Even though I’d been fly fishing for more than a decade I never really knew of the genetic diversity and integrity of trout until quite recently. When I’d heard of the Little Kern Golden Trout I thought people were simply referring to another niched golden like the Golden Trout Creek of Volcano Creek Goldens which hold no unique genetic markers simply phenotypic ones. Once I learned that the LKGT was, in fact, separate I knew I wanted to behold one’s beauty.
I early October I found myself with a lightly workload for the week and decided (spur of the moment) to dive up Hwy 190, passed Nelson’s Camp to the Lewis Camp TH in the GTW. I wanted to get back (upstream) as far as possible but knew that a Friday afternoon take-in would limit my first-day’s efforts. My plan was to make camp near the convergence of a couple creeks with the Little Kern River. From there, the following morning I could day-hike further north in search of remote specimens. My target was the Soda Springs Creek however the headwaters were off-limits due to a fire.
The hike in was fast. As with so much of the GTW, this was a negative trail which meant that the return would be a real quad-buster. My relief to not seeing sand (like the eastern side of the GTW) was short-lived as instead of sand fine powdery dirt that permeates everything was to become my new nemesis. After a few hours and crossing a couple fishy creeks I hit the Little Kern as sun was setting. I had enough time to string up and get a few casts in. I was tired and hungry. I was able to entice this small fish to hit my offering. Some might call this a “silver-phase” LKGT. In my opinion and with the knowledge I’d acquired through pre-trip research I’m more inclined to believe that stocked rainbows have taken over much of the lower section (before the canyon to the forks). These fish certainly can (and have) spawned with LKGT creating a rather hybridized set of trout in many of the lower reaches of runs like Fish Creek and Clicks Creek. You need to work their headwaters if you want to catch pure (re-introduced) LKGT.
After 30 minutes I was too tired to fish anymore and walked back to my pack. I setup camp, pumped water, and made your standard freeze-dried beef stroganoff in the blue package. It wasn’t great but it certainly did the job. I crawled into the tent, swatted a few mosquitos, and prepped my sleeping pad. It wasn’t overly late (maybe 8:30 or so) and I wasn’t quite tired enough mentally to fall asleep and stay asleep until morning. I pulled out my map and studied different possible routes which came in handy later the next day. Eventually the eyelids grew tired and at some point I drifted off to a solid night’s rest.
In the morning quite a bit of smoke could already be seen to the north-west. I packed the essentially knowing that I’d be spending one more night at this site. Over the course of the day I explore many different creeks and runs off the LKR. Some of it was on-trail, much of it was off. It was a great day of exploration and discovering small pocket waters holding beautiful trout.
I was amazed by the deeper and richer bronzed color of these goldens. By no means are they duller than the CA golden trout. If they are in the primary color palette, then these guys are more in the earth-tone range but that does NOT make them bland. For my money, they actually look richer and more regal to me. There is just something about them. I cannot quite put my finger on it but I think I like the LKGT more than the standard goldens. Maybe it’s because they are so little known. Maybe it’s because I feel (deep down inside) that this native and rare trout needs to be someone’s favorite. Maybe it’s because good memories I associate with this trip. Regardless of the reason, I really love this species. What amazing creations.
I made it back to camp in the dark. I was very glad that I decided, at the last minute, to toss my headlamp into the daypack. I actually really enjoyed hiking back in the dark with only the beam from my lamp lighting the trail. There is something so peaceful about night hiking. The far off sound of coyotes yipping, the occasional bugle of an antlered bachelor, the subtle rustling of pine branches…it makes me feel so connected to where I am. Not some place that I’m thinking about or day-dreaming of…but I’m actually right there right then. The sense of being fully-present with nothing else occupying my head-space is exactly why I love native trout fly-fishing. The kinesthetic and sensory experience is nearly spiritual. It’s where I find myself at rest.
After the full day of exploring I was too tired and sun-baked to fire up the stove. I just ate an energy bar, washed my face, and climbed into the tent. After whacking a few more mosquitoes I passed out on top of my bag. At some point in the night a slight noise roused me and I realized two things: one I was a bit cold and climbed into my bag. The second thing I noticed was that I was not alone. Three deer were only 20 or so feet from me making their way down to the river whose riffles glittered in the moonlight. I quietly watched the trio make their way down to take water. I rolled over, tucked myself in, and nodded back off. The sunrise was swift and the heat growing inside my tent woke me. I shucked off the sleeping bag and began breaking down my rural home. Perhaps 30 minutes later I was hiking back up the Lewis Camp and mentally preparing myself for the incline that awaited me. I fished a few times sampling both Fish and Clicks Creeks to see what their mid-reaches held. Fish had nice LKGTs. Clicks look more introgressed. By 2:00 I saw the car and was relieved. Shucking the pack I dove into the trunk looking for the coconut water I’d stashed for just this moment. Pure delight. Since I was already up there, I drove to the TH for Clicks Creek just to explore the upper reaches and found more lovely LKGT as I fished for another hour or two making my way through the woods and toward the meadows.
Satisfied and knowing I had a six hour drive ahead I called it quits and drove back to Camp Nelson, Porterville, Bakersfield, and eventually to the urban sprawl of LA/OC. Hopefully it won’t be too long till I’m back in a natural environment.