During my John Muir Trek between South Lake and Tuolumne Meadows, I
was fortunate to fly fish some of the most exhilarating and technically challenging streams in the
"Range of Light."
One that ranks for me as the most stellar of wild trout habitats is the
South Fork of the San Joaquin River. First, the terrain is very exciting, from
Goddard Canyon to the confluence with
Piute Creek, much of the access requires a "sixth sense" or
"ballerina awareness" while carrying your rod and gear. Climbing over
talus and polished granite benches is a skill set to access the many
exquisite pools, tail outs and countless riffles. It's understandably
apparent once you hook into one of these wild trout, that they are a
product of this environment. Feisty and strong, these hybrids would
hammer the fly, then propel themselves out of the water, to then
vigorously swim upstream and launch themselves out of the water again
often two feet into the air. Angling one these inspired fish with my
3wt rod was like equating it to a "pinball rodeo." Wow! Just hang on!
Even at this high elevation, roughly 9,000 feet, the fourteen trout I
caught and released were an average size of twelve inches nose to
tail. It was obvious that high biomass and the water purity that
flows from many alpine catch basins at the headwaters are definite
causes to their size and spirited strength. These well-fed trout, I'm
calling Cuttbows, rather than Paiute Cutthroats, have striking
coloration, heavy spotting, evident parr marks and distinctive red
stripe while lacking the slash under the jaw. (See Sierra Trout Guide
by Ralph Cutter, pg 15).
During my energetic scramble up this freestone stream, I found
abundant amounts of Cased Caddis and some large March Brown Stonefly
Nymphs which resembled ones I have found on the Lower Yuba east of
Marysville in northern California. During the day that I had to
investigate this stream, I thrived on the remoteness and grandeur
that complimented this rugged river. Most of the fishing technique
was high stick nymphing with a BB amount of weight. Before the trek,
I tied a few ginger "Hares Ear's," with gold ribbing, and a small
piece of holo-graphic tape over the thorax, that closely resembles
the Cased Caddis flies I have found crawling over the rocks in most
of theses streams. This fly worked very well and was one of the most
productive flies I tied for the trip. From any trail head the upper
South Fork is a least a two-day strenuous adventure on trail in the
wilderness, however as you loose yourself in the scenery and quality
of angling, the distance will seem to fade away.
Mary and I just returned home from trekking and fly-fishing roughly half of the John Muir Trail. We started our adventure at South Lake, on the east side of the Sierra Nevada below Bishop Pass after a fun hitch hiking adventure from where we left our car in Yosemite National Park.
We were trekking the untraditional direction of south to north for pure convenience. During the whole trek from start to finish, we did not see as many people on the trail proper as we imagined we would have. From LeConte Canyon to Yosemite we probably saw on average 8 people a day, with many crossing the trail to find adventure in other areas of the region.
Of the many trekkers we met, we were amazed how unprepared they were for the more difficult sections of the trail to still to come, that being Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Park. Most of the trekkers had cross-trainer type footwear with little or no ankle support, but still were carrying at least 40 lbs some 50 lbs. Many of the novice type had sprained ankles and much blistered feet. A few that we had meet at the Vermillion Resort at Thomas Edison Lake were already considering plan “b” to their attempt at “JMT in 21 days”. Some of these “Speed Cultist” even had other issues that ranged from infected full depth blister wounds, debilitating raw chaffing in their genital area and shin splints. Yow! I was just very surprised, when fellow trekkers, particularly one in the Duck Lake section, asked me if the trail was going to keep getting harder, unfortunietly with a dumbfounded look, I didn’t tell him what he wanted to hear, but what he feared. “ I said from Yosemite to wear the South Fork of the San Joaquin River comes out of Goddard Canyon is some of the most manicured and graded parts of the JMT you’ll hike, from there on to Mt. Whitney you get into some rugged trail in comparison, more wilderness and no easy way out. Oops? I guess I should not of said that. I was just stunned! Where are you from? Oh, well…Mr. dark cloud…
Mary and I did very well, we decide that we wanted to enjoy our 21 days doing half of the JMT, spending the afternoons painting, journaling, fly fishing or simply enjoying each others company and a leisurely swim.
Neither of us had any injuries not even a blister. We do wear good footwear; Asolo and Vasque backpacking boots are necessary especially on the freshly graded trail in Evolution Lake Basin. Soon I will post a gear list of what we brought and the individual weights of everything.
To see photos from our adventure
120 miles of JMT
To see trekking journals
JMT Trekking Journals