May 14th 2011- Butterball and near by creek, Yosemite National Park
9:00am to 2:00pm
Sometimes great fun can be had in the most unlikely of places. I hit Butterball Creek as I tend to do this time of year but instead of hitting the lower section I decided to hit the upper. I had planned to hit the upper section the past few years but simply could never resist the lure of the big trout I knew could be found in the lower.
The upper section was an unknown quantity? Did it hold water and thus fish all year around? I didn't know. I hiked down the trail until I heard and then saw the first hint of water through the trees and bushwhacked my way down the off camber hillside, over and sometimes dropping through a thin crust of hip deep snow to the stream.
It was of course a tiny stream, small enough to step over in spots if the steep slope and brush would allow. Never too wide to leap over if one could get a running start, which one couldn't without tangling in the brush or jumping over fallen trees.
The trees, many of them redwoods were rotting and the rotting wood and crusty snow made navigating the stream a bit treacherous. It was an easy place to twist a knee or break an ankle.
And it was cold. The canyon downstream where I normally fish was bathed in sunlight and it was likely prime fishing time down there but the orientation of this particular canyon meant it was much too early in the day to expect the sun to warm the tumbling waters.
I fished, expecting to find a fish in every hole but it did not come pass. I fished upstream until I reached the confluence of two forks and when the confluence refused to produce a fish, I decided to try other tribs of the Central Valley streams which meander through Yosemite.
Before heading out of the park I thought it might be fun to play with the brook trout in a favorite gutter stream. The access was quick and easy and as I made my first approach, I was surprised to see a 14 inch fish under a log on the near bank.
My beadhead broke the surface film and was immediately set upon by the behemoth trout.
At this point I should probably take a step back to explain a bit. "Gutter streams" as I call them, are exactly that. Small, usually no wider than 12 or so inches, they can be incredibly deep for their widths, 3 feet deep or more, though often times less. Typically winding meadow streams, they can be impossible to see until you are right up on the them. Unexpectedly stepping into such a stream can be quite a wake up call.
This portion of the stream was a bit wider than normal and the high grass typical of such streams was replaced by sand.
I set up on the fish and it swam into the long jam and threw the hook. "I'm a bit rusty I thought to myself" as I sent the nymph into the water again. The scenario repeated with a different, smaller fish.
I decided to sit on the bank and wait the first fish to return. 10 minutes quickly turned to 20 minutes which slowly became 30. The fish didn't return. I decided to move on. A few steps upstream the first of many dense "snaggles" appeared. Much of the stream is almost impossible to fish because it becomes entangled in a weave of roots and branches. It is only in a few sections where the tangles give way to marsh where the angler can fish the stream and it is at this lone section, where the tangles give way and the ground is solid, that I landed my first fish.
The trout was illuminated by a few rays of sunlight and could be easily seen holding in the otherwise dark water. My first cast was wide and short of the mark but the next one was spot on and I had the fish quickly to hand. It was a Brown Trout. This was a surprise!
I had planned to quickly catch a few Brook Trout and then move to another stream but the discovery of Brown Trout made things very interesting. Had this meant that the large fish that I'd seen early was a Brown? Probably and I've seen some very large Brown Trout in some very small streams.
I moved around the tangle of low trees to the next open area of the stream. A bog really, where it was difficult to discern "stream" from deep, flooded gaps in the peat. My first several casts where immediately taken but it took some doing to keep the fish on the line and when I finally landed fish number two it was another Brown.
The stream was quickly moving from my "also ran" list to my "destination stream" list. What I found most interesting is that the fish didn't seem to have that really dark look that the long resident Brook Trout have. I'm not sure what that means but I was rewarded with a couple more Brownies as well as Brookies before deciding to explore the lower section of stream.
I've never explored the lower section of stream before. Here it leaves it's meadow like environs and enters into dense forest. It's always been a been a bit too brushy to explore just to catch all too willing average sized Brook Trout. The 14 or so inches trout changed all that. Brook Trout or Brown Trout, if there was one large fish, there had to be others. Tackling the downstream portion of stream meant bushwhacking through dense, tick infested brush. There was no clear path to travel, no fisherman's trail, no deer trail, just a tangle of trees and fallen timber of all shapes and sizes. It took a ridiculous amount of time to go 30 or so yards downstream but I managed to find an small opening with several nice runs upstream of it.
No stealth here. I crashed through the brush with all the grace of an elephant, edged up to the dark woody stream and with a bow and arrow cast, sent my fly to the top of several small runs. I crawled and climbed my way upstream as I did so and in the 3rd run my very mangled beadhead fly found another willing fish. I released a very dark Brown Trout and very quickly ran out of fishable water. I bushwhacked back to the trail and decided to call it a day.