October 28, 2010

Wayne Kirch Wildlife Management Area

Egan Mountain Range northeast of Cold Springs Reservoir
This past fishing season I concentrated more than usual on fishing streams rather than reservoirs. It was a conscious decision to get back to my fishing roots. Fishing the East Walker River for the first time was a rewarding experience, but all the trout I caught were just about twelve inches; respectable but not what I was used to catching in the lakes and reservoirs I frequent (excluding the local Cold Creek pond, of course). This year I made two trips to Mammoth Creek, and one each to Beaver River and Beaver Dam Creek. Those last four stream fishing encounters, while enjoyable, came up a little lame in the “fish caught” category. As the fall season was moving into its final month I thought I deserved a final still water fling with large trout.

Trout Truck patiently waiting at Haymeadow Reservoir
October 29th was a holiday for me (observance of Nevada’s statehood), but we had several family engagements scheduled that day as the boys were off from school as well. Luckily I was able to take the preceding Thursday off and create a four-day weekend, enabling me to fish Wayne Kirch Wildlife Management Area (Kirch), or Sunnyside as some refer to it based on the original ranch owner.

Float tube and equipment at Haymeadow boat launch
I dropped Evan off at school at 6:40 am, gassed up the truck and headed for Kirch. I was heading north on Interstate 15 by about 7:00 am. As I’ve written before, Kirch contains four fishable reservoirs that are all spring fed. To an untrained eye it is a rather desolate looking place sitting in a Great Basin alluvial desert at about 5,150 feet above sea level. I have never fished the Adams-McGill or Dacey reservoirs, but I have spent a fair amount of time on Cold Springs and Haymeadow. I arrived at Cold Springs at about 9:30 am, and I was fishing on the reservoir by 10:00 am. There were two men in a boat already on the water, but I saw no one else at Kirch the rest of the day. My Trout Truck said the outside temperature was 36 degrees, but I knew from the weather forecast that it would reach 50 degrees by noon, so I chose to wear a heavy canvas shirt over a t-shirt underneath chest-high waders. I was comfortable all day.

Rainbow rolling while on the line
Within about five casts I hooked into a nice male of over fifteen inches. I perceived that as a good omen. I fished until noon on Cold Springs landing another seven rainbows, and had two long-distance releases (LDRs). Claiming LDRs, as they are referred to, is a way of taking credit for hooking a fish that you never did land... if you’re into fish counts (smile). Most were in the ten to eleven inch range but nothing close to the size of the first trout.

First Cold Springs trout, 15.5 inches, gullet stuffed with eggs
Note this rainbow's sharp teeth
Typical eleven-inch Kirch rainbow
The fishing seemed a little slow to me, so I decided to leave Cold Springs for a run at Haymeadow Reservoir. The men in the boat had already circled the reservoir’s perimeter and were drinking their beers when I kick-paddled into the boat launch area. I discovered that they had fared worse than me, catching just five around twelve inches between the two of them. They, too, had driven up from Las Vegas with their fifth-wheel camper towing a boat behind it. We finished our pleasantries and I drove down to Haymeadow. The wind had begun to gust up, but the water was not choppy and kick-paddling was not a chore. I fished Haymeadow from about 12:30 pm to just after 3:30 pm. I caught a thirteen inch trout right away and then it seamed as if the southern dam portion of the reservoir was devoid of trout (of course it wasn’t, but it seemed that way). I would have stayed until sunset (5:30 pm), but I told Denise I’d be home by 5:00 pm and I was already more than an hour behind that schedule. I was late because the fishing on Haymeadow didn’t pick up until around 2:00 pm and I wanted to make the most of the newfound action. I fished Cold Springs almost exclusively with a green woolly bugger, but on Haymeadow I threw in brown buggers and several nymph patterns. Haymeadow seems shallower, or at least the weeds are closer to the surface, so I switched from my full sinking line to a sink-tip line and avoided the bead-headed flies. The tool of the day was my custom nine-foot, five-weight rod. I ended up landing eight trout on Haymeadow with three LDRs, most occurring within the last ninety minutes of fishing. About half were over twelve inches, but the clincher of the day was a fat female measuring right at sixteen inches. For you fish counters that was sixteen landed and five LDRs in about five hours, translating to a hookup every fifteen minutes or so.

Another woolly bugger victim
Sixteen-inch Haymeadow rainbow hen fish
Being that it was deep into the fall weather I had expected the trout to be more energized. What I found was that the larger fish did not seem to want to leap much, a characteristic usually found in the heat of the summer due to lower oxygen levels. Rainbows are known for their leaping ability, and catching them in the springtime usually results in an onslaught of exciting acrobatics. Some of the smaller trout did quite a bit of leaping, but not the larger ones. Another interesting observation was that when I removed the fly from the fifteen-inch male I could see many little round balls of a mottled grey color stuffed in his throat. I was trying to release him quickly after snapping a few pictures, but in retrospect I should have used my forceps to pull out one of those spheres. My initial reaction was that they were eggs of some sort, but I was puzzled as to what would be laying them so late in the fall. Bass and rainbow trout are spring spawners, but then I recalled that the trout in Cumins reservoir were from a Tasmania strain.

Let me digress. Rainbow trout are indigenous to North America. Years ago rainbows were transplanted down under in Tasmania and New Zealand. Over the decades these transplanted trout began spawning in October rather than April because the seasons are reversed in the southern hemisphere. Since there are no competing salmonoids on those continents, these rainbow strains remained very strong, and now are used for stocking programs back in the United States where the indigenous brood stock had become weaker. Ironically, these confused fish when stocked from Tasmanian eggs still spawn in the fall. See my Cumins Reservoir blog for an encounter with fall spawning rainbows.

Perhaps what happened was that some of the Kirch stocked trout were of the Tasmanian gene pool and the hen fish were releasing their eggs. Maybe that male’s gullet was full of trout eggs. Come to think of it, when I look at the pictures of the sixteen-inch hen fish from Haymeadow she looks as if she could have just spawned. That could also explain somewhat of their lethargic action when hooked (trout can be a little weak after spawning). I really don’t know, but it is interesting to speculate.

Sixteen-inch rainbow; a spawned-out Tasmanian?
I doubt I’ll return to Kirch before it ices over. It will likely have to wait for next year. But I’ll have a few nice memories, and a little mystery, to carry me over to the spring while I fool around with those Cold Creek trout over the winter.

Happy angler

October 8, 2010

Beaver River and Mammoth Creek, Utah

Fishing Gear on truck bed, with Beaver River in background
The little seven and one-half foot, four-weight rod I built last year was designed for the small rivers and creeks such as I fished in my younger years. It can easily handle fifteen or sixteen-inch trout, but it can also cast a size eighteen dry fly with the proper delicacy. And ten to twelve inch trout will put a respectable bend in the light rod.

This past year I’ve had a craving for fishing small streams. Mostly because that’s where I started this fly fishing journey, but also because the new rod casts wonderfully and I really enjoy fishing it. And, there was that trip to Mammoth Creek last November in which I was skunked that needed to be expunged from my record. And so on October 8, 2010 I took a long trip into Utah to fish my little rod on a couple of streams.

Looking upstream on Beaver River
I had never fished the lower Beaver River, below Minersville Reservoir along Utah highway 21. The first time I ever saw the Beaver River was by mistake in 1978. My brother Neal was taking me on my first real fly fishing trip to the reservoirs of Fish Lake National Forest, only we were a week early for the Utah trout fishing season. Not wanting to waste the trip we headed west on Highway 21 to Baker, Nevada and ultimately Cave Lake near Ely, Nevada. That spring the Beaver was flowing full and looked to be a very inviting. Cave Lake turned out to be a fortuitous trip, but that first sighting of the Beaver River stuck in my mind, and it took thirty-two years to satisfy that curiosity.

Looking over the sage towards the Black Mountains south of Beaver River
I had heard good reports about Beaver River below the reservoir, but upon passing the reservoir I noted it was very low, no doubt the result of the summer irrigation season. It was so low, in fact, that there was no water coming over the spillway. There must have been a lower pipe that ensured water flow when Minersville was low, but I didn’t see one. What I did see was a very low, slow moving creek. There were a few brown trout in the creek. I hooked two and landed one, a whopping seven to eight inches long. I decided to leave Beaver after about ninety minutes and head for Mammoth Creek on the way back home.

Precious little Beaver brown trout taken on a dry fly
The recent rain and snow had Mammoth running heavy and cloudy. (Minersville Reservoir protected the lower Beaver River from that condition, but Mammoth runs free from its headwaters 10,500 feet above sea level.) I did have the creek to myself, however, so that was encouraging. I recalled a story Neal told me of a friend of his who caught a seventeen-inch brown from under the bridge.

Looking upstream towards Brian Head on the Mammoth Creek
I parked next to the bridge and decided to float a brown woolly bugger from upstream along the sweeping current to the other side of the bridge. Water visibility seamed about two to three feet so I knew I had to get it close to the fish or they’d never see the fly. On my second attempt under the bridge I got a strong take and played a nice little brown of maybe twelve inches for about thirty seconds. I tried to muscle him too much against the strong current and he broke off. Later, upstream a quarter mile or so, I did land another little brown of maybe seven inches. I was running out of daylight, regretful to have wasted four to five hours on the Beaver River excursion, but thankful I had stopped to try Mammoth again on the way home. Although I have yet to experience the fortune I found on Mammoth thirty years ago, I will not give up on her and will certainly return again.
Little brown trout from Mammoth Creek