The Sweet Spot: The Gorge

The catch-and-release section of Rush Creek remains a no-go in early summer, unless the water flows change. (Jim Burns).

How’s the old Sam Cooke song go?

“It’s summertime and the livin’ is easy,

Fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high.”

Jumpin’, that is, everywhere except the eastern Sierra.

Who’s to blame for this atrocity?

Every summer, Bishop, Mammoth Lakes and environs are overrun with bait and fly fishermen, who want to catch as many naturals and plants as possible, from opening day in late April, until season’s end, Nov. 15. You’ll see them wade, float and paddle in the area’s lakes, rivers, streams and private waters. You’ll see them buying up as many worms, dry flies, nymphs and streamers as the sports and fly shops can carry. New expensive rods sell; flashy reels fly off the shelves; tippet and leaders; hemostats and non-felt-bottom boots. Bammo! It’s usually an injection of debit cards and cash for the summer economy.

So this year who’s to blame for fishing that can only be described by this writer as mediocre? That’s after three days on water from the C/R area of Rush Creek, to Hot Creek, to the C/R lower Owens.

Well, here’s the sad truch: It’s not actually who’s to blame, but what.

And that what is Mother Nature.

After a snowpack that was the best in years — 199 percent of normal — and a cool spring, the Tioga Pass, which connects Highway 395 to Yosemite’s eastern gate, finally opened Saturday, June 18. According to the Mammoth Times, Tuolumne Meadows still has a summer blanket of several feet of snow. Rivers are running at ridiculous levels. Maybe some visiting Hollywood producer will make a disaster movie about it in the vein of “2012.”

I mean when’s the last time a guide actually refunded your trip deposit, rather than take you out? It just happened to me.

My son and I watched the white caps on Hot Creek as the water tore through that wind-beaten canyon. You read that correctly — white caps.

So, if you’re headed up for your annual Sierra fix, better check the cfs numbers carefully. The same guide told me he didn’t expect normal flows until August. According to him, last year, which also had unusually heavy snowfall, July was the magical month.

Aside from private waters not affected by the torrent of water coming off the mountains, if you must fish (and if you’re like me, you must), try The Gorge, north of Bishop, off Highway 395. Any fly shop can give you exact directions.

The Browns can be sweet in The Gorge, but you'll work to get down there. (Jim Burns)

Two cautions: it is hot as blazes — expect the high 90s or more — and an unfriendly plant called stinging nettle certainly will make you miserable if you brush against it. Access to the water is down a long, steep, gated road, which means you have to have something left in the tank for the 25-minute or so trudge back up. Long pants, yes; extra water, please, and sunscreen (try the new spray-on from Trader Joe’s. Good stuff.)

Even with the moderate water flows, fishing The Gorge is tough. We managed to catch several browns in several hours; the lengths were more Southern California average than the monsters you’ll find on any local fly fishing Web site. Much as I hate to write this, I probably wouldn’t do it again this season.

As the world’s most honest guide said to me as I signed for my refund, “You fellas are just here at the wrong time, hell, wrong season.”

Which is great news for thirsty Los Angeles after a string of drought years.

See you on the river, Jim Burns

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