It’s still hard to decide if I just got it right or if it was the trout throwing me a bone.
The morning of June 19th marked the start of my inaugural trip to volcano country in the northeastern corner of California. A driving time of 5 hours and 30 minutes would bring me to my destination at the east edge of Lassen National Park, roughly 93 miles south of the Oregon border and 40 miles from the Nevada state line.
Like many fly fishing trips, it began with food. When it came to my attention that Oroville was home to one of the few Shakey’s Pizza restaurants in my end of the Golden State, I appropriately adjusted my route. Pulling into Oroville, a town surviving on the generosity of travelers passing through, the old school design of the Skakey’s was a good sign. Not so good was the new school menu. That meant no Bunch of Lunch buffet (a $9.95 lunchtime experience) for me. The pizza, however, was a memory inducing event. Shakey’s pizza, at the older restaurants mind you, is one of the few foods that matches what I remember from childhood.
After dosing the body with slices of Shakey’s Special and Diet Coke, it was on to Chester, where I met up with Tom Maumoynier, owner of The Lake Almanor Fly Fishing Company. Tom’s passion about the area and the fly fishing it has to offer can be contagious. He’s so passionate about fly fishing, and his wife apparently very understanding, that Tom seems to spend many an evening “testing” various venues around Lake Almanor, and the lake itself. With advice from Tom, a close examination of an area map and a handful of flies, it was time to wet a line in Yellow Creek.
I checked into the modest but quite comfy Cedar Lodge, and headed down Hwy 89, along the western shore of Lake Almanor. A few miles later I pulled onto one of the nicest Forest Service roads I’ve had the pleasure to driven. Tom told me it was eight miles to the creek. Thankfully, signs to the Yellow Creek Campground kept me on the right path. Until I crested a hill to find the road branching in four directions.
I’d like to say I took the macho course of action (Eeny, meeny, miny, moe, catch a tiger by the toe…), but that hill was a blessing. Wimping out, I checked the cell phone for a signal and called Tom back at the shop. It was the middle road, he told me, clarifying that just about the time you think you missed a turn a few mile back, you’ll arrive at the campground. He was right.
Yellow Creek is a fantastic medium-sized creek, meandering through a meadow nestled within a gentle valley. It doesn’t offer much fishy water immediately downstream from the campground, at least not early in the season, when most of the moving water in the area is high. A 15-minute hike, however, brings nice looking riffles and pools into view.
I rigged up with Tom’s recommendation of a light green drake, which had worked well for him the previous evening, with a pheasant tail nymph dropper. Casting as I walked, the first take came a few minutes later and yielded a small, wild brown trout.
I believe that, like many things in life, confidence is a big factor in fly fishing. So, after 30 minutes of a lot of nothing, I switched to my “confidence flies”: a yellow-green bodied stimulator trailed by a bead-head A.P. Nymph.
A few minutes later, an 8-inch brown ate the nymph. Another nailed the stimulator on the surface. The total for the next 90 minutes was five browns and one rainbow to the net, twice as many missed strikes, and the farming of one of the “toads” I was warned about.
That toad, perhaps a fair 12 or 13 inches (big for a creek this size), didn’t hesitate when it took the nymph. Stunned that it had been fooled, it didn’t move for a minuscule but still discernable amount time. Then it exploded downstream, jumping three times before turning upstream and burying its nose in the weeds at my feet. Gaining the angle and applying gentle pressure, I turned the fish back into open water. I blinked, and with one final jump, he was off. Good times.
While I collected myself and gathered up my net, allowing my flies to swing in the current, I missed another strike. That’s a hint how fun the fishing can be on Yellow Creek.
The downside of tracking down more remote creeks and the wild fish in them is the drive out on unfamiliar dirt roads in the dark. Let’s just say that I was grateful to find pavement after a wrong turn that had me, for the first time, thinking I might have to spend the night sleeping in the car.
Instead, I got a restful night’s sleep at the motel. Good thing, too. I would soon find out that I needed it.
The plan Sunday was to head back towards Yellow Creek, but to stop short at Butt Creek, which I crossed the previous day. I had been warned that the unseasonably cold water and air temperatures were limiting insect hatches, and thus trout feeding, to the evenings. But I was there and I had the means to cast a few flies.
If one were to use my results as scientific measurement, there are no trout in Butt Creek. I did have beautiful weather, and after a few hours, enjoyed a streamside sandwich. Fly fishing, in beautiful country, is never a bad thing, regardless of the catch rate.
That afternoon I visited Susan Creek, a portion of which is maintained as a wild fishery. Yes, I only visited it. To say the water was too high would be an understatement.
Why I was there:
- Surface Elevation: 5,098 ft./1,554 m.
- Surface Area: 24,000 Acres/97.1 km2
- Maximum Depth: 85 ft./26 m.
- Location: Lassen County, Calif. (40°38′42″N / 120°44′38″W)
- Second largest natural lake entirely in the state of California.
- Home to the Eagle Lake Trout, which are uniquely adapted to the lake’s alkaline waters.