The livestock of Sugar Creek Ranch were feeding like crazy when we turned off Highway 3 into the ranch driveway last Tuesday.
To get there, we drove southwest from Yreka to Scott Valley, a lovely, picturesque, high-mountain vale with green pastures, wooded grottos, and many small family farms. The historic communities of Ft. Jones and Etna provide the services essential to local residents.
The Scott River meanders throughout, fed along its journey to the Klamath River by numerous little creeks. It’s near the river that the scars from a bygone era are noted; no more so than at our destination, Sugar Creek Ranch.
We saw mountains of gravel, 20- to 30-feet high, tailings from nearly a century of gold mining, stretching north and south of the ranch entrance off Hwy. 3.
The dominant color is grey. Small seams of topsoil provide opportunity for some native plants and small trees to get a foothold. They add a green, scruffy accent to a lifeless, loosely packed rocky moonscape.
Dottie wasn’t impressed with the setting.
Clearly, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, because amidst all of that ruination caused by gold miners of yore, I saw rainbow colored jewels. They were everywhere (at least in the water).
This is no ordinary farm with cattle grazing in green pastures. Sugar Creek is a fish ranch. Huge rainbow trout were aggressively feeding on the surface of eight crystal clear, icy-cold ponds, kept fresh by natural springs and Sugar Creek, a tributary of the Scott River that forms the eastern boundary of the ranch.
We checked out each of the ponds before choosing to start at the southernmost because it was close to the lodge, had easy bank access, and lots of big fish actively feeding on the surface.
I tied a fly on Dottie’s line first and she started casting toward a rising trout.
Before I could even get my rod set up she had a fish on.
It was a nice, fat rainbow about 16 inches long. It put up an impressive fight, but she brought it to the net in a few minutes.
Ranch rules for handling fish are strict. Keep them in the water and gently and quickly remove the barbless hook and let them go. The nicely groomed edges of the pond made that easy.
I had just tied a fly onto my line when Dottie yelled she had another fish on. This one was considerably bigger than the last, about 20 inches or more.
After helping her release that rainbow, I finally got a chance to make a cast.
The pond had numerous coves and grottos, some lined with willows. There was ample vegetation in and around its edges to provide habitat for the kinds of bugs on which trout thrive.
Big fish were breaking the surface all over the pond. They were obviously dining, but on what I couldn’t tell. Dottie had been using a nymph just below the surface. But the first two fish she caught and released must have warned the others. They got very picky.
It was exciting and frustrating at the same time. Fish kept rising. I kept changing flies. Because I saw nothing actually hatching or flying close to the surface, I assumed there was something just below the surface that attracted them.