Time: 12:30pm - 6:00pm- Sunday
Sunday was a lackadaisical day at Mystery Creek, lackadaisical weekend really. April 25, 2009- opening day of trout season in California, my original plans were to fish Butterball Creek but as happened on the Lower Stanislaus, the thought of an opening day contest of who can get to the stream first weighed on me. I didn’t want to have to leave the house at 4am to be the first on Butterball Creek and I didn’t want to fish behind someone else, as happened last year. I'm jaded; I simply didn’t go. I spent much of Saturday doing nothing really. I figured I just go on Sunday.
Sunday came and at 9am I was comfortably sitting on the sofa watching the New Fly Fisher on a local PBS channel. Ironically, it was a high country episode about fishing for Golden Trout in Montana. That and a little prodding from Vita was all it took to get me off the couch. By 10am I was on my way to Yosemite. It’s a 3 hour drive from my house in the San Francisco Bay Area to Yosemite and though I’ve done the drive as a day trip many times, I wasn’t really sold on making the trip. Mystery Creek is about 45 min. this side of Yosemite and as I thought about it, I realized that I hadn’t fished it in a year and half. That’s a long time for me not to have fished Mystery Creek ..... last year just seemed to go by so quickly.
Mystery Creek is local and popular. It no doubt had been hammered on Saturday and I wasn’t too sure about the fishing prospects on Sunday. It was sure to be “fished out” but I decided that if the parking lot was empty, I’d stop and fish. Sure enough, the lot was empty.
I like to sight fish in the lower section but the sun was at the wrong angle and I truthfully didn’t have the patience. I fished up through the lower section without catching or even seeing a fish. The stream had actually changed quite a bit from my last visit and some of my favorite runs were almost un-recognizable. At times I found myself standing in areas I should have been fishing.
Despite my apathy, I was pretty happy with how my new 3wt was performing, easy casting, I didn’t have to think much about the rod or where I wanted the fly. Tip recovery was good and I seemed to know exactly when to stop on the back cast so that I wouldn't tangle in the brush. Generally when I’m just going through the motions like this, I tend to tangle and get hung up everywhere. This didn’t happen with this rod.
I was pretty much alone until I got close to the big fish water. The closer I got, the more folks I ran into. Sure enough the big fish run had several folks fishing it. Not as crowded as it could be but crowded enough to make it un-appealing. The bait and spin guys were on the bank but there was a fly fisher making his way down to the pocket that seems to give up the best fish. The water from a riffle above flows into the deep pocket. There’s a drop off at the base of a large tree and an undercut bank. The pocket is twice as deep as it looks and if you can get a fly to the bottom without hanging up on moss, you’re bound to catch a good fish.
He fished down into the pocket and I asked if I could fish the riffle above. He had no problem with that so I did. Lackadaisical is the word and when I hooked a good fish in the riffle, he rolled and I figured he was foul hooked. I made a half hearted attempt to get him in that ended in a long distance release. I moved up from the riffle to a plunge pool above. There was a family sitting a little bit upstream from the pool. I didn’t see any rods so I figured they weren’t fishing. I was wrong. On my second on third cast to the pool I hooked a bait line. I reeled in my line to untangle my fly and followed the bait line. He had his rod sitting in the trees while he and his family did whatever they were doing upstream. This pool has some pretty big fish and I’m not sure what the guy thought he was going to do if he actually hooked a fish. He didn’t know that I had snagged his line and wouldn’t have known if he hooked a fish. To top that off, any hooked fish would have probably pulled his entire rig into the stream.
A little perplexed, I went back to the riffle. I’d never noticed this before but most folks apparently park at the fish hatchery. The hatchery provides easy access to this section of stream and closes at 3:30pm. Several years back I would hit the big fish water in the late afternoon to fish dry flies. It was almost always empty and this explains it. At 3:15pm, everybody left and I had the water to myself. At about 4pm I decided to pack it up but as I waded downstream to head out, I spotted a fish and went into, “If I can see it, I can catch it mode.” I was still being a little lackadaisical. Instead of crouching and being sneaky, I continued to stand straight up so I could see the fish. I was careful with my movements though and managed to make several good casts to the fish. I have never seen a fish take and spit out a fly so fast. I made the cast, my fly drifted back, the fish went to intercept it, I was probably a little slow on the set. I didn’t set instinctively but had to think- “he’s got it”. In the instant it took for that thought to materialize, the fish had spit out the fly. My jaw dropped. "That was fast."
I made several more casts but the fish wouldn’t take. At first he’d move to intercept and then turn away. It came to the point where he simply stopped moving for the fly. I was going to switch flies when I decided to make one more cast, a little further upstream, in order to get my fly to sink a little deeper, slow it down a bit and get a better drift. Wham! I hooked a larger fish just above it which I hadn’t seen. This fish popped my 6x tippet like silly string and moved my target fish off station. I spotted another fish, and this time with 5x tippet, made several casts in its direction.
By this time I had been joined by a bait fisher. We struck an interesting conversation. While we were essentially fishing the same water, he started to tell me of a fellow he ran into yesterday with “no common courtesy”. The Bubba Factor hackles on the back of my neck went up. Intrigued to find out what this fellow, who so casually came and plopped himself down in the same water as me (when almost the entire run was empty of fishers), thought was proper fishing etiquette, I pressed him a bit on it…..Do tell, “what exactly did he do?”
Apparently, the other fellow came up beside him. This wasn’t the inconsiderate part but then apparently he started fishing. Imagine that. Even that wasn’t the problem. It wasn’t a problem that they were fishing the same water, it wasn’t a problem they were standing 10 feet apart, the problem was that the other fellow wouldn’t wait for him to complete his cast, so they kept catching each other’s line. How inconsiderate. The fellow was nice but he kept casting to the water I was fishing so I decided it was time to go, again.
I made several steps down stream with every intention of leaving when I saw a few fish taking dries on the far bank. Fish always seem smaller to me when seen in the water, it must be the refraction of the water. I figured they were simply little 8 and 10 inch fish. I cut my hare’s ear off and tied on a small parachute Adams. All day I’d seen caddis and small mays flying around and now, late in the afternoon there was obvious midge action. I made a few casts and had several rejections. I thought for a minute and decided to tie on 6x. These fish had been hammered for the last two days and I figured they might be a bit leader shy. The 6x would also help me get a better drift with my short 7ft leader.
I drifted the fly right over the fish’s nose and it confidently sucked it in. The rise was slow and deliberate- a rise to a hatching midge or mayfly, something that wouldn’t be quick to fly away. My strike on the other hand was one reserved for a caddis induced rise, quick and sure. Too quick and I pulled the fly out of 3 fishes mouths before slowing my reaction time down. What’s worse is that once they were pricked by that parachute Adams, they wouldn’t take it again. Unfortunately, the parachute Adams was the only mayfly imitation that I had in my box. I had my leaf of confident flies and my leaf of ant imitations and the fish were not interested in ant, beetle or caddis imitations.
Enter the hat. I had a size 22 emerging black midge imitation stuck in the weave of my Cal Trout cap. It has a small post of white foam but doesn’t float high enough that I can actually see it. One of the fish on the far bank began to rise steadily and confidently again, slow deliberate porpoise rises. I made the cast, the fly landed I don’t know where, because I couldn’t see it. The fish rose, I waited for it to complete the rise and turn down and struck. It was text book. The fly embedded itself in the center of the upper jaw. I landed this fish and was shocked when the fish I thought was 8 inches turned out to be a skinny 13 inches.
I was now officially out of my lackadaisical mood and in full fish predator mode. I was having too much fun to leave now. I took a few steps up stream and peered into the water. A fish moved. “I see you.” I saw two fish actually, one very close to me and the other on the far side of the stream below a rock. Both were perfectly camouflaged but their occasional movement gave them away. I worked both fish for a long while. The near fish simply wasn’t interested. The distant fish had followed my fly a couple of times; I simply hadn’t had a great drift.
Confident that I could catch this second fish, I took a step upstream and made a cast a foot farther upstream with a little more slack. I had switched back to the Adams; I could see it and I hadn’t yet pricked this fish. Out of the shadows above my target a fish, a much larger fish slowly turned, that slow deliberate turn that only big fish do. It expended no energy and simply turned with the current.
It was a slow motion affair and just as my fly started to drag a huge head slowly rose to the surface and sucked it in. I paused and a big pressure wave hit the surface as I set the hook. The fish gave me and my little 3wt quite a tussle and as I held my leader in my hand, waiting for the fish to stop rolling around and splashing at my feet, it bumped a rock, the fly released and the fish was gone. I was happy with that. I’ll never really know how big that fish was but it really doesn’t matter. The memory of that fish turning to inhale the small Adams made the day and will be one of many from this surprising little put and take fishery.