For me, fishing in general is a very special thing that has brought me to some very special places. I'm nowhere close to being one of those globetrotting anglers constantly posting awesome pictures on social media (now accepting donations!), but that's not to say I don't have several "special places" burned into the depths of my mind. Every time I go to these places I'm hit with feelings of both nostalgia and comfort that comes with being very familiar with these waters and the species that inhabit them. These locations may not be particularly exotic to most fly anglers, but each is a unique fishery and environment that made a big and lasting impression on me at a young age.
1.) San Francisco/San Pablo Bays, California: Literally surrounded by millions of people, these waters definitely hold the most memories for me. It was where I cut my teeth on saltwater fishing, learned how to back a boat trailer, and learned how to operate a boat. Despite all of the fishing pressure and pollution these bays constantly endure, they hold species ranging from graceful bat rays to voracious striped bass. For the fly angler, the stripers are the most noteworthy and targeted species here. When I first started fly fishing for them in 1998, the fish were numerous and many of them were of decent size—at least by local standards.
Just before selling my little skiff and moving to Florida in the early 2000's, the fishing seemed to take a downturn. Since then, I've visited many times and fished the bays both from shore and a handful of times from skiffs. How was the action? In my experiences, there were less fish and they were smaller on average, but the nostalgia factor more than makes up for that. Just being out there again on those old salty waters is always a treat!
2.) Pyramid Lake, Nevada: I believe my first trip to this monstrous desert lake was somewhere around 1993 or so. I still remember how the fishing was that first trip because I caught ......... nothing! With no help from the internet and the completely wrong setup I was pretty much doomed from the get-go. Even though the fishing was non-existent for my family and I that day, I wanted to come back badly. Why did I want to return to a place that skunked me on my first trip? Stories of all-day action, big fish, and a surrounding landscape that looked like a cross between Mars and Baja made it a place I just had to learn to fish correctly.
Since that day I've made it a point to try and fish the crystal-clear waters of Pyramid on an annual basis. Of course catching the lake's Lahontan Cutthroat trout is what I'm really there for, but Pyramid is the type of place where I could spend a few hours just staring at the scenery. It can be pretty raw out there weather-wise at certain times of the year, but other days when the wind is calm and nobody else is around my ears ring from the silence. Sometimes I just stand there motionless and take it all in for a few moments!
Fortunately, these days the fishing at Pyramid is better than I ever remember. Insanely-big trout are being caught frequently nowadays (like the embarrassingly-crappy picture of my personal best from April 2014, above), but unfortunately the pressure can be pretty intense. With the internet being chock-full of pics and info regarding Pyramid, pretty much anyone who spends time on fly fishing sites or perusing social media likely already knows about the lake. However, all is not lost. It's a gargantuan lake with tons of highly-accessible shoreline, so with some scouting you can still find some real "gem" spots far from the masses.
3.) Mammoth Lakes, California: Western trout bums know all about the Mammoth Lakes region. Now, when I say "region" I'm talking about a pretty large area, roughly from Bridgeport to the north, down to Bishop to the south. Whether you want a place you can drive right up to or one that requires a day hike to reach, this zone contains a bazillion lakes and streams containing various species of trout and even some other lesser-targeted species. The sheer number of places to fish is somewhat daunting, yet very exciting.
Living about 6 hours away, Mammoth was an annual trip for my family and I years ago. I still remember sitting in the back of the car reading the latest fishing report or magazine article detailing the local angling scene. Whether it was picking through the brush of a small tumbling stream or walking the steep banks of an alpine lake, it was an area that I loved going to every year for the fishing, exploration, and dramatic beauty.
My dad and I last made the long trip back to Mammoth from here in Florida in 2009. With the distance, increased costs, and now his health being an issue, it's faded away from my "destinations list" somewhat. I nearly made a solo trip there last fall, but with a surprise front scheduled to move in earlier than expected, I canceled my plans. Could this be the year? I'd love to walk the dusty trails and throw some tight loops into those cold mountain waters once again. We'll see!
Notice the common theme here? I started fishing all of these waters at a young age and spent a ton of time on them all. I have a long list of other locations I consider "special," but these are without a doubt the top three in my mind. If I didn't fish, I likely would never have visited these places or experienced them the way I have. Catching fish is one thing, but there's certainly more that comes along with that—and sometimes that's what is remembered most.