Mcgee Creek, CA
I talk a lot about the kinds of mysterious, almost mythical feelings of peace and harmony I get from nature and being out fishing. And what’s ironic about that is that one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever fished — and possibly one of my favorite places in the entire world — is totally overshadowed by the actual fishing. As gorgeous and stunning as McGee Creek is, the fishing surpasses it tenfold.
What’s even funnier is I stumbled into discovering McGee Creek by sheer dumb luck. I got invited out to Crowley Lake with a buddy of mine and his dad a few years back. Now, I like lake fishing and have some incredible memories on lakes like Crowley, but I typically prefer creeks and streams for good trout fishing, so I did a little homework before the trip.
But I couldn’t find much at all, certainly not a whisper of a magical fishing Eden.
When we headed up to the mountain, it was my first time in the eastern Sierras, and I was totally blown away by the beauty of everything. It was majestic, the way the land thrust up from the earth into these towering mountains with crisp white snowcaps; the way the water stretched out across the expanse of lake, mirroring spotted tufts of white clouds in a shockingly blue sky. And the trees themselves rose up, lush and green, waving side to side as they spread out as far as the eye could see, a vast forest through the mountainside. It was like stepping into a Bob Ross painting, if you know what I mean.
And such a visual wouldn’t be complete without a pristine, pure spring feeding the mountain waters of a stream that meanders and cascades from its source in the mountains down through the lush valley and into the lake. We came for Crowley, but like I said, I’m a stream guy in my core.
My buddy and I decided to hike down to the stream to see if we could have a decent run there. Neither of us knew what we’d find.
About two miles in, we actually passed a random hiker coming up. This guy seriously looked like he might have been born right there in the forest, or maybe he grew off of a tree and started walking around. He was wise and grizzled, and naturally we trusted him completely. “Keep going, boys,” he said, “keep going and you’ll find the fish.” We nodded our heads to this sage guru of the forest and carried on.
“Don’t stop,” he added. “You’ll want to stop early, but keep going.” We went another 2-3 miles and before we knew it, we’d stepped into a dream. Spawning out of the heart of this creek we saw fish after fish, jumping through the water in pairs of twos.
What followed was simply the most epic, incredible day of cutthroat fishing I’ve ever experienced, and maybe ever will again. You see, the secret of McGee Creek is that it’s only good for fishing maybe 3 weeks out of the year, when the cutthroat trout run out of Crowley lake up into this confluence of McGee to spawn. We stood there in awe, out in this remote, rugged wilderness, watching this natural phenomenon unfold.
And we fished the hell out of it. We were catching 22-25” cutthroat on the fly for hours, literally fishing until the sun sank behind the trees and left us stumbling around in total darkness. It wasn’t just the number of fish, and not the size either. It was the sheer number of huge, massive trout and the raw magnificence of where we were in that moment.
The fish were a cherry on top of a day that was the epitome of adventure. I can only imagine how the first settlers in a new world must feel to see something for the first time, to stand on the edge of God’s creation and feel totally speechless, incredibly humbled, and tingling with excitement. We were pioneers that day, from the hike through the forest to figuring out the right fly patterns to use. It’s that exhilarating rush of challenge and joy rolled into the motion of casting out that line and reeling it back in.
As we stood there in the waters on McGee Creek we were already planning the next trip back, already crafting our stories and laughing how no one could possible believe us about this place. Or if they did believe us, they still couldn’t understand. But unfortunately the best kept secrets can’t stay secret forever, and over the years the word got out about McGee and it’s magical trout run.
Everytime we go back, it’s still an absolute gem up there in the east Sierras; it still takes our breath away; but it will never be like that first time and the wonder we felt to experience those moments. Sadly, those moments are probably gone forever.
Not only are more people fishing McGee than ever before, but they’re also trekking through the creek right where these magnificent fish are at the end of their gestation period, without a lot of energy left. Unfortunately, they die. And those dying fish are the ones whose breeding year after year kept this place so incredibly vibrant and bursting with water-jumping life.
I’d love to see people take better care of these fish and respect the ecosystem, but people are selfish in ways I continually struggle with. So many anglers out there are catching as many as they can, and really depleting the population, and even the ones who are fishing responsibly are just adding to the volume. In some ways, the government should probably step in to preserve them before it’s too late, but maybe it already is.
The fact is, I’m selfish too, and while I wish the world was a perfect, ‘happy’ Bob Ross painting sometimes, it’s just too hard to turn the tide. And if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. I won’t sit on the sidelines and never experience these precious moments of life because others are ruining it.
I’ll always cherish those memories, and until I can’t any longer, I’ll keep making new ones. McGee Creek will forever live on in my mind as perfect, pristine, and spectacular as the day I stumbled upon it with my buddy and our eyes were opened wide.
Note: Fishing responsibly and practicing conservation where possible are critical topics illustrated in my experience and memory of McGee Creek. It’s not just about respect for wildlife and their ecosystems, but also respect for the balance and continuity to ensure these types of experiences are possible for our children and the fishers of the future. Please fish respectfully and responsibly so that you can not only experience the sheer joy and rush, but pay it forward as well. Thanks! -CI