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This blog is all about fly fishing for native trout. On it I cover trip reports, fishing tactics, conservation, the latest news about native trout species and much more. This site provides a companion to my web page Nativetroutflyfishing.com.


Friday, August 10, 2007

Native Trout of the Sierra Nevada

Day 1: Sunday July 29th 2007: After getting the first half of my Heritage Trout Challenge completed in June, I had talked my cousin Derek into joining me on a trip to the Sierra Nevada of California in search of native trout to hopefully finish the challenge up. The main target for the trip was the three subspecies of Golden Trout native to the Kern River drainage in the southern Sierras, where after a large amount of research I had located some promising populations of these fish to target. When my parents heard that I was planning this trip they decided that they would join us on the way down for a little vacation to Reno. With the plans all set, we departed Gig Harbor at 4:00 AM bound for Reno, Nevada. The first day was spent entirely on the road, with us arriving in Reno at around 4:00 PM. Once in Reno Derek and I ran to get our fishing licenses, some last minute supplies and prepped our gear before calling it a day.

A brief stop in the Oregon Cascades on the way to Reno

Day 2: Monday July 30th 2007: Derek and I set out from Reno, bright and early in pursuit of native trout in the California Sierras. The first fish that we had decided to go after was the Lahontan Cutthroat as it was the closest to Reno. My research and some help from another fisherman from California had led me to decide to fish a small stream high in the Sierras above Lake Tahoe. The hike into the creek was 3.5 miles each way with a small pass in the middle, but looked like an easy enough trip to do as a day hike.
The Sierras from the trailhead

We arrived at the trailhead at around 8:00AM, ate a quick breakfast and started hiking. The first part of the trail into the stream was extremely hard to follow as it passed over a granite face with no recognizable path in many places. This resulted in us to getting turned around bit and ending up on the wrong spur trail. However, with a bit of cross country hiking we were able to find our way back to the main trail and arrived at the stream at around mid-morning. The creek, which meandered through a beautiful alpine meadow was quite small where the trail crossed it, but after a couple of minutes of poking around we spooked a trout telling us we were in the right area, so we rigged up our rods to try our luck.

The meadow

The first spot that we came to was a large pool surrounded by willows and full of Cutthroat. I gave Derek the first shot at the pool and he ended up catching the largest fish of the day out of the pool, a beautiful 11" Lahontan Cutthroat. While Derek fished the pool, I worked my way upstream looking for any holding water. Every time that I found a deep enough pool or run, I would toss my Royal PMX and Copper John step up in and as long as the fish didn't see me first, they were very willing to bite. However, at the slightest disturbance this would all change and the fish would dart under cover and refuse to hit anything.

Derek working a pool for Lahontan Cutthroat

Derek with a nice fish

After a while, Derek came up and joined me and we continued to work our way upstream catching a handful of Cutthroat averaging about 7" to 9" before the creek became too small to hold fish. At around noon we headed back to the first pool to try it one more time before heading out. I put a Zug Bug on, which the fish couldn't refuse and managed to catch a few more beautiful Lahontan Cutthroat before we began our hike out.

A beautifully colored Lahontan Cutthroat

A small pond at the top of the pass on the way back out

Luckily it was much easier to keep track of the trail on the way out and even though the weather was hot, there was a nice breeze blowing through the pass, which made hiking bearable. We got back to the car at around 1:45 PM and hit the road for Horseshoe Meadows on the edge of the Golden Trout Wilderness Area where we would be camping for the night. The drive down to Lone Pine was pretty uneventful and the scenery was beautiful along highway 395 as worked our way south along the eastern slope of the Sierras.

Me with Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the lower 48 states in the background

The view from halfway up the road to Horseshoe Meadows

The sun was setting fast when we arrived at Horseshoe Meadows, which sits at about 9,000 feet of elevation and is accessed by one of the hairiest roads that I have ever seen, let alone driven on. We set up camp with the last rays of sunlight and hit the hay for a big day of hiking and fishing the ahead of us.

Day 3: Tuesday July 31st 2007: The plan for the day was to hike into the upper Kern River drainage and fish for California Golden Trout. The spot that I had chosen though was pushing the limits of what we could accomplish in a day, as it was over 8 miles each way with a few thousand feet of elevation exchange on either side. We got up to a chilly high Sierra morning at around 5:00 AM and after a quick breakfast, we were on the trail by 6:00 AM. The first couple of miles of the hike were pretty easy going, as the trail traveled through the pine forests and meadows along the valley floor.

Me at the edge of the Golden Trout Wilderness Area

A meadow along the trail

The trail abruptly hit the left the valley for the climb to the pass, at which point things got a bit more difficult. The climb to the top of the pass, which was well over 11,000 feet was strenuous as the trail wove its way up the mountain side in a seemingly endless series of switchbacks. However, the view from the top alone was well worth the effort put into the climb.

Looking west into the upper Kern River watershed

We took a quick break at the top of the pass to catch our breath, then we were off again, downhill into the upper Kern River drainage, home of the California Golden Trout. After crossing a couple of streams on the way to the one that I planned to fish, we finally came to one that was a little larger than the rest and was packed with Goldens that were visible in the crystal clear water. With plenty of fish around we called it good on the hiking and started fishing.

A Marmot along the trail into the creek

We both rigged our rods up with my favorite attractor dry fly pattern, the Royal PMX and Derek decided to try his luck upstream, so I headed downstream. The fishing on this creek turned out to be extremely fast paced, and Derek had his first two Golden Trout before I had even finished rigging up my rod. Once I got my fly in the water, I too started catching fish.

A beautiful native California Golden Trout

Hooked up with a Golden Trout

The Goldens were extremely abundant and it wasn't all that unusual to miss a strike only to have the fly grabbed by another fish just a few feet downstream. I caught my first Golden of any real size (10 inches) at a spot where the creek turned a corner and passed under some overhanging bushes, providing good cover for the fish. I continued downstream a little bit further, catching Golden Trout after Golden Trout, with a few 8" to 10" fish mixed in. At the furthest pool downstream I caught my biggest fish of the day, a 12" giant that held a prime piece of holding water in a deep pool with a small cascade at the head.

A flawless California Golden Trout

After getting my big Golden, I worked my way back upstream and met my cousin where the creek met up with the trail. As we still had a long hike out, we had quick lunch and got back to hiking. The hike out from the creek was flat out brutal. We no longer had the advantage of the cool morning air and with the sun out the temperatures rose into the upper 80's. We reached the top of the pass again around 2:00 PM feeling drained. After a longer break than on the way in at the top of the pass to recoup and enjoy the cool alpine air, we started our decent. By the time that we reached the car, we were absolutely beat from our 16.5 mile round trip, and were happy to be on the road again to the next spot. The next stream that I had chosen to fish was tributary to the mainstem Kern River that was supposed to have a good population of Kern River Rainbow Trout and we managed to make it there and step up camp just before dark.

Day 4: Wednesday August 1st 2007: We woke up in the morning to a chorus of cows and coyotes across the meadow that the creek ran through. After getting a little breakfast we set out across the meadow for a little fishing. The meadow was full of cattle and the creek ended up being very low and stagnant, so we headed downstream just below the meadows to try our luck.

The creek downstream of the meadow
There was a little more water downstream of the meadow where the stream entered the forest and we spooked a small trout almost right away. I found a small pool a little ways downstream, where I could see a nice fish holding. As soon as my Royal PMX hit the water the fish engulfed it. The fish was a beautiful darkly colored Kern River Rainbow Trout, which appeared to be in its spawning colors still. However, this would be my only Kern River Rainbow Trout of the trip as I fished both up and down the creek and wasn't able to hook and more of these extremely spooky fish.

My only Kern River Rainbow Trout

Fishing for Kern River Rainbows

With less than ideal fishing, we decided to hop in the car to try a stretch of the creek further downstream to see if the fishing was any better. However, we found no such luck and the fish in the lower section were even spookier then upstream which hardly seemed possible. After working the stream hard, all I could catch was one small out of place Brown Trout.
The lower creek

The Brown Trout - a beautiful fish, but also blight to North American native trout.

After giving up on finding anymore Kern River Rainbow Trout, we decided to head to our last stream of the trip, which was said to hold a pure population of Little Kern Golden Trout. After some very rough roads, we arrived at the stream and started fishing. This was the smallest stream that we fished on the trip, and it flowed from one small pool to the next, sinking back into the ground from time to time as it traveled through a series of meadows at about 7,700 feet in elevation.
The Little Kern Golden Trout stream

Upon reaching the water, we could easily see Little Kern Golden Trout swimming in the pools, so we rigged up with a dry and dropper system (Royal PMX and size 18 black Copper John). The action here was almost as fast as the California Golden Trout stream, with the first cast into every pool resulting in a hit or a fish. At one time I had fish on both of my flies at the same time, but ended up losing the one on the dry fly. I caught one Little Kern Golden of at least 10" out of one of the pools, although most of the fish were much smaller. With the fishing being so good and this being our last stream of the trip it was hard to pull away, but after a couple of hours  we had to hit the road again for the long drive back to Reno. Our departure from the creek was a bit hairy as, my car almost got stuck sandy patch on our way out of the stream, but luckily we were to push the car out and were back on our way.

A Little Kern Golden Trout

After finishing with our fishing, we headed over to Sequoia National Park to check out some big trees. This was an amazing spot and I would highly suggest it to anyone thinking of making the stop. I am used to seeing some big trees with Washington's old growth forests, but the Sequoias completely dwarfed those trees. After leaving Sequoia, we drove all night to get back to Reno by 4:00 AM.

Derek in front of General Sherman

A deer in the Sequoias

Day 5: Thursday August 2nd 2007: It was time to start on our way home, but we figured that it might be fun to make a quick stop in San Francisco on the way. We arrived at San Francisco in the afternoon and spent a bit of time at Fisherman's Wharf, then hit the road again for home. We ended up arriving back home at around 5:30AM after a long, tiring but very successful native trout excursion.
San Francisco

The city from Fisherman's Wharf