Fishing on the Wild Side in California’s Sierra Nevada

I call it Fishing on the Wild Side. It is my version of adding a little extra adventure to a fishing outing. Fishing the wild side has taken me on some unforgettable escapades, sometimes incredible, occasionally a little frightening, but never boring.
The first step is to scour a topographical map of an area you want to visit. For me that is almost always California’s rugged Sierra Nevada. Before long I spot a lake, or possibly a stretch of river, that matches my criteria of what constitutes a good wild side fishing destination.
My favorite lakes or streams are the ones that, because of their location, are overlooked my most anglers. Sometimes they have no name. Often they are small. They are not on the way to anything else. Usually they are just far enough off the beaten track that most fishermen overlooked, dazzled by other, closer, larger, or more famous bodies of water. Sometimes they are tucked away up a side-canyon only a mile from one of the big attractions. Every year thousands of anglers toss their hooks into the Virginia Lakes near Yosemite, but how many bother to trek less than half a mile up to Moat Lake? If they did, they would have a chance at some golden trout.
When I am fishing on the wild side I care very little about the size of the fish or the number of fish I catch. Just so there are at least some fish. It is the destination that is the real prize. Sometimes you will get skunked, but not often. And once in awhile you will make one of those miraculous discoveries-a secret lake showing no signs along the shore of previous visitors, while all around the lake, 15-inch rainbows glide about the shallows.
A wild side destination need not be far from civilization. In valleys with large rivers, try finding a safe crossing to the other side of the river where there is no trail. An example of this in the Sierra might be Paradise Valley in Kings Canyon National Park. Or watch for places where a trail diverges from the stream, such as up Bear Creek near Lake Edison. Three miles from the trailhead the footpath swings away from Bear Creek. Most yet only a half-mile farther upstream are a series of great pools with wonderful fishing.
Staying Safe on the Wild Side
There is never a trail to my wild side lakes or streams, so I always go prepared for cross-country travel. If mountain travel is new to you, go out with others more experienced until you learn the art of off-trail route finding. For your first outings on your own, choose low-risk destinations where you can clearly see the route back. And take a friend with you.
While a GPS is a handy tool, I still carry a topo map and compass. If you are going alone, make sure a trusted person knows exactly what route you will be taking, when you are expected to return, and who to call if you don’t show up. Carrying a satellite phone, one of the new SPOT Satellite GPS Messengers, or a personal locator beacon (PLB) would give you an extra layer of safety. I always go prepared for inclement weather, including adding an emergency shelter to my daypack.
Along the way I keep a close eye out for poisonous snakes. Rattlesnakes are rare now along the heavily used trails in the Sierra, sewer bucket machine for sale but as soon as you start clambering around in country where few others venture, you will almost certainly encounter snakes.
One consideration with fishing on the wild side is that you are often making your way over difficult terrain. I am not an enthusiastic bush whacker, so any significant barricade of brambles is likely to turn me around or send me off another way. Often though, you will find yourself in places where you need both hands free: scrambling over rocks, crossing a stream, or pushing your way through pine boughs. As a consequence, I put everything in my daypack, including my fishing rod.
Choosing a Back-country Fishing Rod
Among the most popular fly rods for off-trail, high country fishing is the March Brown Baden Powell special edition. It is a 7-piece, #5, 8’6″ rod, which is perfect compromise in length for both stream and lake fishing. Broken down it is only 17″ long. Many people like its medium-fast action. Another rod to consider is Cabela’s Stowaway 7. It is an 8’6″ rod which breaks down into 7 pieces, which is quite convenient for slipping into a daypack. Another choice, best for streams or small lakes, is the Fly-Lite Mini Rod and Reel. It is a 2-piece, #4 weight rod and comes in lengths up to 6′.
For those of you who are spin casting, you might want to look at Eagle-Claw’s Pack-it telescopic rods. Another choice is the Crystal River Executive Travel Pack Spinning Combo. This 6′ rod breaks down into 6 sections. Whichever rod you choose, you’ll want to get an ultra-light carbon fiber or plastic case to protect the rod in your pack. The cases that come with some of the rods are usually pretty heavy.
Where to Fish in the Sierra Nevada on the Wild Side
If you are already an experienced cross-country hiker, then spread out your maps and choose a destination that catches your eye. If you are just starting out you might want to choose some lakes that aren’t too far off in the wild and aren’t too difficult to reach.
In the Sierra Nevada a great place to begin is out of Rock Creek on the eastern side of the mountains. Any easy entry hike takes you up Rock Creek into Little Lakes Valley where you can wander about all day trying your luck fishing in a dozen little lakes. Another good destination is out of North Lake. With less than two miles on the trail you can be at Lamarck Lake and from there launch yourself up into the scattered Wonder Lakes.
For experienced cross-country hikers there is nothing to compare with the high country. Once you are at the edge of timberline, above most of the annoying thick timber and bushes you find at lower elevations, you are free to wander from lake to stream without hindrance.
There is no reason you couldn’t try fishing the wild side anywhere close to wherever you live, whether it is in the North Cascades, the Adirondacks, purchase mig welder the Great Smokey Mountains, or the Rockies. Even if you only venture a few hundred yards from the well-beaten pathways, you will find great rewards.