Tag: Hot Creek

Editorial: Protect Hot Creek from gold mining

The author is a popular guide in the Mammoth Lakes area. (Jim Burns)

If it’s not one battle to protect the fisheries in the Eastern Sierra, it’s something else. While I’m not the longest standing fly-fishing guide operating in the area, I’ve been doing this long enough now to fully realize the fights. It could be over water during drought years, battling bureaucracies with proposed reg changes, or putting a spotlight on the destruction of dispersed camping.

Last summer at Hot Creek, I watched an angler 50 feet downstream of me drop his drawers and empty his bowels in the grass 15 feet from the water. I was guiding two clients. They weren’t surprised when I asked the guy what he was doing, then asked him to never return to the Eastern Sierra again. I’d take that experience last summer on Hot Creek any day of the week over the looming threat we all now face of Canadian-based operation Kore Mining proposing taking one giant shit right next to my most favorite fishery in the world: Hot Creek.

Mining laws today date back a minute. 1872. The General Mining Act of 1872 was written when miners looked for metals with pack mules and handpicks. It’s an outdated set of laws that no mining company in the country wants to fix. Prospecting minerals on federal lands can pay big bucks. But mining is different today than it was in the past, and that begs consideration of every new mining proposal that comes up.

Fortunately, common sense still dictates that companies don’t have a complete carte blanche to dig up federal soil just anywhere. One of the most controversial mining proposals of current times is that of Pebble Mine which ended last November when the Trump Administration killed off hopes of digging up Bristol Bay, Alaska. Pebble Mine wanted to extract gold, copper, and molybdenum. Bristol Bay is also home of one of the largest salmon runs in the world, a money maker for both commercial fishers and its tourism-based economy. Every proposal faces a different set of environmental concerns, some benign, and some truly legitimate.

Kore Mining is interested in drilling the ground around Hot Creek to look for gold. Sitting on claims several decades old, and a budget of $8 million, they intend to disrupt about a five-acre region of pristine forest located directly behind Hot Creek. If gold is found, they’d bid the claim to a major company to open pit heap leach gold mine the region. USFS is still cleaning up pollutants from the Mill City mining which happened over a hundred years ago. Cabin owners have been kicked out of their cabins and denied rights to their property. We haven’t even resolved this mess, and yet mining is being proposed again?

What could possibly go wrong? Well, first of all, where does Kore Mining intend to get its water to drill? If they do drill and hit the water table, waste water will contain arsenic, boron, and chlorine. This is directly above one of the region’s best fisheries, Hot Creek. I’ll also add the fact that water eventually flows into the Owens River, Crowley Lake, and then Los Angeles kitchen sinks.

Kore Mining doesn’t use pack animals. Extensive truck traffic hauling water and waste in and out on roads that are now overgrown will create noise, light, and air pollution. I don’t believe guests staying at Hot Creek Ranch envision a week of fly fishing accompanied with the sound of drilling. Athletes training at Whitmore would breathe air pollution. Let’s suppose gold is found. What do we have? One large open pit mine.

How’s the air pollution working for people living near Owens Lake? The area being proposed to explore is wildlife habitat. Deer, sage grouse, etc. Deer tags aren’t as easy to come by as they used to be, and the sage grouse is a protected bird. I can’t imagine mining that close to Hot Creek Hatchery would be good for an already embattled entity. Thousands and thousands of visitors walk Hot Creek each summer to see the geothermal area. I see them when I’m fishing and guiding. They end up with this magnificent view of the fields and Mammoth Mountain. Now substitute that with an open pit mine.

What can you do? Be vocal. Be loud. Be objective. This simply can’t happen. You can start by writing USFS Mineral Programs Manager Colleen Garcia (colleen.garcia@usda.gov) before the deadline of May 6, 2021. Please also contact Reid Dagul (Reid.Dagul@mail.house.gov) and express your objection. Share this information. Get in touch with organizations fighting this fight. Sierra Club and Trout Unlimited are just a couple of many. This is the biggest fight Hot Creek has seen yet, and it has to win.

Chris Leonard
Mammoth Lakes, California fly fishing guide & activist

Hot Creek: You in or out?

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HOT CREEK always sets me back on my haunches. What a beautiful spot. (Jim Burns)

Fall fishing, for me, is the best fishing. Maybe I love it simply because I love the fall — the blistering So.Cal. sun takes an occasional break; football is back; and, I don’t know, turning leaves, colder nights, a moon that seems clearer, nearer.

So last weekend my wife and I escaped to Mammoth Lakes for the first time in a couple of years. I’d been alerted to the stocking of Hot Creek — the So. Cal. holy of holies — by John Tobin, Pasadena Casting Club’s conservation editor. When he told me the California Department of Fish and Game planned to release more than 6,000 fish. I wasn’t sure what to think. My impression over all these years was that Hot Creek contained only natives.(We can talk about natives, browns, rainbows in another post.)

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PILLOW TROUT: Or, maybe, somewhere over the rainbow? (Jim Burns)

When I asked my buddy, who would also be in Mammoth, if he wanted to fish Hot Creek, he declined because they were stockers. I mulled, I brooded, I went to the local fly shop for guidance, where a guide told me that Hot Creek Ranch had laid down the law — either stock, or the property would go up for sale. I haven’t confirmed that statement with the owners, but it made sense. A business owner has to have a profit base. Without the base, what’s the point?

A recent CDFG press release confirms this woeful condition: “For unknown reasons, the Hot Creek fishery appears to have declined substantially in recent years, with markedly lower catch rates and few trophy (>18”) fish coming to the creel. Drought-related impacts are the suspected cause, including low flows, lack of flushing flows in late spring/early summer to mobilize fine sediments and expose spawning gravels, potential changes in water quality/chemistry and increased aquatic vegetation.”

Then there is the fact that Hot Creek is a designated “wild trout water.” Why would you stock it and allow it to retain that designation?

The press release goes on to say, “While it may appear counter-intuitive to stock a designated Wild Trout Water, California Fish and Game Commission Policy allows for such stocking under specified terms and conditions. The Commission Designated Wild Trout Waters Policy, under subsection I.B. states that designated waters should be: “Able to support, with appropriate angling regulations, wild trout populations of sufficient magnitude to provide satisfactory trout catches in terms of number or size of fish.” Subsection II.A. states: “Domestic strains of catchable-sized trout shall not be planted in designated wild trout waters.” And Subsection II.B. states: “Hatchery-produced trout of suitable wild and semi-wild strains may be planted in designated waters, but only if necessary to supplement natural trout reproduction.” 

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TROUT SANS ADIPOSE: And it’s time for a quick selfie before he’s back in the water. (Jim Burns)

Anyway, after cuddling the condo’s trout pillow that night, I decided to try my luck. All I can say is within 15 minutes of trudging down the dirt pathway and moving past a guide untangling a client’s bird’s nest, I was into a fish. He was sure he owned the run, and I was sure I would soon own him. A longer cast with my old Sage SP 3 wt., rigged with 5x, and a sparsely tied elkhair caddis and the fish was on, fighting, running — then hiding in the red flowing weeds.

One in the weeds can ruin your whole day. If you can’t see him and can barely feel him on your line, then disaster may be tapping you on the shoulder. It was only through hard-won weed experience on our own LA River that I brought him to net, snapped a selfie, and let out a good, old-fashioned “whoop, whoop.”

It was a very good day, but I wonder, do you support stocking a Wild Trout Water?

Please take this very quick survey.

 

David Kestenbaum – 6 days ago

I have been fishing Hot Creek for 30 years. The stream has been devastated by the drought. Very few anglers even bothered to fish Hot Creek over the last year or two because of the lack of fish. The trout that were stocked are diploid fish and will reproduce in the stream and hopefully restore the stream to its past glory.
A little known fact is that the stream had previously been stocked, both on the ranch and in the public water until about seven years ago. At the end of the season the hatchery would dump its excess fish into the creek and a former ranch manager many years ago, before Kevin and Bill, stocked on the ranch. So, the creek has never been a pure wild trout fishery. After a year in the stream a native strain stocked fish will behave wild and except for the clipped fin is almost impossible to tell apart from the native ones. The stocked fish off-spring will truly be wild. I for one am very grateful the the DFW for stroking my beloved stream.

See you on the river, Jim Burns

Volunteer Opportunity: Help stock Hot Creek, electroshock Mammoth Creek, Sept. 26-Oct. 6

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HOT CREEK has been a mecca for fly fishers for decades, and now is in trouble. (Courtesy California Fly Fishing)

Note: This is from Pasadena Casting Club, but has broad appeal to the fly fishing community. — Jim Burns

Dear PCC members,

As you probably know, Hot Creek has essentially crashed over the last year or more: few fish, small fish.  Recent DFW electroshocking bears this out.

Dr. Mark Drew, eastern Sierra CalTrout Headwaters project director, told us at our September meeting that a perfect storm of factors is probably responsible.  He listed the opening of Hot Creek to winter fishing without the promised Department of Fish and Wildlife annual health monitoring, the prolonged drought and the concomitant 50 percent decreased in the flow of the spring that feeds the stream as probable causes.

This year for the first time in memory, Mammoth Creek dried up briefly.

DFW has done a quick study and finds no issues with water quality or food availability.  Under pressure from the community that would suffer economic loss if the fishery does not recover, they have decided to stock HC with diploid rainbow trout, which can mature and reproduce.  CalTrout and DFW are asking for our help.  Here are the details.

Monday, Sept. 26 through Friday, Sept. 30:  help electroshock Mammoth Creek.

Thursday, Oct. 6: help with the placement of 6,000 fish in Hot Creek.  (They plan to place 12,000 per year for several years, and do electroshock surveys to see how the spawn is doing.)

If you can participate in either or part of these scheduled tasks, please contact Dr. Mark Drew at mdrew@caltrout.org

or call him at (760) 709-1492.  He will provide snacks and lunch.

Also please let me know if you are participating.

Thank you.

John Tobin

Conservation Chair

pmd6x@yahoo.com