We traveled to Yosemite for some incredible hiking and camping during the first weeks of August. The valley flanked by massive granite cliffs and surrounded by domes worn smooth by the march of past glaciers is beautiful bordering on surreal. There are not words to describe it, no adjectives apply, you simply must see it for yourself.
Skinny Water Culture out of their element.
During our stay, we managed to secure rare permits allowing us access to the summit of Half Dome, so we rested our legs for the upcoming 21 mile hike (from Glacier Point to the summit and back) by stalking trout in meadow streams instead of traveling thousands of vertical feet. We'd have time for that, too.
View of Half Dome from Glacier Point
I was able to fish the Tuolomne River in Tuolomne Meadows, which provided one of the prettiest settings I can imagine for catching some of the prettiest fish you can entice with a fly rod. With a small elk hair caddis I was able to land a slam of trout from the cold melt waters as mule deer drank from the current under my backcasts, songbirds sang and flitted amongst the branches and a prairie dogs goofed in the meadow grasses. Brooks, browns and bows all came to hand, none over 8" in length but they shone like jewels.
I wet-waded the melt water. This was at about 9000ft. After a few minutes I stopped feeling pain and shuffled along on what felt like stumps.
The first flowing water I've fished in 2011.
Saltwater fly fishing might be more exciting, but those chrome monsters are just different sized versions of each other and have little character compared to each unique trout that you coax from flowing water. Individual trout have personality while every bonefish and tarpon is just a variation in size of almost the exact same fish.
I spotted two monster (12") brookies sipping something within inches of an overhanging bank, rising amidst the grasses that hung into the clear waters. I changed to a small parachute ant as fast as I could, but the 7X tippet is more than difficult to work with when you're now used to tying knots with 15lb flouro. Twice in a row I tested my knots only to have them slip free.
I army crawled along the bank to get upstream and was able to dead drift a fly into their lane on my first try. I had a rush and an inspection, but then a refusal. I tried fly after fly but was not rewarded for my efforts.
Ground Squirrels can work the zippers on your backpack. Watch out.
Wandering back towards the bridge to meet the rest of my party who chose a small hike over fishing, I was approached by a National Park Ranger who saw my fly rod.
"Yep, a few. Gorgeous water."
"Nah, the largest was maybe 7" and I would release them anyway."
He then surprised me with what he said next.
"This isn't my uniform talking, but keep every single trout you catch in Yosemite. No one will write you a ticket."
I was seriously confused. However, as I soon found out, I was just ignorant of the reality of Yosemite's fishery. As it was explained to me...
"There isn't a single native fish above 4000ft in Yosemite. All of the trout you've caught are descendants of stocked fish, which was discontinued in the early 1990s, or descendants of fish that have been 'coffee-canned up here by shepherds back in the day. The Sierra Nevada Yellow Legged Frog and the Yosemite Toad are two amphibians that should, and hopefully soon will be, listed on the Endangered Species List. The only reason for their decline in population are the damn trout. They don't belong here."
News to me. The trout are a treasure, but past practices of indiscriminate stocking, like many things when dealing with ecosystems, have unforeseen and unknowable consequences in the future. Our rivers and lakes are melting pots of exotic species. It is exceedingly rare to catch a freshwater fish, especially trout, in the waters that it has evolved. I can think of the brooke trout of Shenandoah National Park as one of the only times in my life that I've done that. See here, here and here. It is so special.
Another surprise awaited me in this conversation with the ranger. I was hoping for some Golden Trout, but apparently they are only native to the Kern River drainage in the southern Sierra Nevadas. Everywhere else, the dozens of lakes and streams they now inhabit, is not where they've evolved. Whether stocked via helicopter or coffee can, they've increased their range exponentially.
We've enabled a trout takeover for the past hundred years or so. Other, less desirable and less economically valuable species, like the asian carp, get the negative press. The reality is that they both have similar impacts on the ecosystems which they invade. One is just much prettier than the other.
The final 700ft to the summit of Half Dome, along some steel cables.
Some people a bit too close to the 3000ft cliff's edge as smoke from a forest fire rolls in.
Why 18+ people have died in this park so far this year...
The cables from the sub dome.
Stace approaching another Giant Sequoia in the Mariposa Grove.
Forest fire sunsets: surreal