September 15, 1982

Martis Creek, Lake Tahoe

Kathy, Jill, and Bill
From the early 1980s through the late 1990s, I worked for EG&G Energy Measurements. Las Vegas was our headquarters, but I often had to travel to satellite locations. We had seven offices scattered throughout the United States (and one in Europe) that supported the various national nuclear weapon laboratories. One of those facilities was in Livermore, California, near the Livermore National Laboratory run by the University of California. Business trips to Livermore got me within reasonable driving distance to Sacramento where my good friend, Bill Bergan, lived.

Bill had moved to Sacramento to wed his sweetheart, Kathy, a few years earlier. He and I had recently become new fathers in 1982; my Nicolas and his Jill were both born that year. Looking back now, it seems quite remarkable that both our wives allowed us to steal away a weekend fishing trip that I was able to tag onto a Livermore business trip.  I guess we were both lucky in marriage that way.

Bill with a Lahontan on the line
Bill had persuaded me to make a weekend foray into the Donner-Truckee area near Lake Tahoe. I always marvel at the number of people Bill knows who have property they freely let him use. Bill has a remarkable ability to befriend all sorts of people. He also has a gracious generosity about him that seems to swell to all those around him. So I was not surprised that a friend had loaned him the use of a condo near the Squaw Valley Ski Resort. The gods of adventure having aligned, I flew into Oakland and drove a rental car to Sacramento. From there Bill drove us to Tahoe. Neither of us had climbed for a couple of years, but Bill insisted we bring the climbing gear in case a granite crag called to our masochistic temperament. I was not overly excited about climbing as family life had changed my perspective on risky adventures, not to mention that our assenting skills were waning. Fortunately, a weekend drizzle reduced our climbing sorties to mere admiration of wet granite cliffs from the highway. The light rain, however, did foretell some excellent fishing on the Martis Creek Lake.

There are four tributaries that feed Martis Creek Lake: Martis Creek, West Fork Martis Creek, Middle Fork Martis Creek, and East Fork Martis Creek. Martis Creek Lake was the first "catch and release trophy trout" lake established in California. Although originally it included rainbow, brown and Lahontan cutthroat trout, I believe they are now trying to establish the lake as a Lahontan sanctuary. Anglers must use barbless hooks and artificial lures only. Live bait is not permitted. Through cooperative efforts with the California Department of Fish and Game, a self-sustaining trout fishery is being established at the lake. All trout caught must be released back into the lake for this program to succeed. No fishing is allowed in the streams above the lake. Back in the late 1800s and early 1900s, these Truckee watershed fish commonly attained weights in the 40 lbs. to 60 lbs. class. Big fish!

A seventeen-inch Lahontan cutthroat along side my Fenwick pack rod
There was a cold drizzle upon arriving at the lake. The immediate benefit of that was solitude; we were the only idiots attempting to fish. We proceeded down to the Martis Creek inlet and began fishing, casting upstream and drifting large streamers down into the lake. Despite the rain, we began to catch numerous Lahontan cutthroats in the fourteen to seventeen inch range. Unfortunately, none had any weight to them… they were all head and tail, just sleek torpedoes. Lahontans are native to the northern arid Great Basin. They are famous for being the largest growing trout species. They used to spawn up the Truckee River, all the way from Pyramid Lake, northeast of Reno. Commercial and sport fishing and especially the introduction of non-native species to the watershed have decimated their numbers. Unfortunately, cutthroats will readily hybridize with rainbows which erodes the gene pool (commonly called “cut-bows”).

After a while, Bill and I started fishing upstream from the lake, casting the large streamers up against the bank and stripping them down in the light rain.  Fortunately, we never saw the "no fishing" sign posted for the creek until after we were done fishing.  In just a few casts, BAM! We both hooked into large cut-bows that seemed close to eighteen inches and weighing two to three pounds. Wow, did those trout like to leap. As my luck would have it, Bill’s camera malfunctioned and I never did get pictures of my large cut-bow. But I do remember it was a twin of Bill’s, so my memories live vicariously through Bill’s picture.
Bill cradling the cut-bow - note the wild look in his eyes
as he spies another rise form just downstream
The final epitaph of the trip was that I could not break down my Fenwick pack rod after we finished fishing. Perhaps due to temperature changes, one of the ferrules was stuck.  Since I could not get the rod back into the case I had to leave it with Bill. It wasn’t until our Henderson Springs trip in 2003, twenty-one years later, that Bill returned it repaired and good as new. What a guy!

As is typical of many of my adventures with Bill, the mildly inclement weather produced outstanding results that contrast against an acceptable level of pain and discomfort. Yes, our wives know us to be crazy.

Bill fighting a Martis Creek Lahontan cutthroat

No comments: