Clavey River – Heritage Trout Challenge

In the Summer of 2011, I decided to begin my attempt to complete the California Heritage Trout Challenge.  The challenge  is sponsored by the California Department of Fish and Game, and requires you to catch six of the qualifying forms of trout in their historic drainage. There is no time frame to complete the challenge and there are eleven forms of trout that count towards the challenge:

Coastal Cutthroat – Eel River Drainage
Lahontan Cutthroat – Heenan Lake
Paiute Cutthroat – Silver King Creek
Coastal Rainbow – Clavey River
Eagle Lake Rainbow – Eagle Lake
McCloud River Redband – McCloud
Goose Lake Redband – Goose Lake
Warner Lakes Redband – Warner Lakes
Kern River Rainbow Kern River – head waters to Durrwood Creek
California Golden Trout – Volcano Creek, South Fork Kern and Golden Trout Creek
Little Kern Golden Trout – Little Kern River
 

Trying to figure out where to catch your trout can be a little confusing because it can be difficult to match some of the trout listed above to the list of designated heritage trout waters. Additionally, some of the  locations are currently closed or prohibit fishing in order to protect the native species. Below are the drainages that are currently on the list:

 Eagle Lake
Heenan Lake
Upper Stoney Creek
Upper Truckee River
Clavey River
Golden Trout Creek Drainage
Upper Kern River
Upper East Fork San Gabriel River
Upper Piru Creek
Clavey Rainbow

Clavey Rainbow

The closest designated heritage trout water to my house is the Clavey River. The Clavey is the longest undammed river in California. I have been making plans for several years to visit the river, but the opportunity had never presented itself. My family and I were given opportunity to stay at Pinecrest Lake in early summer. We had to arrive at our vacation spot due to work issues so we took separate vehicles. After our stay was over, I decided to check out the Clavey since it was somewhat on the way back home down HWY 108.

It was difficult finding directions to the river and it seemed to be a very long windy mountain road on the map. The route was not really clear, and I was making the assumption that this was going to be a dirt or gravel fire road with no guarantee as to its condition. After feeling my way around the town called Long Barn, I found the forest road that would begin guiding me towards the river. I drove down, down, down, back up and down further into the river canyon and to my very welcome surprise the road was paved all the way down to the river.

I parked at a bridge that crosses the river, and hastily scampered down to the river. As mentioned before, it was early summer and we were still experiencing a particularly heavy snow melt from the late winter. I received snow at my house on May 12that 3000 ft elevation. However, the river did not seem to have the heavy blowout that many of the other

Clavey Rainbow Trout

Clavey Rainbow Trout

Western Sierra Rivers were experiencing at the time. I imagine that this river is more like a small creek during most of the year. I worked up the river to some of the deeper pools and happened upon a bend in the river that offered some opportunity. It was a nice summer day at 60 to 70 degrees, but there was not much insect action on the river. I caught 5 small rainbows all in the 6 to 8 inch range. I have read that eight inches is about as big as the trout get in this river. At some point, I would like to explore the river more in order to test the conclusions about the size of the trout. I have seen pictures on the internet of a deep pool further down the river called God’s Bath which could be a good spot to find some larger trout.

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San Joaquin River Hells Half Acre

Brown Trout San Joaquin

Forrest with a Big San Joaquin Brown Trout

I have always heard stories about the huge trout that can be found in the San Joaquin River above Mammoth Pool Reservoir . I have also heard the horror stories about the steep terrain and abundant rattle snakes can be found in the river canyon.  Recently my brother in-law Forrest began discussing his last trip to the area, and showed me some pictures of very large Brown Trout that were caught on the excursion. When he began discussing the possibility of visiting the area that weekend,  I knew that I had to take the opportunity to go with him. Now, I had just turned  44 and was in the worst backpacking shape of my life, but I just could not allow this opportunity to pass by.  We made our plans and agreed to meet at 4am that Saturday morning.

To gain access to the trail head we took Beasore Rd out of the Bass Lake area and followed it for quite awhile. I don’t know how many miles we went on Beasore, but I can tell you that we turned left at a road with GPS coordinates 37°31.135’N and 119°16.588’W.

My GPS map called the road “Layati.” (Many of these roads are dirt and a 4X4 vehicle are suggested). We continued on this road until we reached the trailhead at 37°30.143’N and 119°14.578’W.  (This is not technically the Hells Half Acre trail) South of this trailhead is the real Hells Half Acre trail, however I am not sure that there is access to the river in

San Joaquin River

San Joaquin River

that area due to the steep cliffs.

Locals tend to call anything between Mammoth Pool and the confluence of North Fork and Middle Forks of the San Joaquin by this name. I know this is a silly name for a 15 mile stretch of the San Joaquin, but when a large group of peers only know that area as Hells Half Acre, it kind of sticks.   The trail that we took was called the Cassidy Trail or as listed on my GPS, the California Riding and Hiking Trail. It started at 6500 feet in elevation. Our final destination was about 4500 feet elevation.  We followed the Cassidy Trail until we reached  coordinates 37°29.378’N 119°13.166’W, and at that point we left the trail that went east and headed in a northerly direction.  Keep in mind that Forrest was guiding this excursion without the use of a GPS. We were essentially just kinda feeling our way to the destination, but don’t get me wrong, Forrest knew where he was going in this area of the Sierras.

Along on this trek were two freinds of ours, Josh and Devon Chaney. One of my fears were the rattle snakes that are rumored to plague the area.  Josh wore snake gatters, and as we were hiking he proceeded to tell me that his primary goal on this trip was to find and kill rattlesnakes for a local game feed.   After 2.5 hours and 3 miles of cross country hiking with a 40 lb pack, I really began to feel bad. I was able regain my composure and finish the remaining mile of

San Joaquin River Rainbow Trout

San Joaquin River Rainbow Trout

San Joaquin River Rainbow Trout

San Joaquin River Rainbow Trout

steep decent on granite rock faces within an hour.

Our camping site was awesome. It was an island created by a small offshoot of the San Joaquin and was covered with large Black Oak, Cedar and Pine trees. Much our camping area was covered in a foot of sand making it a very comfortable place to hang out and sleep.

The river was abundant with insect activity but I only saw an occasional fish rise. I caught about 6 small to medium size rainbows, with the largest being about 12 inches. No 20 inch Brown Trout for me on this trip.

The water seemed to be loaded with fish, but it was difficult for me to get my line deep enough to get to the big ones. The river was very swift because of the late snow melt. The fish would hit any type of dry or wet fly when properly presented. (As you can see to the left, the small trout are pretty fat)  I noticed orange fins on one of the Rainbow Trout which was a sign of Golden Trout hybridization.

The trek out of the canyon was punishing. We took a longer route out of the canyon. Because if this it ended up taking me 8+ hours to complete the 6 mile hike. I went thru my two litres of water within the first two hours of the trek and my surgically reconstructed knee was really hurting . With a lot of support from the others in my party, and several 800 mg Ibuprofen, I was able to make it out alive and in one piece. I did not see one rattle snake.

Thank you Forrest, Josh and Devon.

 

 

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Hot Creek

Hot Creek is one of my favorite places to fish. I have fished there for over 15 years and early in my fly fishing pursuit, I must admit that I came away without hooking a fish a majority of the time.  In fact, I don’t know if I ever caught a fish there in the first 10 years of fishing at Hot Creek. My only way of remembering the fish that I catch these days is by digital camera. Since  I didn’t start carrying a camera until 2005, remembrance of any fish caught prior to that time is almost long gone with the exception of a few memories from my fly fishing birthplace, the Bidwell Ranch in Shasta County.

What makes fly fishing a creek with an estimated 6 to 10 thousand trout per mile so difficult? Perhaps, it is the prolific weeds? Perhaps, it is those evil, tall, yellow flowered bushes that fiercely entangle my bad back casts? Perhaps, it is the great crowds of frustrated fisherman that commonly  hover over the edge of the creek? After you cast into one of those crazy tiny, grey/brown caddis hatches, you will learn quickly about the difficulty of fishing at Hot Creek. I have never seen trout so finicky or elusive in any stream. They will hit your fly over and over again without allowing you to set the hook.

So, why on earth is this place one of my favorite places to fish?  Other than the scenery being stunning at times, I think that it is the challenge that keeps bringing me back.  I know this sounds bad, but recently, I have found a lot of amusement from observing  frustrated temper tantrums by other nearby fishermen.

One evening, I spotted a large rainbow at my feet. I very slowly backed away from the bank so I could position myself to float  a fly in front of the nose of the trout.  The big trout launched at my fly and he was on! As I let it run to protect my 7X tippet, it thrashed aggressively. After some time, I was able to net the trout pictured at the left. As I landed this fat trout, I observed another fisherman having his own battle with his temper as he screamed obscenities, threw his rod and stomped off to his truck.   I had to chuckle.

From what have I have learned over time, it is presentation of your fly is more important than the type of fly that you lay on the water, but at Hot Creek it is imperative to have both. The dry fly that I have the most  success with at Hot Creek is a pattern created by Ralph Cutter called the Hot Creek Caddis. I first found this fly at one of the local fly shops in Mammoth but the version that I have had the most success with can be found at The Trout Spot. The flies at this online shop are a priced reasonably and they work!

 

My favorite spot to fish at Hot Creek is called the interpretive site and my favorite day fishing there occurred last year at my opening day for 2010. I arrived at mid day and I could see that it was pretty crowded.  There were two sets of fishermen working the banks beside me. After a little observation, I could see that two of the fishermen were accompanied by guides. After about 20 minutes with a Hot Creek Caddis loaded up on my rod, I received a massive hit. As I fought this bad boy, I wanted to make sure that I had someone to take a picture so I called over to one of the fishermen next to me . One of the guides responded to my plea and rushed to my side. He began dancing around me making exclamations about the size of the trout. After I landed the beautiful trout, the guide promptly snapped the picture at the left. As I released the trout, the guide pulled a video camera out of his pocket and shoved the camera into the water to video the fish under water as it swam away. Wow! I asked the guide about his little video camera and he told me that is is a HD Pro video camera.

What a way to start off my fishing season! I thought to myself, “what am I going to do now?” I felt like I had already reached the pinnacle of my fishing season within the first half hour of the season. I decided that I would try to complete a trout grand slam for the 2010  season which includes a rainbow, brown, cutthroat, brook and a golden trout. Stay tuned to my blog and I will be sure to let you know how it went.

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