fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)

best Eastern Sierra trip…ever


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Eastern Sierra Color

Every time I load up to chase trout with a fly rod, it’s struggle to not read every possible fishing report. Anticipation is part of fishing. Anglers also dread hearing “You should have been here yesterday.” But reports the day before I would head into Sierra Nevada hinted that the timing of this trip couldn’t be better.

My ultimate destination would be Tom’s Place, a bump on Hwy 395 where I and 10 club members, when not fishing, would eat, drink copious amounts of homemade beer and sleep. When I scheduled this trip more than eight months ago, the date was adjusted so that I could commit to helping out with the club’s novice seminar. Which is why this year’s trip was a bit later than usual. Turns out that was a very good thing.

Hoping to avoid the throngs of early afternoon commuters, I was on the road by noon Thursday. It was unusually nice to travel quickly at my own pace down the highway with plenty of time to stop for lunch and visit Bass Pro Shops. So it was that I arrived at The Family Cabin with time for a preemptive attempt to prevent a skunking from even starting. Not too far away is Lyons Canal, really an irrigation ditch, where one can cast at suspicious water. It didn’t take long before I landed both wild browns and stocked rainbows. Trusting this was a small indication of what to expect during the next four days, I made tracks for a Mexican eatery in town. I couldn’t help but smile. I do like Twain Harte between the winter and summer, when the skiers and the tourists are long gone and the fish seem a tad more hungry.

The official plan was for club members to meet up early Friday afternoon at the rustic Tom’s Place Resort, but my intention was to beat the sun over Sonora Pass and arrive at Hot Creek by 8:00 a.m. My strategy was a hopeful one — beat the crowds that might force me on to less-than-prime water at this immensely popular fly fishing only/barbless hook/zero limit creek. I crested the final turn and neared my destination to glimpse a beautiful sight: an empty parking lot. I’d end up having the upper half of Hot Creek to myself for three hours under an deep and endless blue sky. I highly recommend it.

In the weeks prior I’d poured over past fishing reports, including my own, and tied flies I thought I’d need. Thanks to recent reports from a few DVFF club members, I knew that small would be the name of the game. However, with the creek still in the shade of the canyon and no visible insects hatching, it took a size 22 tiger midge nymph to dredge up my first fish; a fish that promptly reminded me that one does not trifle with Hot Creek trout. I lost it after only one jump. With that warning, I coaxed the next fish, a Loch Leven brown, to the net. I took it as a sign that this was going to be a good day.

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Hot Creek Brownie

Before continuing, let me describe Hot Creek to the uninitiated. It’s been called by many a fly fisher the most exciting and frustrating water they’ve ever fished. It’s relatively shallow and much of the year may be heavy with weeds. Sometimes it can be an accomplishment to get a drag-free drift of more than two feet. In between those weeds are the fish. Good-sized fish, and a lot of them. You can see them and they you. If you hook one, it’s not uncommon for it to be longer than 14 inches.

It didn’t take long after the sun touched the water for the hatches began. After ten o’clock, blanket hatches of caddis came in waves. They were many in number but thin little things. Not being the best dry fly fisherman, I trailed a size 22 blue winged olive dry (I later used a pale morning dun dry) behind a size 20 caddis, and used the caddis as a reference point as the smaller fly was often lost in bubbles on the surface. It worked well. Four hours later and after nine trout hooked and five guided to the net, I grudgingly headed back to the car. The crisp morning had given way to a beautiful afternoon, with the kiss of cool breeze to keep the heat from the sun at bay. It was fall in the Sierra Nevadas and the aspen leaves were becoming a brilliant yellow.

After stowing gear in the cabins and getting reports about good fishing on waters such as Rock Creek and the West Walker and Carson rivers, small groups headed out to various waters, some with the gift of size 22 dries for Hot Creek. Others headed up Rock Creek, while a few folks simply enjoyed the great weather and adult beverages back at the cabins. (One consistent lure for this trip is one member’s home-brewed beer.) While I played with the brook trout in Rock Creek, one of my gift flies was lost to a hot Hot Creek fish by the recipient. As the sun set, we sat down for man food: barbecue beef sandwiches and potato salad, washing it down with that first-rate homemade beer, and sprinkling our meal with tales of the day’s fishing.

Saturday dawned cold and sunny, with myself and an unsuspecting companion arriving at Crowley Lake marina to find the guide boat coated with ice. One of our group headed to Hot Creek for redemption after a scoreless visit the day before, to be joined by two other club cohorts. Five of our troupe were off to the Upper Owens River. Redemption was found on Hot Creek with a few of those 16” trout. The Upper Owens crew would later estimate walking 10 or more miles, but found fish along the way.

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Fish On @ Crowley Lake

As for myself and my fishing buddy, the powerful trout in Crowley Lake provided steady action throughout the day. (My friend Jay was quite surprised at the strength of even the smaller Crowley trout. Sore arms are common after a hote bite.) Highlights of the day for me were a 20-inch cutthroat and 20-inch rainbow among the many trout brought to the net. Another highlight was my first experience being taken into my backing.

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Big Crowley Cutthroat

Big Crowley trout tend to simply suck a fly into their mouth and keep moving. The ‘take’ can be deceptively gentle. Once the hook was set, however, this fish was off to the races. In short order it was at least 120 feet away. It jumped, and so did I and the guide when we got a look at a fish that we could only estimate to be ‘huge.’ But big fish don’t get big by being stupid. There was a lot of give and take during our battle. It seemed like 15 minutes but more likely 10 before the fight was again near the boat. To give the fish more credit than it’s probably due, that’s when it seemed to make a beeline for the anchor lines. During my effort to convince this fish to turnaround, I lost it. But what a day…

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20-inch Crowley Rainbow

Our evening was again a time for swapping tales, enjoying an awesome meat sauce and spaghetti, laying plans for fishing during our return home the next day, and trying to make sure our brewer would take only empties home. Morning seems to come early, but reluctance to leave stalled our departure. In my three years acting as ‘fishmaster’ for this outing (and yes, it’s only an act), this was the best. A perfect storm of great weather and great fishing (and catching).

Sunday, with an invite to join the Mom-in-Law for an excellent pizza margherita, I would have to head over Sonora Pass by two o’clock. That left plenty of time to fish. Loving the Tioga Pass area as I do, it was time to try my hand on Saddlebag Creek. Near 10,000 feet, it’s a small creek that emerges from a rock-filled dam that holds back Saddlebag Lake. The creek ambles through a small canyon before meandering into open meadows. Most folks fish it downstream near the highway. A short drive up a dirt road, however, gets one away from the crowds and into small brook trout country. Again it took small flies, dry midges this time, to entice these beautiful little trout.

Wanting to be closer to the pass when the time came to leave, I drove north with the intention of visiting the West Walker River. I’d heard it was fishing well.

But it seems that it’s difficult for me to drive past the East Walker River. Most spots on the upper section (above the bridge) were occupied. One, which I had fished before, was available. I’d have about two hours to fish. I ‘wadered up’ and wandered down to the river. Bugs were hatching. Fish were rising. Hopes were high. After observing rising fish for a few minutes, I quietly entered the water. Casts were made. An hour and forty minutes later, I could take credit for only two strikes. It wasn’t looking good for my unskunked record at the East Walker.

I subscribe to the idea that when in doubt move to new water. I edged downstream to find a nice if somewhat fast pool with a promising run above it and nice boulders below it. With nymphs set relatively deep, I began exploring the nearest seem. It took only three casts before a very nice brown volunteered to keep my record intact. In the next 10 to 15 minutes, I landed my first East Walker rainbow and two more browns.

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The East Walker Brown, aka Skunk Remover

The previous days’ fishing made the two-hour drive west over Sonora Pass a not-so-unpleasant affair. The Mom-in-Law, two family friends and I enjoyed an excellent dinner (and dessert) that evening.

Having a full day to make the drive home, there was no reason not to squeeze in a bit more fishing. After chasing wild fish for three days it’s somewhat of a guilty pleasure to drop by Moccasin Creek, but it’s sort of on the way home, and this time of year wild browns from the lake downstream mingle with the stocked rainbows. Best of all, on a week day you can have the entire creek, more of a small river, to yourself.

Indeed, I was the only one fishing. Yes, hatchery rainbows were stacked up where you’d expect them. There’d be no browns today. Nevertheless, this visit would be unique.

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Moccasin Rainbow

The first rainbow I hooked, not a big fish, maybe 11”, jumped at least five times before settling down. Most of the others did much of the same. Others screamed toward the weeds. These fish were crazy. It was silly fishing. Then they went insane. I’ve not experienced prolific hatches on Moccasin Creek. Today was different. Watch the video below, and you’ll see what I mean. They were going nuts.

That, my friends, sums up one heck of a long fly fishing weekend.

Oh, if you want evidence, here’s the pictures…
(Use “Compatibility View” in Internet Explorer if pictures overlap.)

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2 thoughts on “best Eastern Sierra trip…ever

  1. Wow! Hot Creek all to yourself. Now that is very nice! I am on my way to Yosemite and plan to stop at Moccasin Creek on the way. I hear it is the best place to go in that area right now. Is that true? If not, would you have any other recommendations? What flies work well this time of year on Moccasin Creek? I was planning on throwing mainly hoppers and other dry’s. Thanks!

  2. Moccasin has plenty of stocked fish right now, but you’ve got to use nymphs most of the time. You might find ’em hitting the surface a bit during late morning, but it can be tough. Maybe a dropper off your hopper? Good luck.

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