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Magical trout from vanishing streams
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As far back as I can remember, I have been a stream fisher.  While there’s no doubt that the largest fish always come from lakes and big brawling rivers, there is something magical to me about moving water in a knee-deep stream.  Ordinarily the price you pay to be a stream fisher is that you rarely catch really big fish.

Fortunately, there is an exception to the “Big Water-Big Fish” rule. The exception is Vanishing Streams.  Heck, I didn’t even know what vanishing streams were until I discovered my first one by accident. Vanishing Streams are essentially disappearing streams that flow in the Winter and Spring and then dry up in Summer and Fall. For decades I figured that there couldn’t possibly be fish in a stream that is bone dry for 4 or 5 months.  

My thinking changed several years ago when I accidentally discovered that a stream that was bone-dry in August could be flowing nicely in March and April. To top it off, the average size of its trout was between 18 and 20 inches! I still have difficulty getting used to the idea that you can catch giant trout in a knee-deep creek. After you’ve caught four or five trout over 20 inches it begins to make a believer out of you.  I did a little checking with fisheries biologists from the California Department of Fish & Game and discovered that vanishing stream trout were rainbows that ran upstream from their home reservoir to spawn in the tributary creeks.

There are a couple quirks to fishing for vanishing stream trout. First, they’re sort of like steelhead, sometimes the fish are there, and sometimes they’re not. When they’re up out of the reservoir and in the creek, the fishing is great. If they’ve not yet begun their spawning run or if they have already headed back to the lake, you can fish all day and catch nothing. Probably the single most important thing to remember is that these are spawning trout and that you should release almost all of them so that they can reproduce and a great fishery will remain great for years to come.

Don’t get me wrong, I love to eat a mess of brook trout from a high mountain stream, or a baked trout almondine from one of the reservoirs. If you want to keep a single giant trout that’s over two feet long to take to the taxidermist, that’s great. But remember, if a rancher regularly killed his biggest cattle for food and left the little ones to breed, pretty soon the herd would be stunted.  Catch and release is more than just a code of ethics; it’s good common sense as well.

If you want to try a vanishing stream for giant trout, watch the weather for several days of heavy rain followed by ten consecutive days without rain.

That will give the high water a chance to calm down and most of the murkiness to settle out. Drive up to almost any of the major foothill reservoirs and fish up one of the tributary streams. Most of the streams are legal to fish year-round if they’re downstream from Highway 49, but be sure to check the regulations on the stream you decide to try. With any luck, you may catch the biggest stream trout of your life. Another likely spot for vanishing streams is to check out desert reservoirs for seemingly dead streams that enter them.  One other word of advice, on a warm spring day in the foothills or the desert, be sure to keep a close eye out for rattlers.  Several years ago, I had a really close call with a big diamondback, and even worse was that I was so startled that I swore profusely in front of my minister. Boy, was I embarrassed!  I don’t know about you but I’m counting the sunny days until the vanishing streams magically appear.

Until next week, Tight Lines