I try not to make a big deal of it but sometimes the beauty of this river is just ridiculous. Absurdly, fantastically, radically beautiful.
A place that epitomizes this is a series of high-water pools on the South Fork of the Smith. The locals are mostly mum on the place. On the rare occasion when they do talk about it they call it Shangri-la — three coveted fishing holes which are accessible only after walking about 1,000 feet along a rocky, barely visible trail that hugs the river bank. Yes, there is a trailhead a car can get to but it’s a tough one to locate.
The water at Shangri-la is big; the river at this point is broad and wide. The boiling green water on top of sand and bedrock tumbles fast toward the sea. Each pool has its nuances and private personality, and each has a right and wrong way to fish (as well as a right and wrong way to land a fish).
Funny thing about these pools is that while you might get someone in Hiouchi or Gasquet to own up to knowing Shangri-la, you’ll never get the cold, hard facts. There’s no shortage of talk about the fish that have been pulled from Shangri-la and everyone seems to go on and on about gearing up early for this special fishing hole but hell if anyone’s going to point these beauty marks out on a map.
Yesterday Meg, Bill and I gave Shangri-la a try. The pool we fished first — the middle pool, located just after a bubbling riffle of fast water and above a stretch of slower water right for fly fishing — required a long cast to the opposite bank. If your aim and cast is good, the current will take your line downriver 150 feet before it’s time to reel in.
The perch is a thanklessly steep cliff high above the waterline. It’s a strange way to fish. If you feel a strike and hook something you scramble down a hundred slippery rocks to the water and pray your fishing buddy is close behind with a net. It would be next to impossible to bring a 10 or 20 pound fish up on the rocks without nicking a line a risking a break.
After fishing that pool for a while we lined up a second approach and tried again at a slightly higher spot.
Alas, no fish.
The nomenclature of this fishing hole is deserved if not somewhat of a stretch (counter-intuitive, maybe?). The concept of Shangri-la is often defined as an imaginary, idyllic place with no fixed or precise location on a map. But I know better. I was just there.