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Catch Reports 2017

Secret Brown Trout Lake 7/18


Monday July 10 I drove a loaded Li’l Miracle up US 395 to French Camp near Tom’s Place to ready my gear for yet another big fish backpack adventure into the John Muir Wilderness at Secret Brown Trout Lake.  Earlier in the year I used recreation.gov to reserve campsite five, where I can conveniently back my pickup right to the picnic table used to stage the pack.  Also, the Tom’s restaurant is within walking distance.  I had the blue cheese bacon burger and fries and watched Judge win the Home Run Derby on the flat screen.  Back at camp I crashed in my big tent with rain fly attached.  Normally I would not bother spending time setting up a shelter and instead sleep with the stars on a cot but this week we are under monsoon conditions.

Tuesday I folded up camp, stuffed it all into the back of the camper shell and headed to Mammoth to dine at Breakfast Club at their 06:30 opening.  The shredded beef machaca burrito and king size cinnamon roll with unlimited butter provides all the carbs, protein, minerals and knee grease to adequately supply your hike. 

Near the trailhead there is a day use area with tables.  I tied on my boots and made the final adjustments to the pack, which by now is weighing in at 90 pounds.  I drove to the trailhead lot, secured the vehicle then lifted the pack onto my back.  I just about fell over it was so heavy.  Once I regained my balance I wondered why I find this particular endeavor so much fun.  I carry all this equipment so I can live like a king back there.

Starting at 08:30 up the trail climbing to the ridge my sore butt felt as if all that training since December, including last week’s 12-hour summitting of Mt. Baldy and another 12-hour hike from Red Box to West Fork and back two weeks ago, didn’t help at all.

It wasn’t until 15:30 when I arrived at the rest logs near the upper lakes junction to refill at the pure spring that finally I was sore no more.  Forty five minutes later with thirst quenched and 100oz Camelbak topped off, I walked slowly another hour-and-a-half to the lake’s outlet.  Some years you can hop a few rocks to cross the creek but this time it’s raging and the only way over is to balance gingerly with hike poles over the logjam.  On the other side last year I cleared out branches and bushes to make it easier to fit body and pack through the trees but this summer the lake rose so much, that route is now water.  The only other option was to just put your head down and push hard to break dead sticks off the tamaracks to poke through.

At 17:30 I dropped the pack at my usual campsite rock, removed my hike shorts and shirt and re-dressed into my standard Real Tree camouflage attire.  I had to be quick due to the flocks of mosquitoes.  The wet winter created many stagnant ponds where billions of the blood suckers breed.  I used DEET 100 on my hat and hands to keep them at bay.

Once I had camp set up I set up my 12-pound fishing outfit, tied on a Rapala J-13 brook trout pattern and walked the hundred feet to my second favorite rock to cast the night away.  The lake has risen enough this runoff season to submerge my first favorite rock.  Doesn’t matter anyway since I have hooked big ones along this whole stretch of shoreline the past years.  Around 21:30 after such an effort to hike here and no hits on the lure detected, I started to feel miserable and had to stop fishing.

Wednesday I didn’t crawl out of the tent until noon.  After breakfast all I did was maintain camp a little.  I sewed the hole in the pocket on my camouflage long sleeve undershirt, where I store my daily jerky chunk and hung my food bag across a line between two trees.  I left my hang cord up last year but someone has since taken it down so I had to climb back up into both pines to secure another one.  This trip I’m staying seven nights and the way I store the food is, since not all will fit into one bear keg, all the smelly stuff like jerky, granola bars, Tang bottles and spent freeze dry packages go into the bear-proof can and the unscented sealed freeze dry envelopes go into a stuff sack balanced over the high wire.

Near the log jam I sawed and pruned all the sticks and bushes that were in my way coming in yesterday.

That was enough activity for today.  At three after lunch nap time.

Feeling refreshed by 17:30 I gathered up my pole, net, water and jerky for an extended casting session from the rock just in time for the sun to be off the water.  That’s when the big browns surface to patrol the shoreline the rest of the night.  From this vantage point I scanned the whole lakeshore and saw no other visitors but one standard deer dude over to my right.  I cast the brook trout Rapala until 23:00 with no interested parties then back to the tent I went.

Thursday I was up relatively early at 10:00.  I maintained the backside trail all day.  I cleared it out last year but now the aspens have grown and the lake’s level has risen over some of the pathway.  I sawed and pruned a third of the way by 15:00 nap time.

At 18:00 I was back at the rock casting all night.  Normally while fishing I will listen to a baseball game when the AM signals from across California tune in around 19:30.  It’s all-star week and no games are scheduled until tomorrow.  By 23:00 again with no hits noticed I was asleep for the night, leaving my fishing stuff at the rock for next time.

Friday I awoke at 10:00 to the sounds of voices approaching.  First thing I thought was they’re going to see my fish pole leaning against the tree over there and try to kype it.  I pulled up my pants, slid on my shirt and barefoot over pine needles I sat on a rock vigilantly.  I heard homie say, oh wow someone left their fishing pole over here.  Bro responds, really?  Cool!  That’s when I shouted, leave it!.  Homie thought bro said that and wondered, what?  I shouted, leave it, again to make no mistake who is in charge of claimed $200 outfit.  They looked over and saw me sitting there, I said hi.  They said we didn’t think anyone was over here, waved, then were on their way through the now 33% cleared backside trail.  You’re welcome my new friends.

The rest of the day, same ol’ thing, more trail maintenance.  My whole goal in coming here is to fish for big browns during the evening prime time.  The rest of the day I try to amuse myself with some sort of frivolous task to kill time.  I could cast a lure or worm bait to catch pan size rainbows but it is too early in the week.  I save that for the last two days before hike-out so they will be more fresh when I get home.  By 15:00 I cleared out more aspens and brush from the trail and was back in the tent to refresh before another evening of casting.

Pretty boring this week.  Only fun thing was listening to the Giants at Padres on AM 940 Fresno.  Again no hits felt using the Rapala by 23:00 and back to bed I was.

Saturday during the usual morning water pump at the outlet I saw the pack station had set up an elaborate camp nearby and now they were taking their clients on a horseback ride through the forest.  The rest of the day I cleared out the final hundred yards of the backside trail leading to the waterfall.  I recorded YouTube Video GoPro video of brook and rainbow trout feeding in the crystalline waters of the creek.  I saw many rainbows ready to spawn in the inlet creek and thought I could catch a few in the next two days to take home using salmon eggs.

After naptime I was back on the famous rock casting and casting the Rapala but tonight I switched pattern from brook to rainbow trout.  Another boring session no hits by 23:00.

Sunday morning while pumping the day’s water quota I saw the pack station campers were uprooting and readying for the ride out.  I stopped by and wondered, where you guys going, you just got here.  None of the guests had anything to say.  The pack masters told me I can have the whole place back to myself again.  I couldn’t imagine coming here for half a day, one night, then bailing the next morning.

After water I gathered my four- and six-pound fishing set-ups and hiked the backside trail halfway out to the deep spot, where last year I caught many keeper sized rainbows using a quarter-ounce Thomas Buoyant in brown trout pattern.  While I cast that lure I soaked an inflated worm/Gulp bait combo on a large treble hook.  I had no hits using the bait but did catch many brook, brown and rainbow trout, all too small to be worthy of the smoker.  By 15:00 I landed at least twelve of the three species, all under ten inches and released unharmed. 

Disappointing but that’s fishing.  Nice size one year; small the next.  The evening’s big fish lure flinging incurred the same theme, having no bites until the usual 23:00 quitting time.

Monday I was up slightly earlier than the past few days and was hiking by 08:30 to the inlet creek to fish those rainbows I saw the other day.  On the way over I stopped by the main meadow where the wild iris were going crazy.

At the inlet I set up my four-pound outfit with a two-pound-test leader, BB shot and a #16 egg hook covered with 2 Pautzke’s orange label Balls-O-Fire, which will match the hatch since they look just like trout eggs.  Instantly I had bites but nothing stuck.  I sharpened the hook using the file of my Leatherman, pinned on two more eggs and dunked it once more.  This time I had a hook-up but the line broke at the hook.  I sharpened another hook, tied it on, re-baited and again hooked another rainbow which I netted and attached to a chain stringer, kept alive in a small backwater.

There were something like fifteen trout hanging out but it seemed only the smaller ones were biting.  The bigger ones were in spawn mode over redds and only chasing away the little guys, not interested at all in feeding.  I caught a couple more in the four-inch class and released them unscathed.

Also the one on the chain I released too, since keeping a mere one to take home isn’t worth anything, making this the first time in memory I will hike out from this lake sans a limit of ten.

After nap time I was out at my rock at 18:00 casting and casting, one last chance for something nice during prime time.  By 22:00 I had no hits.  Same thing all seven nights.  I always catch at least something eleven inches using the big Rapala or feel some sort of hit.  Only taps noticed all week were bats curious as to what this fishing line thing is.

Tuesday I was up at 05:00, rolled up camp, ate breakfast and began the hike out, which I have been dreading all week.  When you only eat freeze dry all week you don’t pack a lot of carbs or protein and the gluteus pain I felt coming in might be worse going out.

I stopped by the pure spring to fill all water vessels.  My ceramic pump failed yesterday.  The O-ring sealing the lid kept popping out due to the age of the unit, bought in 2000.  Instead I used my trowel to dig a hole at the bottom of the flow and filled my Nalgene bottle that way.  It wasn’t filtered but the water comes straight from a crack in the ground and I calculate giardia cannot swim upstream so no way any can pollute this water.  And it tastes the best ever; sweet cold pure.

To my surprise I conquered the first leg of the trail, up to the top of the ridge in only two hours and didn’t even break a sweat.  Also no pain nor strain was felt.  The relatively level section making up leg two felt comparatively easy but I did start to sweat a little in the next two hours as the sun warmed the air.

Past years for the trip out I ate the usual freeze dry breakfast and granola bars and just hike hike hike until I reach the parking lot.  I always feel worn out and miserable after four hours.  This time I tried a new trick.  I rehydrated two breakfasts, eating one before the hike then at noon I stopped and ate the other one and swallowed another Centrum Energy vitamin tab.  That was the ticket.  I was hustling out like nothing and reached the parking lot by 14:30, at least ninety minutes quicker than ever before.  Oh how good it feels to turn 60.

Another plus was, normally I carry in ten pounds of food and hike out ten pounds of trout but this time without any fish to take home I was eight pounds lighter if I figured in all the leftover trash.