Winter in the Middle of July

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RiseToADry
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Winter in the Middle of July

Post by RiseToADry » Sat Jul 22, 2017 11:33 am

My father, brother and I set out on our annual backpacking/fishing trip on July 15th with an aggressive agenda attempting to hit 4+ exceptional backcountry fishing destinations. We usually target our trip a week or two after ice out because this is when the fish (especially rainbows and goldens) are the most active. This year the middle of July seemed about right, but we were wrong. It was spring like conditions in the high country with plenty of snow, extreme runoff, water everywhere, iced over lakes, and lots of hiking in microspikes.

I'm going to be purposely vague about locations, but pictures say 1000 words. All fish were caught and released to live another day.

Saturday July 15, 2017
We set out over an east side pass that gains over 3500 ft on a well used trail to start, then a faint use trail over the last half.

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Our ultimate goal for day 1 was to get over the pass and down to the set of lakes on the other side but the snow, route finding, and long day of travel killed our energy and strength so we camped at the base of the pass (nearly 12500 ft!) near a tarn filled with glacial water. In typical Sierra fashion, the mountains humbled us on this day.

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Sunday July 16th
The next morning we climbed the glacier pretty easily on the firm snow with the help of our microspikes (must have!).

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The other side of the pass was jaw dropping. The excitement to be in the "backcountry" was contagious among the three of us. We were instantly filled with new life.

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Getting around the lakes in the basin proved no easy task as the trail went in and out of snow banks and boulder fields. A couple of times we had to throw on the spikes and traverse a steep-ish snow bank that fell straight into the lake. Without spikes and poles it would have been impossible.

Eventually we made our way out onto the bench and shockingly the bench had even more snow! There were drifts 10-15ft deep and snowbridges everywhere. The trail was even more difficult to find and follow, so we ended up making our own way to the western edge as we began to work our way around a ridge that separates this basin from the next.

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After 6 hours of brutal off trail hiking we finally laid eyes on our ultimate goal, a large open lake on the west side of this basin, only to realize it was still 75% iced over!! What!! How could this be?? We immediately wondered if the fish would come out to play. There was still a few few hours of daylight left to toss in a line after setting up camp.

This fishing and sunset didn't disappoint.

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Monday July 17th
Our initial itinerary had us dropping down into a meadow filled canyon then walking another 10-11 miles on trail to a remote large lake at the head of a canyon named after the the mountain that presides over it, but after the grueling first two days, the ridiculous amount of snow and high water (dangerous river crossings) we opted out of the aggressive route and stayed at the lake for a "zero" day filled with fishing.

It was totally worth it. We walked around to the outlet where the lake was mostly open and found 50 fish swimming in the shallows aggressively looking for food. It was so early they weren't even in spawn mode yet. I have just started tying my own flies and was eager to test them out. As you can see from the pics below, stripping simi seal leech's proved deadly.

We spent the entire day catching fish, getting a hit nearly every cast and they weren't 8 inch dinks either. The average fish was probably 10-12" with the largest in the 15-16" range. The quantity combined with quality was something I've only experienced one other time in my life.

By the time we left that afternoon, the number of fish near the outlet seemingly doubled and they began circling up in their redds. It was an unbelievable sight to behold. We literally witnessed the spawn begin on July 17th.

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Mean muggin'
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Fish stalking
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Part fish, part pelican?
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The release.
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After dinner I walked around and took some pictures of the sunset. The amount of snow on the mountains across the valley was mind boggling.

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Tuesday July 18th
The new plan was to retrace our steps and fish the set of lakes in the high elevation canyon just over the pass. We managed to find nearly our identical route back and made the 5 mile cross country hike in 4 hours. We set up camp right above the inlet into one of the lakes, ate lunch and broke out the fishing gear.

This was the windiest day of the entire trip with consist 15mph winds and gusts above 20, but I stuck with the sinking line / simi seal leech combo and caught 10-15 football shaped goldens over 4 hours. They were some of the fattest and strongest fighting fish I've ever caught in the Sierra. A 14" fish fought and felt like a 20+".

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There wasn't nearly the quantity of the other lake, but the quality was definitely better. The average fish was 13-14" and fat. I caught two fish that were my personal best golden's - one was likely 18"+ the other 16-17" but they were camera shy and hopped off one of my leeches before I could snap a pic. Once again, I can honestly say I've never caught that many fish that were that large. This lake wasn't even the main attraction for this trip, but ended up being the star.

Here are a couple pics of our campsite, vintage high Sierra.

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Wednesday July 19th
We woke up to a completely calm morning with bright sunshine, so we couldn't resist fishing the lake again for another couple hours that morning before we head back over the pass. We worked our way around to the inlet to see if it fished as well as the outlet. It wasn't quite as fast action, but the quality was still there.

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The last fish of my trip was typical of this lake - chunky and hard fighting. It put a bend in my rod that I've rarely felt, continually diving into the rocks trying to snap me off. When I finally brought him in - it was a beautiful 16" male golden complete with kype.

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In the afternoon we worked our way back around the lakes, crossing snowbanks and rock fields, and eventually up the steep but mostly sandy pass. We set up camp at the tarn just on the other side where we spent the first night, which set up an easy exit the next morning.

That evening I climbed up an adjoining ridge and snapped a few pictures of the next basin over. The alpine glow was on point.

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Thursday July 20
Woke up before the sun, hiked 5 miles back to the car by 9:30AM, scarfed down a burger, fries and shake in Lone Pine. Fin.

We set out on this trip with an aggressive itinerary and when we realized the conditions were much different than expected we changed the plan on the fly. It hurt my ego - how could I let the mountains beat me? I wait all year to explore these lakes and basins and I let a little snow beat me. But I think it was the right choice. We definitely made lemonade, or so the saying goes.

Cheers. :drinkers:
Last edited by RiseToADry on Sat Jul 22, 2017 12:21 pm, edited 1 time in total.








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rlown
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Re: Winter in the Middle of July

Post by rlown » Sat Jul 22, 2017 11:46 am

A very nice report! Beautiful Trout!!

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maverick
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Re: Winter in the Middle of July

Post by maverick » Sat Jul 22, 2017 11:47 am

Wonderful TR and pictures! Fish pictures are great (fish porn :) ). Not surprised by the amount of snow you encountered in that area, the earlier reports to it indicated a lot of snow and including those snow drifts you saw in that unnamed canyon. ;)
Professional Sierra Landscape Photographer

I don't give out specific route information, my belief is that it takes away from the whole adventure spirit of a trip, if you need every inch planned out, you'll have to get that from someone else.

Have a safer backcountry experience by using the HST ReConn Form 2.0, named after Larry Conn, a HST member: http://reconn.org

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Tom_H
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Re: Winter in the Middle of July

Post by Tom_H » Sat Jul 22, 2017 2:28 pm

Great TR! Beautiful pictures! Thanks for bringing such inspiration to someone too old to get out and do this any more. You made my day!

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freestone
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Re: Winter in the Middle of July

Post by freestone » Sat Jul 22, 2017 4:23 pm

Beautiful fish and locale.Thank you for taking the time and effort to share it with us.
Fram...

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TahoeJeff
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Re: Winter in the Middle of July

Post by TahoeJeff » Sat Jul 22, 2017 4:53 pm

Awesome Bows and Goldens!!! Best fishing report of the year so far?
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freestone
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Re: Winter in the Middle of July

Post by freestone » Sat Jul 22, 2017 8:03 pm

What amazes me is how fat they are! I am guessing they were not rising to a dry but getting fat off something on the bottom.
Fram...

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RiseToADry
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Re: Winter in the Middle of July

Post by RiseToADry » Sat Jul 22, 2017 11:32 pm

Tom_H wrote:Great TR! Beautiful pictures! Thanks for bringing such inspiration to someone too old to get out and do this any more. You made my day!
Tom - I'm glad you enjoyed it so much. Hope you get to throw in a line somewhere this year!
freestone wrote:What amazes me is how fat they are! I am guessing they were not rising to a dry but getting fat off something on the bottom.
Freestone - thanks for reading. You are correct they were not getting fat off surface flies. On "lake 1" it's very hard to rise to a dry on a lake with 75% ice coverage! ha! The golden trout lake had some mild surface activity in the shallows but I'm 99% certain the main food source is subsurface, most likely a scud of some sort. If you check out robertseeburger's recent report there is a nice picture of the likely food source for these lakes. The main method we employed was slowly stripping simi seal leech patterns size 10 and 12 in olive, black and red. I used sinking tip line and my brother/father used floating line. The fish loved it stripped reallyyyy slow. Strip 6 inches, wait 2-3 seconds, repeat.
TahoeJeff wrote:Awesome Bows and Goldens!!! Best fishing report of the year so far?
I feel like you say this every year?! Happy you enjoyed it. Cheers Jeff.

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austex
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Re: Winter in the Middle of July

Post by austex » Sun Jul 23, 2017 5:40 am

All I can say is thanks. I have to say this is the best fish p*rn to date. Reminiscent of stories from Yeager's book Press On.
I'm always happy and perhaps a bit giddy to see others getting back to some of the true rewards for hard work, homework and persistence. Highly worth the reward. Thank you for sharing and I'm sure it made some tighter bonds between the three of y'all.

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Hobbes
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Re: Winter in the Middle of July

Post by Hobbes » Sun Jul 23, 2017 7:39 am

Going up in a few days. Checking some lakes that have been reported here. Might get lucky and be first of the year. Hoping for fatties.

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