Weather: Sunny and Cold
Method: Doesn't matter, didn't catch any fish.
Traditionally the high country season for me ends in late September or October. September can actually have some of the best lake fishing but by the first few weeks of autumn my attentions turn from east and the high Eastern Sierra to north and the great fishing on the Upper Sacramento. The last week in September through the end of regular Trout season are reserved for the waters at the base of Mt. Shasta. Itís tradition for me.
This year, my high country season has been extended. Iíve not heard it called this yet, but for all intents and purposes, California is in a drought. The high country received very little snow this year and streams all over the state have run lower than normal. This has itís benefits and drawbacks. The obvious benefit is that it allows one to fish the high country sooner in the year, as was the case during our annual Mammoth trip. The not so obvious benefit is that it also allows one to fish high country lakes late in the year and with Tioga Pass open, even make a trip east to Hot Creek. Thus it came to pass that I found myself fishing the Crystal Basin, just south east of the Desolation Wilderness, and the Emigrant Wilderness during the last two weekends of November.
The Crystal Basin is between the North Fork and the South Fork of the American River. I decided to take advantage of the lack of late fall snows. Two days after the close of regular trout season, I found myself driving beside the Silver Fork of the American as it snakes itís way along highway 50. My destination- the deserted parking lot at Wrights Lake. Iíd never fished Wrights before but had passed it on the way to the Barrett Lake jeep trail. The lake was crystal clear and completely still. It was cold. The ambient air temperature was low but I hoped that the relatively balmy weather this late in the season would have the fish actively searching for a last meal before the lake froze over for the winter. This would not be the case and it became apparent to me that the lake had already turned over and the fish were deep and nearly hibernating. Fish of course don't "hibernate" but they come close. The cold water will slow a fish's metabolism a point where it needs very little food during the winter.
I geared up and circumvented the lake looking for fish and likely holding water. I found a large dead fish lying in the water about 10 feet from shore. This was somewhat encouraging; at least I knew the fish were here. The edges of the lake were encrusted in ice and frozen grass crackled under my feet as I explored the shoreline. It was a beautiful, yet dismal scene. A shallow, empty flat reached out from shore 20 to 40 feet into the lake. It was lifeless, nothing but rock and silt. Not a fish in sight.
Slowly the lifeless flat disappeared and was replaced by deeper water and weed beds. Things were looking good and I turned a corner to find several fisherman lining the bank. I planned to circumvent the entire lake before fishing so I continued on.
I found the inlet stream which was a deep channel. The edges of the stream dropped straight down from the bank and appeared to be at least 12 feet deep. Fortunately there was a bridge over the stream and from it I could see a meadow and more water. I wasnít sure if it was another lake so I decided to check it out and found myself in the most beautiful place Iíve seen all year. My pictures simply do not do it justice. The stream wound itís away around the meadow, there were two meadows actually but I only chose to visit the one. In the middle was a small lake or weir pool and I wondered if it was legal to fish this time of year.
I had made the mistake of presuming that all the streams in this area had closed to fishing on November 15th, the end of the regular trout season. I checked the regs to make sure that the lakes were open but didnít check the streams. It turns out that the tributaries and forks of the American River are open to year round fishing. Ouch.
I headed back to where the inlet entered the lake and fished. I still hadnít seen any fish but from what Iíd seen so far, the inlet was the most promising portion of the lake. After about 30 minutes, I continued around the lake, casting a bit as I went- still nothing. Finally, I reeled in my line and continued along the shoreline back to the car. There was other water to fish.
Dark Lake as a reputation of being a good trout lake and since itís a short drive from Wrights, I decided to check it out before heading home. I am glad I did. In many ways, Dark reminded me of Camp Lake. It has a sort of intimacy to it. Here was a fishing lake, smaller with better shoreline structure than Wrights, I could see doing well here in summer. I spent about an hour fishing a small cove on Dark Lake before deciding to head homeward. Fishing Dark was fun and Iíll be back, next time with my kayak in tow.