Hot Creek is famous, and not just because it's been used as a filming location for numerous popular Westerns, including True Grit, Shoot Out, and North to Alaska.
This unique fishery is located in volcano country, and according to the California Department of Game and Fish, contains as many as 8,000 to 10,000 wild trout per mile.
But just because the trout are plentiful, doesn’t mean that fishing Hot Creek is an easy task. Due to the stream’s high alkaline content, the aquatic insect population is thriving, and the trout can afford to be very picky about what they eat.
You’ll have to match the hatch closely to find success on this stream.
Fly Fishing in Hot Creek
Hot Creek in California is a stream located in the Inyo National Forest. It begins at the Hot Creek State Fish Hatchery, where it is joined by Mammoth Creek.
The stream flows to Hot Creek Gorge, which is located about eight miles east of Mammoth Lakes. This section can be particularly dangerous, as the discharge rates and temperature of springs are unpredictable and change without warning.
The springs around popular swimming areas have been known to geyser at irregular intervals, spewing hot water laden with sentiment high into the air. Because of this hazardous activity, the U.S. Forest Service has closed parts of the Gorge to the public as of 2006.
The stream joins the Owen River upstream from Crowley Lake. Unlike most spring creeks, Hot Creek contains numerous runs and riffles, making it slightly easier to sneak up on the rainbow and brown trout, some of which measure up to 20 inches.
The water is a blend of melted snow which makes up Mammoth Creek, and water from the geothermal springs. This creates an optimal water chemistry for aquatic insects.
Much of the stream flows through Hot Creek Ranch, which is a private property and you have to pay to fish there. Public access to the stream can be found at the lower ends of the ranch.
There is very little coverage on this stream, so it can be difficult to cast without alerting the trout to your presence. You’ll need to stay low and use long, light leaders and tippets.
Hot Creek Map and Fishing Access Sites
Best Places to Fish Hot Creek
The most popular section to fly fish is at the lower end of Hot Creek Ranch, and this area can become fairly crowded. If you are looking for a more private experience, you can pay to fish at Hot Creek Ranch.
The Creek is catch and release, fly fishing only with barbless hooks only.
Stream Flow and Current Conditions
Be sure to check the stream conditions before heading out to fish Hot Creek. The USGS stream gauge near Mammoth Lakes, CA provides a good indication of current conditions.
The graph below shows the stream flow (discharge) for the past 7-days. If flows are considerably above or below historical norms (yellow triangles on the chart) then fishing conditions ma not be ideal.
HOT C A FLUME NR MAMMOTH LAKES CA
- Water Temp: 100.76 ° F
- Flow: 31.7 ft³/s
- Water Level: 0.92 ft
Best Time to Fish Hot Creek
You can fish Hot Creek any day of the year. The best time to visit is in the spring because of the hatches. The stream is most crowded in the summer. You can also have an excellent experience fishing in the fall and on the warmer days of winter.
Hot Creek has a plentiful insect population with hatches throughout the year. Midges hatch year round. Blue Winged Olives and Golden Stoneflies begin to arrive in the middle of April. Yellow Stoneflies hatch from June through September, and Mahogany Duns come off in early June. Trico mayflies arrive at the beginning of August and continue to October.
Grannon Caddisflies, as well as October Caddisflies, are important in September and October. You can have success using scuds and terrestrial imitations throughout the year.
Fly Box - What You'll Need
Here is list of general fly pattern recommendations for Hot Creek:
- Blue Winged Olives (#16-18)
- Pale Morning Dun (#16)
- Little Yellow Sallies (#12-14)
- Midges (#18-20)
- Tricos (#18-22)
- Golden Stone Fly (#12-14)
- Pheasant Tail Nymph (#14-16)
- Hare's Ear Nymph (#12-14)
Ventures Fly Co. offers a great selection of dry flies, nymphs and streamers that will catch fish just about anywhere. Set includes 40 high quality, hand-tied flies (see list below) and waterproof fly box.
- Adams Dry Fly
- Elk Hair Caddis
- Blue Wing Olive
- Royal Wulff
- Griffith's Gnat White
- Stimulator, Organge
- Chernobyl Ant
- Rubber Leg Nymph, Brown
- BH Pheasant Tail Nymph
- BH Prince Nymph
- BH Hare's Ear Nymph
- Barr's Emerger Nymph
- Zebra Midge Nymph, Black
- Wooly Bugger, Black (Size #8x2)
- Wooly Bugger, Olive (Size #8x2)
A 9-foot 5-wt fly rod with floating line is perfect for fishing dry flies and small nymphs on Hot Creek. A tapered 9- to 12-foot leader, with tippet size 4X to 6X to match the flies you are throwing, is pretty standard.
Hot Creek Fishing Report
Area fly shops, guides and websites that can provide a Hot Creek fly fishing report are listed below:
- Perfect Fly Fishing Report
- Orvis Fishing Report
- Troutfitter Fishing Report
- Hot Creek Ranch Fishing Report
The state of California requires that all people who are 16 years of age and older have a valid fishing license. There are resident and non-resident sport fishing licenses available. You can purchase a one-year, 10-day, two-day, or one-day license. Some areas also require a permit. You can purchase the license and learn about the most current regulations through the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Trip Planning Tips
The nearest airport to Hot Creek is Mammoth Yosemite Airport, with the nearest major airport being Reno Tahoe International Airport. You can travel to any major or municipal airport in Eastern California and arrive at your destination after a few hours of scenic driving.
Twin Lakes Campground is located in the eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains near Mammoth Lakes and offers close proximity to Hot Creek. The campground is situated in a picturesque landscape, and picnic tables and drinking water are provided.
Even the most seasoned fly fisherman will be challenged by the denizens of Hot Creek’s waters. With the right patterns, you are guaranteed a successful and unforgettable experience.
Looking for more places to fish? Check out our DIY Guide to Fly Fishing California
Feature image by The Daily Nathan