Epic Day at Hot Creek- And Did Those Old Guys Call the Police on Us?
This past week was the best week of fishing at Hot Creek in my life. I've always heard about the 30-fish days, but the most we've ever caught in a whole day was maybe 10-12 between Geri and me. On Tuesday, I went out at around 2 and had the best afternoon ever. 15-16 to the net and several more hooked and unbuttoned. Hot Creek is a protected fishery, so you have to use barbless flies and catch-and-release only. We skied on Wed, so when I took Geri and Audrey out fishing on Thursday morning, we decided to try our luck at the infamous "Interpretive Center," also known as “the kiosk” to fly fishers because of the informational kiosk in the middle of the parking area. It's in an open meadow before the creek runs into the gorge. Because I had had such an epic day already, I decided not to fish and just be the guide to Geri and Audrey. I would just tie on leaders and flies and net the fish they caught.
Upon arriving, there were just a couple of people fishing. A single guy, and two old guys. One of the old guys had a folding chair and a spinning rod, which is sketchy at Hot Creek. We walked past them, giving them the proper distance to let them have plenty of space to fish, and set up near the bend. We immediately saw fish rising (feeding on the surface), so we crawled to the edge, so as not to spook the rising fish, and tied on tiny dry flies. After years of research and trial and error, I have figured out how to tie dry flies that work pretty well here. They imitate both tiny caddis and blue winged olive mayflies.
What followed was the most epic two hours of dry fly fishing I've ever witnessed in my 25 years of fishing Hot Creek. I’ve never seen any one person catch more than a 3-4 of fish out of this spot over a few hours. It was pretty windy, which makes it tough to get your fly to where you want it and to mend (adjust) the fly line to keep it from dragging the fly unnaturally in the current. Hot Creek fish are famous for being smarter than normal trout. If the fly is moving faster or slower than the current, you will not catch anything. But Audrey figured out how to adjust her cast into the wind and keep her fly moving naturally. In the first hour, she had caught 8 or 9 fat rainbows and browns. We were laughing at how crazy this was.
The two old guys were not catching anything. First of all, they were standing tall right over where the fish were holding, or rather one was standing, and the other was seated right at the edge of the creek. They eventually went past us downstream and kept fishing but catching nothing. When they walked past us, they were glaring at us. Audrey, a teenage hapa “girl” was hooking fish left and right. Geri was catching fish, but not as many, as she was trying for the famous huge fish in the deep pool.
Quick side story. There was a large brown holding in the shallow water right beneath our knees. Like maybe two feet away from where we were kneeling. Audrey said she was going to catch it. I told her it was useless trying to catch a fish that was sitting right in front of you, especially at Hot Creek on a windy day. By that point, she had already caught 5 or 6 fish, so she decided to challenge herself and fish for the brown in front of us. This fish seemed determined to hold that space since it had been scared away by a bunch of other fish Audrey had hooked and still returned to its spot each time.
Audrey drifted her fly over it, and it rose to check it out. This is not uncommon at Hot Creek. It’s called the “Hot Creek Refusal.” The fish come up and look, but they don’t bite. After a few casts, I told Audrey I would give her $100 if she caught that fish, so sure was I that she wouldn’t. She positioned herself a good 4-5 feet from the bank and kept her head as low as possible while still watching the fly. About 20 minutes later, that damn fish took her fly, and I netted the $100 15-16 inch brown trout. It's pictured here. --->
The old guys eventually left after a couple of hours. We kept fishing, and while it slowed a bit, we were still catching a fish every 15 minutes or so. I even went back to the car to grab my rod and caught 5 more.
About an hour after the old guys left, I saw an officer in black coming towards us. I knew exactly who he was. We were being rolled up on by an officer of the California Department of Fish and Game.
Here’s the thing. We always fish with current California licenses, and we follow the rules, even though the last time I was checked for a license in the Eastern Sierra was 1983 at Crawley Lake on opening weekend. Geri has never been checked in her 25 years of fly fishing. I’ve never even seen DFG at Hot Creek, although I’m sure they check periodically to make sure people aren’t using bait or barbed flies. I’ve heard of park rangers checking licenses in the area, but as I said, I had never seen a real DFG officer in person in 37 years.
I was the first one Mr. DFG approached. I had just hooked another fish, and it unbuttoned. The officer wasn’t rude, but he wasn’t friendly. All business. I turned to him and handed him my license. He was armed to the teeth. A Glock was holstered in his belt with several clips fastened along his waist. After looking at my license, he picked up my fly and inspected it, even smelling it to see if there was any of that smelly stuff bait fishermen use. Then he walked over to Geri and Audrey, repeating the same steps. He had nothing, so he smiled and told us to have a nice day.
The only other person fishing a few hundred feet upstream of us was not so lucky. As we walked back to the car, we saw Mr. DFG writing him a ticket. The guy either had no license or was fishing with barbed hooks. Or both.
At the time, I figured it was about time I had actually gotten checked. 37 years is a good run. On our way back to the condo, we were still giddy with all the fish we had caught. Between the three of us, we had caught over 30 fish in a little over 3 hours. Audrey had caught most of them. We laughed at the fact that just that morning I had told Audrey I never saw anyone get checked for a license at Hot Creek in my life.
It hit me the next day, as I drove into town to pick up some breakfast from the Stove, our favorite spot.
Those old guys dropped dime on us.
They had seen Audrey catching a ridiculous amount of fish. They had seen me applying floatant to the dry flies. They heard us laughing. They were catching nothing.
A few things make me suspect those old guys:
1. The regular fishing season is just a couple of weeks away. The only places to fish legally are Hot Creek and the Owens river. Both are technical waters that are tough to fish. And two weeks before the regular season, the only people fishing are the die-hard fishers who know what they’re doing.
2. The Eastern Sierra is a known spot for Asian poachers. There are stories of Asians being caught with ice chests full of trout. Legally, a person can have 10 trout in possession and there is a limit of 5 per day. If you sit in Jack’s or one of those bars in Bishop, you’ll hear old white guys complain about the “Orientals” who cheat and steal trout from the area. We were carefully releasing all the fish we caught, but we were also “oriental.”
3. The sheer number of fish we were catching and me applying floatant must have looked like we were cheating with smelly stuff to those old guys who weren’t getting a single bite. Floatant is legal, by the way. I was using Loon Lochsa.
4. Being checked by a heavily armed DFG officer instead of a Park Ranger was highly unusual. Makes me wonder how those guys described us.
In the end, being rolled up on by DFG only made the day seem more epic. Sure, it felt bad being “pulled over” for nothing. But even that couldn’t spoil the day. In fact, the image of those old white guys shooting crusty looks at us makes the memory even more satisfying.
Those guys better learn to fish if they don’t want to feel humiliated by #brownfolksfishing and crushing it on a good day. The DFG is going to stop taking their calls. And Audrey is just getting better at fly fishing.
Here's a quick video of Audrey casting in windy conditions and hooking a fat wild rainbow