Spring break was rapidly approaching and my wife and I were desperately trying to find something fun to do with the kids. We hadn’t had a vacation for close to two years, being freelance photographers, with two kids, it is always hard for us to coordinate anything long term especially in the summer months. It also happened that the kids spring break fell right around my birthday week (yes we celebrate birthdays for a week in our little family), so it became clear we needed to find a place that was kid friendly and had some fly fishing in the off season. I called my friends at The Fly Shop in Redding to see if they had any suggestions and they just had the perfect place for us, Hat Creek Ranch near Burney, CA. While Hat Creek was still closed for fishing for the season, the Ranch itself had three private trout ponds that were open all year. Needless to say it didn’t take much arm twisting to convince us to jump on it.
What makes Hat Creek Ranch so perfect for families is its location. Burney Falls and Lassen Volcanic National Park are near by and are a must visit, but there are many other scenic places you can discover. And there is of course some great fly fishing in the area, including the lower blue ribbon section of Hat Creek, the Fall River and the Pit River. Even in the off season there is still some great fly fishing to be had, the Pit River and Baum Lake are open all year.
The Ranch is about an hours drive east of Redding, past Burney, and wasn’t hard to find. When we got there we were immediately enchanted. I always try to keep expectations low, just in case, but as soon as we entered the property all of us lit up. It got even better when we saw the interior of the cabin. The cabin was just perfect, a loft with four beds and a separate master bedroom gave us plenty of space. There was a fully functional kitchen and a great breakfast nook with view of Hat Creek. The living room was cozy and the whole place was decorated with a lot of love. We soon ran into the owners Becky and Craig, who were sharing a large hammock, enjoying the afternoon sun. Craig gave us a quick run through and let us know that the John Deer Gator parked in
front of the cabin was ours to use. Knowing that we had a storm system moving in within a couple of days, we decided not to waste any time and immediately took the John Deer for a spin to check out our surroundings. The ranch is about 300 Acres and is situated in a volcanic valley. You can still see the remains of it’s once violent volcanic past, with lava flows and dormant volcanoes surrounding the ranch. In addition to having three ponds, the ranch also has half a mile of Hat Creek flowing through it, which offers some challenging rainbow and brown trout fishing in the summer time.
Craig had told us that the larger pond, called Reservoir was fishing well. The pond was stocked with large, willing rainbows who hadn’t seen much action. After touring the property we took our truck with all the fishing gear up to Reservoir. We fished mainly dry flies with a small midge droppers. Knowing that the fish weren’t very selective yet, I opted for a buggy caddis dry fly that floated well and was very visible. To our enjoyment the trout were more attracted to the dry, rather than the midge dropper, which made for some great raises. I must say the trout were quite beautiful and healthy . . . oh and big!
The trout would cruise the edges of the pond and a well placed fly would immediately get their attention, nothing like sight fishing for willing trout Needless to say that after catching countless fish we called it a day and went back to the cabin. When fishing with kids I always think it is best not to overdo it and concentrate on the kids. My kids enjoy fishing, but they are not “junkies” like me!
While the kids were having a snack at the cabin I checked out the “New Pond” which is located just a two minute walk from the cabin. The New Pond is actually connected to Hat Creek and was a lot more challenging than Reservoir. This was the “grown up” pond for sure, and while most of the fish I saw were smaller, they seemed to be a lot smarter.
I soon realized that the 4X setup I used at Reservoir was not going to cut it. These fish were wild, and they weren’t going to go for some “out of place caddis” with a bead head midge attached to it. New Pond was a challenge, and while I didn’t fish it super hard, I must say that it got the better of me. Switching to 6X and some very small midge patterns (dry and wet) I was able to hook several nice fish, but I never brought any to hand.
On the second day we decided to stay on the Ranch and take the John Deer up some of the trails and go for a little hike. We enjoyed the view of the valley and imagined how the area must have looked when the Volcanos were still active.
After our hike I wanted to make sure we still got a little fishing in. In the summer time Shasta County enjoys overall good weather, during the off season on the other hand, the weather can change drastically. We knew in advance that we had a storm system coming in and had planned accordingly. Winds were picking up and I was glad that we had taken my son’s spinning rod along. One thing fly fishermen often forget is how hard fly fishing actually is for novices, and how much harder it is for kids, especially during windy conditions. It is easy to set up a spinning rod with a “split-shot wooly bugger rig”, which makes it easier and less dangerous to cast a fly during windy conditions. Using the rig Aiden actually out-fished his old man, I swear he seemed a couple of inches taller that day. While Aiden and I were fishing, my daughter and my wife went with Becky to groom the two horses on the property.
Becky made an exception and let my daughter ride Penny, since she rides English saddle and is almost as crazy about horses as I am about fly fishing. I think the day couldn’t have been any more perfect. We ended the day with a great BBQ and invited Becky and Craig to join us. Some awesome pinot noire and a lot of s”mores ended the day on a high note.
The next day the storm we had been expecting hit, the winds were gusting at 45 mph and it started raining. Pond fishing became almost impossible. The kids and my wife were content in the cozy cabin, which allowed me to sneak out to fish the Pit for a few hours. Being in the canyon of the Pit, I actually got out of the wind and had some decent fishing. The Pit is a free stone river with big boulders and fast moving water. A wading staff and some strong legs are highly recommended. I actually don’t use a wading staff and took a good tumble, to my surprise, I didn’t hurt myself and kept dry, how, is still a mystery to me. There were caddis flies everywhere, nevertheless the fish were hitting Copper Johns and PTs. The fishing was actually fairly good and just a few hours on the river gave me my desperately needed off-season wild trout fix. The family took advantage of our cozy “home away from home” cabin, played board games and watched old westerns.
The next day it was time to leave. We woke up to some light snow fall, unfortunately the snow didn’t stick, but it was a pretty sight nevertheless. Craig and Becky sent us on our way with a bag of some homemade popcorn.
The wonderful memories from this trip will stay with us for a long time and we hope to be back soon.
Here are some tips when visiting Hat Creek Ranch.
For information on Hat Creek Ranch visit: http://www.theflyshop.com/adventures/hat_creek.htm
Hat Creek Ranch is the perfect place to take your family and spend some quality time with them while enjoying some fly fishing. But even for the hardcore fly fishing junkie the ranch offers some challenging water. In addition the Lassen/Shasta region also offers some great additional waters to get your fix.
When fishing the creek, try to stay out of the water as much as you can to protect the habitat. Hat Creek is a sensitive spring creek, the upper reaches of the creek are not that wide, so wading isn’t really necessary. There are some willows, knowing how to make a good roll cast will increase your success.
There are three lakes on the property. We only fished two of them. They offer different levels of sophistication. Trout will get more wary as the year progresses, a subtle presentation and fine tippet will help your success rate.
Bring a net, I forgot mine, which put unnecessary stress on the fish. Revive the fish if you take pictures.
When fishing with kids always make them where glasses and make sure the hooks are totally debarbed.
There is some great wild life viewing to be had so bring binoculars. There are some Bald and Golden Eagles on the property. We also saw Otters and at night you might run into some Beavers. There are also coyote, fox and bears in the area.
If you go with the family and don’t know the area plan for some half day trips. Lassen National Park is only 40 minutes away, but there are a lot of great places to visit.
If you want to check out some other water while staying at the ranch there are many great rivers and lakes close by. Rivers to fish are the Pit, Hat Creek and the Fall (requires a boat). But there are also smaller creeks in the area that offer some great fly fishing, such as Lost Creek and Burney Creek. Great lakes to fish is Manzanita Lake in Lassen National Park, about a 40 minute drive and Baum Lake which is only 10 minutes away.
If you come in the off season Baum Lake and the Pit offer great fishing and are open all year. Always check with The Fly Shop for the latest fishing reports and conditions.
Hat Creek Ranch has all the amenities, stove, refrigerator, coffee machine, small dish washer, BBQ and washing machine are all provided. Only thing you need to bring is the food and drinks. Bedding is provided, but you will be required to wash the sheets when you leave, so if you like to spend more time on the water I highly recommend bringing sleeping bags. Burney has a couple of supermarkets, but if you want to have more choice I recommend stocking up in Redding.
Wet flies: Damsel flies, Midge patterns, Pheasant Tales, Black Wooly Bugger, Copper Johns
Dry Flies: Parachute Adam, #14-20,Callibaetis Spinner, #16 ,Callibaetis Cripple, #14-16, PMDs
Tricos, Elk Hair Caddis, #14-18, Midge patterns, some Cripple pattern
You can find out more about equipment and fly fish selections here: http://www.theflyshop.com/adventures/hat_creek_equip.html
Disclosure: Marcel occasionally photographs for The Fly Shop. But he was not paid for this review.
Photos © 2010 Meher and Marcel Siegle