Hook, Line, And Sinker
by Calendar Hacksaw
The first time I left Highway 58 and headed through the "Grand Canyon of the Caliente," I turned to my wife and said, "Betty, I smell trout"
"You old fool, Calendar," she retorted. "That's not trout; that's manure!"
"Not that," I fired back. "Behind that. Way back when, eons and eons ago, when this land was pristine, and the Mighty Caliente was cutting its path through these canyon walls. Can't you smell the trout that must have been here?"
And so launched my long and furtive search for the descendant of those lunkers which thrived in that virgin wilderness so many years ago, leaving Walker Basin and Twin Oaks with the legacy and distinction of being known as the "Wild Trout Capital of the World," a reputation which endures to this day.
Paleontologists tell us that Caliente Creek was once a hotbed of trout, about 25-million years ago, three years before cattle were introduced to the Rankin Ranch. The "Caliente Cutthroat" was a distant relative of its namesake to the far north, and found nowhere else on earth. But, alas, geologic and seismic activity caused Caliente Creek to run dry in drought years, and the Caliente Cutthroat was forced to adapt. Four short appendages appeared on its underbelly, and like the Florida Catfish, it became an air-breather and land-traveler, crossing the dry creek bed from one isolated pool of water to another. The Native Americans called this aberration "varmint," which roughly translated means "ground squirrel." Today, this same species can be seen drinking coffee at TOGS on Saturday mornings. They are protected now; barbless hooks and no more than two in possession, although Al has been known to make an exception.
In her memoirs, Mary Rankin wrote of family vacations camping at "Fish Creek," and catching fish in abundance. Now, folks, I have criss-crossed the Piutes in search of elusive trout and Fish Creek, and have found neither. To where did this mysterious creek disappear? Is it possible that the early Rankins gathered up the creek - gravel, water, fish and all - and turned it into Julia Lake? I can think of no other explanation.
In 1854, John Fremont traced the headwaters of Weaver Creek to the septic tank at Mike Spencer's cabin near Grouse Meadow. Weaver Creek supported native trout for tens of thousands of years, until Piute Mountain School sucked up all its water to feed the drinking fountains. Even today, it's not uncommon for some kid to run to the nurse's office with a mouthful of fish lips and entrails. At Piute Mountain, this is known as "Extra Credit Biology," and is a prerequisite for team penning competition. The next time you' re in town and the menu board reads "Fresh Trout - Caught Locally" you might want to give it some thought.
Likewise, Havilah Creek was a perfect trout fishery until the early settlers arrived, in a caravan led by visionary Carl Triplett, and consisting of his uncle, his grandfather, three patron saints, a nurse, and a monk. They immediately set about to establish a "historical society" so they would have a means of remembering why they were there. And we're all damn glad they did.
Some 15 years ago, I wrote an article for Western Outdoor News about an obscure stream in the San Bernardino National Forest. Somehow, that piece made its way to the California Department of Fish and Game, and today that stream is a "protected fishery." I promise I'll never write one of those articles again.
I'm convinced that native trout do indeed exist in and around Walker Basin, and I won't be satisfied until I find them. But where are they? Which canyon is shielding them? Thompson Canyon? Back Canyon? Steve Canyon?
This column begs but one question: Would it be possible, after all these years of abuse and neglect, to return just one of our creeks to its natural state in such a manner that it could function as a trout stream? What kind of a donation of land, talent, knowledge, skill, and ability would it require? Is it even feasible? I know this community, and it has shown that it can accomplish anything it sets its mind to. Is this something that others might like to see as well? If so, let the Fence Post know your thoughts. I want Betty to smell the trout.