Peninsula Fly Fishers
  

Ahjumawi Lava Springs State Park
November 6 - 7, 2004

by Bob Schwehr

December 2004

Ahjumawi is a very new and largely undeveloped State Park that is just north/east of McArthur, CA. It's on Big Lake, part of the Fall River system. Big and Tule Lakes are essentially a "south fork" of the Fall River. North of the launch ramp, there are 3 boat-in Campsites with picnic tables and pit toilets, but no water. There is a hiking/biking trail system in the park and maps are available from the McArthur-Burney Falls State Park Rangers.

The unique feature of this park is that the only access is by boat. It is too far to float tube over, although you could carry a tube in a boat. This would be a reasonable tactic if you like the more intimate fishing experience.

Big Fish, Ducks, Eagles, Deer, and Lava Springs

I have been wondering about this park ever since it was formed a few of years back. This time of year the nights are cold (21-32') but the days get up into the 60's. The weather was clear and almost no wind when I was there and I took my recently acquired Grumman canoe and went for a paddle. The launch ramp is free and will take any boat up to around 14' if you are willing to crawl in from shore. There is no pier. The pit toilet facilities are in good order.

To get to the launch point you turn east on Main Street in McArthur (off 299, east of Hat Creek), follow it straight through, past the fairgrounds. The road becomes dirt (well graded). Take the bridge over the canal, and in around 2 miles you are at the parking lot. The ramp is on a canal approximately 30-yards wide and sheltered. Across from you is Big Lake, which spans several hundred acres. The opposite shore is the park. Where you enter the lake is just north of the 1/2 way point in the park.

The park itself consists of an area along the lake with a low ridge of rough lava rock. There lots of pines and oak trees interspersed. The leaflet says the mosquitoes are fierce in the summer. I did not see anything in November!

Why go? Beautiful Fish, Spectacular Scenery, and Exploration

It was a calm, sunny day. No hunting is allowed by the park, so it was truly a peaceful paddle out. I hugged the southern bank (right) as that side looked more rustic. The tules come out from shore maybe 20 feet to 100 yards, with several channels winding through them. I explored these but did not fish in them much. They make for great explorations.

I saw lots of birds. Two golden eagles were circling and lots of ducks were holding up in the protection of the tules. Several herons were stalking the edges of the lake, which lead me to consider that they would know where to fish (professionals!) I saw two herds with a buck and several doe grazing in the woods.

Visually this place is worth the time spent all by itself.

As you paddle along, the water has a visibility of just a few feet. That is not so encouraging. On the other hand, for all the size of big lake, there is only one visible house. The west side is mostly a delta with cows grazing.

As the brochure says, there are lava springs. In these areas the water turns crystal clear. The bottom is like a moonscape of black rocks on a sandy bottom. Visibility is well over 20 feet in these areas. Guess where the fish are! They like the oxygenated, clear, cold water.

I casted along the shoreline with small nymphs and no luck at all.

Off in the distance I heard 3 guys in a bass boat cheering each other. They were catching fish every few minutes. The other boats were trolling. I did not see them catch anything. I managed to intersect the bass boat. They were fly fishing with black sinking lines. They told me to use a 4" black, wooly buggers. I didn't have anything that big. A size 14, 2x stillwater nymph did not work.

I tried the biggest, blackest fly I had in the box – a 2-inch leech pattern. I was using a camo sinking line, 4 feet of 6# fluorocarbon leader, and 18" of 5x tippet.

The bass boat group continued to catch fish all along, although they did better by the springs. I tried where they had been with no luck. I leap-frogged ahead to a "virgin" spring, and on the 4th cast, the fly went right along the edge of an underwater ridge. Blam!! I was into a huge trout. It came and went for around 15-20 minutes before I landed the 28-30" rainbow. It was deep red/green with a longitudinal red stripe. The fins had white tips, like a brookie and the jaw was hooked like a male in heat. And it was way too big for my net. The tippet was never going to lift it. It had real teeth! So I released it alongside the canoe with a hand twist on the barbless fly.

What fun! This was the biggest trout I have ever caught – a thrill enhanced by the fact that it was caught on a self-built rod and homemade fly. You know the drill. I caught him at high-noon and it turned out to be the only fish I got that day. The paddle-over was around an hour or so. Going back was mellow. It gets dark by 5:30 this time of the year. Lunch on the lava rocks was mellow too.

The next day I went to the north shore of the lake. It is closer. There are 3 well marked campsites. I saw more deer with big racks, eagles, herons, and ducks.

Past all of that, I happened onto a cove where the bottom was silted, but the silt had pock marks. Easing past a canal, I saw around 10 large trout scatter. Ooops. So much for them. Then I hit on a spring. Same thing, the fish scattered. Finally I came around to a small lagoon, and started casting some more along the tules and trees. Chunk! This time I caught a 16" largemouth. As it pulled me around with the breeze helping, we spooked 6 or so more of them. Great fun.

Well, I have been hearing how great a popper is for bass bait from other club members. Tried it. I had another 3 fish strike, but not get hooked. I cast under a tree and must have found a school on the surface, as a 10 foot square area erupted at once. But in all, I only caught the one. I know where to go back to. I will definitely look for the springs. I will definitely have some big wooly buggers in black. Four inches at least.

Food Note:

The best breakfast I've had in a while for 6-bucks was in The Wild Bill Cafe in McArthur. It's now managed by a couple of ladies who are real characters. True to form, the lot was full of pickups.

References:

Fly Fishing California Stillwaters by Bill Sunderland, Mosca Loca Books. (Chapter 9).

Canoeing the California Highlands by John Coale, Changing Sky Publications.

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