fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)


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on the Rim Fire (and why it might be better find other places to fish, for now, and let nature heal, undisturbed)

It was long ago decided that this blog was to be guided by a few simple rules; that it would be family focused and friendly, devoid of rants or advice, and mostly my space to write about the misadventures of my life.

Today, however, things are bit somber.

CalFire Rim Fire Incident Report

CalFire Rim Fire Incident Report

California’s fire season is shaping up to be one of historic proportions. The Rim Fire still raging near Yosemite Valley is one of 11 major fires currently burning in our bone-dry state. Those are only “major” fires. During the last few weeks, about 150 fires were sparked by lightning strikes. CalFire figures show that through the middle of August, 4,715 separate fires have burned the state — beating by a wide margin the historical annual average since 2008 of 3,000 fires. The Rim Fire is now the largest fire in the recorded history of the Sierra Nevada and, as of today, the 5th largest wildfire in California’s history.

In this moment, all eyes are understandably on the immediate danger to lives and property. Prayers are being said for the firefighters. This is devastation on an unimaginable scale.

As a fly fisherman, I can’t help but ask questions about the long-term impact on the many streams and rivers now stripped of bankside vegetation, and the fish in their waters. The extent of ecological damage won’t be understood for a long time. The intensity of the blaze — flames reportedly reached 100 to 200 feet as they shot up canyons — left nothing behind. While the Groveland Ranger District of the Stanislaus National Forest, the area predominately affected by the Rim Fire, has gone through cycles of intense wildfires, those fires have burned only small areas. (Decades of fire suppression and logging can be blamed.) Conjecture is that the Rim Fire, however, may have denuded up to a 1,000 acres.

The northern edge of the Rim Fire crossed the Clavey River, one of the longest undammed rivers in the Sierra Nevada, a designated wild and scenic river, and home to native coastal rainbow trout. The fire burned along extended stretches of the South and Middle Fork of the Tuolumne River as well as Cherry Creek, all waters known for fishing, whether stocked or wild fish. Many other but lesser known streams, streams I’ve found wild populations of trout, also fall within the boundaries of the Rim Fire.

The Clavey River

The Clavey River

Relatively little is known about the effect of fire on fish populations. An admittedly hasty search of the Internet offers some insight. It’s clear that the effects of fire on fish populations can be complex, with dependency on the length of the event, size of the habitat, the home range of the fish, specialization of spawning habitats and the type of fish. Of course, most studies cite salmonid fishes (trout, salmon, chars, freshwater whitefishes and grayling) as the taxonomic group slowest to recover after a fire.

That said, the effect of fire on native salmonid populations can be highly variable, with extinctions observed in some isolated small headwater streams, but a quick rebound when a species’ home range extends to multiple tributaries within a single watershed.

In affected rivers, streams and lakes, fires can most notably affect water temperature and water chemistry as well as the local invertebrates, amphibians and fish. No longer shaded by trees and brush, water temperature can rise, reducing the solubility of dissolved oxygen. Absorption of ash can increase the water’s pH and impact nutrient levels in aquatic systems. Studies document five- to 60-fold increases in phosphate, nitrate, and ammonium concentrations in streams affected by fires that have swept through larger watersheds. Conditions in these waters returned to normal with a few weeks, but were later impacted by rain flushing additional ash and soil through the watershed.

It’s likely that the smallest streams will have most dramatically impacted by the fire. Though most people dance around the issue, this has been another drought year for California, and water levels are so low that any longish exposure to the fire may have “cooked” many of those small streams.

Nature, however, can be resilient; as long as we don’t get in the way. Anyone who’s visited Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument can attest to that.

A beetle native to the Sierras, which has infrared receptors allowing it to detect fire, could be first on scene to feast on the blackened trees. They, in turn, will draw birds. New growth will sprout, creating forage for small mammals and, eventually, deer and bears.

It just takes time. Though it may not look the same.

For a while, though, many Tuolumne County fisheries will probably be best left alone.


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you may have to carry a fire extinguisher to hike high enough to find Sierra Nevada trout

ICCC Report CoverFollowing up its good news/bad news report on Lake Tahoe, the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment paints a bleaker picture in its August 2013 Indicators of Climate Change in California.

To sum it up, analysis of monitoring data and scientific research from throughout the state outlines the effects of climate change: The spring runoff in the Sierra Nevada has declined over the last century. The period of time when winter temperatures in the Central Valley are cold enough for the development of fruit and nut tree flowers has been decreasing since 1950. River runoff declined during the 20th Century:

River Runoff Percent Decline
in 20th Century
Sacramento River System* 9%
San Joaquin River System 6%
Kings River 6%
Kern River 8%
Mokelumne River 7%
Trinity River 8%
Truckee River 13%
Carson and Walker rivers 5%
*includes the Sacramento River and major tributaries, the Feather, Yuba and American rivers.

Changes in average temperatures have led to die-offs of native vegetation at the lower range of various species’ elevation range (during the last six decades Sierra Nevada conifers have clearly retreated upslope) and is pushing about half of the small mammals in Yosemite National Park to higher elevations. The annual acreage burned by wildfires in the state increased since 1950, with the three largest fire years occurring during the last 10 years. The acidity in the coastal waters around Monterey Bay is increasing at a rate greater than that in the open ocean near Hawaii. The average annual temperature in mountain lakes, including Lake Tahoe, has risen over the last few decades.

And butterflies are emerging earlier during the spring in the Central Valley.

Yet, there’s no real trend that can be discerned from the data. The rise in the sea level rise along the California coast is bucked the global pattern and has be relatively constant during the last two decades.

Cheery stuff.


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respite from curveballs

Sometimes life just throws a curveball. Two weeks ago it felt like every curveball was followed by another.

So, I abandoned the original plans to sandwich a cabin visit with the sister and family between two full days of fishing and just go with the flow.

That meant the two-and-a-half hour drive to Twain Harte stretched out to about four, interrupted by a longer than usual stop at Bass Pro.

It also took longer than usual to coax that first trout to take a fly in a nearby stream.

Back at the cabin, I whiled away some time reading and generally taking it easy.

The sister, her husband and two sons taller than most everyone pulled in about noon Friday. Soon enough we were beating the heat at Twain Harte Lake. A visit to the cabin is a mixed blessing during hot weather; the lake offers respite, complete with an old-school snack shack with burgers, fries, milkshakes and snow cones. The cabin, however, and despite a lack of insulation, seems to retain all the heat of the day well into the evening.

The nephews goaded their parents into the usual swim to a platform near the center of the lake, then a swim to “The Rock.” Then back. I admired their energy from shore, dipping my feet in the water and reading. The afternoon was completed with a visit to the snack shack.

Normally the only overexertion on my vacations entails scrambling over boulders and under downed trees in search of trouts that sometimes aren’t there. Saturday I opted for an easy, sure thing, fishing a well-stocked creek that’s often pounded by the put-and-take crowd. This day I’d be alone for well into four hours, targeting specific fish and trying to coax dry-fly takes.

I found my cabin mates finishing up the breakfast clean up when I returned about mid-morning. They planned to hit the local disc golf course, and I figured I’d lug my camera along. I’ve come to realize that I don’t have a lot of hero shots of myself during fishing, hiking, motorcycling, etc., so I’m trying to step in to take a few photos for folks when I can.

The boys pondering Luci's shot. Missed by that much.

The boys pondering Luci’s shot. Missed by that much.

This disc golf course is purely a volunteer effort that gets some financial support from the local community, and it’s nice to see younger folks join in the creation of something positive. The course winds its way through a now fallow traditional golf course, over an irrigation ditch and under a flume.

My nephew Nicholas plays Ultimate Frisbee and might be expected to be the odds-on favorite, and while Tom, his father, will deny his intense completive streak, it quickly became clear that the rest of us were there to, pretty much, watch a one-on-one match. On the fourth basket (hole) another player gave us another disc, allowing me to participate. Like the amateur I am, there was a lot of wasted effort spent on power when form was more important. I later learned that my arm isn’t as young as it used to be. There was no use keeping track of my score; I was always one stroke behind Tom or Nick. And where either of them could curve a Frisbee around an obstacle, my choice was limited to going straight through if I could or give it a very wide berth. The competition would end with Tom winning by a stroke. I believe Tom also won our game of mini golf that evening.

The afternoon was again spent on the beach, with swimming, conversation, tossing of the Frisbee and a return to the snack shack.

Proving that there’s not competiveness in their family, Tom and Nick returned to the disc golf course the morning before our departure for a grudge friendly rematch. Nick recovered some dignity with a win.

This short trip was a welcome, unscripted getaway.


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coyote, rattlesnake and turkey, oh my! (wild trout too.)

Sean lining up a putt on hole four at Twain Harte Miniature Golf.

Sean lining up a putt on hole four at Twain Harte Miniature Golf.

When it comes to the oldest son, the easiest way to level the playing field is to chase wild trout. While there may be some claim that genetics would ensure that he’d be at least half as good a fly fisherman as his old man, the truth is that there’s no substitute for experience.

The day after our Annual One-Day Tioga/Sonora Pass Tour, we had an agreement to take it easy, meaning no alarms. We were still up and out at a decent hour, though long after the sun had begun to warm things up. This Friday being designated a “Man Day,” our first stop was for convenience store coffee and breakfast. The day would later include miles of dirt roads, a lot of hiking, and a whole heap of fly fishing. Manly stuff indeed.

We were headed northeast to Arnold, cutting across the dry, now golden Sierra Nevada foothills once scoured by ‘49ers. We passed the time during the hour-plus drive with conversation, the usual good-natured ribbing, and a good playlist. The focus of the day was a small freestone stream rumored to be well worth the effort. It could be easily accessed through a state park.

We didn’t want easy.

After inquiring about this stream a few months back, a club member cryptically described in a hushed voice a series of left and right turns leading to a serviceable Forest Service road that eventually crossed Stream X. His tale of the wild trout that lived there was peppered with warnings of fast-moving logging trucks and rattlesnakes.

With the help of a National Forest Service map of the area, I had determined the most likely route. But there’s nothing like local knowledge. We stopped at Ebbetts Pass Sporting Goods for guidance and picked up a few flies from one of the best selections I’ve run across. Bill, owner and long-time resident who’s hunted and fished the area for some 30 years, is always willing to take the time to offer advice. (Based on our conversations, I now have a list of rarely fished and not-so-easily accessed waters.) Bill’s confirmation of our route also included some obfuscation…the first left was after a city limits sign and our destination was near the bridge.

The paved road extended farther than expected. The vegetation here was a bit greener and denser than that around the Family Cabin and a welcome change. Soon enough we were on the dirt road. Not your typical Forest Service road, rather one made more drivable thanks to constant compaction by heavy truck traffic and frequent watering.

It became clear during our pre-fishing ritual — changing into waders and checking rods — that we were in the right place at the right time. Chance would have it that I looked up just in time, over the top the car and through the trees to a bend in the creek about 50 yards away, to catch a glint that could only have been from a jumping fish. An added bonus: it was just us.

Sean was on the stream first and hooked a trout in a small pool. It was about nine inches, and coloration and big parr marks confirmed it as wild. Looking over this stream, it was clear this would be a day of pocket water. At the end of the day, about 75% of the water we’d fish was pocket water and more than 90% of our takes would be on dries.

In typical fashion, we leapfrogged past each other as we headed upstream. Sean lagged behind at one of the better shaded pools in this section. Upstream was a wide, sweeping bend. Trees provided shade on the inside. The outside of the bend must be scoured during heavy runoff, leaving a big field of rounded stones of all sizes. Tire ruts leading down to the stones were left by the logging company’s watering truck and — as evidenced by a pod of obviously stocked trout darkening the center of the bend — a DFW stocking truck. Temptation got the best of me and I got a few planters to take a big stonefly pattern. Sean had since emerged and I moved upstream, only to be halted by a fence extending through the stream and up both banks.

Returning to the bend, Sean and I agreed that, with the two other fishermen who had since arrived, it was suddenly too crowded.

A rainbow trout that's a bit bigger than expected in this small creek.

A rainbow trout that’s a bit bigger than expected in this small creek.

Nice surprise in a small creek.

During my time upstream, the driver of the watering truck had chatted up Sean. While sucking water from a beautiful stream that’s habit for wild trout is uncool, at least the driver offered up details about how to get to a more remote and less-fished section upstream. Following his recommendation, we picked our way down a less-frequented road. This isn’t your graded road, but rather a barren section of forest sprinkled with stones and crisscrossed by fallen branches. The type of road that wouldn’t necessarily require four-wheel drive, but where I would have been thankful to have a bit more ground clearance than offered by my (trusty) Accord.

It was slow going. The road meandered away from the stream and gained elevation before a fork dropped us down to a wood bridge.

Here the character of the stream changes. It’s nearly all pocket water. And skinny.

As expected, the fish were spooky. We didn’t really see the fish; we caught flashes of fast-moving shadows in the periphery of our vision. This is the kind of stream that tests one’s ability to pick out suspect water and adequately present a fly. There might be strikes on your first two drifts. After that, it was time to move on. Thankfully, there was a lot of stream available.

My first cast was to ideal pocket water behind a large boulder. Water tumbled past the boulder into a pool that while not deep, was dark enough to hide fish. That first drift netted a brilliant eight-inch rainbow. This was repeated often as we hiked upstream, with nearly every fish chasing our dry flies.

It’s likely we could’ve spent all day moving upstream. But we did have to pick up a wine club shipment in Murphys, so we headed back to try fishing downstream of the bridge. There were a few spots but it wasn’t too far before the stream enters a canyon narrow enough to encourage a solid risk/reward assessment before continuing.

A not-so-nice surprise.

A not-so-nice surprise.

Sean, who wasn’t aware of my decision, was hiking along a deer trail above the stream while I headed back upstream. There was no scream or shout, and it wasn’t until he caught up with me that I learned of the first rattlesnake sighting of the season. Sean was foolish coolheaded enough to linger long enough to take a photo.

We debated stopping to fish again on the way out but decided otherwise. Our drive back to the highway included sightings of a coyote and turkey. After a stop at Ebbetts to report on our success (suitably suppressing how excellent it really was), it was time for a post-fishing beer. Luckily, Snowshoe Brewing wasn’t more than 15 minutes away.

We completed the day picking up that wine, tasting some of that winery’s products, and grabbing decent-but-not-great burgers at a place adjoining a gas station. Music and banter continued on the drive back, with a promise to keep up the illusion that this really-not-so-secret place was our little secret.

I did outfish the boy. I also whooped him in a game of mini golf. Even so, I think he had a pretty great time.


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first time fly fishing with the wife (or, rolling the dice on being out-fished)

I never pushed fly fishing on my wife, but she’s always supported my pursuit of the sport and listens attentively to accounts of all my adventures. She usually believes the fish are as big as I say.

Then, a few months ago she took me by surprise, asking if I would show her how to cast a fly rod. I’ve had welcome opportunities over the years to help teach, or at least acquaint, a few folks with fly fishing. In addition to assisting with the club’s novice class, it could be said I didn’t teach too many bad habits to my brother and my son, both of whom went on to have some success.

After an involuntary thought that “those who can, do, but shouldn’t necessarily teach,” I agreed to take my wife out for some casting. Good weather offered an opportunity and we spent just under an hour going through the basic motions.

A few weeks later, during a discussion of our weekends, I reminded her that I’d be teaching the novice class on an upcoming Saturday. She asked if there might be room. There was, and soon she had reserved a spot. She learned a lot and suffered through some frustration.

It is nice to have someone to take a photo.

Sure is nice to have someone along to get photographic evidence.

We’d be at the cabin a week after the class, and while a friend would be with us and side trips were planned, it was expected that I’d slip away to chase a few trout. Although we packed extra rods, reels and my spare waders and wading boots, it wasn’t until we stopped at Bass Pro and purchased a license for my wife did the reality sink in that she actually might join me.

Firmly believing that the best way to hook someone on fly fishing is to get into a fish on a fly rod, our destination the next morning was a stocked stream not too far from the cabin. We test-fit the waders at home and knew they would work well enough. My wife set up the rod and reel on her own, we clipped on our wading staffs and headed to the stream. I think it was after a dozen steps or so that my wife began referring to my old wading boots as “clown shoes.” (Admittedly, they were a bit big, but did the job that day.)

My wife doesn’t much like water — it’s for drinking and bathing and that’s about it — but she didn’t flinch much when we began wading. While waders provide a barrier between the wearer and the wetness of the water, one still “feels” the water. I reassured her that in water this cold, after a bit of time, she’d be too numb to notice.

Just before the first strike...

Just before the first strike…

This is a stream best nymphed, with limited dry fly action some afternoons. Offering a running commentary on what I was doing, I rigged up two standard nymphs below an indicator. I explained and demonstrated where to cast (and hooked a fish in the process), and talked about how the trout would be looking for a close approximation of a real insect drifting near a current seam.

The morning was sprinkled with encouragement and advice. My wife’s casting, more like lobbing under the tree limbs above, improved. Her patience was impressive. After the first take of the day, it was more than an hour before a second bump. She wasn’t the only one casting to ghosts. I could count my strikes on one hand.

About midmorning we shifted downstream about 10 feet. The fish in this stream, though raised in a hatchery, move throughout the day, typically following the movement of the shadows. Close to noon, there’s more sunlight than shadows on the water, forcing any trout in the area into a narrow and definable seam. Downstream, I switched to a dry/dropper setup and was sight casting to a decent looking fish. Good placement and presentation earned a solid strike, and I landed my second and last fish of the day. Photo taken and trout released, the focus returned to getting the wife on a fish.

There’s no telling what changed — the temperament of the fish, the depth or general presentation of the flies — but suddenly my wife could lay out a cast, manage the line and fool a fish. A trout was hooked on the second or third strike, offered a dramatic leap and was gone. In between a few more strikes we worked on line management and talked about setting the hook. A few more strikes were missed.

Karen's First Fly Fish

Getting the “hero shot” took some dedication with an uncooperative, slippery fish. But she did it.

Then it all came together.

It was good to get excited about a fish on the line, even if it wasn’t my line. Limiting my advice to keeping the rod tip up and letting out line when the fish demanded it, I set my rod down and carefully moved downstream of the missus. I calmly instructed her to bring the fish head first into the net. For one heart-stopping moment the 12-inch rainbow would have flopped out were it not for my cat-like ninja reflexes luck.

Yes, my wife did receive a proper fly fishing baptism, falling into the water a few times. (No water over the waders and nothing broken.) Tangles were minimal and, amazingly, not one fly was lost the entire day. I do worry, however, that had she hooked (and landed) all the fish that hit her flies, she would have out-fished me.

Ask my wife why she stepped up to try fly fishing and you’ll get some sentimental nonsense that it’s another way to spend time with her husband. That day, in a cool stream away from everyday worries, after landing a trout, she told me of a new understanding of why I enjoy fly fishing.

While we’re not running out to buy her new gear, I’m now optimistic that there’s a greater chance of fly fishing any suspect water we pass during our travels.


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on becoming one of those guys

Opening day of the general trout season in California is this Saturday.

But I won’t be on the water. I will instead sacrifice the first opportunity to be skunked on my favorite stream for the greater good. (Very Vulcan of me, right?)

The first two years after I picked up a fly rod — some seven years ago — I would start preparing for the new trout opener a few weeks after the closing of the previous season.

I do still care about the trout opener. It opens wading access on the west slope of the Sierra usually long before the passes to the eastside are cleared. Being on the water at the earliest legal minute had become tradition. Even back when I was throwing hardware, it wasn’t about filling the freezer; it was simply about being out there, working the rust out of skills unused during the winter. Four seasons ago I accepted the invite of a fellow forum contributor to join him opening day in chasing down backcountry trout. He would provide the four-wheel drive truck, I provided flies. It was a day filled with good friendship, great weather and beautiful country unseen by most. Unfortunately, any trout that may have been in the half dozen streams we visited remained unseen.

The biggest influence in my changed opening day perspective is also one of the bigger rewards that have come with fly fishing. Notwithstanding the excitement of a big Eagle Lake rainbow taking me into my backing, I’ve find an unquantifiable pleasure in helping bring others into the sport. My contributions to the club’s novice fly fishing class aren’t huge, but the enthusiasm imparted by the instructors, including myself visibly, sparks something in the students. The payoff often comes a few weeks or months later, when one of those students, all smiles, presents a photo of the fish caught because of something learned in class.

So, while I’m not retired, but I’ve become one of those guys for whom the trout opener only marks the point in time that most trout water is wide open to fishing. I’m lucky enough to have a place in the Sierra foothills available to me most any time, and I have grown content to head up the week after the opener, often to find welcome solitude on most rivers and streams. I have also taken to the challenge of finding the ‘smarter’ fish left behind after the crowds of opening day.

When I finally do make that first cast for trout this year, it’ll be later, but for good reason.


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on “the movie” and stuff

I was correcting a co-worker who thought “A River Runs Through It” involved the pursuit of bass…

…and after suppressing my laughter, then dispensing a quick education on the differences between bucketmouths and trout; a thought occurred to me. The credits for the movie list more than a dozen categories of fish wranglers. The fish were farm-raised stunt doubles, “harmlessly tethered” and not hooked. So, did these fish earn SAG…um…scale?

Death from above?

I’m not much for bass, likely because bass haven’t had much more to offer me besides more refusals than I care to count…

…now there’s another seventh reason to avoid Peacock Bass, at least in the Brazilian Atlantic Forest. Researchers at the Universidade Federal de Pernambuco have discovered a new species of porcupine that lives in one the country’s most endangered forest ecosystem. It lives in trees. (I don’t know about you, but I have had things fall on me while fishing. Thankfully, nothing alive…yet.) This species joins the six known porcupine species in the region…


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from above the water it’s all conjecture

I remember my first attempts to fool the trout I hoped were there, with doubts that my own brain could conceive of what they were thinking.

That’s the problem with drowning some thread wrapped around a wire, only the result offers a clue that something’s being done right.

Above the waterline trout are thought of as efficient eating machines and for all the bluster about understanding why they do what they do, it’s all observation and anthropomorphic guess work without any true knowing.

I find myself leaning toward acceptance that more often than not I’m only fooling the quarry I hook during a momentary lapse of vigilance.

Recent studies, however, may offer a scientific glimpse into what’s so far only outwardly apparent.

Scientists have just observed a thought swimming through the brain of a live fish, and that thought concerned getting something good to eat.

— via Discovery News, Jan. 31, 2013 (from Current Biology)

Extension of this research could offer real insight.

Makes me wonder if I really want to know what that trout really thinks about my home-tied fly that it just refused.


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a week of fishing, part one: wherein I learn to slow down, enjoy Hot Creek and have fun with small dry flies

This year’s annual club trip to the Eastern Sierras — organized by yours truly — came a tad bit later this year, but its planning nearly nine months ago couldn’t anticipate the snowfall that wouldn’t arrive last winter. From afar I watched the guide reports and river flows, but all of that was forgotten two Sundays ago, once an amazingly fat brook trout slammed the first dry fly cast into a suspect pool.

This is a good time of year to be in the Eastern Sierras. Fewer people, perhaps only the hardier (and those without kids), remain to fish, hike and camp. Being a bit more mature, our group rents a couple of rustic cabins, though we do cook dinner ourselves (clam linguine one night). The days are often cloudless and, at an elevation of 7,000 feet, this expanse of high desert warms up fast. Temperatures swing the other direction just as fast, dropping to the mid-to-low 30s in the evening. Startlingly brilliant stars illuminate the clear nights.

Once over Sonora Pass, my first stop was on the Little Walker River. This small water is often overshadowed by its bigger brethren, the East Walker and West Walker rivers, which offer bigger and more fish. A year after discovering the charm of the Little Walker, and during my first turn as “fishmaster” for this trip, I fished this creek with the club’s outings chairman. We had a wonderful time finding wild brook, brown and rainbow trout exactly where they should be. Jim has since passed away, but the Little Walker reminds me of his broad smile.

Little Walker Brook Trout

It surprised me to see a brookie so big in the Little Walker.

It was with Jim that I first explored Hot Creek, one of the waters that would be frequented during the week. Since I’d have six full days to fish, and in light of Hot Creek’s popularity, the plan was to fish it during midweek. It was a sound philosophy; avoiding as many other fly fishermen as possible and hoping that reduced fishing pressure over a day or two would improve my chances.

Hot Creek Morning

Hot Creek Morning.

Hot Creek has been the marlin to my Santiago. It’s a spring creek with a high fish population, estimated to be 8,000 to 10,000 trout per mile. But these are highly educated trout that have probably seen every fly in the catalog. Throw in clear, low water and weeds that limit opportunities to small lanes and the chance of a drag-free drift, and this fly fishing heaven can become hellish, particularly late in the year. Most descriptions of Hot Creek include words that tend to scare me: “technical,” “attentive mends,” “drag-free drifts,” “multiple hatches.” That first visit with Jim five years ago didn’t dispel any of my trepidation, despite my landing two decent fish.

Although I was on the road Tuesday morning later than intended, I descended into the canyon well before the sun was fully on the water. A single fly fisherman had arrived before me. Reminding myself that there was no need to rush, I slowly and softly walked upstream, taking time to stop and watch the water. In the absence of light, the water was dark and unyielding.

Trusting to my experience that fish would be in a familiar spot, I finally stopped to cast a size 16 dark brown-bodied caddis trailing a smaller dropper (maybe size 22, or 24); a red-butt zebra midge type of fly made up during a fit of madness inspiration at the fly-tying vise. This was truly blind casting. There was a lane big enough to allow for a decent drift of about two feet. I kept my false casts short and out of view of the trout I hoped were there, and used a single-haul cast to finally lay the flies on target. The caddis dipped on my third cast and a good-looking 11 inches of brown trout went airborne. I don’t know if it’s the lack of depth in the creek, but I don’t think I’ve seen brown trout as acrobatic as those in Hot Creek.

Hot Creek Brown

Hot Creek Brown. Love that pectoral fin!

With the first fish to the net, my pulse finally began to slow and my body relaxed. My casting settled down. Two more fish made it to my net during the next hour, one a dark-hued rainbow of about 14 inches. There are bigger fish in Hot Creek, but any decent fish hooked, played through the mass of weeds, and landed, is still a pretty big deal in my book.

Soon the first few caddisflies and mayflies appeared in the air as sunlight began to warm the water. The sunlight also revealed pods of fish, some hovering between weeds, others just on the edge.

Hot Creek Rainbow

Yes it was dark, but this wild fish also has a dark cast to it.

I downsized my caddis fly to a size 22, hoping that it might get a look or two. It did, but only in passing. I would land a total of six fish that morning and walk out of the canyon feeling pretty good about it. But it was a conversation — with a friendly guy who toughs out his year splitting time between fly fishing the Eastern Sierra and running a scuba shop in Cabo San Lucas — that had me pondering a return in the evening.

But that’s another story for another time.