KENO — Every year, I look forward to celebrating my favorite holiday: the October 1 opener of the Klamath River.
Up until this year, I’d been festive about it, too, making sure to fish the opening day itself or get there within a day or two.
In more than a decade, I never missed an opener. That is, until this fall.
A busy week at work, several evening work engagements and a colonoscopy kept me from celebrating until last Saturday, Oct. 6.
I felt blessed, though. After all, nothing reduces the unpleasantness of a colonoscopy like finding out you don’t have cancer, so even without being able to fish, my spirits were up.
I wrote about brown trout last week, knowing full-well that it would be in print the day I went in for my procedure because I have a juvenile sense of humor. Too much time around kids, I suppose.
But this week, I’m writing about my favorite fish: the redband trout with no ulterior humorous motives.
Today, I’m writing about my record-setting day in the Klamath River, a day in which I hooked into 69 fish in three hours and landed 48 of them.
True story, bro.
Typically, Oct. 1 is a phenomenal day. So is Oct. 2 and 3. By Oct. 4, the river has been pressured so heavily that fishing begins to noticeably worsen. It’s still world-class, mind you, but it’s not as good as the opener.
The decline continues until Halloween as anglers punish fish after fish with hooks to the face and even harvest a number of them. Fish wise up, and the fishing slows. At this point, I usually give up on fishing the Klamath because what started as a cascade of fish has winnowed just a trickle.
My first trip down this year was on Oct. 6. The sixth happened to be the first Saturday the river was open this year which might have helped my cause if the entire week hadn’t featured warm yet cloudy weather that practically begged anglers to fish.
Further, flows had been firmly in the 600-1,200 cubic feet per second (CFS) range for weeks which meant the fish would be feeding heavily and ripe for savvy anglers throwing things resembling food into their faces.
My expectations were low.
One of my best friends, West Packer, was getting married that afternoon (congrats West and Haley), and I had limited time, but I hoped to make the most of it.
As I drove down, I tested the wet, muddy roads, making sure I could back up and maintain traction. I could, so I continued down in four-wheel-drive.
I made it about a third of the way to where I normally park my car and realized the road had gotten muddier. Dread rose up like bile in my throat, and I realized I needed to slow down. I pumped my brakes as my momentum kept me sliding downhill across the muddy surface, made slicker here with less of a slope to drain the water, and I was pulled over a drainage trench cut in the road by some sort of logging equipment.
I was high-centered by gravity in no time.
Less than 10 minutes of maneuvering, digging with a stick and cursing, and I was able to reorient my car, so it was facing uphill again, but as I tried to drive up and over the huge valley in the road, I again got high-centered.
This time was a lot worse.
I decided to just go down and fish, allowing the mud to bake a little in the hot sun before I tried to dig it out.
It proved to be the right decision.
I’ve had days where I’ve hooked more than 50 wild rainbows before. Quite a few, actually. The Klamath River Canyon, Spencer Creek and Fifteenmile Creek in Dufur, Oregon come to mind.
But never have I hooked that many fish in less than half a day.
My first few casts with a Rapala all yielded fish. I received bites every cast, but I didn’t count it as hooking into a fish unless it was actually hooked for a second.
The only fish I counted as landed were those that followed IGFA definition of either touching the fish with my hand or touching the leader (in this case, 18 inches of 20-pound fluorocarbon).
As always, fish that fell off before I could grab and release them didn’t count as “landed” to me.
After I landed Fish No. 15, and I was sitting at 15-of-21, I realized the fish had hit so hard that it had broken the lip off of my Rapala.
I then realized my only other Rapalas in my travel box were also broken, so I switched to a spinner.
I hate spinners because of the propensity for fish to swallow them, but I tied on anyway, noting the large size of the spinner that made it difficult for fish to swallow.
It proved to be the ticket that day, and I continued to catch fish after fish.
My twenty-fourth fish of the day happened to be the 2,000th rainbow trout I’ve caught since I began keeping track in 2004, so I paused to take a few quick pictures of the gorgeous fish.
Kneeling in the river to #KeepEmWet while preparing for the photo, I failed to realize my net had drifted away. It was cheap and small, but it would make landing larger fish difficult as the morning progressed.
Even still, I managed to finish with 48-of-69, breaking the record of 45 I set last fall in a full, eight hours of fishing, and moving my 44-fish day from a few years back that took a full 12 hours to accomplish into third.
Sitting at 48-of-62, I spent a little longer than I should have trying to hit 50 but lost the last seven fish in a row before calling it quits.
The spinner fared well, and only two small fish died, both well under the 15-inch minimum length to be legally kept. I was ethically torn, but since I couldn’t legally keep them, I sat them on a rock for a passing osprey, eagle or mink.
Some of you are cringing right now, and I get that. I didn’t intentionally kill a single redband this year, but every one that did die in a place I could legally keep it was kept. I gutted them and gave them to friends whom I know actually like them, so they didn’t waste.
The two mortalities brought my annual total of redbands killed at the time of capture to six, and they were the first since a massive fish from Upper Klamath Lake swallowed a spoon in June.
I am a huge advocate for catch-and-release, but I understand that fish die even when care is taken. That is why you’ll only see me using spinners for redband trout on my two or three trips to the Klamath every fall. That is also why you may see me carrying a large, dead fish up the steep slope back to my car — a car partially buried in dirt — with a disappointed look on my face from having to stop fishing early.
As for that car, I did manage to dig out with a stick, and the drier dirt was easier to maneuver out of, so this story had a (mostly) happy ending.