November 22, 2006

Pine Valley, UT

Typical long, deep Santa Clara pool
The weather report was showing a few more warm fall days. It seemed like this was my last chance to fish before the real hustle and bustle of the holidays hit and the fishing fell into the doldrums of winter. I had been talking about a fishing trip, out loud to myself, and Denise must have overheard me. Monday she stuck a note on my side of the mirror saying how much she appreciated my help and what it meant to her, and finished by saying that she wanted me to stay around through Thanksgiving and not go fishing… took the wind right out of my sails. After checking my calendar and giving it some thought at work, I asked her if I could go Wednesday preceding Thanksgiving, a workday, if I promised to be home by 6:00 pm. I argued it would be just like a regular workday to her, and she said “yes”.

So, after dropping Brian off at school I headed for Pine Valley. I picked Pine Valley for several reasons. First, I had enjoyed recently fishing Cold Creek with my little six-foot rod. I wanted to try Santa Clara Creek below Pine Valley Reservoir. I had fished the creek many years ago in the spring, catching trout fishing’s Triple Crown: brook, brown, and rainbow trout. The creek, although small, did present a variety of fishing opportunities, from boulder-strewn pools to long, deep glides. I really wanted to catch brown trout in that creek, hopefully finding them still in their fall spawn colors. Second, I had heard that the Pine Valley reservoir was producing good late season fishing, with rainbows in the twelve to fourteen inch class. I reasoned that if the creek fished slowly I could fish the inlet of the reservoir. Lastly, Pine Valley is close; 160 miles that can be covered in two-and-a-half hours, making it a fairly decent one-day trip.

Small, wild brown trout
I arrived at the creek just at 9:30am, assembled my six-foot rod, and proceeded to the creek. It was lovely, much like I had remembered it these past 25 years. I had difficulty presenting flies to the boulder pools because of the heavy growth around the creek, but I did fairly well in two pools landing four small brownies, and losing three others before I brought them to hand. All were dark and colorful, but very small, seven to nine inches. The nine-incher appeared emaciated. Perhaps it was due to fall spawning activities, I'm not sure.

It took me a while to get used to that little rod again. Often I had to side cast underneath branches or devise other methods of casting. It was much like working a puzzle or a game of chess. “Let’s see, how can I get the fly to that point without snagging on a branch or spooking the fish? What if I crawl to over there and kneel behind the boulder?”

Another typical pool
The last section of creek I fished was very difficult. I remembered this section from my previous trip. It has a three foot deep pool at the head which flattens out to a shallow riffle before turning left through some boulders into another deep pool. The shallow riffles happen to lie under a small willow tree with overhanging branches. As I approached from below I saw several nine to eleven inch trout zip from the riffle just above the boulders; I had frightened them. That’s when I recalled this difficult riffle problem. It always seems to have large trout (for this size creek) working the riffle under the willow. It appears that the riffle has good gravel, which is likely the spawning redd of choice. After observing it for a while I noticed large trout over the gravel… but how to drift a fly through it?

Up to this point I was fishing small dry flies, a gray parachute and a black gnat fly. No matter how I positioned myself, crouching and sneaking up behind a small island in the middle of the creek, I could not find a way to get the fly over the large trout without spooking them. I even hiked around the pool to see if I could drift a fly from upstream. Turns out I could, but I still scattered the trout when they saw me approach from upstream. Frustrating, but fun. I glanced at my watch, and fishing these three pools used up four and one-half hours! At that moment I regretted my promise to Denise: “I’ll be home by 6:00 pm.”

Exhausted, but content fly fisherman
All this “fish stalking” was wearing me out. Four-plus hours of creeping and crawling, stooping and kneeling had worn out this fifty-year-old body. Stopping to think about it brought the sore joints and muscles into my consciousness. I decided to try the reservoir.

There were just two other vehicles at the reservoir. I quickly assembled my nine-foot rod and hiked to the stream inlet. I was able to wade the sandbar about fifty feet until it began to drop off steeply. In about seventy-five minutes of fishing I landed six nice fish: five rainbows and one brown. I lost about five others due to hook pull-outs. The fish were deep, and I was using a fast sinking fly line. The strikes were coming deep, and the fish were strong and stayed deep until the end of the fight. Not much “jump” in them. Perhaps I was playing them too hard which was causing the pull-outs… don’t know. The one brown trout, obviously stocked, was of unusual color. It almost had an Atlantic salmon color to it, sort of a bluish hue. The red spots and adipose fin unmistakably disclosed it to be a brown trout.

Having enjoyed the day, with ten trout landed and eight lost due to hook pullouts, I headed home at 3:30 pm and walked into the house at 6:03 pm, “Honey, I'm home.” Not fast and furious action, but good, steady action commensurate with the slow-down when fall slips into winter. Exactly what I expected it would be.

Emaciated, nine-inch brown trout from the creek

Fat and healthy rainbow from the reservoir

Beautiful, unique coloring on brown trout from the reservoir
Pine Valley Reservoir rainbow about to be hand released

November 4, 2006

Cold Creek, Clark Co., NV

Here is the view in 1977 looking north, from above
Cold Creek spring.
In 1977 when I was a junior in college I taught myself how to fly cast on an eight-and-a-half foot, seven-weight fly rod. I had read a book by Joe Brooks about western fly fishing. Brooks lived in Montana where the rivers and trout were large, real large. Brooks recommended the eight-and-a-half foot, seven-weight rod for the wide, open rivers of the west. I was just 20 years old, what did I know about anything? I reasoned if it was good enough for Brooks, it was good enough for me. So, I ordered my first Fenwick rod from a mail order catalog.
Wild horses making their way towards the dry pond.
I practiced casting on my lawn until I couldn't stand the dry-casting any longer. I then drove my 1968 Volkswagen Beetle to Cold Creek to see if I could catch one of its small trout. Kevin McGoohan and I had hiked the area often, and I had already seen the small trout dash for cover whenever we approached the creek. I began visualizing fishing “for real” in the absolute solitude of Cold Creek with my new seven-weight rod.

You fly anglers can imagine the sight of this young kid with his long, heavy seven-weight fly rod heaving large size 12 dry flies into the tiny creek barely a couple feet wide. Regardless of the silly image it conjures, those small, wild trout attacked with abandon whenever I was able to put the fly on that narrow strip of water. Unfortunately, my brawny strikes with the big-water fly rod sent the little six-inch trout soaring through the air like birds. I felt awfully stupid and quite guilty for the terror I put these small Nevada trout through with that heavy "Montana" fly rod.

Looking downstream, sentinel cottonwood to the right.
Five or six years later, after gaining sufficient knowledge to recognize the need to match the rod weight to the fish size, I built a six-foot, four-weight rod for another small creek located in Beaver Dam State Park. I decided to try it on Cold Creek; after all these years I thought it would be fun to see how those small trout played on that light tackle. So, I took Denise, Nick, Doug, and cousin Joe to Cold Creek with the idea of putting on a fly fishing display, sans the flying trout. But private owners had started developing the lots along the creek and had hired a security guard to keep out the rift-raft. I did my best to explain to the guard that I had fished Cold Creek just a few years ago, that I built the rod just for tiny creeks like this, and I swore I would not keep the fish but rather return them to the creek. He snorted back that the fish were gone, “washed out by a flood”. Of course I new that to be false, but I didn’t see the benefit in pursuing my argument. I left that day with such bitter feelings that I did not visit the area again for over twenty years. The experience fed into my youthful disdain for the Sagebrush Rebellion (was the result of the rebellion to be the loss of beautiful wild places to wealthy private interests?). 
Looking south, upstream, on Cold Creek.
Fast forward twenty years later when I accidentally learned about a pond that the Cold Creek development had created to assist with fire fighting (helicopters dip water buckets into the pond to carry water to the fire fight). It seems the Nevada Department of Wildlife was stocking the little pond (maybe a couple acres in surface area) with rainbow trout. For the last three fall seasons I’ve awaited the stocking of the pond so I could run up there, sometimes stealing away early from work, to fish for nine inch stocked rainbows. If I hit it just right I sometimes could catch ten fish in ninety minutes.

The first Saturday in November I decided to run up there early in the morning. I hadn't yet seen a stocking report, but I knew it had to be soon; besides, I could use the casting practice and a break from the city life. My plan was to leave the house at 7:00 am and be home by 11:00 am. With a sixty-minute round trip, the plan would afford three hours of fishing/casting.
Seven-inch rainbow on watercress.
This area is now a Mecca for ATV’ers who often drive their motor homes up for the weekend, and I had to negotiate through a small motor-home enclave on my way to the pond. Driving down I noticed a small herd of seven wild horses that was making its way to the pond, or so I thought. Upon arrival at the pond I discovered that the irrigation ditch had been blocked and the pond was dried up. All that remained were a few mud holes in which some small Koi fish were flopping around. All the trout were dead, as were a few perch or similar sunfish. As I walked the perimeter of the pond I discovered a dead horse caked in dry mud. Perhaps it got stuck while wallowing in the silty remnants of the pond. The whole site was quite sad. But, not wanting to waste an opportunity I pondered the idea of sneaking onto the private property containing the creek headwaters. The sense of revenge for that cranky old security guard came over me, as well as the thought of “sticking it to the man” (whoever he was). I decided to see if it was possible.

So at 8:00 am I found myself snaking through the private drive switchbacks as they traversed several arroyos. I parked alongside a utility shed just above the spring that fed the creek. I quickly descended into the bottom of the creek bed. I was glad to see that for the most part it remained unchanged from two decades ago (except for a park bench here and there along accessible shoreline). I was wearing rubber boots so crossing the creek was no problem. In doing so I spotted my first glimpse of a speeding mini-trout as it dashed for cover into the watercress beds. Watercress beds are a distinguishing characteristic of Cold Creek. I had heard that some folks collect it for use in salads.

Six-Inch rainbow parr fooled by a parachute Adams dry fly.

Enthused by that first trout sighting I quickly strung-up my little fly rod and on my third cast I was right into a little rainbow (seven inches). I quickly caught and released two other little trout as I worked just below the old cottonwood that used to stand as a sentinel over the watercress beds (it has since been reduced to a stubby stump as Cold Creek residents apparently tried to save it by sawing off dead limbs). As I worked another fifty feet downstream I came across a little pool that was obviously man made. Not wanting to be too obvious by fishing from the clearing lest I get thrown off the private property, I decided to continue casting downstream from the head of the pool. I was using a little size eighteen parachute dry fly and was finding success by floating the fly down to the trout. I quickly set the hook into another six or seven inch rainbow as the fly swung out after reaching full extension.

It was after five or so casts that I observed what appeared to be a larger fish working in the middle of the pool, and within two more casts I was able to set the hook on his strike. To my surprise it was a nine-inch rainbow, a huge trout for that little creek. Obviously, the man-made pool created a habitat that could support a larger fish.

As I understand trout, their maturity has more to do with age than size and so they often are able to gain reproductive maturity at a smaller size (seven or eight inches), if that is all their habitat will allow. All they need is a steady diet of aquatic insects and pebbly riffles in which they can construct their spawning redds for their eggs to grow in the rich, oxygenated water. Other than that, size doesn’t matter much. 
Nine-inch surprise rainbow from the larger pool, with a parachute
Adams dry fly in his lower jaw.
I began to work back up the creek, getting into position for the shallow pool in the shadow of the sentinel cottonwood. Getting a little greedy and aggressive I was able to land three more little trout, and actually caught a little fingerling of three inches or so (a size eighteen fly is very small… I’ve caught minnow on flies that small before). I believe that fingerling was evidence that the trout are naturally reproducing in the creek, which is consistent with my observation from twenty-six years ago.

Unfortunately, working this pool exposed me to the dirt road at the head of the little canyon above the spring. Several cars drove by, and I assume at least one saw me. Just as I decided to give it up, I heard an ATV quad coming down into to creek. I assumed he was looking for me, but I had already started my assent out of the canyon through the willows and juniper. I admit I experienced some relief when I got into my truck before he came back up and sighted me. Maybe I was anxious, but I didn’t want a confrontation of any sort to ruin the wonderful ninety minutes I had fishing this little hundred-foot section of Cold Creek. But it was so delightfully nostalgic and genuinely enjoyable fishing (albeit for tiny trout on a tiny fly rod) that I doubt anyone’s harsh words would have ruined it for me.

Now the challenge will be, do I have the fortitude to not trespass again…
Large, deep man-made pool downstream from the cottonwoods.
Dried out Cold Creek pond, looking southwest towards Wheeler Pass.
Dead feral horse caked in mud near Cold Creek Pond.
Your wild Cold Creek rainbow trout.

August 10, 2006

Ely, NV - Comins & Cave Lakes

Brian at Comins Reservoir
It has been a long summer, fishing-wise. I had planned earlier trips, but work and life in general got in the way. But a window of opportunity appeared at work, and Brian, armed with his new learners permit, was anxious to drive the highway (Nevada law requires him to log 50 hours of driving before he can get his permit, so that’s about 2 hours a week to be ready on his 16th birthday).

We left mid-afternoon on Wednesday, Brian driving the whole highway just a week after securing his permit… not bad. The traffic was light, so we didn’t have to pass too many slow moving trucks… whew. Upon arriving we discovered there was a car show in Ely.  The town was already crowded, so we couldn’t stay at my usual motel. After three tries we ended up at Motel “we’ll leave the light on for ya” 6. We slept in a little the next day, got breakfast around 7:30 am, then headed for Comins Reservoir which is just 10 miles outside Ely.

FisherDad with sixteen-inch Comins rainbow
I rigged up a six foot spinning outfit for Brian with a swivel about 2½ feet above the fly (the swivel keeps the fly from twirling as the spinning reel twirls the line around the spool), thus emulating what a fly fisherman would present to the fish with the added benefit of keeping the split shot from sliding down the line toward the fly. After setting up we got started around 8:30 am. I gave Brian a short lesson on float-tubing and he soon got the hang of it. He even created a method of “dolphin” kicking to propel faster. As I knew he would, he remarked how much more interesting it was to fish in a tube than from shore. You can cover more water, get a little leg exercise, and lean back in your seat and take a rest while enjoying the scenery.

Brian with twenty-inch rainbow on the line
We fished Comins until around 1:00 pm on Thursday. Both the weather and water were warm. Nonetheless, as often happens when I fish mid-week, we hooked up early. I was the first to hook into a Cumins’ rainbow, an eighteen incher. I wasn’t sure he was that large at first because he seemed more lethargic, less acrobatic than other Comins trout I have caught in the early spring or late fall. I suspected the warmed water was going to slow down these usually athletic trout. When I brought the trout to the tube I realized he was good size. I bought a landing net for Father’s Day, a special one designed for float tubes with a handle length mid-way between a regular net and a boat net. It has a special rubber net for releasing the trout without damaging their protective slime. I used it for the first time on this rainbow and was pleased at how easier it was to land and release the fish.

Soon after that, Brian hooked up to a large fish. I paddled over as fast as I could because I knew Brian had yet to master the art of popping the hook out to release the fish. As I approach his tube I realized it was a really large rainbow. I was awfully happy to have that landing net for that fish. When I raised it unto my lap I could see it was about two inches longer than my eighteen-inch lap ruler. I handed the net to Brian so I could take his picture with the beautiful rainbow trout, but as you can see in the picture he had a little trouble raising the three-pound fish out of the water.

Brian with twenty-inch rainbow in the net
We continued to hook up fairly frequently for this time of year, but had lots of trouble landing the fish. We both hooked into several good fish that would burrow deep into the weeds and rub off our hooks in the thick water vegetation. I always scrunch down the hook barbs to make it easier on the fish and to expedite popping out the hooks, but I was beginning to wish we had those barbs on so we could land more fish. Throughout the rest of the morning I landed two sixteen-inch and one fourteen-inch trout to go with our twenty-inch and eighteen-inch beauties. I would estimate that was nine pounds of trout… not bad on a warm August morning.

For the afternoon we headed to Cave Lake up in the Schell Creek Mountain Range. I was hoping the water would be cooler (it was a little). I was also hoping the stocked rainbows would provide a little more action for Brian as I sensed he was getting frustrated, bored, or both from losing so many good fish to the Comins weeds. Unfortunately, we didn’t see many fish. I got a few small “hits” on my fly, but landed just one ten-inch rainbow. Brian got no action. The winds started to kick up and I decided it was time to get out of the water and give the fishing a rest.

FisherDad landing an eighteen-inch rainbow
We headed back to Ely and checked out a few of the area’s “attractions”. We went north towards McGill to check out Basset Lake and Tailings Creek. I believe these two waters were products of the copper mines from the 1950’s and 1960’s. I remember a Jarbidge hunting trip with Neal in the early 1970’s when the smell of a sulfur-like substance was so great we had to roll up the Landcruiser windows and breath through our shirtsleeves. The smelters are gone now, and apparently so are the fishable waters. Then we checked out the Ely Train Museum. It was closed but the gift shop was open. While there is a lot of history there, it was simply a train depot. The buildings were a little interesting, though. You could sense the hustle and bustle that occurred there when the local mines were in their hey-day. Driving back to the motel room we drove through some of the older areas of Ely and discovered what Brian and I called, “Ely Graffiti”.

We decided to delay breakfast and hit Comins real early on Friday morning to see if the cooler temperatures would make the trout more active. We rolled out of bed shortly after 6:00 am and were on the water by 7:00 am. The fishing was disappointing, particularly after Thursday’s results. I had four fish hooked, but landed just one, a fourteen incher. One I had on the line for a while looked to be eighteen inches or so, but I tried to play him off my hand instead of my real. When I tried to muscle him from burrowing into the weeds I pulled the hook out. Unfortunately, Brian had no hook ups on Friday. I was really disappointed for him. I wanted him to land one or two more good sized trout. As I was departing the water around 9:30 am I chatted with a couple of guys in a boat. Seems it was slow for everyone. They had measured the water temperature at 68°, on the really warm side for rainbow trout; they prefer temperatures in the 55° to 60° range. Many other fishermen were skunked that morning, and I tried to use that to lift Brian’s spirits a little.

After a “McBreakfast” from McDonalds, we headed home. On the way up Wednesday we took Highway 318 through the White River Valley. It is shorter by about forty miles. For a change of pace we took “Scenic Highway” 93 along the Snake River Mountain Range (in the shadow of Mount Wheeler, our state’s second tallest mountain at 13,063 feet elevation). This took us through Pioche, Panaca, and Caliente before entering back into the Pahranagat Valley. The traffic was a little heavier, and although there was one or two “truck passings” that I would have done differently, Brian did a great job getting us home by 4:00 pm. Despite the slower action, it was a great opportunity to spend time with Brian talking about “stuff”, enjoying the outdoors, and just being a father and son. And despite the fishing not being up to par, Brian still caught the largest fish of the trip, a twenty-inch rainbow. It took me until age forty-seven before I landed a twenty-inch trout.

Brian “tubing” on Comins Reservoir
FisherDad releasing sixteen-inch Comins rainbow
Brian “tubing” on Cave Lake
Infamous “Ely Graffiti”
Ely train yard, Ely Railroad Museum
Brian outside Ely Railroad Museum Gift Shop
Ely train yard buildings

April 27, 2006

Ely, NV - Illipah & Cave Lakes

Sixteen-inch Illipah rainbow
I had been awaiting the arrival of spring weather, and for that lull in the budget season between the March Budget Workshop and the May Budget Hearing, to set up the first fishing trip of the year. I decided to avoid Cumins at this time since the big ‘bows are in spawning mode and not actively feeding. Rather, I decided to return to Illipah Reservoir just off Highway 50 (known as the Loneliest Highway). I got on the road about 10:30 am and arrived at Illipah about 2:30 pm.

Although sunny and warm (highs around 70°), it was quite windy. White caps were on the lake, and they caused me to stay within a hundred feet of the shore. Not so much out of concern for capsizing as I don’t think the Fish Cat can capsize unless the waves get quite large, but because trying to cross the wide part of the lake takes too much effort in high wind. In calm weather it’s easier to criss-cross a lake, but in high wind lots of leg energy is expended, sometimes resulting in leg cramps.

Cave Lake boat dock
Wind aside, I was the only one on the lake. One guy drove down to the lake and fished for about fifteen minutes, but that was it. I understood his frustration because the fishing was very tough. The lake level was very high, and the water was murky from snow runoff. In four hours I only hooked four fish, and landed three of them: two rainbows and one brown. Fortunately, all were in the range of fifteen to sixteen inches, which was pleasing. One of the ‘bows was quite lethargic, while the other one was very acrobatic. The brown was an interesting catch. I apparently foul-hooked him in the right pectoral fin. I really couldn’t remove the hook so I cut the line off and released him. The hook should rust out just as it would if hooked in the mouth. Poor thing will probably die of rust poisoning. Anyway, the strong winds caused me to decide to try Cave Lake on Friday. My thought was that the proximity of the nearby mountains of the Schell Creek Range would shelter Cave Lake from the winds (Illipah is more or less on a hilly plain).

I slept in and headed for the café across from the Best Western at 7:30 am. At that time the wind was dead calm. By the time I got to Cave Lake, around 9:00 am, it started to get breezy. Cave Lake is in a State Park. There is a year-round presence of Park Rangers. As I was preparing to get on the water, their cat, a Siamese-long-hair mix, came down to greet me. A good omen.

Once again I had the lake to myself, not a soul in sight. I started fishing around the dock, casting to the edge of the reeds. I then proceeded to circumnavigate the entire lake shoreline. I stayed on the water all day from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. I was on the water so long I lost my land legs. On the drive home I could still feel the waves rocking me, similar to after being on an ocean boat for a while.

Bright red spots on a small Cave Lake brown trout
The fishing was brisk at Cave Lake, although most were small, stocked fish. In nine hours I hooked over forty trout, and landed twenty-four. About six or seven were brown trout, and two of those were about twelve inches. They were a little skinny, though. At the end of the day I spoke with one of the rangers. He asked me how I did and I told him about the browns. He said that the lake did not fish as well as it used to fish. Not sure what happened, but he assumed the freshwater shrimp had declined.

When I reached the inlet, I noticed a large fish working in the shallows, occasionally supping from the surface. I swapped from my nine foot, five weight rod (rigged with a sink-tip line) to my little six foot, four weight rod set up for dry fly fishing. I must have worked down there for forty-five to sixty minutes… never got a strike. Nonetheless, it was exciting to try sight-fishing dries to a large trout (presumably a brown).

Often I find that the most interesting fish I catch are the last of the day. That might be coincidence, or it might be that I tend to quit on a high note. Whatever the reason, the last fish of the day was a fourteen-inch rainbow, the largest from Cave Lake. It fought hard, and when I brought it to the tube I noticed it had an unusual coloring. Although clearly in spawning color, it’s back and belly were almost ashen. There seemed to be an absence of spotting, similar to what you find with stocked fish. This didn’t make sense because while this was a stocked rainbow, it clearly had lived in the lake for at least a year, maturing to spawning size. It was a male, sporting the early beginnings of a kyped jaw. I returned it to the lake, along with all the others, but it’s unusual colors will forever remain in my memory.

Sometimes when I fish for stocked trout, I keep score just to amuse myself. Catching lots of small, stocked fish can become monotonous, and keeping score makes it interesting. If you occasionally hook up with a trout over twelve inches, well it’s a nice surprise. But I find that stocked trout eagerly take any fly, sometimes before a larger, wilder trout would. The effect being that it seems there are only small trout. So, for those who like to keep score, too, here are the stats:

Sixteen-inch Illipah Reservoir brown trout – foul-hooked in the pectoral fin
Twelve-inch Cave Lake brown trout – on the thin side

Last fish of the day on Cave Lake: a fourteen-inch Rainbow.
Note the orange-red spawning color. Also note the absence of heavy spotting;
usually Rainbows in spawn have darker spots. The back and belly seem ashen.
It was a male as indicated by enlarged lower jaw and beginnings of a kype.
Eleven-inch brown
Nine-inch brown
Cave Lake, looking toward inlet
Happy fisherman