July 8-12, 2016
I backpacked to the Little Lakes Valley from the Mosquito Flats Trail-head for the first time. In fact, my backpacking experience was limited to the upper Kern before I went with my buddy from SDFF, Warren Lew. Warren is a recently retired doctor who is a total stud and north of me in years. Warren taught me a ton about backpacking the high country of the John Muir Wilderness. And specifically he taught me how to “do” the little lakes valley from the Mosquito Flats Trailhead. He also taught me how to dry fly in Stillwater. I was a newbie before this trip never really having success and always resorting to the streamer. I cannot wait to get back to this place. And I fear that won’t be until next spring because winter comes fast here.
The fishing is ridiculously good. The fish are generally smaller than the kern because of the huge healthy population of brook trout, but the quantity you catch is 4x. I promise that any fly fisherman would catch more than 10 a day regardless of skill. My wife could catch 10 a day there. if Warren and I really wanted to I bet we could have caught more than 50 a day. And yes, the brookies actually are delicious (they are a char; not a trout).
I bet I caught and released more than 125 fish (rainbows, brooks, and a golden) over 8 lakes and a miles of streams that connect them. And 99% were on a dry fly.
There are so many positives about doing this, and I will detail the highlights below, but, there are some negatives.
The drawbacks are:
- Altitude – it’s over 11k feet. lots of heavy breathing. Every hike seems harder. Everything is more extreme. Hiking over Morgan pass was a challenge. We spent 5 days above 11K feet and I grossly underestimated how much colder it is up there. we also got caught in a night time wind storm where it had to be blowing over 60MPH….which means not a lot of sleep.
- You have to camp 100 feet away from the water – this is a stupid rule I still cannot understand the reasons for.
- Bear Canisters are required – another stupid rule; what bear hangs out above the tree line? and frankly what’s wrong with just hanging your food?
- The permitting process requires a visit to the ranger station in bishop; I don’t understand why it can’t all be done on the internet.
The positives are numerous:
- When you camp next to a glacier, you have snow to pour your Bourbon over.
- Beauty – the sheer beauty of the mountains, much of which was above the tree line.
- Fly fishing – ridiculously fun and easy.
- So many trails and so many lakes within a 4-mile diameter.
- I proved Mike Hilygus’ theory once again that a bullet head Skwalla in sizes 10 and 12 works everywhere.
- You can make the big cast – talk about a great place to practice your double haul. Since there are no trees in many of these lakes (or they are sparse) you can do the 50 foot cast. I was throwing my custom made 4 wt by Tom Young built on TFO BVK blanks. And when I stood on big rocks I could swear I was getting close to casting the entire length of the fly line (100 feet). of course setting at that distance is a different story.
There were a number of firsts on this trip:
- Most number of nights backpacking: My record before this trip was 3. On this trip we did 4 nights in the wilderness. And I still had food leftover. Yea, I lost weight on this trip.
- My first “real” golden trout – I have caught plenty of goldens in my time and they are a blast because they hit so hard and it’s always dries. But, I have never caught a golden over 6”. On this trip I caught a 14” golden. A female; but, I earned it. I was working a pod of big goldens and hooked 5 and lost all of them before landing them. I must have spent an hour at it before I finally got one.
- A double dry – I have caught two fish at a time just a couple times before. Once in Crowley on two streamers in a float tube. Once in the Contoocook River in New Hampshire a few weeks back on a dry/dropper. But, this trumps them all. I was throwing two dries just to figure out what size I needed to get the big brookies to rise. The first fly was a size 12 bullethead skwalla. I trailed that with a size 14 spruce moth. I had to make the big cast (see above) so the set was on a big splash; I didn’t see what actually happened. But, when I made the set I yelled to Warren: “Big Fish!”. It was a battle on my 4wt (5x), but as I got the fish close I saw it wasn’t one fish; it was too big 13” brookies.