Hot Creek: You in or out?
Fall fishing, for me, is the best fishing. Maybe I love it simply because I love the fall — the blistering So.Cal. sun takes an occasional break; football is back; and, I don’t know, turning leaves, colder nights, a moon that seems clearer, nearer.
So last weekend my wife and I escaped to Mammoth Lakes for the first time in a couple of years. I’d been alerted to the stocking of Hot Creek — the So. Cal. holy of holies — by John Tobin, Pasadena Casting Club’s conservation editor. When he told me the California Department of Fish and Game planned to release more than 6,000 fish. I wasn’t sure what to think. My impression over all these years was that Hot Creek contained only natives.(We can talk about natives, browns, rainbows in another post.)
When I asked my buddy, who would also be in Mammoth, if he wanted to fish Hot Creek, he declined because they were stockers. I mulled, I brooded, I went to the local fly shop for guidance, where a guide told me that Hot Creek Ranch had laid down the law — either stock, or the property would go up for sale. I haven’t confirmed that statement with the owners, but it made sense. A business owner has to have a profit base. Without the base, what’s the point?
A recent CDFG press release confirms this woeful condition: “For unknown reasons, the Hot Creek fishery appears to have declined substantially in recent years, with markedly lower catch rates and few trophy (>18”) fish coming to the creel. Drought-related impacts are the suspected cause, including low flows, lack of flushing flows in late spring/early summer to mobilize fine sediments and expose spawning gravels, potential changes in water quality/chemistry and increased aquatic vegetation.”
Then there is the fact that Hot Creek is a designated “wild trout water.” Why would you stock it and allow it to retain that designation?
The press release goes on to say, “While it may appear counter-intuitive to stock a designated Wild Trout Water, California Fish and Game Commission Policy allows for such stocking under specified terms and conditions. The Commission Designated Wild Trout Waters Policy, under subsection I.B. states that designated waters should be: “Able to support, with appropriate angling regulations, wild trout populations of sufficient magnitude to provide satisfactory trout catches in terms of number or size of fish.” Subsection II.A. states: “Domestic strains of catchable-sized trout shall not be planted in designated wild trout waters.” And Subsection II.B. states: “Hatchery-produced trout of suitable wild and semi-wild strains may be planted in designated waters, but only if necessary to supplement natural trout reproduction.”
Anyway, after cuddling the condo’s trout pillow that night, I decided to try my luck. All I can say is within 15 minutes of trudging down the dirt pathway and moving past a guide untangling a client’s bird’s nest, I was into a fish. He was sure he owned the run, and I was sure I would soon own him. A longer cast with my old Sage SP 3 wt., rigged with 5x, and a sparsely tied elkhair caddis and the fish was on, fighting, running — then hiding in the red flowing weeds.
One in the weeds can ruin your whole day. If you can’t see him and can barely feel him on your line, then disaster may be tapping you on the shoulder. It was only through hard-won weed experience on our own LA River that I brought him to net, snapped a selfie, and let out a good, old-fashioned “whoop, whoop.”
It was a very good day, but I wonder, do you support stocking a Wild Trout Water?
Please take this very quick survey.
I have been fishing Hot Creek for 30 years. The stream has been devastated by the drought. Very few anglers even bothered to fish Hot Creek over the last year or two because of the lack of fish. The trout that were stocked are diploid fish and will reproduce in the stream and hopefully restore the stream to its past glory.
A little known fact is that the stream had previously been stocked, both on the ranch and in the public water until about seven years ago. At the end of the season the hatchery would dump its excess fish into the creek and a former ranch manager many years ago, before Kevin and Bill, stocked on the ranch. So, the creek has never been a pure wild trout fishery. After a year in the stream a native strain stocked fish will behave wild and except for the clipped fin is almost impossible to tell apart from the native ones. The stocked fish off-spring will truly be wild. I for one am very grateful the the DFW for stroking my beloved stream.
See you on the river, Jim Burns