Cruising up highway 395 towards Bishop I could see the remnants of storm clouds hanging over the Alabama Hills. The weather reports, which had predicted a high pressure system settling over the High Sierra all week, seemed to be thankfully wrong. Blue Skies may have been fine for Irving Berlin, but for us photographers and fisherfolk they are the kiss of dullness.
Drip drop. Fat rain drops splash on my windshield. I suppose I would prefer something short of a torrential downpour while I am on the road. I’m thinking I ought to get up to Yosemite before this blows over, but I’ve just bought a fishing license, and I figure I’ve got time enough to cast a fly or two in Hot Creek, just south of Mammoth, and still make it to Tuolumne Meadows in time for magic hour.
Hot Creek is a catch and release, fly-only trout stream which culminates in a bubbling geothermal hot spring now closed to the public. I fished it once with a guide many years ago and had a bonanza, but left to my own resources I am usually lucky to get a strike or two. It’s heavily fished, so the trout are wise to the ways of the weekend warrior (that’s a four point alliteration for you amateurs) and if there isn’t a hatch on, they are lethargic at best.
But there is a hatch on – falling back on my entomology I would describe this one as “little black bugs.” I’ve got some type of caddis fly that the guys at the Trout Fitter in Mammoth suggested. I’d tied it on as rain poured down, stubbornly refusing to admit defeat in the middle of a fisherman’s knot. Sure enough, I hooked a nice rainbow in front of a group of kids being led toward the hot springs by a naturalist. Bravo, Mike! Those kids think you know what you’re doing! I feel obligated to spend a few more minutes casting about fecklessly, but it is getting late. It is time to forsake the evening hatch for the evening light.
I’ve got a favorite spot in Tuolumne Meadows, near a footpath that bisects the river not far from the Visitor Center. There are some nice rock formations that break up the river, with Lembert Dome upstream and the Cathedral Range looming above my right shoulder. I’m taking my first extended outing with my new Canon 5D Mark II – it’s not set up that differently from the 20D, which I had used as a back-up to my film cameras, but the experience of using it as my primary imaging system is new to me. Freed from the limitations and expenses of film, the tendency is to vaguely compose something and fire away until you zero in on the right exposure. If you’re wondering how cyberspace gets inundated with visual doggerel, this is how it happens.
Around seven o’clock the light turns warm, the clouds settle in over the meadow like a watercolor, and I vow to focus, see what I can find in the next ninety minutes. Small trout are starting to rise, leaving concentric circles all around. A family of deer wander around the river’s edge. A seagull flies overhead. The sky is deepening to a dark blue, the clouds changing from fluffy white to pink. I’m feeling the altitude –8600 feet – as I wobble around with my tripod. A couple of times I almost tumble into the drink.
Despite the stillness of the scene, the moments are fleeting. A crescent moon rises, then is lost behind a cloud. The deer family crosses the stream. The light plays tricks with the clouds. By the time I change lenses, experiment with a polarizer, adjust the horizon line, the image may be lost. So I keep at it until the last of the light flickers out.
By tomorrow the clouds will be gone.