Gone Fishin’: Heading by horseback to the fishin’ hole
About a month ago I was very fortunate to be invited on a day trip into the backcountry of the Humphreys Basin area northwest of Bishop to do some golden trout fishing. The golden trout (salmo aquabonita), the state fish of California, is a beautiful fish that typically inhabits the highest reaches of the Sierra Nevada. In the region that we were going to fish, goldens were introduced by the California Department of Fish and Game around the 1930s.
I have to admit that I was a little apprehensive about the trip when it was initially discussed. Why? It involved taking horses to cover the distance in one day, a three-and-a-half hour ride each way. I had never ridden a horse before, so this was certainly a new experience for this tenderfoot.
Fortunately for me, the wrangler, Matt Schober, was the son-in-law of a very good friend of mine and has become a good fishing friend over the years I have known him. Matt’s family used to own the pack station that where we were getting our horses. In fact, his grandfather Art was the one that helped establish the golden trout in this region by packing them in with milk cans at the direction of the Department of Fish and Game. Matt’s grandfather and his great-uncle even named the lakes in the Sabrina Lakes basin. One string of lakes bears the name Schober Lakes after Matt’s family. As a kid Matt grew up working the pack station with his dad, Walt Schober.
The Morgan family provided the horses for our trip into the backcountry. Our destination was Lower Desolation Lake. Mike Morgan was an extremely knowledgeable and genuine man. From him we learned quite a bit about the plans to reintroduce the yellow-leg frog back into this region. You may be aware that this is a concern throughout the Sierra and has resulted in the Department of Fish and Game not planting many of the high mountain lakes in our own Desolation Wilderness area.
Our trip began fairly early in the morning with a pleasant drive up the narrow dirt road to North Lake, the location of the pack station. While the temperatures were warm in Bishop, we knew to expect some cooler temperatures in the higher elevations where we would be traveling. When we arrived at the pack station we laid out our fishing gear, extra personal gear, and our lunch so that we could put it onto a pack animal. With six of us going this did not amount to too much but watching them pack the mule to balance the load was very enlightening. A maximum of 150 pounds is permitted per pack animal. If the load is not balanced properly you may end up losing your gear.
After being introduced to our horses, we climbed aboard and headed up the trail. We headed up the mountain on a tree lined trail toward Paiute Pass, around 11,480 feet in elevation. The trip up to Paiute Pass involves riding in the trees for the first part of the trip. The trail rises abruptly and has a series of switchbacks. Just before getting to the top of Paiute Pass you break out of the timberline and the scenery becomes more like a moonscape.
However, if you looked closely there were still many wildflowers to be seen. One of the people in our group really knew the wildflowers so we all received a good education on the way up. After about three-and-a-half hours in the saddle we finally arrived at our location, Lower Desolation Lake. It was very appropriately named. The lake had that desolate feeling being so isolated and open, and very windy the day that we were there. It is a small lake that one could walk completely around in about 30 minutes.
After stretching a bit and having a quick lunch, we got our fishing gear out and hiked down to the lake (horses must be tied off well away from any body of water to prevent damage to the lake environment). Matt and I struck out for the area around the outlet and were headed to the inlet area and stream between the upper and lower Desolation lakes.
Upon arriving at the outlet area Matt and I began to fish. As mentioned earlier, it was very windy and I saw no surface activity so I began with a size #16 bead head pheasant tail nymph. I hooked a fish on my third cast and landed an 8-inch golden. I marveled at the coloration of the fish, a vibrant reddish orange and yellow coloration with bluish par marks. I had forgotten just how beautiful these fish were.
We only had about two-and-a-half hours to fish so we moved quickly from the outlet towards the inlet. I had good luck near the outlet, but found the fishing diminished for us as we got towards the inlet area. In fact three of us fishing the inlet only garnered one strike between us. After unsuccessfully fishing this location another member of our party and I headed back to the outlet area. I was hoping that the fish were still there. They were and we began hooking fish immediately.
The fish were not large. My largest was a 9- to 10-inch fish caught on my first visit to the outlet area. Most fish were in the 6- to 8-inch range. The largest fish in our party was a very nice fish about 12 to 14 inches long. While golden trout are not large their natural beauty more than made up for the lack of size.
Was it worth the sore posterior? Absolutely! It was a great experience and doing it on horseback gave me a great appreciation of how formidable the Sierra must have been to the early settlers heading into California with wagons and their animals.
The trip down the hill was even more exciting than the ride up. You have to trust your animal and I marveled at how they would swing themselves around some of the tight steep switchbacks. The front part would go out over the edge of the trail, which had some very steep faces, and they swing around. It reminded me of riding in a bus and how they would make turns.
My horse’s name was Timogen, or Tim, as the packers called him. He was a dapple-gray horse (light gray with darker spots). What came to mind when they told me his name was the eastern version of this name, Temujin. Temujin was the real name of Mongol conqueror Genghis Khan. My horse was a definite leader. As we approached the pack station he wanted to take the lead. I asked Matt if I should reign him in and he said to let him go. So I was first back into the station and very thankful to be there after another three and one-half hours in the saddle.
I would recommend a horse trip into this region using Bishop Pack Outfitters to anyone who would like to see this majestic region. Bishop Pack Outfitters offers day trips, spot trips, backpacker specials, traveling treks and full service trips into the backcountry.
For more information on a horseback trip into this region contact Bishop Pack Outfitters by phone at (760) 873-4785 or by FAX 760-873-6600.
Boca – (13,814 ac. ft.) Boca has been fishing fair and is dropping rapidly. Water is being released at 127 CFS and 124 CFS is coming into the lake. In spite of the low water levels anglers are still having success. Anglers near the dam are still catching fish. Most anglers use nightcrawlers or Powerbait. Boats that can still be launched are having some success. Most were using a combination of flashers and a nightcrawler or minnow imitating lure. Kokanee fishing is fair to good for those experienced anglers that can get a boat in the water. Fly fishermen near the inlet have experienced fair to good action early and late. Nymphs and streamers have accounted for most of the fish caught recently. When it calms down, midges are very productive.
Donner Lake – Fishing has been fair to good. Anglers fishing for rainbows on the west end and near the launch ramp have had fair to good success. Nightcrawlers and Powerbait seem to be the main bait. Trollers using minnow imitating lures have had fair success.
Lake Tahoe – (Elevation 6225.17) Fishing has been good for mackinaw. Most fish are in the 5- to 7-pound range. A guide is highly recommended if you are fishing for mackinaw for the first time. Toplining and shore fishing is fair overall. The creeks opened this past weekend. Keep in mind that any large fish that you catch are most likely fish that have come out of the lake to spawn. Please release these fish. No fishing is also allowed within 300 ft. of these tributaries.
Martis Lake – (Martis is restricted to artificial lures with barbless hooks. Zero fish may be bagged or possessed) Fishing has been fair. Most activity has been early and late with blood midges and callibaetis imitations. Most anglers are using nymphs such as the Hares Ear, Pheasant Tail, Damselfly imitations or the A.P. Streamers that imitate small fish, and woolly buggers are also good choices. For surface activity, patterns such as the Quiqley Cripple, Martis Midge, Parachute Adams, and Griffith’s Knat are good choices.
Little Truckee River – (This area between Stampede Reservoir downstream to Boca Reservoir is now subject to artificial barbless lures with a two fish bag limit of fish 14 inches maximum) – (124 cubic feet per second) Fishing here has been fair in the stretch between Stampede and Boca. Fishing has been fair near the inlet area of the Little Truckee into Boca reservoir. This area changes almost daily. Fly fishermen fishing this stretch between Stampede and Boca are experiencing frequent hatches where a dry flies and emergers have been productive. Nymphs and streamers are still the first choice if there are no fish on the surface.
Prosser – (9,662 ac. ft.) Prosser has been fishing fair. Fishing here is mostly with nightcrawlers or Powerbait. Fly fishermen near the inlets have taken a few fish mostly on nymphs and streamers.
Stampede – (168,071 ac. ft.) Stampede is fair to good. Shore anglers are catching a few more fish. Most use the typical baits, nightcrawlers or Powerbait. Topliners have fair to good success for kokanee salmon. Most use a flasher of some sort and a kokanee bug or wedding ring with a piece of white corn. Look for improvement as the weather warms. There is still good action, mostly subsurface, with nymphs such as the pheasant tail and the bird’s nest. There is some good surface activity early and late as well. Streamers are also working.
Truckee River – The release from the dam at Tahoe City is 430 cubic feet per second and near Truckee it is running at 438 cubic feet per second. Fishing has been fair throughout the river. Seasoned anglers have been doing well. Prince nymphs, Bird’s nests and pheasant tail nymphs have produced some fish as well as streamers. Try an elk hair caddis, hares ear parachute or an E/C caddis. A grasshopper pattern can work well at times as well. Fishing has hit the typical summer early morning or late evening peaks in activity throughout our local waters.
Other Waters – Jackson Meadows has been fishing well. Davis and Frenchman lakes are fishing fair this past week.
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Several Truckee-Tahoe skiers will vie for Olympic medals next month.