Fishing for High Sierra Golden Trout
One of the primary factors in determining my backpacking destinations is centered on fishing for Golden Trout. The California Golden Trout was designated the official state fish of California in 1947. Hatchery- raised fish extended the range of the golden trout to many waters at high elevation in the Sierra Nevadas and also other states.Their native populations are now strained due to the introduction of invasive species and habitat destruction and their introduction in to the high elevation lakes has strained other native plant and animal species.
The coloration of the California golden trout is spectacularly bright. The belly and cheeks are bright red to bright orange, the lower sides are bright gold, the central lateral band is red orange, and the back is deep olive green.
Early Sierra settlers were as enamored with golden trout as modern anglers are today. Beauty such as this, they reasoned, shouldn’t be limited to such a small area.
Early 1900s Kernville resident Ardis Walker wrote;
“Many of the pioneer visitors to golden trout waters reacted with a desire that was almost compulsive; they shared a common missionary urge to spread the golden beauty and life of this native habitat to the barren waters of more elevated and more easterly and northerly lakes and streams.”
It was common practice for settlers to carry golden trout in buckets of water on the backs of mules for up to a week at a time, stocking thousands of fish along the way. Some kept meticulous records; others none at all.
Studies on the impact on vegetation and the Yellow Legged Frog due to stocking of trout in otherwise fishless high sierra lakes led to the end of this activity and now golden trout are found only in high lakes (10,000+ feet). They are no longer stocked and are only found in lakes where they are self sustaining.
To reverse the damage done to the Yellow Legged Frog and other plant life non native trout species have been removed by gill netting. The best fishing has historically been in lakes at, or near the Kern headwaters and to the south. These include Lake South America, Crabtree Lakes, Wright Lakes, Wallace and Wales Lake among others. Recent trips have found the fishing not as good in some of these lakes but still very strong in others.
I release most of the fish I catch because it is illegal to have camp fires at the high elevations where the fish are found and cooking them on a stove is challenging. If you like the taste of fresh trout it is worth it. On a recent trip I spoke with a veteran backpacker and fisherman who said that she poaches them. That is another option which I have not tried.