The Golden Trout Bonanza: part one

Several weeks ago, Fishing Buddy Dave called me and said ‘dude, I found tickets to LA super cheap. Let’s go fish for Goldens!’ And to that I said, ‘whoa, let me see what I can do.’ Several hours later I texted him the magic words: GREEN LIGHT. The excitement began. I was nearing the finalization of two new rod blank designs and thought the Sierra’s would be the perfect place to test them. I love testing new rods and I love fishing in new places. The timing was perfect.

In mid July I went to visit my friend Aurelio in northern New Mexico and since then I had been scheming a few new rod designs for ultra small water and traveling. I am very long overdue on writing about that visit so I will plan to do that next. But for now, I’m going to write about fishing for Golden Trout in the Sierra’s of California.

We started making plans and decided to make the trip light and fast. All airline ‘carry on friendly’ packing because of quick connecting flights that made for a challenge but ended up going smoothly. In reality, it was a minor miracle that we were able to carry on our duffles filled with camping gear and freeze dried food. I carried the three rods and reels. Dave carried the camera gear and his stuff. Flight from Greensboro to DC. Then DC to LA. Arrive 9:30 PST and on the road in the Turo rental Highlander by 10:30. Battle LA traffic then to the Lone Pine area mid afternoon after a few stops for stove fuel, fresh tortillas and fruit.

those are 20” tubes

A few years ago, I bought 5 pairs of the greatest underwear known to man Patagonia Capiline SIlkweight Boxers off ebay, lightly used for real cheap. They’re fantastic for everyday but really shine for travel. I did a special load of laundry right before leaving to make sure I had plenty of clean undies but forgot to pack them. I had the entire amount of TWO pairs of underwear along with me for the Tuesday to Saturday trip. Thankfully they dry fast (unless they freeze when wet) and don’t hang on to smells. Thankfully we had fresh water and low humidity.

my home for a few days

We arrived late afternoon, set up camp and planned to fish til dark. Dave was planning to sleep in the back of the Highlander and I brought a sleeping bag and a tarp to sleep under. I set up fast and then we got our stuff together for a few hours of fishing. It was chilly and windy. We drove down the road a bit and found a good pull off near the wooded, higher gradient section of the creek. Right when we got out of the car I peered through the brush to the water and saw a feeding fish. Dave didn’t believe me, ‘are you sure?’.

small and sunning

Not too long until I hooked my first one on one of Dave’s foam ants. I got a real good look at it but then it slipped off before I could get it to hand. A good 8”er, thick and bright and strong. I was elated! We proceeded to catch a relative bunch of fish for the next hour and a half.

The temperature was dropping fast and we realized we were hungry and tired.

black bean chili

I bought some Patagonia freeze dried meals that were on sale (out of date) at the local outdoor shop and they ended up being really good with a little beef jerky and tortilla pieces added. We were well fed, tired and ready for the next day.

We woke up the next morning to low 20 degree temps that were quite a surprise. My tarp had sagged overnight and was on top of me, inside covered in frost. Dave looked miserably cold and like he hadn’t slept. I slept really well, in between bathroom visits (had was a little overzealous about keeping hydrated and being at 10000 feet tested the bowels. Not that you really need to know that).

Dave is well known for making and enjoying good food. He made this steel cut oat mix stuff that was a hearty breakfast for us. After thawing out a bit (rental car seat heaters) we headed out for some exploring the same creek system the previous day, only different sections. Prepared with water filters, beef jerky, apples and energy bars for a full day of fishing.

The fishing was incredible. We caught golden trout all day long. Dave used some little sub surface flies at first, catching most of the fish. He saw the light and changed to dries later. He was fishing my 6’8” 3wt 4 piece prototype. I primarily fished Royal Wulffs, thin bodied Klinkhammers and Dave’s Ant on my 6’ 2wt 4 piece prototype. More on the rods later. It didn’t really seem to matter much what flies we used. It mainly mattered how we presented them and if we spooked the fish or not.

It’s a little known fact that I’m mostly color blind. For a while I tried to hide it thinking that it would ruin my credibility in the rod building business or something like that. But in reality it’s not really all that important for most things. And I have plenty of people in my life to ask about colors when I need to match something. I can see lots of colors, they’re just my own. With a lot of fish the colors are muted and I can’t really see the red fins of a brook trout until the fish is in my hands and even then it’s sort of a bright brownish red. But with these golden trout, it was like I could see colors for real. The Red, Olive, Yellow, Orange, White just screamed at me. With each fish I saw I was paralyzed with awe and wonder. How could these fish BE!? It was a special treat to behold them.

And the terrain where they live. It’s rough and doesn’t seem like would sustain life but it does. And boy does it. There are these flats with nothing but rocks and scrub brush . But then right next to it there would be lush green spongy ground with springs bursting out of it leading to a small trickle 6” wide and 6” deep and in that trickle would be a fish. Or two or three looking for a meal and sometimes would jump out of the water as soon as your fly hit. But then sometimes they would wait after a cast or two then slowly emerge from under vegetation or the bank and inspect your fly for several seconds then turn away. Then turn back and approach the fly only to tap it with their nose causing me to set the hook in vain and then immediately try to place the fly back right in that little patch while they were swimming around looking for it. Then sometimes they’d take and sometimes not. But when they did take, these fish were strong and literally never gave up. We caught probably well over 200 fish. And every single time I was awestruck in genuine wonder. That’s why I build fly rods for a living.

I haven’t stopped thinking about them since we got back and have been looking forward to writing about them. But the reality is that words do not do these fish and that area justice. Pictures help and I’m thankful for Dave inviting me along and being so skilled at capturing the moments. I’ll share those pictures and a few more words soon.