Monday, June 8, 2009

Caltrans Creek

I haven't been on a fly fishing backpack since last November (2008) and I figured it was about time to get out in the brush with a buddy ("J") and hit some waters.

J and I had independently visited this particular canyon in the range of 12 - 15 years ago; we'd both seen lots of fish and it seemed a good bet that things would still be the same today.

We left the trailhead at 6:00AM Saturday morning, hiking in gorgeous sunlight and enjoying several dozen species of wildflowers along the way. It's about a five mile walk down to the stream, and the time passed quickly.

Before you could say "Caltrans", we'd reached the campsite where we intended to spend the night.

At this point -- about 8:45AM -- we rigged up and took off downstream, anticipating a good day's fishing.

It wasn't long before we stumbled upon a big, glacial-blue pool; I thought it was rather strange as I definitely hadn't seen this pool a decade ago. Hey, things change.

It became apparent to us both that a major debris flow had ripped this place to shreds within the last few years; looking up-canyon from the big pool, this is all we could see:

It looked to me like Caltrans had bulldozed the place; looking at the right side of the picture, imagine the debris flow blocking a stream coming in from the right. This band of mud and rock must've cut-off the flow of the main creek, creating a nice pool. Here's J wetting a line in it standing on the wall of debris (note the outlet flowing over the debris upper right from J):

Sad to say J farmed about three fish out of that pool but was ultimately unable to connect, so we headed downstream to see how far the debris flow went.

We walked almost two hours down a landscape that looked like this:

Note the dead alder trees buried in the debris.

It became painfully obvious that there was to be no fishing here; instead, we observed a young stream striving to recover some semblance of stability -- a rarity in these rapidly decomposing mountains. The stream bottom was covered in a fine layer of silt, and little or no algae or vegetation was to be found. There were a few sections of "original" streambed that retained mature cover, but mostly it was all-but-barren save for some young alders here and there.

Also, there were no pools to speak of; the stream still hadn't time to scour out the typical riffle-run-pool sequence; instead, there were small plunges that immedately turned to shallow riffles.

Not prime trout habitat, that's for sure.

In spite of all this, we found some first-stage caddis nymphs as well as blackfly nymphs in the mineralized waters; the barren banks were also crawling with small grasshoppers.

To add insulin to injury, the sun disappeared behind a dark line of storm clouds, and a gentle but cold rain began to fall. The temperature dropped and we both were forced to put on additional clothing. After two hours of walking on this "concrete" with no signs of fish, we decided to head back to the main pool, where I proceeded to catch a couple of 8"-range wild raindbows on some type of stonefly imitation.

As the rain came down harder and the clouds dropped lower, J and I made the decision to call the overnighter off and hike back up the mountain, five long miles and 2,000 feet elevation gain. Had the weather been pleasant, I would've been content to stay and enjoy the views, but the cloud cover obscured everything and obviously there was no place to fish other than the big pool.

So we headed back up the mountain, stopping to wet a line in a tributary (J brought a handful of small trout to hand), dodging raindrops and keeping a steady uphill pace.

We reached the trailhead at 5:00PM, where the temp was hovering around a balmy 40 degrees.

All told, we caught about half-a-dozen trout, hiked over ten miles, and covered approximately 4,000 feet of elevation gain/loss in an eleven-hour period.

I can safely scratch this watershed off of my list for at least another five years; although the trip might be considered a failure, it was, in all, an interesting look at the ever-changing landscapes of our beloved local mountains.

Thanks, J, for a great day; we'll get those carne asada tacos and garden pico de gallo next time.

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