May 22nd - May 28th, 2009 Hot Creek, Heart Lake,

Time: Hot Creek Ranch, generally 10:00 am to 3:00 pm. Heart Lake 11:30am to 3:00pm Weather: Partly Cloudy to thunderstorms.
Water Temps: Didn't take.
Water Level: High
Water Conditions: Off Color at Hot Creek, Clear at Heart Lake.
Moon Phase: New Moon on Sunday
Insects Observed: micro caddis at Hot Creek
Hours fished:
Too lazy to count, Iím guessing in the next section.
# of fish caught:  donít know.
Size of fish caught:  Landed at least 1 20 plus inches fish, several in the 15 to 18 inches classes, LDRed many of the same at Hot Creek. 3 to 6 inch brook trout and 1 8 inch brown in LLV.
Method: Sight fishing with a 7.5ft 6x leader in lakes, 5x at Hot Creek. Short Line Nymphing without an indicator on Hot Creek. Casting to sighted fish on lakes
Set Up:  Medium Action Cane 8ft 4wt rod on Hot Creek, Medium Action 7ft 3wt rod both made by me.
Flies:  Invicta, Size 12 Beadhead Gold Ribbed Black Wet Fly, CDC Cripple Caddis, Cripple Caddis

Narrative:

This year marks the second that Vita and I started our Mammoth trip at Hot Creek Ranch. It certainly does change things a bit and this year, instead of spending the entire trip on the ranch, we spent 3 days on the ranch and another 3 in Mammoth.

Check in at the Ranch is 4pm on Friday but I waited until Saturday to fish. Saturday after breakfast I walked down to the fly shop on the ranch to check the white board- ďnymph fishing allowed until further notice.Ē



The run off this year had the stream high and off color. Hatches were scarce and instead of the normal ďdry fly onlyĒ policy, nymphing would be allowed until conditions improved.

A dream come true it would seem. Iíve often thought about the fish one could catch if we were simply allowed to nymph the ranch water. I started off using the same black softhackle / CDC cripple caddis that I use in the public section. I started by looking for working fish but with the stained water it was difficult. I sat at the same run where Erik and I spent most of our time at last year. I knew where to expect the fish so I sat where the riffle dumped into deeper water before swinging around a right hand bend. I made a couple of blind casts and caught a couple of fish. It all seemed too easy.

Each time I caught a fish, Iíd walk it downstream, release it and return to the same spot. These fish were relatively small, 12 inches or so. After releasing my second fish, I spotted a nice fish at my knees. I was sitting 3 feet from the edge of the bank and it sat an additional eight or twelve inches away.

When I made the cast, I lost track of the fish and concentrated on my drift. I watched my leader drift by me then stopped. I set the hook into a nice 16 inch rainbow. That fish was satisfying but I felt like I should have been fishing dries. I fished dries for the next 4 hours with no success. It was my 3rd time fishing this year and, tired of playing the martyr, I put the nymphs back on and the fish came thick and fast.

Mid afternoon I walked downstream to fish the bluffs. This area had been hit pretty hard all day but with most folks walking the bank instead of kneeling, I figured I had a good bet at reaching some fish the others had pushed off the bank.

I sat at the bottom of the bluffs, again where riffle water dumped into deeper water and looked for fish. I saw a fish flash and on my 3rd or 4th cast I had a solid hook up. Fish always look smaller to me than they really and first I thought the fish was foul hooked. I played the fish patiently and could clearly see the large black soft hackle firming imbedded in the fishís mouth.

Landing fish on Hot Creek without a net can be difficult and Iíd lost plenty of fish and flies at the last minute while pulling the fish to shore by hand. Fortunately, I didnít lose this fish and when I measured it against my rod, it measured out at 20 to 21 inches. Wow. Iíd come to the ranch, hoping to catch a 20 inch fish, something that I couldnít do last year, and here I was catching that fish on the first day.



Not too surprisingly I guess, I lost all interesting in fishing and called it a day.

Sunday was much the same. I fished mid day to afternoon, the 8ft 4wt I made last year is perfect for this water and a joy to fish. Sunday night I was joined by my friend Roger. We spent a pleasant night fishing and discussing high country fishing.

Monday was check out day. With three hours between check out time at the Ranch and check in time at our hotel, Vita joined me on the river. She went camera crazy and was able to capture the big fish of the day on film. We were upstream from the cabins, looking for trout, when a large fish smacked the surface. I dropped by flies and had a rod jarring strike. I had lost a large fish the night before with Roger and was careful not to lose this one. One of these days Iíll remember to bring a net.



Tuesday Vita and I spent the day in Bishop and did some exploring around South, North and Sabrina Lakes. I was hoping the area above South Lake was clear enough for a day hike on Wednesday but there was still too much snow. Both forks of Bishop Creek had plenty of trout but I chose exploration over fishing. In town I was able to find spar spools for the discontinued and hard to find Orvis Battenkill Spring and Pawl reel I picked up earlier this year.

I spent that evening on the public section of Hot Creek. I did well, but lost all of my favorite Hot Creek flies trying to land large fish without kneeling and staining my blue jeans. I should have changed into some other pants but was lazy and paid for it.

I never do particularly well in the Little Lakes Valley, Iím not sure why. I catch fish but theyíre always smaller than what I suspect I should be getting. Wednesday was no different. I hiked into Heart Lake to fish with my new 3wt but also to try out my new Simms Freestone Travel waders and Off Road Crocs. It was a brilliant combination. The 3wt performed beautifully and has replaced the Payne 97 as my favorite light trout rod. At 1lb 3oz in a large or medium king size, the discontinued Simms Freestone Travel waders from 2006 are the lightest waders I can find. On the way to Mammoth we stopped by the Bass Pro Shop and picked up a pair of Off Road Crocs to replace the Mary Jane Crocs that I tested in the Golden Trout wilderness last year. The Off Road Crocs are heavier but well worth the extra weight.



The Crocs performed beyond expectations. Light, comfortable and incredibly sticky when wet. The crocs navigated wet rock better than some wading shoes Iíve owned. They worked so well, that I simply hiked back to the car in them rather than taking them off.

When I got to Heart Lake there were several fish working the surface. They turned out to be tiny, tiny fish and after traversing most of the lake, I decided to concentrate on the outlet stream. I might have done better at the lake fishing subsurface. All the guys that I know that do well in the LLV seem to fish subsurface but in the outlet stream there were bigger fish, willing to take dry flies.

I worked downstream from Heart Lake to Marsh Lake with the plan to fish my way back to the car. The water was crystal clear and the deeper sections appeared as turquoise blue pockets. I was sure I was putting fish down as I walked the bank but on the far side of the stream, far being a relative term as it was probably only 20 feet across, I found the perfect lie. Downstream the stream forked into two equal halves. There was a small canyon of turquoise water that spanned the stream diagonally from bank to bank. The downstream portion was on the far bank.



The currents were manageable, a faster central main current mid stream and slower currents on the edges. I made several drifts over the bright blue line and was somewhat surprised that the fish hadnít shown themselves. At the point furthest from me there was a large rock at the end of the diagonal line. It was a spot that Iíd noted immediately but made the effort to fish out to it instead of hitting it straight away. I made several casts to the rock. On the first several casts the fly would catch the current and start to drag just a bit too early.

Itís always the last cast that has the best drift. Thatís what makes it the last cast. Instead of quickening as it reached the rock, the fly slowed and a nice brown trout slowly stuck itís snout above the surface and sucked the fly in.


It had been sprinkling on and off all day but it was now mid afternoon and time for the storms to come in earnest. I decided to hike back down to the portion of Rock Creek between Mack Lake and the trailhead- a stream that I first fished with Vita more than 10 years ago. Itís a fun stream with small brookies and would allow me to continue fishing while waiting for the incoming thunderstorms. When I reached the stream, a man and his son where already fishing. No problem, I put in above them as they seemed to be working downstream and just as I reached the edge of the water, the first thunder clap of the afternoon shook the small valley. It was quickly followed by a second.

I hightailed it out of the Little Lakes Valley and over to Hot Creek. When I arrived I was surprised to see all of the parking lots filled with cars. The stream had been hammered. I fished the 7ft 3wt I fished in the LLV but didnít catch anything larger than 15 or 16 inches nor did I catch the really hot fish thatís Iíd caught the day before or on the ranch. I was hoping to hook a bigger fish and test out the rod a bit. It didnít happen.

I fished until the shadows hit the water and then called it a night. It would be light enough to fish for another hour and half but Vita was waiting for me to join her for dinner. My last two fish were a rainbow and a brown trout of about the same size, pulled from the same pocket. This seemed as good as any point to end the day and the trip.

 

 

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