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.)
A fishing report mentioned cutthroats caught on midge pupa suspended under an indicator, at the top end of the lake. There is an inflow stream there, but there's one on my side too, so I work my way up slowly, catching only little chubs on a big nymph, and a twelve-inch one on a minnow streamer.  When I reach the top end I start to see a few rising fish, so now I'm fishing an attractor dry with a big blood midge pupa as a dropper, a very sparsely-tied English pattern on a Size 10 hook. That probably sounds crazy big to most California flyfishers, but I've seen first-hand how enormous midges can get in fertile lakes, particularly on this east slope of the Sierra Nevada. I've heard a couple of big ones buzz past me this afternoon already.
By the time I get to the short channel where another tributary spills over a beaver dam I've missed some splashy rises to the dry and a few pecks at the nymph.  I'm starting to suspect more chubs, but then a cast into the tiny hole created by the stream channel gets the dry sucked in, and to my delight a small cutthroat with well-spaced big spots on his side is leaping and splashing on the end.  A few casts later, a slightly smaller one takes the nymph, after I cover his rise.  A lovely slender fish with a wash from purple through lilac to pink on his side, but no spots except on the tail - could this be a Piute cutthroat?  I don't see why Fish & Game would plant both types of cutthroat here, when the likely result would be introgression (hybrids would gradually take over in any wild spawning runs.) So I guess I'll call him random variation at work, at least until I've checked with Fish & Game.

A note for my readers from outside the state, and indeed overseas:
Califonia has two native cutthroat trout in the interior mountains, as well as a migratory Coastal Cutthroat. The Lahontan Cutthroat was once widespread on the east slope of the Sierra Nevada, inhabiting the Truckee, Carson and Walker Rivers, all their tributaries and the big lakes they fed. The Lahontan Cutthroat of Pyramid Lake in Nevada got absolutely huge, to as much as sixty pounds, and they ran up the Truckee River to spawn. The biggest trout that ever lived were wiped out by the reviled Derby dam in the 1920's.
The much rarer and way smaller Piute Cutthroat was always confined to the headwaters of Silver King Creek, a tributary of the East Fork of the Carson River. You can read more about the Piute Cutthroat here;

Next;  Blue Lake - the adventure continues ...

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