoir.) At the southern edge Alma, public land ended and the property of the private San Jose Water Company began. San Jose Water was very jealous of their land and patrolled it with horseback riders to keep out intruders—particularly young fishermen.

It was a beautiful spring afternoon when we arrived at the concrete seven-step fish ladder, and passing it put us in the off-limits stream. We gradually worked our way upstream, stopping at each of many rocky holes. As we cast our flies—either the productive Royal Coachman or Gray Hackle Yellow Body—into the pools, they were gobbled up by hungry, seven- to eight-inch rainbow trout. This was fishing as it should be and we soon filled our pockets with fresh trout. (We couldn’t carry a wicker creel; if searchers saw us, it would have made our illegal fishing completely obvious.)

We were thoroughly enjoying ourselves when we heard the clippity-clop of horse hooves coming downstream. We quickly hid in the bushes while the water company rider passed us (we were scarcely breathing). But now, our route of escape had been closed and the only alternative was through the brush, straight up the steep mountainside to the old Santa Cruz Highway. As we finally emerged, dirty, panting and scared, we arrived at the two-lane concrete road right in the middle of Father Riker’s Holy City Community (now a ghost town). We weren’t dilly-dallying, for fear the ranger might have heard us, so we promptly thrust out our thumbs, hoping to hitch a ride back to Los Gatos.

The second car approached, pulled over and stopped. It was a green Chevy sedan and as we got into the back seat we noticed that the driver was dressed in a matching forest green uniform. What startled us most was the shield-like patch on his shoulder that read “California Department of Fish and Game.” Our benefactor turned out to be the game warden. His first question was, “What are you boys doing up here?” As we were in the town of Holy City and dressed in our school uniforms, we explained that we were on assignment to write a story for the Los Gatos High School newspaper. He asked no further questions and we offered no conversation. We expected to be taken right to Juvenile Hall for fishing in restricted territory. As we entered Los Gatos, we asked to be let out at the corner of Main and Santa Cruz Avenue. Exiting the car, we heaved a big sigh of relief. As he started to drive off, the game warden’s parting words were, “Better be careful where you fish the next time.” We hadn’t fooled him one bit!

12 Comments

  1. JMO, yes, it sounds like heaven on earth.

    Leonard, I used to climb down the bank of the Guadalupe, where it crosses Malone Road, when I was in grammar school.  Not that we had any idea what to do with them. but we collected crawdads.  Those were fun times to be sure.

  2. You can’t really get that fresh trout smell off you. Thanks for bringing back memories of small streams in Oregon and Washington.

  3. Leonard,
      Thank You for your wonderfull stories. 45 years ago a buddy and I would drop in to the creek above Lexington Dam from Summit road. Getting down wasn’t a problem, it was getting out. The fishing was as it may have been 100 years before. They never posted Summit road, perhaps thinking no one would be crazy enough to drop into the creek from up there.
      My children over the years have followed me down creeks up canyons,thru dark forests, snow covered honker fields and down rivers with class 4 rapids thru out this magnifcent State. By my 25th birthday I had fished every stream that flows into Santa Clara Valley. All had fish in them. I wanted to give back to those individules that saved the forests and streams for me. I joined the Board of Sempervirens Fund. in my 12 years on this wonderful Board I have been able to ensure that yours and my great grand children will have what we had as young boys. They may not all feel the call of the wild like you and I but I hope there will be that one special little guy that is smart enough to avoid the care taker and hope that that caretaker finds that soft spot in his heart to look the other way, so a young child will find what we found, the simple pleasures of catching that smart & wily native trout on a scruffy old fly. Dreams, wonderful Dreams
      A fishing pole is a lighting rod for keeping our forests safe from the Chain Saw Man. 
      All of my children learned to fish for trout on the Stevens Creek above the Reservoir as I did. I fished it on Opening Day, more for the memories that this beautiful watershed brings to mind than for the wily trout that at times fill every deep hole and run.
      Mother Nature provides the water, we must protect the forest and the fish for the children
    that will learn to care for our forests in the next 100 years. Great Memories for a Tuesday morning. Thanks Leonard.
      I want to dedicate this post to my dear friend and Mentor, who passed away Saturday the 5th of August, Tony Look. I was thinking of Tony as I fished off the mouth of The Navarro River Saturday out of Albion. The 24 lb Salmon I caught and the Coho Salmon I released had Tony’s name written all over their scales. As the Founding Director of Sempervirens Fund, Tony taught and left many of us to carry out his lifes work. Building trails and adding to the State Park’s Redwood Forests and Head Waters.
      Rest in Peace Tony, You’ve mentored all of us well!
            Gil Hernandez
        The Village Black Smith

  4. Thanks JMO,
      I’d love to focus on the past. Like the times we would go to the tailings at the Mercury mine in Almaden on our bycles with gold pans we would collect the Mercury in pools frompockets, below the road riprap. Take them to school and every one would coat dimes and quarters with this toxic substance.
      There are a million stories JMO.
      I would not recommend you try any of these things at home, we would not want you to hurt yourself. I have no idea how we survived
            The Village Black Smith

  5. #8 JMO
    Do you really like stories of the past in San Jose?  If a picture is worth a thousand words, then an historic building must be worth five million .  Historic buildings tell the stories of a cities past and present. Unfotunatly, due to people like you who advocate for the demolition of our most important historic resources, many important stories will be lost forever.

  6. AAAHHH MEMORIAL DAY WEEK END! TRADITIONALLY A FISHING WEEK END AND YESTERDAY WAS NO EXCEPTION. I FISHED QUARRY LAKES IN “NILES” A LITTLE TOWN FILLED WITH HISTORY AND MEMORIES. I VISTED THE LOCAL TAVERN AFTER GETTING A GREAT TAN AND READING THE FISHING MAGS ALONG WITH THE CRON AND MERC.
      I WAS ASKED “ANY LUCK” TO WHICH I RESPONDED, YEP! HOW MANY DID YOU CATCH? “NONE” I WAS JUST FISHING THERE IS A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN JUST FISHING AND CATCHING. I LIKE “JUST FISHING” THESE DAYS!
    LEAVING NILES I JOURNIED UP NILES CANYON AND UP POLOMARES CANYON TO VISIT WITH THE WONDERFUL FOLKS AT CHOUINARD WINERY.
      TODAY IS A DAY OF CELEBRATIONS WITH FRIENDS HOSTING A BARBEQUE. A SPECIAL BOTTLE OF CEJA AND , CHOUINARD AND FRIENDSHIPS.
      I COULD NOT LEAVE THIS SITE WITHOUT MENTIONING THAT MY MENTOR TONY LOOK OF SEMPERVIRENS FUND LORE, NOW HAS A TRAIL NAMED IN HIS HONOR IN STEVENS CREEK PARK.
      AAAAHHH MEMORIES. LEONARD MCKAY, YOU ARE DEARLY MISSED. MY FONDNESS SEEMS TO GROW AS DO THE SIZE OF THOSE WHILY TROUT CAUGHT IN OUR YOUTHFUL DAYS.
    THE TREASURE OF MEMORIES IS FOREVER.

      THE VILLAGE BLACK SMITH

  7. Today is Memorial Day. May 31 2010. Recalling my Navy tour of duty. I was not in harms way as were others in the military.
      I lost my tour aboard a nucular sub due to my color blindness. and spent the next year in a dusty little base where the Mercury Project was being tested. there I enjoyed what could not have been were it not for my blindness to color. I was part of what is now history. The seven astronauts were part of my base life. When I returned to San Jose after my honorable discharge. I worked in a foundry where I was asked to cast several bronze models of the Shuttle Craft for NASA’s wind tunnel. 8 years later I watched as the first flight of America’s space craft roared into outer space. As my foundry prowess improved I cast wave guides for industry to communicate with outer space.
      Perhaps my story is as many that were raised in our Valley of Hearts Delight, but for me as a very young boy of a farm working Family.Many nights as my brother Fernando, Jeepy and I layed in our bags in the freshly plowed rows that my father was watering at night on then Downer Ave. Now Oakridge Shopping Center, we would try to count the stars and watch the shooting stars. I dreamed of all that outer space in awe, but it inspired me to focus on my reality. My father’s Love and embrace allowed me to look to the heavens and dream. This is my Memorial Day prayer. For all of those brave young men that never returned to live the dream, you are forever in our prayers. The memories are our tresures and you will out live us all. 
          The Village Black Smith