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Catch Reports 2017

High Sierra 6/7

    A goal of most Sierra freaks is to time a visit to their favorite high country lake to coincide with ice out.  This is when in the springtime enough winter ice melts to allow starving trout access to slivers open water so they can feed.  Last time The Breakwall Crew perfectly timed this phenomenon at Secret Golden Trout Lake was in 1995, when little Chris M. caught three big ones using his Barney the Dinosaur spin-cast outfit and Power Bait.  I’ve tried several times the past 21 years but always the lake was completely ice-free.  Nonetheless we all had a great time netting many Goldens.

    This year ice out is easy.  They’ll be skiing ’till August at Mammoth.  I wondered if heading up this week might be too soon, since under similar conditions in ’95, it wasn’t until the first week of July the lake ice opened enough.  Guess I’ll find out.

    To access this particular body of water, you climb 6,000 feet over a rough 22-mile 4x4 road to a primitive truck camp with an ancient outhouse.  From there it’s another mile-and-a-quarter backpack through a trail-less steep forest to the lake.

    Monday as I wound up the road I encountered an impassible snow drift blocking the way located between the first and second creek crossings.  I have never seen snow anywhere near here before but it wasn’t too surprising considering the elevation is 9,500 feet.  I backed up to it to shovel chunks into my drink and food coolers before contemplating my next move.  Conveniently located nearby was a bumpy steep rocky bypass trail over a small ridge that required first gear low to traverse.

    The trail was free of any obstructions past the second crossing for a while anyway.  Another hour in I encountered snow melt creeks that I have never seen flowing before and then at least a seventy-five-yard stretch of snowpack over the road.  No delay.  You just skirt the drift by driving to the left over the sagebrush.

    Another thirty minutes I was at the corner where you turn right up into the canyon wherein lies the lake for a quick view of what you are up against.  Pretty darn snowy looking.  The 10,750-foot tarn could still be frozen over and unfishable.  I surmised the road will not be open to the primitive truck camp.

    Not to worry.  At the corner there are excellent flat spots under the tamaracks that are perfect for the 4x4 tent camper.  I staked out a site, set up my Weber portable BBQ then baked a potato in the coals and grilled a porterhouse to perfection.  The late afternoon light was so beautiful I just sat in my folding chair and stared at if for an hour.  Driving north on 395 there were several electronic signs warning motorists of deer herds migrating from the valley back up into the mountains.   At this hour a bunch showed up to also enjoy this most perfect warm calm weather.

    Tuesday morning I ate mahogany smoked bacon and Sheepherders bread French toast while sipping fresh perked coffee all cooked on my three-burner Colman Duel Fuel stove.  Afterward I folded up camp, packed it all into the truck shell and drove onward.  The last three or so miles to the end of the road were rough, having to drive through mud puddles, big rocks and over sagebrush to avoid snow patches.

4x4 trail to lake Video of 4x4 trail to lake

    Finally luck ran out.  I exited the vehicle, walked around and found this snow patch so big there would be no way to pass to the left or right due to rocks on one side and trees on the other.  I looked up into the canyon and saw I was only a quarter mile further away from the lake than if I were to hike from the primitive camp.  I turned around, parked off the trail, tied on my boots, strapped on my pack, adjusted the trek poles and off I went.

    There is no trail.  You simply aim to where the lake is.  It helps if you been there before and have acquainted yourself with the ridges.  I can tell you where it is from five miles away.  Shortly I was passing the famous head, through the meadow then climbed up into the forest.  There was no avoiding scrambling over snow including one patch a hundred yards long.  Even though the air was warm the snow remained hard and easy to walk upon especially with the trek poles.  In a month you will need to take precautions, as snow bridges will form.  You don’t want to fall through and get stuck or even worse.

    I took my merry time and two-and-a-half hours after departing the truck I had my first glance of the lake.  As expected the drought ravaged water level is around twenty feet down but you can see it has risen maybe three feet as the snowpack slowly melts as evidenced by the terrestrial plants now submerged.  As I walked toward the usual campsite near the inlet I saw a patch of open water near the shore where several goldens were surfacing for flies, a very good sign.  As I stood there listening I could hear across the lake, where a snowmelt rivulet flows in, a fish slapping the water as it attempted to paddle upstream.  It didn’t get very far since the trickle is only about an inch deep.

    At the sandy camp I unstrapped the pack and stretched a bit.  First thing I sauntered over to the inlet creek to pump filtered water into my Camelbak and Nalgene bottle and also to fill a Reliance collapsible jug with cook and wash water.  One thing I was hoping for was to see many trout swimming up into the inlet to spawn.  Not today.  The creek is still under four or five feet of solid snow all the way down past the waterline into the lake and remains for now inaccessible to them. 

    I set up camp, boiled water for a tasty dinner of Mountain House Italian style pepper steak and sat there viewing the lake while munching.  It wasn’t as icy as it thought I would find.  Bedtime came early at 7pm.

     Wednesday after breakfast I rigged up my #4 flyrod for an assault on the patch of open water where I saw them surfacing yesterday.   If the lake were full you couldn’t fly fish here due to the trees and rocks behind you but currently there’s plenty of room.  Problem was any open water froze overnight

    While waiting for the ice to melt I went back to camp, grabbed my GoPro-on-a-stick and recorded a movie of all the 100 trout stacked up near the snowmelt rivulet, where a small section of water was open.

Trout ready to spawn Video of trout ready to spawn

    In order to catch a few to take home for dinner I went back to camp to set up my spinning rod with a bait rig.  Since the fish are hanging in about a foot of water, I tied on a four-inch two pound test leader to the main four pound line then squeezed on a BB shot.  To the end of the leader I tied a #16 treble hook and wadded onto that just enough Gulp Chunky Cheese Trout Bait so that the hunk will float off the bottom.  They went crazy for it.  Nothing over 12 inches but I had five on the chain within 30 minutes.  That was easy.  Thanks spring ice out.

    For my next trick I swapped out the spinning outfit for the flyrod and tried once again at the zone where I saw them surfacing yesterday, which is now at one o’clock ice-free.  Never saw another one hanging around here the rest of my stay.  Got in some much needed casting practice, though.

    There was open water across the lake at the deep spot.  The snow bank was steep and one slip you’re over your head in ice water.  Too dangerous.

    In the evening gusty winds kicked up as the first clouds rolled in over the peaks, a major change in weather.  My tent was flapping all night, a situation earplugs easily remedied.

    Thursday morning I strolled over to a vantage point and saw the winds had opened a large gap in the ice, perfect to do some ice jigging with a 1/12 oz fire stripe Kastmaster.  First cast I landed a relatively nice one for dinner.  I had many hits and landed four more with the same lure, all release safely.  The six I kept will be enough for now.  I eventually snagged and lost the lure, then tied on another Kastmaster of the same size but with no fire stripe.  Never had a hit on that one.  I got a tip from a local years ago that goldens love the fire stripe.  I will have to stock up when I get home.

    I went back over to the snowmelt rivulet just to sit there and watch all the fish swim around but saw nothing.  They were all gone.  Not a single one.  Weather and fish conditions change day to day up here.

    I rolled up camp, bungeed all to the pack and by 1pm I hiked the two hours back to the truck.  The three-hour rough ride back to the highway was uneventful.  I’ll bet in four weeks the creek will be raging snow-free into the lake and there will be 1,000 goldens stacking up to ready to spawn.