High-country fly fishing beyond Yosemite’s Tuolumne Meadows

This high-country brook trout wears its hybridized spots well. (Will Burns)
This high-country brook trout wears its hybridized spots well. (Will Burns)

Few experiences in the fly-fishing world satisfy quite like pulling a trout from a mountain stream on a dry. Maybe that sounds corny, a little like the Hallmark card version of our sport, but it’s true.

— I don’t care if the fish is big.

— I don’t care if I match the hatch.

— I don’t even care if I have to do the Curtis Creek Sneak.

Because I am just plain lucky, my son also shares this fascination, which we enjoyed last week on some Yosemite creeks on the eastern-most edge of this fabulous park.But to get to the good stuff — even in very low water years such as this one — you’ve got to do some research.

Probably the best place to start is with California Fly Fisher magazine, which you can buy at your local fly shop. But remember that no matter how good the information when written, you won’t know what a piece of water is really like until you’ve fished it for yourself. And vacation time being so much more precious than work time, always be prepared with Plan B if your first choice doesn’t work out.

One of the biggest items to consider before spending those precious days is water flow. The Sierra is notorious for both ends of this equation, both super high and really low. Any So. Californian can tell you that we got a few drops of rain this season, and any environmentalist can throw around the fact that the Sierra snow pack is expected to shrink by half in this century.

Sometimes "getting down" isn't just about the music. (Will Burns)
Sometimes “getting down” isn’t just about the music. (Will Burns)

In low-water years, streams can dry up entirely, and you have to be on your technical game to land the residents of very low-running water. We had brookies spot us from 30 feet out in their scant foot of water. And who knows why, but even from that distance, if you point your finger at them, they scatter, breaking the stillness of the pool.

When’s the last time you practiced casting while you’re down on both knees? Stealth and an accurate cast are what it takes to land this very spooky fish.

The first two days, we plied two creeks full of brook trout and what looked to be an achingly beautiful hybrid between brookies and goldens. We saw, maybe, 10 other people, tops, and no one else fishing. That’s called dry-fly heaven.

The next day, with several dozen successfully released fish already under our belts, we decided to sample the Tuolumne River as it runs through its namesake meadows.  The fishing was terrible, partially because of rock throwers, inner tubers and the like, but gazing through pure, sweet mountain water as it undulated over the taffy-colored granite bottom washed away our no-fish cares. Still, we agitated to get into more fish and fewer folks.

As we walked back to Will’s car, we joked that in the same way we could tell when we approached a waterfall– by sound — now we could tell we were close to the parking lot by the annoying “be-bee-beee” of a car alarm. Little did we realize that it was his car’s alarm going off, squeezed as it was between a pair lumbering F-150s.

I’m sure there are ironic depths to that story, but my point is the chaos of hundreds — thousands — of innocently lost park-goers, as well as oriented, determined ones, and their cars, bikes and visiting tour buses, shouldn’t dissuade you from fishing the Tioga side of the park. With research, it is easy to completely beat the crowds. The $20 admission fee gets you in for a week, and after holding your breath going up the Tioga Pass, you might have to hold it again because of the area’s otherworldly beauty. It’s within 40 minutes’ drive of Mammoth Lakes and June Lake is also right there.

And as you release that hard-earned trout, remember wild, native fish are a gift we must preserve and share with future generations.

See you on the river, Jim Burns


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