Guide Profile: Fly Fishing and Guiding in California with Chuck Ragan

Chuck Ragan

Chuck Ragan is a musician and fly fishing guide in Northern California. Based out of Grass Valley, Ragan is able to take on number of different locations and guide for numerous different fish species. He’s also a pro for long list of companies, including Loon Outdoors, Traeger, and Costa to name a few. Ragan recently took on an interview with The Venturing Angler:

Why do you guide where you do?

I’m based in Grass Valley, CA. otherwise known as the Foothills or “Gold Country.”  Closest fly in city would be Sacramento, CA.  It’s just off the beaten path enough that a lot of the zones I work in don’t get completely overrun with pressure and I enjoy the diversity in our fisheries.  I’m surrounded by lakes, Reservoirs and Rivers.  Within some of the same bodies of water where I live and fish, you may catch or at the least see striper, shad, largemouth, smallmouth, spotted bass, panfish, catfish, king salmon, steelhead, trout, carp, pikeminnow and even sturgeon.  We live in a very special area and many of our waterways host a wide range of species.  Another reason why I guide where I do is that at any given time of year whether the rivers are blown out or not, I can always find another body of water to fish.  My programs run year round and are primarily in pursuit of resident and migratory striper in the Central Valley Rivers as well as American Shad when they come in, black bass species in our Foothill Lakes as well as drifting the Yuba or Feather for trout and steelhead.

What is your favorite fish specie?

That would most likely be striper.  I’m enamored by their strength, how well they track and eat a fly and beyond all of that, we have a massive slot potential for them here.  What that means is that unlike trout fishing or bass fishing on the fly where you know every fish you’ll see that day is an 8” or a 26” fish.  In striper fishing, you have to understand and know that any fish that eats your fly on any given strip and any given spot could be an 8” striper or a 45”+ 40+ lb life changing trophy.  That my friends is what we call  “large slot potential.”  Same fly, same stick, same cast and you may find a monster if keep focused…

Chuck Ragan fly fishing

What is your favorite thing about guiding?

I think there’s many reasons why I love this line of work.  Of course I love the outdoors and the species within it.  I love the excitement people get when they hook into fish and sometime find their “personal best.”  My favorite thing about guiding though could be helping folks leave their troubles on the bank for a while.  All of us fish for different reasons and for some of us it’s very much therapeutic.  I know it’s just as important to people than it is to me.  So since my job is to keep folks safe and comfortable onboard first and foremost and secondly give them the absolute best day possible and hopefully great memories of catching fish and enjoying the outdoors, the rest is up to them and how they need the trip to go.  Some folks come out needing to hoot and holler when others may just need a listener or just some peace and quiet.  As guides, we must always be prepared to not only do the job we’re hired for but we must be prepared to adapt to whatever energy best serves our clients.  Some days we may be a weatherman, a buddy and listener, voice of reason, therapist, medic, or a wall that someone may really need to just vent heavy duty and get things off their chest.  We don’t always know exactly who is stepping into the boat.  We don’t know their demeanor, their politics, humor or religion.  Since that is the case, it’s my job to ride in neutral and get to know each person by giving them the benefit of the doubt.

What is the most memorable trip you’ve guided and why?

That’s a tough question.  SO many of them have been incredible and special and hosting people that came onboard with the right attitude and walked away with their personal best.  I love seeing huge things happen to great people. If I were to pick one, it’d most likely be one of the Cast Hope trips I’ve done.  I work for Cast Hope to share the outdoors with a younger generation in hopes to light a spark to give them a reason to notice, appreciate and eventually protect their outdoors and local resources.  Some of these kids come in very lost, unsure of their surroundings and leave with a completely different perspective on life as a whole.  That to me is the most important thing I could be doing in this line of work beyond chasing trophy fish or the grip and grin shots so many are out to get.  If kids these days don’t find a reason to protect and carry on the ethics we hold true in protecting mama nature, there will not be anyone there to do it when we’re all long gone.

What is the funniest thing you’ve experienced while guiding?

It was far from funny at the time but I can laugh about now even though it gives me chills.  We have a section in the Yuba River that goes over an old blown out bridge.  The area is full of massive concrete chunks and rebar that literally eats boats if people don’t know their lines or what they are doing.  It’s a very dangerous zone and especially with super low boney fluctuating flows.  There was a morning I was running up with a friend and i passed that zone and was almost over the bar and back to deep water when I had to slow down due to an oncoming obstacle or floater, when I did my Cam Lock jammed on my jet motor and my gear was stuck in reverse.  I had no where to go except backyards and down river into the minefield… I was somehow able to navigate through the mess, stuck reversing and spinning, figure eighting and what not while in reverse for a good ways.  Was able to reverse over to a sand bar, fix the cam lock and we were on our way to find some good fish.  It woke me up like nothing else and scared the heck of me but when we talked about it throughout the day, we had some great laughs picturing what it probably looked like to an observer and I had wished that we had got it on video cause it would’ve been great to add the Benny Hill theme song to it which when I think of it now, that’s what I hear in my head.

Chuck Ragan guide

What makes your guide service great?

I like to believe my wonderful parents raised me in a way to stand up for myself while at the same time stay easy going to hopefully get along with a lot of different types of folks.  I work my tail off to get people on fish and I want nothing but the best success possible for them that day.  The amount of time energy and finances that I put into this passion than some folks call “work” is immense.  To me aside from my family, it’s what I take the most seriously in this life.  At the end of the day, I work everyday as if it where my last and do all I can to get along great with whoever I’m hosting.

If you had only one day off all year, where would you fish and what fish would you target?

Most likely one of our Central Valley Rivers for Striper on the Fly with one of my fellow California Bass Union members at the helm.

What are your favorite three flies?

Clouser Minnow, Feather Game Changer and the Dead Drop Minnow.

What is the one piece of gear you couldn’t bear to leave at home?

Most likely the Kershaw knife in the pocket, Hatch pliers on my hip, Loon fly comb/hook file on the belt… These items are usually the last thing I grab and put on before grabbing my keys and I’d feel lost without them… Wait no, maybe the 9wt Echo EPRs with a Gen 2 Finatics… Wait no, fly boxes, surely the fly boxes…  No my cell phone…  Gotta be available if mama calls…  No wait, most likely the Noco Power Pack in case someone’s phone dies or we have to jump someone’s vehicle at the end of the day?  No… black coffee (in a cup)  Yes…  definitely a full cup of black coffee.  Final answer.

Chuck Ragan fish

Do you have any other passions?

I love to grow food, I love to work with wood, LOVE to work on the boats (until I hate it) I’m crazy about cooking food and Cajun food at that…  I love to smoke meats or anything for that matter on my Traegers.  I also play music and have for years.  Long before I was a fly fishing guide, I worked and still do from time to time in the music industry.  I’m a songwriter and recording artist and have a number of records out and about under Chuck Ragan or Hot Water Music.  It’s a definite passion as well and something therapeutic as well as the water I enjoy being on and the species I pursue.

To check out more from Chuck Ragan, please click here.