Joe Leal's Quest for Heritage Trout

The following report is contributed by Joe Leal - a member of the EcoAngler community and a recent convert to smallstream angling for native trout. I've exchanged email with Joe on several ocassions about California's Heritage Trout waters. Back in September, Joe emailed an amazing write-up of his experience. He was kind enough to let me share here.

Joe Leals McCloud River redband

Joe photographed the McCloud River Redband (above) and Warner Lake Redband (below).

Leal Warner Lakes redband

Note - I changed up the creek names to protect the fish hiding out in the Modoc National Forest area.

Dear Michael ... we corresponded last December about my intentions to complete the Calif. HTC. I wrote to you after discovering your website, asking specifically about the Goose/Warner redbands. Your prompt and informative reply gave fuel to the fire.

I am happy to report that I just completed a 5 day blitzgrieg on a McCloud R. trib, Goose Lake tribs, and Warner Lake trib, scoring a successful catch, photograph, and release of at least one Redband from each stream. The Warner Lake trib only gave up only 1 fish, luckily. The other streams were very generous in their numbers considering the amount of time spent at each.

I can't express the joy, in words, of how I felt to hold one of these beautiful native trout in my hands, with my fly in his mouth. The beautiful colors and shadings on these little Redbands is beyond description. I thought the Goldens had everyone beat for beauty, but these Redbands are awful close. The streams in particular provided half the fun of pursuing the Redbands. Such a close, precise, reduced size(?) experience. I had a shorter-than-rod-length line on the whole time, together with a 3' tippet, gave me a line 1' longer than my 12' rod, enabling me to place precise casts to the little pockets and runs on these little streams. The pocket may only be 1' square, and the run only 18" long, but what fun!!! With the overall stream depth of 6"-8", the deeper pockets/pools/runs provide the obvious clues to fly fishermen, but hooking and landing are two different things!!! Quick little buggers, aren't they??? Quite a few splashy rises. Quite a few good sized fish for such a small environ. I will definitely put these streams onto my regular visits in their respective areas. Having never been to Alturas/Warner Mtn area in my life, it will now be a destination, just a longer drive and stay from my S.F. Bay area home.

My trip had me leave Marin Co. the day after Labor Day. Arrive @ Shasta Natl. Forest, around 2pm. Set up camp and go fish... Couple of hours. 6-7 natives. Have dinner and go to bed. Next morning, breakfast, pack and leave out Hwy 299 to Alturas and Goose Lake. Arrive at Goose Lake State Park and spend the night. Thursday morning had me leave the state park and drive the short distance to the first Goose Lake trib. Stop and fish at several locations 1-3 miles up the creek. Good number of Redbands above, 2 brown trout in the lower section. Fish about 3 hours. Head south on county/forest roads to Buck Creek Guard Station and campground for the nite. Flat tire on the way to second Goose Lake trib. SHIT!!! Have to go back to Alturas to get tire repaired. I'm CERTAINLY not going in farther without a spare. 40 miles back to Alturas. Buy 4 new tires. The old ones were too worn. SHIT!!! 40 miles back to campground. I'm the ONLY one there. Beautiful meadow, stream, and campground all to myself!!! Arrive mid-late afternoon with the Alturas/flat tire diversion, set up camp, and go fish. I tried the meadow section at camp first, caught 1 or two, and decided that other places had to be better. Very slow, gentle current in the meadow. Log Barriers placed in the stream bed provided the only change of current speed and overhead cover for the fish there. Looking at my map, the adjacent forest road provided access to higher up on Goose Lake trib, although not a significantly steeper gradient, but enough I found, to provide better fishing. Drive up about a mile or two and access the trib after a short scramble.

One or two high meadows up there, smaller than camp, with their slower currents. Gave them a quick try, but concentrated on the faster water sections. WHAT FUN!!! 6pm thundershower put an end to that day's fishing. Back to camp and spend the night. Friday morn, breakfast, pack up and drive to Warner Lake trib. What a beautiful, STARK place. Arrive about noon-time. Walk around and admire the views. I ALMOST MISS WARNER LAKE TRIB BECAUSE OF THE SHRUBS SURROUNDING THE ROAD CULVERT!!! Luckily, I heard and saw water running on one side of the road. So I pulled over and parked to go check. Sure enough, there it was. 12" wide and about 4"-6" deep, winding its way thru the high meadow grasses. Late afternoon winds are almost constant, blowing upstream, about 15-20 mph.WONDERFUL!!! THAT SHOULD HELP MY CASTING A LOT!!!! NOT!!!

Not to be deterred, I gear up and go on a hunt. Stealth is the key word here. After frightening a few fish, I creep up on a spot and cast to the head of the pool. A careful follow with the rod leads to a solid take and hookup with my only Warner Lake Redband, a very respectable 8"er. Netted, photographed, admired and released. Another hour upstream netted no fish. Another hour or so downstream of the road gave me a few rises, but no hookups. The brush became intense downstream, together with the very small stream size provided limited opportunities. I hiked back to the road and my truck, thankful that I was fortunate enough to land and photograph at least one fish. He reminded me of the McCloud Redband almost Immediately when i first saw him in the net. Interesting. Getting later in the afternoon, I had my Warner Redband, and I didn't have anyplace picked out for the night. And I still wanted to try Mill/Bidwell Creeks down at the bottom of the mountain, even tho I knew they didn't qualify. I also thought about trying Twelvemile Creek up at the top, but the forest road turned to shit pretty quickly, and I certainly wasn't going to try in my 2WD Ranger truck. It served me well on the main forest/county roads, but not the rougher/steeper stuff.

So, down I go back to Ft. Bidwell and Mill Creek. Up county road about a mile to where the road drives right thru the creek and continues upstream. I stop and fish. Few risers, nothing hooked or landed. Don't know what kind of fish they are, never saw one good enough to identify. Possibly rainbows, who knows. Decide to leave about 5-6pm and start heading west. Drive for 3 hours, stopping for a burger somewhere. End up at the McCloud River area and decide to head to Fowlers campground and stay the night. It's kinda late and I'm about half way home, so here I'll stay. Saturday morning, up bright and early, cup of coffee, pack up truck and go fish the McCloud river for 3 hours. Back to truck, head to Redding, big breakfast/lunch at Denny's, call wife and check in, drive like a zombie back to Marin County.

What an experience! The two things that stand out in my mind, in no particular order, are the beauty and fragileness of these native fish, and the small stream fishing experience. Number one and two, and they are interchangeable. A truly unique adventure. My daughter had planned to go with me, as well as a friend who is new to fly fishing, but they both cancelled at the last nite before I left, so I went solo. I've done it before many times, so I'm used to it. I WILL GO BACK TO EACH OF THESE LOCATIONS FOR FUTURE TRIPS!! THAT IS A FACT!!!

Joe Leal