Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Wolf Creek - August 2016

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"How old are you Dexter?" the Lady asked the English Lab alongside the table in Walker Burger's garden dining area. Dexter's tail was in full wag mode.

"Tap your forefoot on the ground," the Lady explained. "Once for each year."

The people at the next table eyes were instantly on Dexter.

Dexter tapped the ground five times.

"He'll be six in November," GroovyDad (aka Shane) added as he approached after ordering his meal.

"I've already found what he likes," the Lady added. "He likes his butt scratched right above his tail."

Dexter had backed up against the Lady with an expression approaching ecstasy.

And so it was that we met GroovyDad and his camping partner Dexter.

"Why don't you text the Teds?" I suggested to the Lady.

She retrieved her phone from the truck - in her eyes the phone is a nuisance to be avoided as much as possible  - and turned it on. It instantly buzzed an announcement.

"Oh, it says there's a text message from the Ted's! Now how do I read the message?" Her fingers fussed with buttons.

"It doesn't matter," I said to the Lady. "They just pulled up."

Now we had to get through security at the USMC Mountain Warfare Training Center.

Wolf Creek is a tiny tributary to the West Fork Walker River. A long glacial valley cut into the crest of the Sierra Nevada Range, its watershed is part of the Great Basin. In most places it is a high mountain meadow and with the absence of cattle and sheep grazing, it is lush with grasses. It is a place you can feel you are stepping back in time.

Our camp was set up at the bottom of the glacial U, where the creek began its tumble down to meet the West Walker.

Mark Twain brought me here.

One of my favorite sections of Twain's classic, "Roughing It" is the story of his walk to Lake Tahoe from the Carson Valley. He ends up lounging on a small boat, gazing into the depths of Tahoe's legendary clear water, and watching huge trout glide under him. Mention of huge trout get my attention and pique my curiousity.

Ten  thousand years ago most of western Nevada was under water. The ancient pluvial lake that was once there is now referred to as Lake Lahontan. A massive predatory trout evolved and thrived there. It gobbled up smaller fish and traveled up the rivers and streams feeding the lake to spawn. The rivers coming out of the Sierra were the Truckee, Carson, and Walker. This trout is called the Lahontan Cutthroat.

Move forward a few thousand years. The climate has warmed. Much of ancient Lake Lahontan has dried up leaving vast playas  that were once lake bottom. Two large remnant lakes remained, Pyramid Lake and Walker Lake. And, the large trout remained as well. Fremont and Carson first named what is now the Truckee River, Salmon Trout River because it was filled with Lahontan Cutthroat. Antidotal stories tell of 30 to 40 pound trout moving up the Walker River. And ole Mark Twain, in that small boat, couldn't miss those huge trout swimming in Tahoe's clear waters. 

I think of the Lahontan Cutthroat Trout as the Great Basin's equivalent of the Great Plains' American Bison. The population was so huge it was thought uncountable. They covered the plains just like the Lahontan Cutthroat Trout filled the water. And in a few decades after the influx of European man, they were both driven to the brink of extinction.

Dams and water diversions that cut off trout from their spawning waters killed the trout of Pyramid Lake and Walker Lake. A trout fishery in Pyramid lake is now artificially maintained with a hatchery. Walker Lake's  shrinking waters have become so alkaline that trout cannot survive. Lake Tahoe's Lahontans were decimated by commercial fishing with the final nail in their coffin the introduction of non native fish.

The execution of Lahontan Cutthroat in the small streams and rivers in the high country of its ancestral home came in the form of planting non-native trout species, especially Brook Trout. Other impacts like grazing and mining were a coup de grace.

Where it was once as widespread as the bison, there are now only a handful of places remaining where Lahontan Cutthroat can be found in its ancestral home waters. Wolf Creek is one of those places. This is the second year the creek is open for a short time period for catch & release fishing with an artificial fly on a barbless hook. We were here last year with the Teds. This year GroovyDad joined us.

We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast Saturday morning. I was anxious to hit the water. My interest in fly fishing has been seriously rekindled this summer. The Teds were going on a hike. GroovyDad was going fishing using his Japanese styled Tenkara gear, The Lady saw high ridges all around us; she was off. I mentioned the abundance of grasshoppers to both Groovy and Ted and chose a caddis pattern with rubber legs from my fly box.

This is extremely difficult fishing. This defines difficult fishing. The water is low and crystal clear. The trout are sharp eyed and hide at any movement. The stream is lined with willows. Casts are short and difficult. Compounding the difficulty is any wisp of wind. And the wind blows. Difficult and challenging just bolsters my determination. Approaching the water, the first thing you should notice - if you haven't already spooked everything into hiding - is that the larger trout are hanging motionless in the still water at the tail end of the small pools and riffles. It is amazing how far away they can see movement of perceived danger. If these scoot away upon your approach, fishing success here is ended.

I had a great morning. Fish darted every which way with my approach. Willows and streamside vegetation continuously snagged my errant fly. The wind slammed my fly down on the water and spooked fish. But every once in awhile patience, sheath, and a good cast was rewarded. I brought to hand 8 of these small beautiful survivors and then carefully "returned them to their watery fold." I do not have photographic evidence. My camera sherpa was on ridge tops.

I was transported back in time. I could hear the pounding of bison on the prairie and saw herds that went on for miles. I could cross rivers by walking on the backs of trout moving upstream. I was in a land of unspoiled bounty.

I fought back thoughts of the realities of our impact on the land and its creatures; of things that are gone forever. It is a fight I often loose.

We all joined up back at camp in the afternoon. GroovyDad had battled Ranger Buttons and Dragonflies with his Tenkara. The Teds were pleased with their walk. Ted celebrated with a excellent stout and then took a nap. I found the Lady searching for me along Wolf Creek as she returned from her hike. She had a great time on her cross country journey along the ridge tops, as evidenced by new scratches, bruises, and wet boots. She likes to become one with wild places.

Ted is always great fun. He put together a veggie and cheese plate of appetizers with balsamic dressing. Excellent! It had more fresh vegetables from the Teds' garden then Dexter could shake a stick at.

GroovyDad shared gourmet green chili jerky. "Every once in awhile you'll get a hot bite," he cautioned. It was delicious and his warning was not unfounded.

Storytelling and relaxation commenced.

Dexter had had a full day.

Our campsite was looking like home.

The Teds joined us for an evening walk. We were rewarded with spectacular sunset colors.

We relaxed Sunday morning. Just the right thing to do on a quick getaway weekend. I coached Ted on fishing clear water along our campsite.

He came close. The little cutthroats teased him. They darted after his fly but refused to take. It was a great show and unlocked the primal angler deep inside Ted.

Dexter got more butt scratching.

And the women folk relaxed by the water.

Goodbyes were said along with hugs and handshakes and we all headed for our homes. We pulled off the road so we could deposit my "angler survey" in the box. A little further on, at an intersection, the Lady asked, "Where's this road go?" We sought out the answer and explored up Silver Creek, another tiny home water refuge for the Lahontan Cutthroat. This area remains closed to fishing.

This is a larger watershed than Wolf Creek and Silver Creek flows in another long glacial valley, a beautiful place.

We all hoped for a thunderstorm this weekend; a show of thunder and lightning with big splats of rain to wash the sky and make everything smell new. Today it was building. Thunder rumbled in the distance.

We got a bit of rain on the drive home. Big drops hit the windshield, just enough to smell like summer rain in the mountains.

Thank you to the Teds and GroovyDad for a very nice weekend. 

I should note that the Marines use the area around and above their base for training and maneuvers. Although it was quiet this weekend, most of the time I would expect vehicles on the road, aircraft support, and operations taking place. As I recall the MP telling me one time as we passed through the base, "Sir, you need to know we do have Marines on the mountain today." I took that information seriously.

1 comment:

  1. Looks like a nice area, not to mention a treasured habitat for the Lahontans. Thanks for sharing!