Relaxation: “Gone Fishing” in Sonoma County

“Gone fishing.” Two profound words. They create an image of a pristine mountain river or lake with no one around, except maybe old friends speaking in low voices, an osprey circling, startled ducks shattering the stillness as they burst into flight. “Gone fishing”  means getting away from the cares and demands of work, family, city traffic, shopping, bills…even if only for a day or a few hours. “Gone fishing” is the closest many people ever get to meditation, to peace of mind.

You may think to yourself, “Fishing in Sonoma County?” While it is true that most ardent fishermen and women planning to go fishing think of going east to the reservoirs of the foothills and the lakes and streams of the Sierras, or north to Clear Lake, Shasta Lake, or the great trout and salmon rivers like the Sacramento, Trinity, and Klamath. Maybe they’ll head west to the Pacific Ocean, but that’s more about catching than fishing. However, if “gone fishing” refers the intangibles mentioned above, you can find that right here in Sonoma County.

First, let’s further expand on what “gone fishing” means. It doesn’t necessarily mean catching fish. If that were the case, instead of saying, “I’m going fishing,” we’d say, “I’m going out to catch fish.”

While Sonoma County doesn’t offer a wide variety of fishing choices, there are enough that by traveling less than an hour from almost any point in Sonoma County you can find quiet places to forget where you were just an hour before. As a bonus, when it’s all done you can go home to a hot meal, maybe even fresh-caught fish, a hot shower, and a familiar bed.

There are numerous small lakes in the parks of Sonoma County, like Lake Ralphine and Spring Lake. (See Sonoma County Regional Parks website.)

They will do if time is limited or you’re interested in studying the fishing habits of the old-timers, as someday you may be one yourself. The regional park lakes near the Russian River just west of Windsor provide a surprisingly quiet getaway, but require some sort of small boat, such as a canoe or kayak. If you have a canoe, the Russian River offers wild stretches without summer homes, but warm weather on the river produces a pesky hatch of canoes, inner tubes, kayaks, and various other floaters.

sept 2012  pond, tahoe 437

For a quality day of fishing (remember it’s not only catching) I suggest Lake Sonoma and the Petaluma River. (Both require a boat.) Lake Sonoma is a blue gem encircled in gold and green. Five minutes away from the boat launch you are alone, surrounded by the hallmark hills of Sonoma County. The water is clean, blue, and cold. In the open areas you can troll for trout descended from the steelhead that were landlocked when the dam created the lake. Deeper into the fingers of the lake, floating through forests of tree skeletons, big bass lurk. When not mesmerized by the water, scan the hills and ravines for a variety of birds, wild turkeys, boars, and deer.

The Petaluma River is a surprise, something you wouldn’t expect along the busy 101 corridor. There is a public launch at the marina, just below the towering 101 bridge. You are only blocks away from tract housing, business parks, and McDonald’s; yet when you push off on a foggy morning, they quickly float away.

foggy pic

Even on summer mornings you’ll probably need a hooded parka, as the fog is cold, and the wind is cold when motoring downriver. By midday you’ll need a sun hat and probably be in shirtsleeves. For the first few minutes downriver, you pass funky boats, shacks, broken docks, huge barges, a row of American flags, joggers on the riverside park paths, and perhaps some Hawaiian canoes with crews of straining men and women.

Once you’ve left them behind, however, the river widens and sloughs branch off in either direction. Turning into the sloughs, you are in another world. At high tide you can see over the tops of the wild marsh grasses to the hills on either side of this wide valley. To the east is Lakeville Highway, with semi-trucks barely visible. To the west is Highway 101, though there are only a few points where you can actually see it, and both are too far away to hear the traffic. Much closer will be egrets, herons, ducks, swans, circling hawks, and an occasional Cessna.

fishingwithjohn jul2012 petaluma 028

As the tide drops, the grasses rise above you, mud flats are exposed, and the brackish water flows by slowly as you sit and contemplate the striped bass that may be about to take your bait. That’s the challenge of fishing; you really don’t know if it’s there, if it’s hungry, if you chose the right bait, and if your line is strong enough to hold Moby Bass. Seriously, though, if your line is strong enough you might get towed around by a shark or ray.

Many of the times I’ve gone fishing with my friend (and boat owner) Bill, we feel lucky if we get three or four bites, and maybe a striped bass or two big enough to keep. But as you now know, that’s not why we went fishing. Which reminds me of another fishing truism:

“Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day.
Teach a man to fish, and he’ll sit in a boat
And drink beer all day, relaxing.”

Now go fish!
by Special Guest Contributor John Masura

Editor’s note: Because I prefer swimming with fish rather than eating them, I suggest a catch and release approach to fishing.