The first time I fished Mammoth Creek, I drove past them. The fences were weathered grey and white cedar bleached by the sun. Faded and torn, the old coral melded into the tall grass along the river. Part of the landscape. I noticed them just before the gravel road took me up a small hill behind wide oak trees that reached over and made a tunnel for my small white truck. I drove on until I knew that those worn posts had been the landmark. “The Corals”. Then I travelled further through the beams of light that penetrated the trees and strobed off the white gravel until I found a spot where I could make a three point turn and drive back through my dust cloud towards The Corals and access to the river.
Over time, I recognized The Corals early. I returned many times while I was stationed at Nellis AFB, in Las Vegas Nevada. Mammoth creek runs atop the front range of mountains in Southwest Utah. It was the closest good trout stream I had discovered in my search for water north of Sin City.
Thanks to that creek and a few other obscure trout waters, I got my money’s worth from my out-of-state Utah seasons fishing license. Mammoth was known to me, but the Corals were brought to my attention by a guide and owner of a small fly shop in Southwest Utah called Circle Valley Anglers. A great place and a fine guide. Thank you Emmit.
Emmit has since retired. I had the chance to talk with Steve Dawson, the new owner of Circle Valley Anglers on the Wadeoutthere Podcast. It was a treat to be able to go back to that place and time in my mind through our conversation. Steve shared some amazing insights and is a passionate angler with an interesting story.
Mammoth Creek is a clear stream that can run dirty when you least expect it. Backwards from most trout habitats that fisherman chase in the sunny summer months, Southwest Utah summers bring the summer monsoon season. The water can turn to mud in hours with the sporadic heavy rain. I would call ahead to be sure or check the weather reports. A lesson I learned the hard way after a three and a half hour drive that ended in chocolate, unfishable water. But it rarely rains when it is not the season for rain, and it never rains too much there in the summer anyway. Monsoon is just the word for “some rain” in the high desert mountains around Mammoth Creek that is usually bone dry.
Because there is so little rain, it is crystal clear most of the days you will wade it.
The stones become acutely visible beneath the current. It is a small stream. Walking along the banks you can see where a trout might lie and then if you look beneath, maybe you will see it waiting. Or maybe, if you look through the water while you cast, a fish will surprise you.
It surprised me one day and taught me a lesson about nymphing that I love to expect, although it rarely happens. Often, I look into the blue swirls and splashes of the river, and squint and search for a slender stone that moves different than the current and, in the sun, a glint might for an instant reveal a trout.
This day gave me the habit of looking for the fish while anticipating the hook set and showed me the excitement of fishing the flash.
I could not see the fish, but I saw the take. My strike indicator slightly further up the leader than I needed for the stretch that I was fishing. I cast from the edge of the bank. Enough to hide myself from a trout’s side eye and prevent a darting fish beneath. It startled me at first when I saw the flash and the role over of a rainbow trout slightly upstream and behind my indicator. I paused and then the indicator moved in the familiar way that told me I had a fish and I set the hook. Fish on.
But the flash made me think. I walked sideways downstream to fight the fish in water that I knew would not hold fish to prevent scaring the fellows of this fine trout. He was not a big fish, but not small, and beautiful. After I let him go I adjusted my indicator and moved back to the spot with a deliberate thought to fish and look for the take beneath the indicator in the water where he would flash and show me he had jolted for the beadhead hares ear I had made on a coffee table in air conditioned subdivision below the red rocks of Western Vegas.
Casting again, I saw what I wanted. The fish before the indicator. The flash told me to set.
That changed things for me. Looking for trout in the river is a given. I had always searched for fish to cast to. Looking through the indicator and the river for the trout beneath gave me something different though. I realized that sometimes the fish will show the take before the indicator. I always focus on the indicator when I am nymphing and look for the smallest change in drift for a sign of a take, but from that day on I knew that if the conditions are right in the spot where I am fishing, fishing the flash can be an exciting tool for catching trout on nymphs.
You can see more if you look through a lot of things.
Look through an old worn down coral and you might find a hidden access to the river. Look through a small high desert creek and you may discover a beautiful trout stream that brings memories and fish to hand. Look through a red foam strike indicator and you could see a trout snatch your fly in the current.
Look through. You might find a fish, or something beautiful, was always there. Wadeoutthere.