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. 
Moments later, from my position almost under the bridge, I could confirm it was a big fish, but now there were several lesser, but still very good trout rising. To make matters worse, they all seemed to shift positions, from the pilings on the far side of the middle channel into the center, then back again.  Duns were hatching, but they turned their noses up at a Sparkle Dun.  Now this CDC emerger isn't working either; One fish slashed at it but either he missed it, or I missed him, and and either the resulting commotion or my flawed casting has put down the trout with the big head.  Flyfishing is like baseball in this; if we're honest, we fail three-fourths of the time, even if we're good casters, and I can't claim to be really, so: Time for the barrier run!

So that's how I didn't get down to the faster runs until almost two p.m.. Thunderheads are gathering, and the air is heavy, but I'm still feeling light.  Yesterday I lost or pricked three good-sized trout here (call them sixteen inches plus and you'd probably be right) but today feels different somehow.  I work the bottom run with a green drake pattern, in case they're appearing at lunchtime too, like they used to.  Then a salmon fly in the run and the pools below, but nothing shows.  It's time to eat, and a pile of big black clouds are gathering fast.

After some lightning and a washing rain I'm walking across the sandy flat and into the open pine woods near the creek, but now I've decided to look upstream.  Either I have forgotten this, or the creek has changed in the fifteen years since I was last here; Above the run called Foundation for, yes, the old foundation of a long-gone cabin, the water moves a little less hastily through the riffles and runs.  I'm looking down from the left bank high trail to the water under the tall trees, and I think I can see sufficient depth of walking-paced water for a good trout to hold, waiting for salmon flies to make a mistake.  I work down to it gradually, doing a cross-body reach at the end of the cast, to place the line well upstream to my left and get a good drift in the slower water near the bank. 

Just as the water slows to the right pace, and I can feel the fly start to drift really well without drag, a trout head replaces the tuft of white yarn that helps me track the fly, without much commotion. Luckily he doesn't run too far or too fast, for downstream is faster water and some log jams on either bank.  Soon I lift a really fine rainbow trout, eighteen inches, deep carmine-red stripe on his side and strong spotting, with large light-colored fins. I almost feel as if this one big wild trout is enough - many times on this creek I've had to be content with one good fish and a few smaller guys.  And many people never get the former.  I almost pack up, but curiosity about the other potential holding water upstream persuades me to keep exploring.

It's funny how the feeling that the one good trout you just caught would be enough seems to be the perfect mental preparation for catching the next trout.  You stop being desparate to get one, and concentrate on the how, not the why not.  The opposite bank run produces nothing, but as I'm wading down to the next good-looking run under a tree, I accidentally find a pocket in the middle of a riffle. My fly is grabbed while hanging almost on the dangle, but giant stoneflies can't swim upstream, so I'm thinking I must have dropped the rod tip as I stepped, enabling the fly to drift free for a moment or two. Anyway, it's the twin of the first rainbow, in length if not appearance, but it fights even less tenaciously.

Now after that, I really could go, but who wants to quit when your last trout was kind of an accident, and the memory of last night's green drakes is seeping into your thoughts?  They take a long time to appear, maybe because it's cool, and too breezy until well after sunset.  At last a drake appears in the air and a few fish rise, in the bottom pool down by the barrier, though they don't seem to have enough drakes to eat yet.  I can't get them to take my perfectly adequate paradun, and I suspect they're still eating something smaller.

Then, just as dusk comes on, trout start really clomping something I'm now convinced have to be drakes, close enough to the bank for me to easily cover them.  I get one nice fourteen inch rainbow, purple stripe and lots of spots, but also a bit sluggish. Then the last and smallest fish of the day is the best, ripping line off the reel in the near-darkness and positively refusing to settle in my landing hand. Sides of deepest red with just a few larger spots, instead of the salt-and-pepper spotting Hat Creek trout usually show, his body deep as a bass almost, with cadmium white edges to his lower fins that I can still see clearly in the low light.

Now the thunderheads are building again, and four good trout is really a lot here.  I will drive over Hatchet Mountain, into some pelting rain and hail, feeling like the time I put in years ago finally paid dividends today, now I've relaxed enough to use that experience well.

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