I didn’t know it then, but that confidence mentioned in words written about a week ago would be tested on the first full day of Trout Season 2011, even if high water narrowed our possible venue down to two or three choices where we knew the fish should be willing to play. At least that’s what we thought.There’s a balance that comes with fishing the week after Opening Day. The fact that most of the water known to hold trout was given a rude awakening on Opening Day is offset by wide-open access. So, although I’m not one to linger long after opening my eyes in the morning, this morning there was no frantic rush to get out the door.
The night before we had decided to head to “Hatchery Creek.” While well stocked with rainbows (and occasionally brook trout), it also can offer kokanee in the spring and a few elusive browns in the fall. We had been warned, however, about the aforementioned grumbling on Opening Day from anglers who
couldn’t find the fish maintained that DFG had cut back on its stocking.
The easy accessibility of this creek — as well as the everyday responsibilities of life — quickly fades as we descend the banks of this creek. No matter the origin of these trout, soon they would occupy all our thoughts and become our obsession for most of the day.
The creek, actually more a short tailwater before it dumps into a lake, is high. Maybe higher than I’ve ever seen it, and it takes more than a moment or two to identify familiar landmarks. Sean and I wonder out loud if high flows during the winter had scoured the creek. Together we remember a productive pool that two years ago was shaded by a now absent tree. A few of the old channels seem to have disappeared; new channels slowly reveal themselves. It’s hard to tell, but even a few boulders seem to occupy new positions.
With more of a series of grunts than conversation, it’s agreed that I’ll head slightly downstream to a long, fast, shallow run that’s always been good to me. The current here is too fast for dry flies. Nymphs work well, but most of the fun starts on the swing. It’s the first place I threw out a wet fly, and the first place that a trout took that soft hackle wet fly, one I had tied with a sparse blue-thread body and partridge hackle. After a few casts, the fish reveal themselves. It’s a cookie-cutter rainbow, but a welcome sign that all’s once again good with the world, at least in this brief moment in my part of the world.
Sean wandered upstream to another run, where water tumbled over rocks into a deeper run that ends in front of a boulder. It’s one of those hot spots favored by trout and deep enough to require at least one heavier fly.
After half an hour or so and three trout to the net and about the same for Sean, I ventured upstream, peering into pools and undercuts where I’d usually be able to sight fish. Seeing no fish sign, I checked in with Sean and headed downstream again. Going farther downstream requires care. Trees hug the banks and blackberry bushes are so prolific that thorny, tippet snatching blackberry vines hang overhead. There’s no overhead casting here. Line management is limited to side-arm casts, lobbing or simply dropping flies and letting the current take them to the fishy spots.
There’s one very fishy spot that requires that last tactic. Water bubbles over a creek-wide riffle before dropping into a wide area marked by granite boulders big enough to disrupt the current and create a pocket, a holding lie, for trout, yet small enough to allow the nearby current to flow fast enough, delivering bugs to waiting fish.
I dropped my flies — a size 18 AP Nymph and a size 22 glass bead chironomid pattern — just below the riffle. One drift, a second, then a third.
I’ve found that occasionally a subtle pause, perhaps no more than a second, perhaps a bit longer, can suggest that there’s a larger fish is at the end of the line. This was one of those times. I set the hook. My line paused. It vibrated faintly in the current. Then it was out of the pocket, through the riffles and around an upstream boulder faster than I could follow. But I would never see the fish. The same could be said for my home-tied fly.
The rest of the day, Sean and I would explore the lower reaches of this creek, finding a pool where, he’d been told, trout can often be found. We did find fish there.
This creek widens and gains speed closer to its mouth, reminding me more of a freestone river in the Eastern Sierra. Nice brown trout water, except it’s not home to many browns. There was fishing along the way but no more catching.
I can’t say whether it was the exertion of hiking, the full day of fishing or just plain thirst, but the dinner and the beer that came with it that night tasted awfully good.