Figure 1--Waterfall

Guest Blogger: Michael Vorhis, author of ARCHANGEL suspense thriller, OPEN DISTANCE adventure thriller & more to come

There is a little known stream in Northern California that gets its water from the conical slopes of volcanic Lassen Peak. The snow from up to the 11,000-foot summit melts throughout the summer, but much of it disappears underground in the maze of lava tubes left by ancient eruptions…some of which are wide enough to drive several buses through them side by side. The water then treks nearly sixty miles barely absorbing any BTUs in its clandestine underground passages, and resurfaces as a creek that flows about half a mile along the surface and simultaneously through strata at depths of up to 100 feet. Then at the same time all these parallel rivulets of differing bedrock depths reach a high drop-off, and…some of it up on the surface and some of it issuing out of subsurface strata…it all goes over one of the most enchanting falls you’ll ever gaze upon in your life.

<Figure 1: Waterfall >

Despite the many miles it has spanned, the waters of this stream are like liquid ice. I think all it would take for the surface to glaze over is for the sun to go behind a cloud. The waters are so clear and so cold that in the pool below the falls you can only stand to put your bare foot in them for a minute or less–I know this because my 13-year-old daughter and I have a annual contest…she can usually go about 40 seconds, and I can add 20 more onto that, tops, courtesy of nerve endings six decades old…that is, I always win, equipped as I am with a combination of equal parts old age and treachery.

<Figure 2: Waterfall Pool>

The water above and below the falls, and for maybe a quarter mile below the pool, is only about 42 degrees Farenheit. It is packed with trout. Anglers come from great distances to fish the general area, which includes numerous other more famous rivers–the Fall, the varied sections of the Pit, the notorious McCloud, the upper Sacramento, and the household word that is Hat Creek. Because of swiftness and narrowness and treacherous wading among sharp volcanic rock in the little stream of which I speak, those other rivers draw far and away the most fishing; the little stream only gets a little bit of attention, most of it from dads whose families are camped in the campground at the rim, or from those who wouldn’t know a trout from a bullfrog and who think of ‘catch and release’ only in terms of immigration enforcement debate…those who consider trout flies with both blank reverence and also a little mockery as they soak their department store doughballs in the water beneath large shiny plastic bobbers with price tags still clinging to them. Hardly any of them spend more than a few minutes on the stream’s edge.

The water above the falls is stocked; below it’s an archetypal home to holdovers and natives, many quite large, and perhaps the odd individual that might somehow have survived the splat at the end of 130 feet of drop. Below it’s barbless only, and C&R; above it’s ‘anything goes.’ A few accomplished experts bring fish to net from the stream down-current of the base pool, while anglers of a wider experience spectrum regularly catch nice fat stockers above the falls, often several in an hour’s time. I’ve seen them. And that gets me, finally, to the point of my tale.

Until I figured something out I’d almost never had any success in this stream, either above or below. I’d had some in the pool below the falls, but usually only a few minutes before I had to break down and head back to camp. Why? Well consider that I only get this far north on our annual family camping trip, during which the only time I can break away from my family to do some solo fishing is very early in the morning, before dawn to maybe an hour or so after. It’s the only timeslot that my indulgence won’t impact the others in my clan. (Twice only, I’d been able to fish this stream in the afternoon, both times in the more difficult lower section, and in both cases I’d caught nice fish.)

<Figure 3: Downstream >

I saw nobody else getting up as early as I typically was, to fish this little creek. I used to consider that a plus…but they were slouching down to the water in mid-afternoon and getting takes on a wide array of flies, while I was getting repeatedly skunked. Why? Well, go back for a moment to the part about this creek being all of 42 degrees Farenheit.

Ever watch a clear stream and see trout suddenly lining up in “feeding stations” all about the same time of evening? They’re reacting to a combination of light intensity, water temperature, adult or larval insect prevalence, and possibly a general lapse of time since their last major feed. While we tend to think of light as a detriment to fish being active (I shared an earlier article called “Aversion” on that subject a year ago), in reality what the fish are looking for is not so much less light as they are a tolerable but also useful amount of it.

This stream gurgles through a forest of consistent shade. Light intensity is never going to exceed trout comfort levels here. But light can do more than shut things down–it can also ignite insect life activity. Caddis worms begin to sally forth to graze for the day, hatches are triggered, subaquatic critters go on the move to catch a little warmth…and very little of this takes place at 42 degrees Farenheit, pre-dawn.

<Figure 4: Upstream >

I have learned over time that my angling efforts here were far too early. The fish in this stream lie in a kind of fish-dormant state until things get going for the day. The sun throws the switch. An hour or two after the morning’s direct rays have been caressing algae-covered rocks, feeding seems to begin. Prior to that I’ve seen river otters taking advantage of the dormant languishing, but never an angler hooking a fish, and I’ve never experienced a single take before that time of day…I’ve never seen any fish activity at all that early here, except for the occasional wild leap of one trying to avoid an otter’s teeth.

In fisheries where the water is this cold, trout can thrive–especially rainbows. But they’re not going to waste energy prowling for food or holding in the current until the smorgasbord starts to get carried in from the kitchen. In these cases, the sun is the head waiter.

The lesson probably applies in nearly every creek at some point in the late-winter-to-early-spring transition…at least where real winters exist. In this one it applies all year long. I have learned to wait for Mother Nature to activate her day before I activate mine. A side benefit is that I can grab a little extra sleep, or perhaps relax in camp with a little…uh…breakfast.

<Figure 5: Hammock and Breakfast >


  1. Michael,
    Excellent description and photos. My son in law and I have fished the streams and rivers in this area a few times and found it to be as you describe. Reading this makes me want to head there again, and this time take that morning rest and breakfast before heading out.

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