Bear Creek in the San Bernardino Mountains, California
On Sunday, April 14, I traveled with my two oldest sons (age 6 and 4) to Rim of the World Highway near Big Bear Lake. I used the Glory Ridge Road access point to hike down to Bear Creek, which flows out of the dam at Big Bear Lake. The access trail is at the end of a ridge-top road that is pretty rutted, and only paved for the first quarter mile or so. Because I drove a sedan, I chickened out and parked less than half way to the end of the road. At that point, I had already scraped the undercarriage and was worried about being able to get back to the main road. The hiking trail starts near the end of the ridge, and descends about 1000 vertical feet in less than a mile, to a creek elevation of about 5500 ft.
First, I want to make clear that the scenery here is spectacular. This is not the type of environment I think of when I think of southern California. The weather on Sunday was very nice; despite the overcast and mist in the coastal areas, this area was above the cloud tops and the temperature was near 70F. The hike was quite enjoyable and the trail was just gradual enough to walk down without having to use your hands. Sounds of water could be heard from the top of the trail, but the creek was not visible. The hike back up wasn't as bad as I was afraid it would be, and I was surprised when my boys and I found ourselves back at the trailhead.
While hiking down, we passed a group of 8 or 10 guys working their way up the hill. I was surprised, because I had not seen another car. They were quite sweaty and a bit disenchanted by their experience, hiking back up at the hottest part of the afternoon. I noticed they were carrying spinning rods, and the one in particular I zeroed in on had a large diameter spool with line that must have been at least 20 lb test. They told us that the stream was "fished out" and that we might consider turning around. I figured since we had fly rods with 5x tippet and size 20 dry flies, we might have a different outcome than they had: we continued down the trail.
Upon arriving at the stream, the first thing I noticed was that there were a bunch of tiny insects flying around just above the water. I did not see any rises to the insects, and I?m no entymologist, so I have no idea what they were. The second thing I noticed, once I got close enough, was the first fish. It spooked and swam under a boulder with very little provocation from me. I'm guessing it was 5 inches long; no giant, but comparable to what I've seen in other wild trout streams.
After spending some time creekside, I noticed that there was very little flow. I was surprised by this, because this is April, and any remaining snow is melting, so this should be the highest flow of the year. This was pocket water, with drops of as much as 4 feet between pools, and most pools no more than knee deep. My sons are not nearly as good at boulder hopping as me, and I wanted to stay near them, so I only visited about 7 or 8 separate holes. Other than a few fish 2" to 3" long, I did not see another fish after the first one, and never got so much as a bite. Other than a camp fire ring and one footprint on a sandbar, I saw almost no sign of past human presence.
Prior to the trip, I had figured that the remote location, the reliable water source (Big Bear Lake outflow), and the lack of stocked fish (keeping away many who seek stocked fish), would all mean that the fishing here would be great. I have been quite surprised by the number of trout (although small) in Deep Creek and the forks of the San Gabriel; numbers that are similar to the numbers of sunfish in the streams near my home in Virginia, despite easy road access from Los Angeles. My takeaway from the trip is that the hike was worth it for the great outdoors experience, but it was unnecessary to carry any fishing rods.