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?