July 30, 2017
Steve told me to fish Bybee Creek below Crater Lake, so that was the goal of the day. I got an early start, well-stocked with food and water. You would think with GPS in the truck and on my iPhone, it would be easy, but it wasn’t. I needed a good topo map, but didn’t have one of that area. Driving up Mt. Mazama on Rt. 62 toward the west entrance to Crater Lake Park, I stopped to see what stream was on the right. It was Annie Creek, and it was gorgeous. At one pull-over, I was convinced I could get down the steep banks of the gorge where some other fool had been. I didn’t know if I could get back up, but I was so entranced by the stream, I was willing to give it a go. I started to get geared up when I realized I didn’t have my wallet with the fishing license in it. No one is going to catch you down there in that canyon, but when you crawl back up, dressed in all that gear with a fishing rod in your hand, it isn’t difficult to tell what you were doing.
I drove back to camp, stopping at Omer’s. You may remember he is the campground host, and a great guy. I told him I am getting senile as I had forgotten my fishing license. He just laughed and said, “Maybe you don’t need it.” I got the wallet and computer with Garmin Basecamp on it so I could find Bybee Creek. I thought I might still have time to fish Bybee in the morning and maybe Annie Creek in the afternoon. Bybee Creek is up over the top of the mountain, down the other side and turn north a bit. It made sense to follow Bybee Creek Road, a fire road in the park. National Forests are timbered, and there are roads going all over the place, most going to places I am not interested in. Now if you are a hunter, you would be interested. All the way to the end of the gravel road that runs between the north and south branch of Bybee Creek. There was an old, broken down fence at the end of the road running perpendicular to the road. Good! That would give me something to follow to either stream. To the right was the south fork, which I guessed was bigger, because the map showed it being longer. I followed the fence using my GPS to see how far it was. Picking your way through a forest you are not familiar with is daunting, but I arrived at the rim of a steep canyon, looking down at what appeared to be a very nice stream.
Standing there for five minutes trying to decide if I could make it down and then back up, and if it was worth the effort, I decided to investigate the other stream. Back at the truck, I put my fishing boots and bug shirt on. Once again I found myself on the rim of a canyon. OK, I see how this works. These streams are coming off a huge volcanic mountain, covered with volcanic ash. Crater Lake is almost 2,000 feet deep and is huge. Mt. Mazama that holds Crater Lake, is 8,000 feet and very steep. It gets 42 feet of snow every year, and it hasn’t all melted yet. Some of the streams originate in springs, some with big rivers just coming out the side of the mountain. Quite a few rivers in Oregon come out of springs. I can imagine some of this water seeping out of the lake. Heavy water running down the side of this volcanic mountain digs deep gorges, so if you are going to fish these, yes, you have to climb down into those canyons. The problem with this north fork was there wasn’t enough stream to fish.
Chicken as I was, I drove back down the road looking for a trail or road going toward the south fork. Finding a pull-off and what seemed like a trail, I geared up with everything I had, water, food, GPS, Garmin InReach and headed to the canyon. It was steep going down, but I could at least see where someone else had gone down. It was steep with sandy, loose footing. Finally arriving at the stream, I geared up in front of a gorgeous pool that was probably 8’ deep. These are supposed to have Brook Trout in them, so I threw a Coachman in there 6-8 times. The water was running hard, and it would have to be a fast trout to get to my fly. Then I tried two nymphs, but they didn’t have time to get to the bottom. After my fly finally got caught up in a branch, I moved up a pool. Nada. It was a struggle going anywhere. Both sides of the stream had steep canyon walls, and there were trees across the stream, big trees! After an hour, I came to a long rapid. I imagined a huge, beautiful pool above it, but I couldn’t get to it. The rushing water was too deep and powerful to walk up, and the sides were too steep. It was 3:00 and I thought I had best see if I could climb back up that canyon wall. It was a lot easier coming down, but it looked like a vertical wall going up. Thank God I didn’t wear waders! Slowly I worked my way up, thinking like a mountain-climber. Make sure you have a good foothold before moving. The first part was the steepest and softest, but I found I could kick my foot in to get a good hold. After four or five rests, I got to the top. I was either left or right of where I came in, because this was all bushes. Following a game trail, I plowed my way through bush and leftover limbs and branches from timbering. I arrived at the truck dripping wet in the heat of the day, but thanked God for delivering me safely.
At the bottom of the gravel road there was a semblance of a road going toward the stream. I thought I would give it one more try. I geared up and walked toward the stream. I was getting more comfortable walking in the woods. I hadn’t seen any snakes yet. I stopped and listened for rushing water, but heard nothing. Walking on, I found another canyon rim. Only when I got to the edge of the rim could I hear the water. It is a beautiful stream, but it was another steep climb down, and I had spent my energy. Driving back out the the highway, I turned left. Quickly, I saw where Bybee Creek came into the Rogue River, which also originates on Mt. Mazama. There was a bridge crossing the Rogue and a picnic area, so I crossed over. Bybee Creek gushed into the Rogue, which was also running hard through a little canyon. The hole below a rock I stood on must have been 15’ deep with blue-green, pure water rushing through. For a moment I tried to think of a way to get a fly to the bottom of that pool, but soon decided it was impossible.
I had driven past Crater Lake three times now. I know Martha wants to come here, but who knows if we will make it back or not. I decided to go in for a brief look. A senior park pass is just the gift of America. Showing my card at the gate, they just waved me in! It’s so good, it seems like cheating, kind of like camping in National Forests for $5. I hate heights. I hate curvy roads where one inch past the white line there is nothing for a mile. Then there are signs for rock slides. These are not rocks! These are boulders the size of a tractor-trailer. I stopped at two overlooks along the rim drive. Crater Lake is spectacular! Another three hours and the pictures would be stunning, but I was tired. Heading back down, a truck pulling a good-sized camper trailer, pulled over to let me pass. He must have thought me crazy as I crept along the curvy road with nothing but an abyss on the right side. I wanted to look around at the scenery, but my sweaty palms gripped the steering wheel. I quickly glanced back to see the camper right behind me. Although I had pulled the camper across this mountain, I would not like to pull it on this stretch to the rim, and around the rim as others were doing. I looked for huge boulders coming down the mountain, but didn’t see any. This is a dormant volcano, not an extinct one. There is hydrothermal activity along the lake floor. I was happy to get back on the Rt. 62.
I stopped back at Omer’s, telling him I was going to bring him some fish, but didn’t catch anything. He said he had catfish for lunch, so that’s OK. He talked a little about growing up in southwest Kansas on a farm where they raised cattle and hogs, and about how his mother partly cooked the hogs, storing it in the root cellar in layers of fat. “People wouldn’t know how to do that today, but here I am still alive at 89!” I asked him about what I should use fishing the Williamson River tomorrow. He said, “What I know about that wouldn’t fill a gnat’s eye.” I have so enjoyed spending 5 days chatting with Omer. “It’s Homer without the H”, he told me when we first met, when I couldn’t figure the name. He works as a camp host in different places. “Aw, it gives me something to do.” Maybe I’ll do that if I make it that long. To pass the time he listens to classic rock and makes walking sticks, labeling the top with all the kinds of wood. He knows his woods, having worked in the logging industry most of his life. We have only had brief conversations, but it is amazing what you learn about people over a period of time like this. I will miss visiting with him. It’s better than fishing. I bought two walking sticks, one for Martha and one for Kelly for $18. He sells them to the store and they sell them for $18 each. “But that’s Ok”, he said. The next morning I took him my last Airstream Time coffee cup. Maybe I’ll have some more sent to Fred:}