Gone fishin’ at Hot Creek Ranch
This past week I was afforded the pleasure to fish somewhere that I had not been in well over a decade with a group of eight other anglers from the Tahoe Truckee Flyfishers. The destination was Hot Creek on the legendary Hot Creek Ranch southeast of Mammoth Lakes.
The water that makes up Hot Creek is a mixture of thermal water bubbling from a fissure and cool flows of nearby springs that maintain a perfect balance in terms of mineral content and temperature. It runs for approximately eight to 10 miles until its confluence with the Owens River.
Hot Creek Ranch is a two-mile section of water that is a dry fly only section of water that starts about a mile from the source of the thermal water. Fishing is for both rainbow and brown trout.
The dry fly only restriction makes this section of river very difficult to fish at times because it all depends on hatch activity. Our trip was certainly no exception.
Fishing on the ranch is limited to those who stay at one of the nine cabins that make up the guest lodging. Prices are fairly reasonable, probably due to the dry fly only restrictions. The accommodations are not fancy, but the water is hot, the views breathtaking, and the fishing is decent.
As our club discovered, booking a block of cabins is very difficult. There are many repeat customers annually and some months are unavailable. Our timeframe was a very tenuous one because the creek can be totally blown out due to the spring snowmelt. Even the small bit of rain that we received the last day caused the water to get a little murky.
The public section of the river runs from the eastern boundary of Hot Creek Ranch, about five to seven miles, until it empties into the Owens River. There is also a short public section of water above the Ranch. These sections provide some excellent fishing, but they are also a magnet for flyfishers. As a result, it is not uncommon for anglers to experience close quarters.
The fish have even gotten accustomed to frequent anglers. You can see them an inch or two off the bank from the pathway upon which you are walking in just inches of water. Remarkably, they do not even move when you pass. What is even more amazing is that you can sometimes catch those fish. Incidentally, this is not the case in the private section where stealth is required.
The real lure of the public section is that you are not limited to dry flies and the fish, as in the private section, are plentiful. Nymphs and streamers work well. The fact that you are not limited to the hatch periods makes this water fishable the entire day.
Our trip began with some pretty nice weather, some decent hatch activity and some surprises. Hatches here usually require some very small dry flies. Flies that you should typically have during this time of season are size #20 to #24 mayfly imitations to imitate the Baetis hatches and a size #20 dark gray or brown micro caddis. In addition, small terrestrial patterns such as ants and beetles are very important flies. Later in the season, you will be fishing flies down to size #28 according to Bill Nichols, the Ranch Manager.
The first surprise that we encountered was that the caddisflies that were hatching in pretty good abundance were in the #14 to #18 range. One of our anglers even used a size #12 and was very successful. This was pretty amazing for a place that small flies are the rule.
The second surprise, though anticipated, was the weather that greeted us on our last day. A cold front moved through bringing high winds and sporadic rainfall. These conditions are not conducive to dry fly fishing. In fact, that morning we all had very little activity. Most made an early exit to drive home or to fish other waters.
The fishing at the Ranch was pretty good the first evening and the next day that we fished. The caddis activity seemed to be the most consistent, although some fish were caught on small mayfly imitations. Most fish were taken on caddis during our stay.
One of the flyfishers in our group, Fred Wickman of Tahoe City, made the catch of the trip and perhaps the season. He landed a beautiful rainbow that was taped at 25 inches. I hear that the picture of his catch may be gracing Hot Creek Ranch’s brochure next season.
As I mentioned above, on the last day we were greeted with some nasty weather and most fished for a very short time before leaving. All in all the trip was fun, and our group would recommend the place to anyone.
If you are interested in visiting, contact Bill Nichols at Hot Creek Ranch by telephone at 760-924-5637, or by mail at Route 1, Box 206, Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546. If you want more information, check out their informative Web site at http://www.hotcreekranch.com.
Bruce Ajari, a Truckee resident, is a regular fishing columnist for the Sierra Sun and other area newspapers.