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Fishing on the Wild Side in Californias 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, 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'.