- Thu Jun 30, 2016 12:08 am
[report]So, California has this heritage trout program to bring attention to wild, native trout, protect and restore their habitats and recommend new waters to be designated as wild trout fisheries. To qualify for the challenge six of the trout have to be caught in their historic drainages. No transplants, no matter how old, qualify. If you catch and document six of these rare fish you get a nifty certificate featuring artwork from Joseph Tomelleri.
I’ve caught some of these trout, but three of the hardest fish to track down are called redband trout. They live in a very few miles of stream and are hard to get to. I’ve wanted to complete the challenge for a while now, so about 4-5 years ago I got in touch with a friend of mine who has done the challenge if he had any advice for me. Sure, he said, but you should call me next year if/when the drought is over because these fish live in really small streams and even then in only a few total miles of stream, so it would be best not to stress them out in this drought year. So finally, this year, after five years of drought we got an average year in the central Sierra and about 120% of average in the northern area. So, I give “Bob” a call and ask what he thinks. He thinks it might be a good idea to check it out. Plans are made, a weekend is selected, routes chosen and a silk-lined blindfold chosen for me to wear on the way to these top secret waters.
We are meeting up in northern CA, so I get up early (ish) and get started with the drive from Mammoth Lakes. Eager with anticipation I find just a half a mile down the road is a sign that says “Road closed at Lee Vining due to wildfire.” Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuckk – you’ve got to be kidding me! What am I going to do now? Wait? Cut through Yosemite and add a couple of hours to the trip? I decide to check it out and see what happens.
I left the blurry picture in because it is representative of the mess the area is in. CalFire trucks are everywhere, as are strong, young men, suited up in fire suits and weighted down with gear, many starting up the steep hillside under the hot, summer sun with temperatures approaching 100 already. The work these firefighters do is amazing and I can’t stop leaning out of the window and taking pictures of the fire and the helicopters attempting to douse it. Amazingly, we are let through and a long line of cars starts down the road with the fire burning up the hillside mere feet away.
The drive north is pleasant – it has been far too long since I have been near the Mount Lassen volcano. I must have been lost in reverie because I fail to take any pictures. Later in the day I cross over the mountains and the Mount Shasta volcano comes into view. Again no pictures, but I was probably in reverie over the cold beer to come to think about stopping. Dinner at a bbq joint then a trip to the local brewery (Fall River) top off the evening. The Widowmaker Double IPA is delicious – even more so than the better known Hexagenia single IPA.
The next morning I am sworn to secrecy, then bound and trussed, blindfolded and thrown into the back of Bob’s truck. I do manage to wriggle free a bit and catch glimpses of the two volcanoes as we travel along, but it is not until we arrive at the stream, the tiny stream, where these endangered fish live, that I am freed from captivity. First up is the McCloud River redband which we are hunting in a small stream called John Wayne Creek. At least, some people call it that. Well, okay, just me, but that’s because I don’t know where we are. The fishing is slow to start and I begin to worry if this hunt for the three varieties of redband trout is going to fail on the first try. But finally, after much thrashing of brush, climbing over of rocks and logs and fallen trees, after almost giving up hope…
According to Bob and his son Chris based on previous excursions the water is low and the fish are scarce. Nevertheless, one down, two to go. We start the long drive north to set up camp and (hopefully) get the second variety – the Goose Lake redband. Back in the bed of the truck, I manage to work an arm free to snap this shot of the route. Ok, so we are somewhere between these two volcanos, and that’s all the hotspotting you’ll get out of me.
We arrive, throw together our tents and our gear and head out where we find that again fishing is slow. We move around to different spots – I begin to despair – then I miss a couple of hits – then it happens. I get my only Goose Lake redband of the trip.
When they get larger like this (larger meaning over 6 inches – it’s a relative thing) they lose the red band. But this high up in the drainage that’s all there is, so it’s two for two. Steep banks, thick brush and overall limited accessibility make it tough fishing here. I wonder how many fish this guy has eaten?
Hot, sweaty and tired, yet happy to have gotten at least one fish, I retreat to the car to watch Bob and Chris as they fish.
Did I mention that I had some cold beers in the car? After that refreshing pause I give it another go, but still no luck. The little guys hit my fly several more times, but fail to get it in their mouths (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it). Meanwhile, Chris snags the biggest redband and overall biggest fish of the trip.
Time for another beer.
Somebody else is going to have to watch the door for me now. Make sure to keep the riff-raff out. Outcast (RIP)