My wife, a friend, and I (the same trio as last year) made our way into the heart of native golden trout territory. Our target was Volcano Creek to see how it’s fairing as a result of the record 2016/17 rainfall and snowpack. We loaded up our gear and left Orange County, CA at 4:00am sharp on Friday morning June 30. After quick donut stop in Victorville we made our way without a hitch to the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center to grab our wilderness permit. After filling up the gas tank we made the climb up to Horseshoe Meadows and at 10:53 hit the trail. After the ascent and descent of Trail Pass we decided to take a rest at Mulkey Creek to inquire about the local GT population and take a brief siesta streamside.
About 20 minutes of fishing allowed me to knock off the winter rust and I brought 5 goldens to hand. Though these fish contain some of the purest genetics of goldens anywhere in the world, the upper reaches of Mulkey Creek are not in their heritage drainage. Mulkey Creek feeds the SF of the Kern but its headwaters are above barrier falls that prevented the goldens from reaching there until Mulkey himself transplanted about 15 specimens which later served the Cottonwood lakes as a brood stock. Regardless of their “natural” status, these fish are gorgeous.
After the rest and refueling, we continued our way westward and downward. Negative trails are always less fun on the way back. Add to the fact that out of the 16 miles of trail to Volcano Meadows roughly 11 of them are on sand, you’re in for a very long and inefficient slog. In time we passed through the two meadows and made it to the headwaters of the SF of the Kern. This freestone creek is beautiful…and with this much water….very buggy. The fish are small and plentiful.
It’s not until you descend another mile or so that they can gain any girth. It’s here that we made our camp for the night. Nine miles on day one after a 3:00am wakeup call, 5 hour drive, and 25-35 pound packs and we called it a wrap. Mac ‘n cheese, raspberry crumble, and hot chocolate down the hatch, we passed out in our tent.
If you’re already tired of reading here’s a video recap
A slow morning found us rousing about 8:00am. Sore and still in a bit of a stupor we broke down camp and set out for another 3.5 miles to our main base camp from where we would launch our day hikes into remote and often untouched waters. After setting up camp, pumping water, and resting a bit we decided to investigate how the snowfall impacted the watershed.
We were amazed at the sheer volumes. We found water and with it, mosquitoes and those damn sand flies everywhere. Golden Trout Creek is normally a lazy meandering kaleidoscope of red, yellow, green, black, grey, and white stones. This year it was a blitzing gush of clear water tinted a rich gold from the rock bed. Individual stones and gravel beds were near indistinguishable. Initially the trout were tough to find. Recon eventually revealed how and where they would stack up in the eddies, pools, and pockets.
With rods in hand, a small box of flies at the ready, sunscreen liberally applied, DEET 100 (thought to be) liberally applied, and a lightweight 5-panel hat I was ready for action. Trout after gorgeous trout was brought to hand in some of the creek’s most unexplored and unfished nooks and crannies. After hours of fun in the sun we retreated to our campsite and prepared dinner. A few hours around the campfire with beef stroganoff and we called it a night.
The following morning was the main event: a day trek to Volcano Creek. Last year’s journey found the meadow completely dry. We knew it was loaded with water, the question was how it was fairing as a fishery. On the way we passed some very fishy water and I found a very nice sized golden dominating a pool. Two casts later I brought it to hand. The thing about the GTW is that a 6-inch trout is commendable, a 7-inch trout is a reward, and anything above 8 inches is a trophy. This fish, needless to say, made me very happy.
Another hour and half on the trail and we made it to native trout mecca. What a change from 12 months ago. The meadow was in bloom with too many varieties of wildflowers to count. Bumble bees and honey bees filled the air and thankfully their was too much water for mud hornets. Those little bastards pack a punch and you never come across just one. The fishing was really tough. In about two hours I only saw about 12 fish and caught two. Between the normal undercuts being more than 2 feet under water and the recent drought, numbers of GT and accessible holds were few and far between. It will likely be another year or two (combined with good snow levels) for the system to fully recover. Here’s to praying….
After a field lunch of protein bars, jerky, and lemonade we decided to hike up one of the Volcano Creek feeder streams to see what we could find. Unfortunately the constant grade and volume of water meant the stringer was unfishable. In another couple weeks I would anticipate good action. Hoping into the stream to cool off revealed a good number of 2-3 year olds deep in the undercuts where the velocity of water was limited. As we were being absolutely eaten alive by blood sucking little $%@$#%’s we made the call to head over the hill to Golden Trout Creek to explore more water and search for fishy pockets. Hours of takes and countless fish-to-hand later we were the backcountry equivalent to fat and happy. More re-hydrated meals, hot chocolate, and protein shots down the hatch and it was time for bed. Temperatures were phenomenal. Highs leveled off around 80 and the lows may have hit 39 for 5 minutes on one night.
Our morning ritual of oatmeal, coffee, and prepping for explorations continued for another day. More relatively untouched water, more hungry trout. I couldn’t be happier. Taking into account the 13 miles to the car we decided to begin the trek “home” that afternoon. We stopped after a few hours at an established campsite which meant we could have one last campfire. I fished for a few hours in the fading light and caught over 30 fish in a very short period of time. All of them SF Kern Goldens. All of them beautiful. Some of them stunning.
A final night of “boiled back to life” food and stories saw us off to bed for the final time in the western part of the GTW. Our final morning we packed up and broke camp by 8:15. By 1:30 we made it to the car….a little worse for the wear but not much. It wasn’t long before a string of taillights foreshadowed the fireworks that awaited us back home.