The first thing to understand about fishing with the G Man is that he likes to combine wetting a line with some form of law enforcement.
This is not all that surprising. When you have spent a portion of your career as a deputy sheriff, and all of it dedicated to conservation of habitat and wildlife species, it’s hard to separate the recreational use of the resource from the drive to protect it.
So when the G Man recently tossed me an invitation to spend a day fishing with him in the upper Arroyo Seco River, he sweetened the offer more-or-less in these terms: “I want to roust some of the illegal pot grows I know are up in there. Or at least map them for CDFW [the Department of Fish and Wildlife]. And then we’ll do some fishing.”
Or maybe it was the other way around.
I was intrigued. How often do you get to explore an exquisitely lovely little creek—with trout to match—and put the hurt on bad guys at the same time?
But the thought of thrashing through the maritime chaparral that armors the landscape around the Arroyo Seco to geolocate weed plots possibly guarded by desperadoes with heavier firepower did not, after some reflection, seem very enticing.
I said I would meet him for the fishing component of the day.
The G Man was clearly disappointed in my lack of intestinal fortitude. But he kindly agreed to make the day about fishing rather than helping hold the thin green line against the forces of environmental evil.
Our destination was a two-hour drive south and then west, through the active military base of Fort Hunter Leggett. The last half-hour takes you through beautiful country, with old blue and valley oaks writhing out of golden savannah and sandstone outcrop-studded hills.
You pass out of the base into public lands in the Los Padres National Forest. And suddenly, the now-dirt road drops over a rise and the headwaters of the Arroyo Seco River—which in its lower reach can push flows of more than 10,000 cubic feet per second after winter storms—appear as a creek you can wade across in three strides.
It was warm and dry. The water in the stream slid invitingly around shapely boulders under a canopy of maples and oaks. We found a wide spot in the one-lane road next to a feeder spring and got ready to fish.
The G Man is nothing if not prepared for such occasions. Advanced GPS technology, check. State of the art wading gear and tackle, check. A box of flies selected (and probably tied by him) specifically for that water, check.
While I’ve taken a firearm with me on multi-day backcountry trips on horseback, I’m not in the habit of carrying a pistol for a few hours of fishing, even if I am hours from emergency services. I know a few people with law enforcement backgrounds and none of them are unscathed by what they have seen. And ever after they view the world differently than the rest of us.
With an eye out for the rattlesnakes common in that area, we made our way under the trees and down to the creek.
And thus ensued hours of pleasurable small-water fly fishing—and an incessant stream of banter in which the G Man insisted on speaking with a British accent and crowing from time to time: “I like to fish THE dry fly!”
The trout in the upper Arroyo Seco are small, wild and feisty—and likely carry steelhead genetics (steelhead still return to the lower Arroyo Seco, although the run is now miniscule and inconsistent). In every spot where a trout ought to be, there was at least one. They slashed at size 14-16 dries of almost any variety.
It was cool and green next to the creek. We leapfrogged each other, moving upstream. After a while I was doing as much observing as fishing.
Pretty quickly I decided that wading the stream was preferable to navigating the thicket of poison oak, blackberry and willow that took turns tripping or rending the flesh of the eager angler above the banks. I zigzagged up the stream, while the G Man took the high road.
That strategy cost him. Midway through the afternoon there was crash in the torso-sized rocks on the slope just above the streambank. A series of inarticulate utterances followed. There may have been an expletive involved.
Sure enough, the G Man had lost his balance and fallen hard on his knee. He got up a little gimpy but shrugged it off. Later, he sent me a photo of his knee encased in a massive brace and reported a diagnosis of a damaged ligament or tendon. But you wouldn’t have known it for the rest of that day — the G Man forged ahead and fished with a precision born of his long years of guiding and instruction.
You shouldn’t fish the upper Arroyo Seco if you want to catch trout larger than 6 inches. You should fish it if you want a beautiful stream to yourself, to use small tackle to incite wild trout comely as the biblical field of lilies, to find yourself doing more deep breathing than fishing after a while.
And by all means make sure, if you go with a partner, that they like to fish THE dry fly.
The G Man, otherwise known as Geoff Malloway, has for many years owned and operated the Central Coast Fly Fishing shop in Carmel, California. He is a longtime certified hunting safety instructor in the State of California and a lifelong hunter and angler, as well as the founding president of TU’s Steinbeck Country Chapter.