There was once water in California. I have seen the evidence. Black and white photos commemorate the steelhead that frequented the rivers in the southern part of the state. Some still do, although they are few. It is the same old song, sad and redundant, humans came and nature left. Long since dried up creek beds offer bleak reminders of the life that once flowed through their veins. Yes, trout were here but they left with the water. Years of drought and diverting rivers for agriculture and growing populations has taken its toll. Fire is now more familiar than rain. Yet there is still hope in the hills. Faded green chaparral hides trickles if life.
Sespe Creek, hidden among the dusty hills of the Los Padres National Forest, offers a glimpse into what trout fishing in southern California might have looked like 100 years ago. The water still flows, but it is dominated by algal lined pools baking under the sun. Surprisingly, the water is much cooler than it appears. In fact it seems it could support trout. In fact it does.
A distinct shadow moves along the sandstone bottom. It is not living, but the one swimming above, responsible for the dark shape is alive. A precious seven inch rainbow trout moves slowly in the deep pool. The water seems stagnant, but its current is revealed in the bits of foam moving across the surface. There is movement, although it is not much, not enough for the trout to sit stationary so it moves, tracing the outline of the pool.
A single fly cast into the middle of the pool breaks the surface tension and slowly descends through the water column. It is a gold bead prince nymph. There is no indicator attached to the line because the water is clear and the sun reflects off the gold bead, shimmering as it sinks. The fish changes course ever so slightly, it does not speed up or slow down until the fly is directly in front. Then it pauses, watching the fly for a few seconds, deciding. The mouth comes open, sucking in water, as the fish ever so slightly lurches forward. It is amazing how carefully the trout approaches this action. A motion it has done thousands of times before. But there is good reason for hesitation and perhaps the trout should have hesitated longer, but it doesn’t and the hook brings the fish to the angler’s hand. A small silver spotted glimmer of hope remains in the hills of southern California.