September 6, 2010

Beaver Dam Creek, Lincoln County, Nevada

On the road to Beaver Dam State Park
They say you can never go back. Especially after you’ve been gone a long time. Things change. You change. Memories live on in your brain, scenes and events immortalized within. They say as you age the short-term memory goes, but the long-term memory lingers. Maybe that bodes well for senile reminiscing on early life adventures. Maybe I won’t remember this most recent trip.

I have written many times how I learned to fish the fly on a small creek near Caliente, Nevada, called Beaver Dam Creek. The fishable portion of the creek is contained within the boundaries of Nevada’s Beaver Dam State Park, but the eastern border is shared with the state of Utah. My deceased brother Neal told me of this creek and the joy he had fishing it. To this day I remain entranced by a photo of a male rainbow in spawning regalia that Neal had caught in the 1970s. It was not a large trout by my current standards, but it was a wild trout of significant proportions for Beaver Dam. That creek provided the basis for all I leaned about the sport during those early years, as I wrote in a prevoius Beaver Dam Creek blog.

Neal's impressive wild trout - note pan-sized trout piled above it
In 2005 the dam was breached and the reservoir drained in a controlled fashion. The earthen dam was leaking and the Nevada Park Service was concerned that it would fail resulting in a dangerous flood.  (Ranchers live downstream from the park, not to mention the residents of Beaver Dam, Arizona, where the creek enters the Virgin River.)  My last visit was in 2002, and I had not returned since the reservoir was drained. Through correspondence with the park staff I knew the creek still supported trout, and I was curious to see for myself what it had become without the reservoir. This past Labor Day I succumbed to a spontaneous desire to make a day trip.

Union Pacific comming through Acoma siding
Rail through Acoma
I left the house at 5:00am and arrived at the park before 8:00am. The Trout Truck (a term of endearment for my 2007 Dodge Dakota quad cab 4x4) descended into the canyon below the reservoir site and then cut over and back onto an access road that carved into the canyon wall, obviously cut there when the dam was built in 1961. A gate forced me to park at the top of a little outcropping from the canyon wall, from where I continued the decent to the creek on foot. I then crossed the creek and walked downstream on the access road on the other side. My intention was to get below the pool from where I remembered always starting my upstream fishing until reaching the first pool fed by the reservoir’s concrete spillway. I’m sure in length it’s less than a quarter mile. Although the daytime temperature seemed warm, I doubt it ever reached ninety degrees. It felt cool when I was in the shade, but uncomfortably warm in full sun; certainly wearing hip waders over jeans with a long-sleeved canvas shirt over a T-shirt did not help.

Trout Truck waiting patiently on the outcropping
At several points along the access roads on both sides of the creek it became obvious that the riparian vegetation was different than the 1980s. The breaching of the dam had brought much sand and silt through the little canyon and consequently seemed to foster excessive willow growth. Willows choked the creek so much that most casting had to be done while in the creek. The creek was much narrower, and in the few places it did spread out it was very shallow. Deep pools, large enough to support several fish, were few and far between. All the consistently productive pools I recalled, pools that used to produce four or five trout of eight to ten inches, and occasionally up to twelve inches, were altered so much that for all intents and purposes they were gone.

Example of a shallow riffle
Example of the tight willows
Remnant of the east-side access road 
leading down to my favorite starting place
Still, one does not drive three hours to a creek and not fish, so fish I did. And Beaver Dam did have fish. I did not count, but I landed at least ten, and lost several others. So as not to mislead you, the fish I lost were not due to their hefty weight and hard fighting, but rather that their mouths were so small that they likely never got all of the hook shank into their mouths. My smallest was less than two inches, and I doubt the largest reached eight inches. And while to some extent catching fish of any size can at least be entertaining, fighting dense willows and rock-hopping along was much more work than I anticipated for the pleasure of whipping rainbow fingerlings out of a creek on a six-foot, four-weight fly rod.

Rainbow just in excess of seven inches
A young parr rainbow
Fingerling on the dry fly
What a mouthfull surprize this little guy received
Nonetheless, I did make my journey all the way to the site of the old spillway pool. Obviously it was gone, but I don’t think I was prepared for what was left behind. In person it seemed like a moonscape of sorts, wide and barren of much of anything. The creek was cut deep into the sand and silt left over from the bottom of the reservoir. It clearly couldn’t contain any trout as it was shallow and without the streamside vegetation and cover necessary for trout.

The slope that once held the concrete spillway
There was a dam right here, once
Making my way back to the truck I began to realize that not only had the creek changed significantly over this past decade, but I was having a much harder time scrambling over rocks, negotiating through the dense vegetation, and hiking up the steep canyon walls. My body was tired and sore. Had I caught a few ten-inch trout in the pools and pockets I had etched in my memory it would have been worth it all. But I had not.
Beaver Dam's mini-version of a bleached Bryce Canyon

So, things change. Nothing of this world will last in this world. Those of us not of this world have the eternal promise of life with the Father, and that’s what sustains us with the hope of new life after death. As Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 3, “There is a time for everything, and everything on earth has its special season.” Beaver Dam Creek’s special season may be over for my lifetime, but I was surely blessed by it in the 1980s, and the Lord has provided so much more since then that I doubt I’ll revisit Beaver Dam again, but rather hold on to those rich and warm memories. They say you can’t go home, but they are wrong.