Secret Mission: High Sierra Brook Trout

posted in: Lakes, Reports | 0


A few years ago I put a video on YouTube about trout fishing at Folsom Lake. Almost immediately someone commented, “Thanks for burning my spot.”


While I don’t feel I have a duty to maintain a shroud secrecy about the bass and trout fishing that occurs at Folsom Lake, the striper fishing along West Bank of Decker Island or the halibut action that takes place on the Berkeley Flats, there are some destinations that are so small and unique that I do believe putting an X on the map for the thousands of anglers that read my material might have a detrimental effect on them and that brings us to the fishing trip I took yesterday with Fish Sniffer contributor Tom O’Brien and pro photographer Dylan Meffan.

Tom landed and released this impressive brook trout on a gold Kastmaster during a high mountain adventure to an undisclosed Sierra lake on August 10.
Tom landed and released this impressive brook trout on a gold Kastmaster during a high mountain adventure to an undisclosed Sierra lake on August 10.

Tom is a high Sierra hunter, angler and backpacker. He doesn’t know every part of the Sierras, but the parts he’s familiar with he knows intimately. For a long while Tom had been relating stories about a small high country lake where he’d been catching brook trout.

That in itself isn’t a surprise, since brook trout are fairly widespread in lakes above 6,000 feet in elevation. Of the 1,404 lakes in the Sierras considered to be “high country” fisheries, 16% of them hold brook trout, while 68% of them boast rainbows and 16% support browns.

What makes Tom’s fishing hole unique is the size of the brook trout. I’ve caught a lot of high Sierra brookies over the years and the average size of the fish has been around 8 inches in lakes and a teeny 6 inches in streams. The fish in Tom’s lake average about 12 inches and range up to 17!

“I love brook trout,” Tom told me. “They are beautiful, but they aren’t too hard to catch. When the bite is on up at my spot you can catch them on just about every cast. They will hit a bunch of different lures and flies, but I like to use ¼ and 3/8 ounce Kastmasters because you can cast them long distances and they sink quickly. Sometimes the brookies are up near the surface and other times they hold right down along the rocks in deep water.”

Tom stays super busy running a hazardous tree removal company and I’m always on the go working on editorial for the Fish Sniffer and video projects for Fishing The West with Cal Kellogg, so it took a while for our schedules to mesh such that we could visit Tom’s high country honey hole. Things finally lined up on August 10 and that’s when Tom, Dylan and I headed into the high country in search of big beautiful brook trout.

As I said I’m not going to disclose where the lake is. If you want to sample high country trout fishing, a strong heart, a map, a backpack and a Spartan selection of trout gear is all you need. Pick out a hiking loop, hit a few lakes, toss lures into them and the trout will do the rest! This is how you’ll find your own honey holes and rest assured there are plenty of them that are seldom fished.

Tom, Dylan and I piled into Tom’s truck well before dawn and drove for a while on pavement and then a while longer on rock strewn, rutted dirt roads gaining elevation steadily. Eventually we arrived at a trailhead. At that point we donned our packs, grabbed our rods and started hiking.

The going was easy at first and then more difficult as we cut up the face of a ridge. When we reached the crest I got the first view of the lake we’d come to fish. It was perhaps 1,000 yards long and half that wide. It sat in a forested granite valley and most of the shoreline was lined with thick brush and big rocks.

“We’ll start off on the backside where the water is fairly shallow. When the sun hits the water we’ll move over to the east end. That’s where the water is deepest,” Tom related as he led the way down slope toward the water.

Dylan Meffan caught several high mountain brook trout on August 10 including this dandy fish.
Dylan Meffan caught several high mountain brook trout on August 10 including this dandy fish.

Minutes later we were standing on the shoreline. While Tom and I fooled around with our gear, Dylan started throwing a Kastmaster and the hookups came almost immediately. His first fish was a handsome, intricately marked 12 inch brook trout. After releasing the first fish, he caught it’s twin two or three casts later.

Tom was on the hook next and landed several incredible 12 to 13 inch brookies in a row including one that got hooked in the gills, which Tom kept for dinner.

I played around with a few different spoons and shot video at the first spot. With my lack of results, it was clear that the trout wanted Kastmasters.

With the sun on the water, we made our way around to the lake’s deep end and that’s where we really got into the fish. To hook up all you needed to do was make a long cast with a gold Kastmaster and allow it to fall to the bottom on a semi-tight line. Sometimes the strike would come on the drop. If the lure made it to the bottom unmolested, a slow retrieve along the rocks would almost always do the trick.

Every trout we caught was incredibly beautiful and they all fell into the 12 to 14 inch class.

“These are just average size fish we are catching today,” Tom told me as we fished. “The largest brook trout I’ve caught here measured 17 inches. The fishing is fair today I’ve seen it a lot better. As a general rule these high country lakes fish best either early in the spring just after the ice breaks up or in the fall when the days shorten and the trout sense that winter is on the way.”

When we called it a day at around 10 in the morning and started hiking for the truck, we’d probably landed a cumulative total of 25 trout, maybe more!

The richness of the lake, the beauty of the brook trout and the rugged high Sierra scenery made it a memorable trip indeed.

About Brook Trout

Brook trout aren’t a trout at all; they are actually a member of the char family. Originally found only in the northeastern corner of North America extending no further west then the Great Lakes, they have been widely stocked in the west, beginning in the 1870’s.

The first stocking of brook trout in California took place in 1871 and since then they’ve been introduced into many high country lakes, particularly in the golden age of aircraft trout stocking after the end of World War Two.

Brook trout are widely recognized as an indicator species. Waters that support brookies are typically cold, well oxygenated and free from chemicals and pollution.

In large Canadian lakes 10 pound brook trout have been caught, but in most areas brookies average less than 12 inches. The fish grow slowly and rarely live longer than 5 years. Their preferred forage is aquatic insects, but they won’t hesitate to gobble a baitfish if they can catch one…even one of their own babies. It’s a tough competitive world in the high country where the air is thin and the feeding season is short!