May 24th to May 31, 2013- Hot Creeek Ranch, John Muir Wilderness, Little Lakes Valley
“I can’t believe Roger fished this by himself” I thought just before leaving a reed choked Golden Trout lake in disgust.
The off trail lake, hidden an hour from a popular Eastern Sierra trailhead, is in its last stages of life. Essentially reeds and silt, with a creek channel running down the center, I spent over an hour trying to safely find a way to get within 30 feet of the open water at the center of the lake. At first, I was just annoyed; the shoreline was nothing but reeds and that sucking, smelling, peat type mud. At first glance, the water off the bank looks shallow. Then you step into it and muck swallows your leg up to your knee.
Each step was a goose step and of course the closer to the deep water I managed to get, the deeper it got. I worked my way around the lake, wading in, assessing the distance, wading out, wading back in, trying to get within casting range.
When I finally got within casting range, the matted floor of reeds and muck dropped out from under me on my 4th or 5th cast. It was sudden, jarring and sobering. What appeared to be a solid bottom to the thigh deep muck wasn’t and I dropped down to my waist. It was apparent that I could no longer trust the “firm” ground beneath the muck. How deep was it? Had I simply fallen from one submerged platform to another? How many such platforms might there be? I had no way to know. I struggled to pull my leg out of the muck; doing the mucky mud wiggle trying to release my legs and step back up to what I thought was solid but now knew wasn’t. As I write this, my mind flashes back to other fishing hazards- falling trees fishing for Goose Lake Redbands with Gino, punky logs collapsing underneath me in Yosemite, quicksand at Crystal Lake. We fishermen do at times lead interesting lives……
This was a mid week trip during my annual trip to Mammoth Lakes and Hot Creek Ranch with my wife. The week started as it has the last several years- at Hot Creek Ranch. Roger stayed with us for a night and we fished a small meadow stream that’s known to have large fish. The stream is no wider in most spots than a door mat and can’t be seen until you’re right up on it. It’s become increasingly popular over the years but today we had it to ourselves. Water levels were low and the fish were a bit spooky. I fished my 3wt Stairway Creek rod.
Roger and I spread out and plied the water thoroughly. I sat on the bank as I tend to do watching the water and eating a snack. I was sitting on the outside of a bend, so that I could watch the water up and downstream. There were fish moving in both directions. I made several unsuccessful presentations to the fish upstream before concentrating on the fish downstream. The fish downstream were easier to deal with as they were far enough downstream that they couldn’t see me. The upstream fish spooked at the flash of my fly line or an errant cast. The fish downstream were much more accommodating. I don’t often fish a downstream presentation so it was a fun change. Especially on those occasions when I let the fly drift downstream, around a bend and out of sight, listening for a splash or looking for an upstream ripple before setting the hook.
Dryfly fishing was better than it has been in recent years at Hot Creek. No huge fish showing but plenty of mid-sized fish, 12 to 15 inches, willing to take a dry. I spent a couple of hours on our last afternoon and our last morning sight fishing the bluffs area of the creek. This year the Ranch folks asked their visitors to name the different sections of Ranch water and it seems that every nook and cranny has a name now- far too many for me to remember. I spent a bit of time at a favorite section just above the marshy bend above the bluffs. It’s a favorite section for the challenge. I could fish it from the near bank but always decide to fish it from the opposite bank, requiring a 30 or 40 foot cast, in the wind, with multiple currents. Only 1 in every 5 casts results in a drift good enough to catch fish but the fish are almost always in the 16 to 18 inch range. I get a great sense of accomplishment by just enticing a strike. Far more than I would walking to the other bank and making a 5ft cast to the same fish.
On Memorial Day, Vita and I always leave the Ranch and check into a hotel. The week becomes more about spending time together than fishing but I usually convince her to take one hike with me into the backcountry. This year, the Little Lakes Valley got the nod again. In the past, the farthest she’s been willing to hike is Marsh Lake, this year we hiked one lake past that, to Heart Lake. I fished Heart Lake for an hour or two and managed a quick trip up to Box Lake. My small fish record in this valley remains untarnished. If there are fish greater than 12 inches in the first 4 lakes, I’ve yet to find them…..