Monday, August 8, 2011

Red Lake, Blue Lake ...

OK, I give up, maybe we will never get to fish California's rivers this year.  I'm heading for Alpine County in late July, and the mountains across from Silver Lake, then Caples Lake, are well-covered in snow for their top thousand feet or so.  I might not expect the East Fork of the Carson River to be fishable yet in an average year.  It drains really high peaks in the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness, with extensive north-facing slopes where snow stays nearly all summer, and valleys of glacial moraine soil that any surface run-off puts into suspension in the river.  The East Fork often doesn't clear until August anyway, but its West Fork and most of the smaller streams are always fishable by now - except this year.

The first lake after the scenic drive through Carson Pass is Red Lake, so named for the red peak that stands starkly high and close above it.  Highway 88 snakes down its side to a dirt road access you come upon all too quickly, particularly if you're trying to check out the lake for rising trout.  There aren't any, but it is brim-full of greenish water, showing the fertility of this medium-sized lake.  I meet a flyfisher who's brought his pontoon raft in to re-rig.  He says it's very quiet, except for one fish he just pricked.  Minnow imitations are good he says, particularly for the big brook trout.  But he also says they can be moody, and he thinks the water's a few degrees too warm at 61 degrees. He prefers 58 to 59, and expects it to drop if the wind does (it's very cool today in the shade, but the sun is hot and the strong breeze warm.)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Whiskeytown, Meth Addicts and Hexagenia Mayflies

This strange, water-rich year in California, it's hard to find anywhere to fish. There's hardly a river that isn't bank high, roaring, churning silty water 'going to waste' as the old water barons and politicians might have said.  But in the uplands near the coast, forest duff is soaking up the extra snow-melt that will sustain juvenile salmon and steelhead through a hot summer, in the pools and runs between the ferns and coltsfoot of a little tributary.  Good fishing for migratory fish in two or three years may be our reward for a trout season that's two months late already.

Many lakes I might fish are still frozen, or at least their roads are switchbacks over unmelted snowbanks, passable only to intrepid jeep drivers who enjoy proving they can winch themselves anywhere, even if it does take them five hours to get there.  I will tackle these near ski-able roads soon with a pair of hiking boots, but for this trip, it's a lower-elevation reservoir that's destination.  We're going camping at Whiskeytown Lake, a big, attractive lake close to the Central Valley heat of Redding, which is often the second hottest place in the state after Death Valley.  It's a long drive, made less dull by the chance to try and identify almost twenty peaks with snow still on them in late June, rather than waiting the usual two hours for the twin volcano shapes of Lassen and Shasta to appear, wearing their garlands of snow. Then, not long after you turn off I-5, you're there, at a Federal Recreation Area. 

We pull off at the excellent visitor center and enjoy the wildflower plantings and the cool of the indoor exhibits and map displays. The rangers are really helpful, and guide us to the best waterfalls to hike and see - three small streams feed the lake and all three have spectacular falls this year.  Outside again, I find a sign listing the many sport fish in the lake. 'Rainbows and brown trout. - Huh!'  I resist the temptation to add 'Who knew', for the wife knew, she knows that I knew, and I know that... never mind, you get the picture: It's a family camping trip, right?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Hat Creek -The next day

I woke up a bit late in my rough campsite, took a bit too long to pack camp, then went upstream to Carbon Bridge to look around - and never fished.  Now it's nearly lunchtime and I'm under the Highway 299 bridge, wondering if the rumbling vehicles overhead are causing me to cast so clumsily.  I have just put down a very big fish that was rising, and not only do I not care that much, I don't want to be here anymore, so I wind in, climb the riprap to the Subaru and head for the faster water downstream.

It went like this; when I got to Carbon Bridge the parking lot was empty; I'd have had the stretch to myself to start with and the pale morning duns would have hatched in a half hour or so.  It looked good, and I was scanning the water for rising trout, of which there were none, when four or five trucks and cars pulled in one after the other. At least two young men climbed out of each one, already in their waders, most with rods ready, and headed up and downstream. Several were relatively new to flyfishing, getting advice and encouragement from the others as they flung their nymph and indicator rigs around on the flat water.  A few years ago this would have bothered me, I have to admit.  Now I hope I'm being truthful when I say I was happy to see new flyfishers prepared to tackle this challenging place, and I was accepting of their right to do that how they want.  I just know that I was looking for a different experience, a less pressured one perhaps. And I fear that's just how the larger trout in the Powerhouse Riffle and the flats down to Carbon Bridge will feel today, with all those people.  So I went for a quick check at the County Park, where the water's deeper, and less people try to fish, because it's really tough.

A truly big trout rose under the bridge when I was fishing just upstream.  It was a 'clomp' and it moved a lot of water, though there was no haste in the trout's movement.  I knew I would have to go downstream and make a tough sidearm cast between the pilings and into the middle channel; a downstream drift from where I stood wouldn't work as well, and even if I did hook him he'd go down the pool and I'd never get him back. 

Friday, June 10, 2011

Hat Creek -Back in my Life

Windmills stand on Hatchet Mountain, as I drop down into the flat volcanic bowl that holds California's two largest spring creeks; Hat Creek and Fall River.  It's been fifteen years at least, since I last fished the public water on Hat Creek. But this strange, late, cold and water-rich spring, it's almost the only place to fish.

Previous years, I'd be tinkering on some small low-elevation mountain stream, chasing the elusive ten-inch brown among seven inch rainbows. I would dash in quickly, hike an hour away from imaginary crowds yet to arrive, catch a trout or two I could define as a trophy by my own standard and drive home, all in one day.

But time and abundance have slowed my step.  Today I need to be somewhere for a while, and why not this old acquaintance of a spring creek.  The salmon flies should be out, the giant, bumbling stoneflies with the hint of hot orange about their bodies.  Twenty year-old memories return; of their gentle touch as they crawled on me; of the big brown that ate the salmon fly I unwittingly knocked into the water, and the boil as he ate the foam-bodied artificial that I'd tied myself.