Wednesday, September 9, 2015
Angling in the Summer of Drought
My first mystery novel, The McHenry Inheritance, had its genesis in an episode that occurred in Alpine County CA, on the east slope of the Sierra Nevada. Like my protagonist Quill Gordon in Chapter 2, I was fishing on a small stream in a remote area when some people camped nearby came over to let me know they were doing some target practice.
The sound of their gunfire became so unnerving that after several minutes of it, I moved on to another creek. My shooters were just a bunch of weekend plunkers, but it occurred to me, with the citizen militia movement in full bloom at the time, that if it had been such a group, there would be a story there.
Alpine County is one of many places I’ve drawn on for the settings of my three Quill Gordon novels, and for a long time it was one of my go-to fishing places. In the past decade, I’ve drifted away from it, and this year I decided to go back for a short visit and see how its fine streams have been affected by the drought.
Roughing It No More
I used to go up in my 1977 VW camper and stay at Grover Hot Springs State Park, but I sold the camper in 2011. Instead, I booked a small cabin at the Carson River Resort, about two miles out of Markleeville, the county seat. It turned out to be just right for my purposes.
From the cabin, you could walk across Highway 89 and fish the East Fork of the Carson River. Like all the streams in the mountains this year, it was down considerably. The river, in fact, was more like a large creek, and it was hard to believe that in a normal wet year, there are companies that set up river-rafting expeditions on it.
Even though the water level was down a foot or more from normal, the East Carson had plenty of fish in it. There were good deep holes and decent riffles still, and I caught a few fish and saw others. I had feared it would be even lower than it was and unfishable, but that turned out not to be the case.
The Reservoir Was Down
My first morning there, I drove up the highway to Kinney Reservoir, near the summit of Ebbets Pass, thinking I might try my luck there. No such luck. Ordinarily, you could walk out on the dam and cast into the lake a few feet below. The morning I got there, the water was about 60 feet below. It was like looking into the crater of a volcano.
So I went over the pass and took a rugged dirt road to Highland Lakes, about five miles off the highway at an elevation of 8,600 feet. I was glad I did. Those lakes are natural, and they were full. I fished a couple of hours and had a few bites, but just being there was enough. There had never been any reason to go before because the streams were always full enough to fish.
What this tells me is that drought conditions are situational. In the river, places I didn’t fish before were pretty good and places I usually fished were unfishable. One lake was fine and one wasn’t. It depends. However bad the drought might get, the fish will usually find a place to live. If you want to find them, you have to go check it out for yourself.