Fishing on the Napa River

My friend John standing on our improvised fishing platform on the bank of the Napa River

This past weekend I had big plans for heading up to the Plumas National Forest to hang out at a buddy’s cabin.

I was getting all set to go, I had taken two days off at the winery, I had my shopping list all set for food (lots of meat and cheese) as well as booze (I had been planning to make Mountain Margaritas. What makes them mountainous you ask? The fact you made them at a mountain cabin) and was going to invest in half a box of cigars.

A few hours before I left to start shopping, I get a call from my friend.

“I got bad news,” he says, “I got the flu.”

Well, I didn’t really want to take any chances with the flu, especially after taking a few days off of work so the cabin trip was going to have to wait. Thinking of another option, I realized I could go see my friend in Reno. It would still be a mountain trip but subtract the forests, pristine lake and clean air for high-rise hotels, a bumping pool scene and smoke filled sports book lounges. (I would have bet large on Spain to win the World Cup, and would have won.) But it was a no go as well. That friend was going to be in Arizona for a wedding.

It looked like I was homebound. And it actually turned out to be a relaxing time. I played a great round of golf with my friend Bennie up in Yountville on Friday and decided to go fishing out on the Napa River on Saturday. I had purchased a fishing license for the cabin trip and still wanted to be able to use it.

Where I live in Carneros you can make it out to the river after a short hike through the vineyards. John and I enjoyed the stroll out to the water and after building a small platform on the riverbank soon had our bait in the water and cold cans of Budweiser in our hands. The tide was up, and pretty soon we were both getting strikes on our lines so my confidence was gaining we’d have some luck. I had not landed a fish in about two years and John hadn’t even gone fishing since 2003. On the Napa River your best bet is Striped Bass, a predatory fish that can reach upwards of 50 pounds. I’ve never landed anything that big, but I have seen some photos of monsters caught in the river.

After about two hours of just lounging with our lines in the water, I got a strong strike and was able to set the hook. As I reeled in the line we could see the fish was a good size, about 16 inches, but as I prepared to land the fish John and I forgot a rule of fishing: Land the fish first, then get the camera.

As John was fumbling with my digital camera, the fish slipped off the hook and swam away. A common fishing story, I know, but as we made our way back we both ended up catching something neither of us had expected.

Walking through the vineyards to get back home, I heard a rustling sound and paused to investigate. There between two vineyard rows we discovered a long, green snake. While we were looking at the snake, it slipped away into another vineyard row and John was quick to scamper after it. The snake then moved out of the vineyards and to my surprise John reached down and adroitly plucked up the snake by its tail.

“Oh my God,” John yelled. “I caught a fucking snake!”

I got out the camera for that, took a photo and John gently placed the snake back on the ground. It slithered toward me and I had to give snake wrangling a try so I too grabbed the snake and held it for about half a minute. I have to admit it was pretty cool feeling the strength of the snake’s tail moving in my hand, and cool to watch it coil back it’s head and stick its tounge in the air. We think it was either a rat snake or gopher snake, definitely not a rattler, but we still had to take care.

I never would have thought a fishing trip would end up involving snake catching.

After making it back to the house, I took a quick shower and Christine and I left for a pool side barbecue with some of her friends and coworkers.

It was an Uncorked Life weekend when in the course of one afternoon I went from snake wrangling to sipping chilled Pinot Gris poolside while snacking on bruschetta with panceta and fresh asparagus.

Turned out to be a nice vacation after all.

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