April 29, 2012- Butterball Creek, Yosemite National Park
Time: 10:00am to 2:00pm
I canít remember the last time I actually fished on opening day weekend. Iím sure a quick look through the chronicles would tell me but it seems like forever. The jet lag that I awoke with didnít help to abate that feeling but by the time I reached the water any thoughts of missed trips of the past were long gone.
Itís been a long time since Iíve fished Butterball Creek in such perfect conditions. The air temps were high, the creek was full and the water level robust. I was a bit surprised to find my thermometer missing when I went to take the water temps but the fish were active and thatís all that really matters.
Over the years Iíve kind of become a creature of habit when I fish this stream. I fish a funky ant imitation that I tied almost a decade ago. It probably shouldnít work, doesnít seem to work elsewhere but works amazingly well here- out fishing the other ant flies Iíve tried. I tied 3 of these flies 10 years ago, I only use them here and Iíve got two left.
I was pretty determined not to make all the ďfirst fishĒ mistakes that usually accompany a long layoff from fishing, especially small stream fishing. You know the ones that have you catching your line on every stray branch, spooking fish and generally fishing poorly. Iíve written before that all it takes is slowing down. Thatís what I did.
I sat on the bank taking it all in as I strung up my imitation Paul Young Midge rod. It had been far too long since Iíd been on a high country stream. The last 6 months of globetrotting had taken its toll and I needed the rejuvenation that only comes from a trout on the end of a fly line and leader.
I watched the water and immediately trout came into view- a nice fish in the pressure cushion of a tailout in front of me. I pulled some line off the reel, gathered a few loose coils between my thumb and forefinger and shot my line up into the current. It was not a great drift but not a bad cast considering the layoff. The bow and arrow cast was perfect, only the drift was lacking. Three casts later the dry fly drifted ever so slowly into the tail andÖÖ nothing. I was pretty happy with that cast so I slowly inched my way upstream.
Slow was the name of the game. I carefully read the water, noted the surround brush and managed to place my fly where I needed it without hanging upÖÖmostlyÖÖ In the next run my fly sank and when it surfaced it was in the jaws of a small Butterball Brown Trout.
I fished slowly but quickly. Slow deliberate movements but quickly on to the next section of stream. In a very short time I reached the big pool that is the confluence of the two forks in this part of the canyon. Over the years brush has covered some of the better holding lies and to this day, I leave those lies alone. The creek is small enough that one could easily clear the brush and likely find themselves into bigger fish but the challenge is to fish the stream as it is or as it has become. Subtle changes year after year make coming back a challenge.
I set myself up behind a large rock on the right side of the pool with my right hip leaning on the rock and my left leg calf deep in the tailout. To the right the pool buttresses up against the rock and forms slack water. The portion of the rock I hid behind jets out a bit forming a bathtub sized eddy. Iím mostly protected from view so long as I donít make any sudden movements with my rod. A tree sits to the immediate left. Wayward hook ups easily find their way into the tree if Iím not careful. Iím lucky. I hang up in that tree only once. Itís the tree at the head of and immediately over the pool thatís giving me trouble. I leave three flies in its branches and on my way upstream Iím only able to retrieve one. The ants survive to fish another season.
This pool is one of satisfaction and frustration. Satisfaction in that Iím still warding off ďfirst fishĒ syndrome. Iím putting the flies where I need them with drifts that will catch fish. Frustration in that I manage to land two fish from eight strikes. One fish is a fair sized rainbow thatís made its way down the canyon from the steep mossy plunge pools above. Now thatís itís made its way to the main stem of the stream, itís filling out and not the pencil thin skinny that are characteristic of its kin living on the edge of the swift plunges above.
I fished a small pocket above the pool before retrieving my flies and heading upstream to the trail crossing. Iíd hoped to spend the day fishing my way deep into the canyon of the creek, taking my time at each run and spending several hours doing so. Unfortunately, that would take the better part of the day to do and I simply didnít have that kind of time.
By hiking around a small rocky outcropping, I probably travelled less than two fly lines length in distance but easily cut an hour or two off my fishing time. Such is the slow, measured approach that this stream requires. To do so meant heading back downstream to where I spotted that first fish and made that first cast. Above the fish this time, I shot a bow and arrow cast midstream and then immediately started feeding line. The fish took the fly with one of those rises that stays in your memory. It seemed to happen in slow motion. The fish came from under the fly and opened its mouth wider than I would have thought possible. It was a sight that perhaps only a trout fisherman could appreciate.
In retrospect, I think that was the last fish I landed. I truly canít remember. For me, itís less about catching fish and more about fooling the fish, eliciting that elusive strike; getting that perfect drift under that branch that was ďtoo lowĒ to fish by those too afraid to trade a fly for a fish. Some days Iím that guy and when I am, Iím not doing what I need to do catch fish. I know it but canít always stop myself. Some days I forget what it means to be a small stream fly fisher. Some days I donít appreciate the small stream, some days I donít approach it with the proper reverence. Fortunately, that Sunday was not one of those days.I continued upstream, fooling but not catching fish for the remainder of my stay. When it was over I said my good byes to Butterball Creek and its trout; hopeful that I would be back next year and grateful that I had had my time to enjoy the stream this year.