July 6, 2011 Cottonwood Lakes Basin
The Wednesday after Independence Day I decided to make a quick trip to the Cottonwood Lakes area. My midmorning start had me arriving at Tuolumne Meadows in the early afternoon. To say the meadow is flooded is an understatement. It would be more apt call it Tuolumne Lake.
I decided to spend a couple of hours on Tioga Lake before heading down to Hot Creek and finally up to the Cottonwood Lakes trailhead for the night.
Fishing at Tioga Lake had potential but my time was cut short when a thunderstorm rolled in at about 2pm. 2pm is a bit early for a thunderstorm but those of us that enjoy the mountains, will likely have to expect the unexpected in the high country this year. There's no telling how the huge snowpack will affect the weather this season or if the strange weather that brought the strange snow pattern this year has past.
The parking lot at Hot Creek was more crowded than I expected. I suspect folks were taking advantage of the short work week to take some time off. The water at Hot Creek was higher than I've ever seen it. It was over the banks in some places. Not a problem really. Hot Creek is still Hot Creek. The bugs are there and with the ridiculously plentiful fish population, there always seem to be some fish working. You simply need to find them and make a good presentation. Some days I can do that, some days not.
I used my usual go to nymphs for this stream and basically fished it like I always do- from my knees, fishing to the near bank, pockets and seams. Some of the normally productive spots didn't produce fish. That was likely due to my presentation more than anything else. The high water created some really great spots and as always I tried to fish water I thought other anglers might miss. When most folks seem to be standing and fishing mid-stream, this essentially means the water under your rod.
I fished for a couple of hours, catching fish in the 12 to 16 inch range before another thunderstorm rolled in. I wrapped things up about 1.5 hours earlier than I normally might. This was for the best as I was able to catch the end of happy hour at the Chart House restaurant in Mammoth. Chart House is a pricey place but great deals can be found on the happy hour menu. Select the right dish and you essentially get a full Chart House meal at a "not the Chart House" price.
After dinner I made the 3 hour drive to the Cottonwood Lakes trailhead. Again, the parking lot was more full then I expected. I made a mental note to not fish during 4 day work weeks if I can help it. In the morning the two hour hike to the first lake went by quickly. Upon arriving, I noticed the incoming storm clouds and shortly after finishing my post hike snack, I could hear the faint rumble of thunder over Mt. Langley. I doubted I would be able to fish the lakes as long or as thoroughly as I'd planned. I'd originally hoped to fish until 5pm or 6pm and visit lakes 1 and 2; but, I expected the storms to move in about 2pm and I didn't want to be anywhere near them when they did.
I lucked out and spotted fishing immediately. I had planed to fish the weed beds but the turf and rock shoreline was treating me just fine. I started out fishing a Stillwater Nymph and quickly went through several Stillwater Nymph variations before switching over to a small Gold Ribbed Hares Ear. The Stillwater Nymphs will produce on these lakes and before the trip I had tied several variants to try out. The fish simply didn't seem interested. The GRHE and its variants are really becoming my go to flies. The fishing was pretty consistent. Not crazy hand over fist action but not exactly slow either. The takes where subtle but once hooked, these fish went crazy. They definitely did not want to be attached to a fishing line.
By about 12:30 pm the distant rumbles had become not so distant rumbles and a light drizzle had started. If my guess about the storms rolling in about 2pm was correct, it was past time for me to leave. I packed up my gear and headed back to the car. I had just crested the plateau before the trailhead when a loud clap of thunder reverberated across the sky. I looked at my watch.
"Right on schedule" I thought to myself.
"I wonder how close it is?"
Just then I could see a flash of lighting in the distance. I started counting to myself "one one thousand... two one thousand"... KABOOM!!! (It takes 5 seconds for the sound of thunder to travel 1 mile once lightning has struck.)
"Lovely, right in the middle of another high country storm. "
I looked around. Most of old Foxtail Pine trees are pretty well spaced out, of even height and bare. The plateau would not offer much protection in a storm and if I hadn't been so close to my car, the correct course of action would have been to turn around and take shelter in the Cottonwood Creek valley. I knew I was less than a half mile from my car so I decided to make a run for it. It started to hail and the thunder worsened. My car was directly across from the interpretive signs at the trailhead. I quickly retrieved some items from the bear box and headed home. Another quest for golden trout concluded.