Peninsula Fly Fishers

East Fork Carson Fishout

It never really seemed like the vacation had started until key elements of the senses had been triggered. For my mother, I suspect this was the smell of fresh laundry days before the trip started and the cedar smell in the attic where suitcases were stored. Dad?s trigger may have been the fresh car wax and mowed lawn. For me it was the first glimpse of the huge blue and gold dome of the West Virginia State capitol building as we passed on our way to Uncle Sylvan?s Flattop Lake weekend home. For sure the sun baked smell of fresh road tar or the creosote soaked wooden sign and fence posts at the entrance to Lake Hope were likely to herald the start of something good. At least twice a year now, my senses wake up at the sight of large granite slabs jutting out between conifers as I wind my way east on Route 88 toward Alpine County and the Carson Rivers. This is where the trip really starts (although my fishing buddy would argue that it is at the Lockford Meat Company where they sell nothing but sausage, fresh jerky and prime New York strip steaks.

Saturday, August 18 was the start of my summer timeshare week at The Ridge above South Shore Lake Tahoe and a planned fishout with Club members. I had hoped for a better turnout since I had prepared an extensive handout (still available for anyone who needs information on the general area) announcing the trip months before. I was concerned about low water conditions but determined to make the best of it by heading off to one of many nearby lakes if necessary. On the drive up, my first serious stop was at Silver Lake. Surprised to find a decent flow at its outflow creek I rigged my 7� foot 3 weight rod with a rusty brown ant pattern and headed down. Bait fishers were having no luck in the summer heat so I moved along quickly, concentrating on dropping the fly into any and every undercut bank or shaded overhang. Sporadically, I was rewarded with a few small rainbows that snapped at my offering.

Traveling on past Kirkwood Ski Resort and Caples Lake, I took the turnoff to Woods Lake located only two miles off the highway. The creek, which had yielded up to 20 small bows and brook trout per hour only two months before, was nothing more than a trickle. This is a beautiful, natural lake surrounded by towering mountains and is not subject to large water fluctuations. The parking areas at the lake were jammed full of weekend hikers and a few picnickers so I moved along, soon topping Carson Pass. Descending toward Hope Valley, I made another obligatory stop at Red Lake, promising to come back with my float tube for big, elusive browns if I tired of the East Fork. Water was very low on the West Carson at Pickett?s Junction (the turnoff on Hwy 89 to South Lk. Tahoe) and only a few bait dunkers were gathered around the bridge. A few passes of a black Woolley Bugger were ignored by the foot long planters so I abandoned my half-hearted efforts and proceeded on to Woodfords Station. There, a chat with Dave, the owner, revealed the river "had been tough".

Next afternoon, as promised, I arrived at lunchtime at Hangman?s Bridge just a few miles out of Markleeville with a picnic for the fishout participants. It wasn?t long before Paul Lutz pulled into the parking area and reported that "tough fishing" may have been an understatement. He had arrived Friday and had covered a fair amount of water on the East Fork and Wolf Creek. Within minutes though Dave Harris (he always catches fish) and his friend met us, reporting happier news of catching about eight good fish Friday evening. He had been down in the canyon by the airport near Indian Creek Reservoir. A Harley Davidson weekend outing was being held at the airport accounting for the lack of bikes parked in front of the Cutthroat Saloon in town. He also had done fairly well this morning. We waited a short time to see whether Rich Palmini would show but later learned he missed us during his midday siesta. The four of us headed back to a picnic table on the edge of town (which is only two blocks from the other edge of town) alongside Markleeville Creek. We parted after a leisurely lunch with Dave headed toward the Truckee River and Paul to his room at the Woodford Inn to await the late day hatch. Hatches were very sparse all week. I decided to work off the sandwich, potato salad, condiments and beer by wading the "Trophy Trout" area below Hangman?s Bridge.

I was determined to catch fish in spite of the mid to high 80?s heat and low water and rapidly made my way downstream to all my favorite spots. Only a couple of other anglers were out so I had my pick of the best holding water. Many of my favorites were too shallow to yield any prizes but I eked out a few eight to twelve inchers on my favorite dry fly (a #16 orange Stimulator) and a CDC Caddis. The following day was even hotter and I decided to wade down river to the confluence of Markleeville Creek and work my way back up. I encountered only a few other fly fishers. Although I caught a number of fish, none were sizable.

On Monday morning there was only one car at the bridge parking area by the restroom. Wanting to see new water, I hiked the trail from the bridge to the gaging station below Markleeville Creek. For years I have searched Carson Valley for evidence of its prehistoric inhabitants, from the protohistoric Paiutes back to the Paleolithic hunters of 10,000 years ago. As I walked along, my eyes darted back and forth, searching for telltale flakes of obsidian and jasper, evidence of campsites that were located on the ridges with the best lookouts well back from high water. I was disappointed and curious as to why I had never found an arrowhead on the river. I was surprised when I finally spotted some characteristic lithic debitage a few yards off the trail and dumbfounded that my other two trips down this trail had failed to discover the very prominent grinding rock in a small grove of pinion pines. This was an obvious Indian workstation. The large granite boulder�s surface was exposed over about a six foot length with four well-used mortar depressions for grinding the precious nuts on location. Pacing back and forth over the eroded soil between desert sage, I found a multipurpose tool of blood red jasper. It was a combination stemmed end scraper with a well-worn quarter inch semicircular notch in one side used for scraping arrow shafts of desert rose stem. I remember someone at ork asking if I ever get tired of fishing - hell, I had an uncle who went every Fall with buddies on a week long deer hunt and years later his wife found out he didn�t even own a rifle.

Tuesday found me cooking up an omelet and by mid-morning I drove my mother, Anne, and youngest son, Brandon back up Route 88 for some exploring. I wanted to check out Scotts Lake only 2.6 miles off the highway in Hope Valley. On the way, we stopped at a new parking area with restrooms just west of the 88/89 junction that has handicap access trails to two concrete fishing platforms on the West Carson River. There will be life in old age. Arriving at the lake up a dusty four-wheel drive road, we were the only people there. We enjoyed the wildlife, including a fat yellow-bellied marmot. The water was quite low and the wind more than I wanted to face in a tube so we opted for going on to Woods Lake for a picnic. Very few people were at Woods and only one other angler at the far side in a canoe. Too lazy after lunch to inflate my float tube, I practiced with my 6 wt. rod from shore, enticing a few small fish in deeper water on longest my casts.

Wednesday was blessed with much cooler temperatures so I headed in earnest to the East Fork again taking the trail to the gaging station. There was one fly fisher already working the deep pool downstream so I headed further down using a cow path through the willows. At first I worked all the fishable water, but finding myself alone on the stream, decided to just hit the deepest riffles and heads of pools. I quit counting at 10 fish brought to hand, almost all of them 8 to 10 inches. After a snack, I worked my way back to the gaging station to find the same angler just upstream still "hog hunting" with large streamers. He hadn�t caught a fish and noted he only fished for the big ones since anybody could catch little fish. I told him I�d entertain myself by skipping a few pools upstream and leave the dredging to him.

When the hog-hunter later caught up to me I could see his disappointment as I pulled a 16 inch rainbow from the fast water only a few yards above one of the deeper pools. He admitted he had not caught a single fish all day. After several more 8 to 14 inch fish I missed six takes in a row. I finally got smart and found that bouncing the fly off a rock face to achieve a short dead drift on the other side of the river had knocked the point off the fly. This little #16 Stimulator was the only fly I had fished for five hours. I tied on a fly that I made the night before. I intended to make small Stimulators but got creative, replacing the deer tail with an extended body of mustard colored ultra-chenille that I found stuck to the bottom of my vise. I also shortened up the thorax of orange angora a bit, adding two wraps of grizzly and used undersized palmered furnace hackle and fine gold wire over a Superfine dubbed body. My "Mustard Butt" proved to be deadly.

In a long run I took two nice fish and with one last cast here well below what I thought were the prime lies, a trophy rainbow greeted my fly. This fish did an abrupt turn as my fly passed, thrashing it solidly. I was sure the 5X tippet would part on the first run as the fish bolted, making three spectacular jumps upstream. It came out of the water each time like a porpoise arcing up and heading nose first back in. The line went slack and I stripped line as fast as possible as it headed back toward me. At one point he just turned sideways in the current far downstream, holding me off as if to say the game could be his at any time. This was the only time I have ever timed the battle, glancing down at my watch when I was sure the fish was firmly hooked. After six and a half minutes on my 4 wt. the fight was over and I was able to grab the rainbow by the tail with my right hand and gently extract the hook with the other, rod tucked under my arm. There was just enough time to measure his twenty-one inch length before one big thrust left my hand empty. It darted off for deeper water as vigorous as the moment it first engulfed the fly. He had not been caught... he just came over to say hello.

The following two days saw me back on the river for more of the same type of dry fly action. I did spend about an hour working the "long hole", a favorite of locals who know there will be multiple fish over 14 inches holding at the head of the run and along the cut bank at its middle. In the low water the fish had spread out more than usual and were further downstream. I coaxed six fish to hit my #10 cone head Bugger, landing only three. The upper river action centered around dodging fresh cow pies due to the local rancher putting his fence back across the water mid-week (as is allowed by the Forest Service after raft season ends) and grazing more than the usual number of cattle. There now is a well-marked opening in the fence for anglers complete with a sign made in the shape of a long fish pointing to the passage. On Thursday I discovered a large Indian, or perhaps early settler, stone three-quarter grooved axe that I carried half way back to the car. I brought it out with me on Friday. I had found, and left in-situ, a similar artifact near Martis Lake several years prior.

Saturday morning closed another great week of fishing, hiking, exploring, and artifact hunting in the Alpine County/Carson Valley areas. I hope others will try to fish it with me next August and get to experience the river mid-week. On the way home I stopped again at Silver Lake and chatted with an old timer on the warm granite slabs that drop into the north shore of the lake. As a steady wind blew off the lake, the late morning passed quickly with tales of times when the limit was 25 trout and Caples Lake had not yet been created by damming and connecting Twin Lakes. He had taken in this view of sparkling deep blue water and majestic mixed granite and volcanic rock every year for decades. I couldn�t help but notice the skeptical eyes of other bait fishers further out on the rocky point waiting to see if my rod would even get rigged up. After taking a while to rebuild my leader during our chat, the perfect moment arrived as the wind veered to my back and twenty feet of line was stripped off into the water and roll cast out. Onlookers shook their heads at my wimpy cast until more yards of line were pulled off the reel and a double-haul sent my dropper rig flying. That was my only cast of the morning and within minutes the tiny #20 Brassie was hit four feet below my hopper dropper. Bringing the vividly colored wild trout in as calmly as I could to my waiting hand in the water, the old timer nodded approval with "you don�t keep fish like that, do you?". After the release, he pulled up his stringer with three planted trout noting "that�s more than enough for our dinner". I don�t think he had bothered to bait his hook during the past hour. This was a perfect ending for my week. Now it was time to seriously drive, with maybe a stop at a shop in Lockford bearing an old plastic steer shaped sign over the door advertising "Sausage and Treats".

Join me next year in this spectacular setting! Better yet, I�ll be back for my Fall timeshare week the end of September.

Alan Fisher

Peninsula Fly Fishers 1976-2021
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