California Heritage Trout Challenge
California has one of the most diverse group of trout within its boundaries. No fewer than 11 species or sub-species (see footnote 1) are native to the state. These trout are dubbed “Heritage Trout.” The California Fish and Game Commission established the “California Heritage Trout Challenge” to honor this diversity. The challenge is to catch, photograph and release 6 of the species from their native range. When you submit documentation of your success, the the state provides a certificate of your accomplishment. In doing our research and planning for an October of 2006 trip Stream Side Adventures associate Duane Brandt and I discovered that with a bit of luck we could get 3 of the Heritage Trout form the Kern River Drainage system. Luck was with us and at the end of the trip we were half way to completing the challenge. This past August Duane and I decided to continue the quest and not just catch three more species to qualify but to go for all the species for our life lists.
During the course of our quest we covered nearly 2,500 miles ofCalifornia’s back roads as we made the round trip from Los Angeles. As you would expect, most of the Heritage Trout are located in northern California. Many, such as the Eagle Lake Redband, Warner Lakes Redband or the Piaute Cutthroat are native to or now restricted to only one California stream. Most of the remaining heritage trout are only found in small remote locations that receive very little fishing pressure.
Our first attempt of this trip for a Heritage Trout was a false start. A several mile walk down into Slinkard Creek lead to a dry streambed! The next day, August 23rd I caught my first Heritage Trout of this trip, a Lahontan Cutthroat caught from a meadow section of the Upper Truckee River.
The next day our quarry was the Eagle Lake Redband. The Eagle Lake Redband only occurs inEagle Lake and the lakes only tributary Pine Creek. Pine Creek, a small stream, disappears into a lava field near Highway 44. Some time in the past Brook Trout were introduced into Pine Creek. Endemic species don’t do well with competition. Both Duane and I fished hard for over 4 hours and I was fortunate enough to fish the best pool of the creek and catch the only Eagle Lake Redband of the day. We caught many, many Brook Trout but only that one Eagle lake Redband from the only stream habitat in their native range. It is very disconcerting to think that I may have caught the last one.
A long drive took us to Goose Lake,home of the Goose Lake Redband. After finding a primitiveForest Service campground on the banks of Lassen Creek, I decide to try for my second Heritage Trout of the day and third of the trip. About a quarter mile above our camp site, I had my fish. This catch, with my three Heritage Trout caught last year, qualified me as having completed the challenge. Duane had opted to stay in camp and have a gin and tonic and wait until the next morning. The next morning, before the dew had dried, Duane had his Goose Lake Redband, and we were off after our next trout.
A drive up and over one of the most rugged roads and passes I’ve ever been on took us to Dismal Creek home of the Warner Lakes Redband. Dismal Creek drains from Dismal Swamp and flow for less than a mile before it sinks into a lava field. This short section of creek is the only location in California with the Warner lakes Redband occurs. Within five yards Duane had his fish and had completed the challenge. I struggled! After covering nearly all the stream without a fish I quit for lunch. After lunch I changed my tactics and let the howling wind be my friend rather than my enemy. Don’t cast, let the wind bring my fly into the narrow opening. That was what it took and before noon we were off for our next location.
The McCloud River has an almost mystical allure to Missouri trout fisherman. In 1880 Missouri purchased eggs from the U. S. Fish Commission’s McCloud River Station. This station is located in the shadow of Mt Shasta and below three high waterfalls. The McCloud River Redband evolved above these falls. Over the years rainbow trout from below the falls have been stocked above the falls. As a result of hybridization,few if any pureMcCloud River Redband are present in the main stem of the river. Many of the streams that begin as snow melt on Mt. Shasta disappear into larva fields an re-emerge as springs along the Upper McCloud. Our challenge was to find access to one of these streams before it entered a larva field. On our second day we found a location on Trout Creek and shortly had another Heritage Trout.
Now we only had one more Heritage Trout to catch, the Coastal Cutthroat. Another twisting and turning back road took us to Little Jones Creek. On my first cast in the first pool as small but countable Coastal Cutthroat took my Elk Hair Caddis.
With our quest over and having caught all the catchableHeritage Trout we slowly fished our way back to Los Angeles. This Trout Bum lifestyle fits me very well.