Peninsula Fly Fishers

Sierra Backpack Fishout

The following fishout report is actually an excerpt from a diary kept by PFF member Tony Plutynski during the trip.

When we went to Rae Lakes, it was the first time that Chris, Mike and I had gone backpacking and fishing. We had gone fishing before at Lake Edison and stayed at Vermillion Valley Resort and done some day hiking to a snow covered meadow for some fair stream fishing, but nothing like the eight day trip we were embarking on.

It was about 8:30 in the evening when we drove to Onion Valley Campground on the East Side of the Sierra and found the last drive-in tent site. We all slept in Chris’s tent and although it was crowded, we were all fairly tired from the drive through Tioga Pass from the Bay Area. Because of bear problems,we were concerned about our backpacking supply of food, but after we locked it all in the trunk and we hit the sack, we were fast asleep.

The next day I was up at dawn as is my habit, and I was really excited about the prospect of visiting some of the places that I hadn’t visited in over ten years, such as Gardiner Basin. I had been in Gardiner Basin at least twice before, and I remembered the isolation, the Golden Trout, and the great fishing. The Basin has at least 15 lakes and all the upper lakes have only Golden Trout, and there are no real trails, just series of ducks and fishermen paths. I never saw any other people during my other visits. The largest Golden I caught was about twelve inches, but I caught plenty and had many great fish meals.

I spent the early hours getting my pack ready and having some breakfast while Chris and Mike slept. When they were ready to go, I was really ready, and we headed up the trail to Golden Trout Lake where we would be taking a challenging cross country trail over the crest to Dragon Lake. The Gould Pass we were planning to take was 12,800 feet, and I had taken it with Neil on another trip at least seven years before. I had spoken to Mike and Chris about taking some Diamox pills for altitude before the trip, but they weren’t interested. I took some, for I find that if I go to that kind of altitude too quickly I experience altitude sickness.

I also was concerned about the packs that they were taking. My pack weighed in at about 34 pounds including the water I carried, and Chris’s pack was over 65 pounds, and Mike had a pack of over 75 poinds. I believe everyone has a right to carry whatever they want, but it was still worrisome.

The climb to Golden Trout Lake was from 9,200 to 11,000 feet and quite steep, but there was a distinct trail. I got to the lake ahead of Mike and Chris and I fished a little, had some lunch and a nap. When they arrived, they were plenty tired, and when they asked when I had arrived, I told them that it just didn’t matter. Everyone walks at their own speed. I assured them that during the cross country I would stay with them. After they rested and had some lunch, we headed up the slope towards the pass. They were both quite tired and feeling the effects of the altitude. Headaches and some nausea were their main symptons, I believe.

The path quickly became indistinct, and I had to rely on my seven-year-old memory, a trip description and an occasional duck to figure out the way. It was very tough going and there had been many minor slides to obscure the path. When I got near the crest, not necessarily the pass, I put my pack down and went on up to the crest to see exactly where we were. As I looked over the crest, I looked down on the Kearsage Pass from about a thousand feet. This meant that we had to traverse to the pass, and we were getting late in the day. We traversed through some very rough boulders, and I finally thought I saw the pass. It was about seven, and we still had about 400 feet to climb and about a half a mile to get to the top. Then we had to go down the other side, which I remembered to be more difficult than this side. Both Chris and Mike were very tired and feeling the effects of the altitude.

I said, "We have to go down to some gravel by a moraine and camp here now, for I don’t want to go over the pass in the dark. It is much too dangerous!" They agreed, and we slept at about 12,200 feet that night. This is the highest I have ever slept in the moutains. Since we were on gravel, it wasn’t very comfortable, but we were dead tired and we quickly slept after we had some dinner. I apologized to both of them for putting them in the dangerous situation.

The next day they decided that they didn’t want to go over the Gould Pass, and we went down to the meadow below Golden Trout Lake and camped there. They fished the stream, and I went up to the lakes north of Golden Trout and brought back nine Brook Trout that I cleaned and cooked in tin foil. They hadn’t seen that method and they seemed to enjoy the trout.

The next day, having recovered somewhat from the altitude, we decided that we would go over Kearsarge Pass and camp at Kearsarge Lakes. When we got to Kearsarge Lakes, we camped at the same place I had camped two years before with Mike Baser of L.A.. It was right near a bear box and it was shaded. Chris and I also used a solar shower that Chris had brought in, and Mike took a dip in the very cold lake.

The next day we headed up over Glen Pass to the Rae Lakes. I had gone over Glen Pass years before, but I had forgotten how sharp the crest was at the pass. As I got near to the pass, I saw that I had to walk about one houndred yards along the crest on a path that was about twelve inches wide, and on one side the drop was about a thousand feet, and on the other it was only about three houndred feet. It was getting breezy as I approached the crest.

As I started walking this hundred-yard path, I thought about the breeze and the possible fall. What if a gust came along just as I was lifting a leg and then no more Tony! Those thoughts made me drop to all fours on the crest. As soon as I did this, a hiker coming from the other side, who saw what had happened, assumed that I had passed out and shouted, "Stay where you are! I will come get you!"

I shouted back, somewhat embarassed, "It’s okay, I just thought it would be safer if I crossed this on all fours." I finished the crossing and thanked him for his concern.

I waited for Mike and Chris at our agreed place, and while I waited, I saw several trout cruise by at the upper large Rae Lake. I got out my rod and had no trouble catching several Brook Trout up to about ten inches which I returned. Chris and Mike came along and showed me where they wanted to camp that night. They had decided to abandon the Gardiner Basin idea. It had a bear box which is most necessary at Rae Lakes. It was also near the ranger’s cabin, and although there is a one-day limit camping at each lake in the Rae Lakes, it was early in the season and the ranger didn’t hassle us about our three-day stay at the same lake.

That evening, Chris and Mike went off fishing with their fly rods and I used my bubble and fly technique to get my dinner of small Brooks. I had set up a menu for the week, and I had counted on having three meals of trout for dinner, and I was behind, so I had to catch up. We all had a nice trout dinner that night.

The next day, Chris and Mike were going to day-hike up to Dragon Lake and fish, and I decided to day-hike to Little Duck Lake. This was my name that I had chosen when Linda, my wife, and I had come across it twenty-eight years ago, and it had a little duck and no name on the map. We had experienced good fishing and instead of just resting, we stayed two days. I had visited it about seven years ago with Neil, and it still had terrific fishing.

I left about seven in the morning, and it had gotten down to about 35 so it was quite chilly. As I approached the lake, I heard what I thought was yelling. I was really dissappointed for since the lake was off trail, I thought I would have it to myself. When I got to the lake, I could see no one and I was puzzled. As soon as I got my first strike on my first cast and saw all the fish cruising, I forgot the yelling and started having a real good time catching and releasing fish (all Rainbows).

I caught three for lunch. I made a small fire and cooked them in foil. They were really delicious and I decided to take a nap on the green tarp I had brought in my day pack. I found a little saddle that overlooked the lake and had shade and a nice breeze and set my alarm for one hour.

About a half an hour into my nap, I heard a noise that awakened me, and I looked up. It was a coyote pup that was about a foot long and eight inches high and about ten feet away, looking at me intently. I think he was born this year earlier in the spring, and had probably never seen a human. He trotted smartly away and about twenty feet away he stopped and looked again. I tried to lure him closer but he would have none of it, and left.

All of a sudden the morning noises made sense. It was the pups calling for their mother to come back from her hunting to feed them. It was a great experience. I am glad the mother wasn’t too close, so it didn’t disturb her.

On the way back I stopped at the ranger station and there was a woman ranger to whom I reported the coyote sighting. She was glad to hear about it for there had been some disease that had gotten into the coyote population from the domestic dogs and now the coyotes appeared to be coming back.

I also asked her about Gould Pass and she contacted her head ranger by walkee talkee, and he was at Dragon Lake and knew all about the pass and how dangerous it was since the slides. He knew all about the experience we had had since he had spoken to Mike and Chris. He also gave me a better text reference on the pass. She also said that the rangers called The Little Duck Lake, Fish Lake, because of all the fish.

Back at our Rae Lake camp we shared tales about the fishing. They had gotten some larger Brookies at Dragon Lake and had fished the stream and gotten some Goldens. I related the information on Little Duck Lake.

The next day, Mike and Chris were day-hiking to Little Duck Lake, and I was going to try Sixty Lake Basin with some information that I had gotten from the rangers via Chris. One of the top lakes in the Basin was supposed to have some large Goldens.

I fished for an hour at the lake mentioned and no luck, so I worked my way down the Sixty Lake Chain. I caught a few small Rainbows but no Goldens, until I got to near the lower end of the Chain.

I had my nap and I was ready to go back and I checked the map. I saw that it was shorter to return by going cross country to Little Duck Lake. I figured that I could link up with Chris and Mike, and I could have some good fishing, and that it was a shorter way to base camp.

This was cross country and I hadn’t told Chris and Mike about the way I would be coming back, so I had to extra careful. It involved going down a slide chute that had boulders, brush, and plenty of loose gravel. I took my time and started to work my way down the chute. About a third of the way down as I was making my way down, I looked down and I saw a mother coyote and two pups making thier way down ahead of me. Luckily the wind was coming up the chute from them to me and they did not see me.

I thought about the threesome and I realized that they lived here and that they knew the territory much better than I. I had tentatively chosen a way down,but I watched what they did and started to emulate it. It was a much better path. I made a noise and she looked up and the coyotes scattered. They had helped me, down and you can’t ask for much more than that from a coyote.

I got to the lake and no Mike and Chris. Where were they? I decided to fish and it was still terrific. After about a half an hour, Chris appeared at the outlet stream and then Mike did. They had first fished the stream outlet and now were working the way back. They also enjoyed the great fishing. Since they were primarily stream fishermen and I was a lake guy, I guess it made sense that they had started on the stream.

I worked my way back to the inlet releasing the fish. As I walked up the inlet to the main trail, I scouted the inlet for fish. Mike and Chris were always asking me about what I saw in the streams, and I always asked them about the lakes. I thought I would fill them in. I saw plenty of fish, but the stream looked hard to fish, but that may be a point of view thing.

The next day we were going back over Glen Pass to camp at Charlotte Lake. I left early in the morning and had gotten to the Charlotte Lake Ranger Station about noon. As I walked up to the station, I was amazed to see about twenty people seeming to have a party. I asked the ranger about it, and it was a ranger party celebrating the Charlotte Lake Ranger’s thirty years having served in the back country. They must have had some pack horses bring in some beer, for they were mostly giggling and it was noon. Why not, it was the weekend, and they weren’t on duty. A lot of them were past rangers and relatives of rangers. They directed me to where there were open camp sites and I let them party. I waited for Chris and Mike, and when they came we chose a camp site and relaxed for the afternoon. I decided to bathe in the lake, for I hadn’t bathed since Kearsarge Lakes.

The next day was to be our last full day in the moutains, so we decided to do a day trip to Vidette Lakes, using the information that one of the rangers had told us about on how to get there and about some good fishing for Goldens in the lakes. The three of us took our day packs and took off about nine in the morning on the main trail to the lakes. The day was gorgeous and in fact for the whole eight days we were out we did not see a cloud, and although the nights were near and below freezing, the days were uniformly sunny with bright blue skies.

We crossed the Bubbs Creek on the log the ranger had told us about, found the old Shorty’s Log Cabin, and then the trail behind it that went up Vidette Creek. About a mile up the cannyon, we came to one of the best waterfalls I have seen in the back country. This was probably second to Waterwheel Falls in Yosemite. Across the raging creek below the falls was a packer station with large tents, horses, and mules. There was no trail shown on the topo map, but it probably was shown on the National Forest Map, which is usually better for trails.

We got to the first series of lakes and the fishing was good for small Rainbows which was disappointing to me. I was after Goldens. Chris and Mike decided to go on up to the next Lakes to see what might be up there. I decided to have a nap and then head back to base camp. It was a mistake. Later at base camp Chris and Mike told me about the large Rainbows and Goldens in the next lake. I was just one lake short. They also told me of six climbers that were going up the cannyon and over to Harris Pass to Lake South America. I have seen the scree that they must go through to reach the foot of Harris Pass, and it doesn’t look like fun. In fact, Harris Pass from that direction is not much fun, but Lake South America is one of the best Golden Lakes I know of.

That evening we were invited to drop in to the rangers’ get together and we did. I carry a small AM/FM radio with me for weather reports and news in the evening when the ionosphere is right. I had heard that a naturalist female ranger had been found in Yosemite decapitated and they were looking for the killer. I asked about it at the party, and they told me to be quiet about it, for the ranger’s boyfriend was at the party, and he was very shook up about it. I stopped asking.

The next day was out over Kearsarge Pass and back to the car. Usually kind of boring, but we managed to add one more adventure. I got to the car first and I dipped in the stream and changed clothes. Then I opened the car windows using the electric window motors. I noticed that one of the back windows didn’t go down all the way, and when I tried to lower it more, it wouldn’t go down. I just thought that the back windows didn’t go down all the way as is the case with my car.

After Chris and Mike came and unpacked and changed clothes, Chris tried to start the car. Nothing. We found that the lights had been left on the sunny morning that we had left. The eight days we had gone in for had drained the battery enough so that the only power that was left was the small amount I had used to lower the windows. Nothing electrical worked, including the emergency lights, the locks, the speedomometer or odometer. We figured that if we got it started down the 5,000 foot downhill run to Independence, it would start. It didn’t. We were lucky that it got all the way to the stop sign on US 395 and close to a phone, where Chris called AAA. We figured the battery had had it, since it was five years old. When the mechanic jumpered it, the car started right up!

It was a good trip. We had plenty of good fishing and a few adventures and misadventures.

Tony Plutynski

Peninsula Fly Fishers 1976-2021
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