My first Fastpack and Fish trip of 2015 was to a couple of nameless/numbered lakes near Rosasco Lake in the Emigrant Wilderness. Based on some oldish beta, I knew the lakes could possibly hold large trout. I didn't find trout, large or otherwise but if trout did make it down the creek from Rosasco Lake, they'd find a good sized lake with plenty of insect life to feed on.
It was sort of a no brainer destination from a Fastpack and Fish standpoint. Slightly farther from the trailhead than I might normally attempt on a day trip. The ~22 miles out and back route started out on a trail that I know well- Crabtree. It then descended into Pine Valley with a gradual incline through the valley and past Grouse Lake. At about the halfway point in my trip, it stair stepped a bit for about two miles before descending into Louse Canyon to meet the West Fork of Cherry Creek. It joins a trail which follows Cherry Creek downstream before making a 500 foot climb (in less than half a mile) to the ridge before descending slightly to the lakes. On paper, with the exception of the last bit, it appeared extremely run-able. In addition, the lakes' proximity to Rosasco Lake gave me a fall back. If the numbered lakes were fishless, I wouldn't run all that way for nothing. I knew Rosasco held fish.
I generally find it harder to run twice in a single day than once in a single day, even if the total distance is the same. Give me a single 20 mile run over two 10 mile runs any day. The time between simply gives my body time to ache and tighten up. That said, the whole Fastpack and Fish concept is pretty much predicated on doing the double run. My plan was to take it easy on the way in and then push harder on the way out. I walked the steeper hills and ran the "flat" section in the middle and the downhills. Things where going well until about 2.5 hours in, I missed the offshoot trail at Cherry Creek that would take me up to Rosasco Lake. In retrospect, it was clearly marked by a tall trail duck in the middle of the trail but I was expecting the trail to be closer to the Creek, so it didn't register or maybe the trail duck wasn't there on my way in. I don't know for sure. Regardless, I missed it and did some route finding to get back on track.
The trail to Rosasco Lake is one of those "light use" Emigrant trails that doesn't appear on every map. Similar to the trail from Cow Meadow Lake into the backside of Emigrant Lake. At the creek I used my LifeStraw to drink from the Creek while helping a couple of fellows orient themselves.
(The LifeStraw acts as a drinking straw which filters water as you sip. As part of my Fastpack and Fish strategy for this trip, I carried two 20 oz. water bottles in my Ultimate Direction Fastpack 2.0, my LifeStraw and a tiny MSR waterfilter. The 20 oz. bottles were filled with Tailwind Endurance Fuel. One bottle was designated for the outgoing run and another for the return run. The trail followed forks of Lily, Piute and Cherry Creeks much of the way so I'd supplement my hydration by stopping along the creeks and drinking from the LifeStraw.
I'd brought the MSR filter just in case and I'm glad I did. I just feel more comfortable having a full bottle with me as much as possible and filled my empty bottle upon reaching the first numbered lake. In future, I'm going to carry an 8 oz bottle that I can fill with stream water and then use the LifeStraw with at my leisure.)
The fellows at the trail crossing at Cherry Creek where heading to Wood and Deer Lakes. When I suggested camping on the south side of Deer to avoid the mosquitoes, one fellow pulled out his map and when I went to show him where I was headed, I noticed that the trail to Rosasco Lake was missing. This is not unusual for the Emigrant and I often times find myself referencing several maps looking for "lost" trails.
The route up to Rosasco was mostly over granite and scree and required quite a bit of route finding. It was marked by trail ducks but those ducks blended in well with the steep surroundings and in one or two cases were misplaced.
NB: To anyone reading this who is inclined to lay trail markers, using contrasting colored stones is a sure way to make the ducks visible.
Another NB: To anyone planning to take this trail. The map shows the trail heading south but in reality, the marked trail heads east- think straight up, before switchbacking up the ridge. You essentially cross the creek, look for the big pillar marker and then look straight up at the ridge. That's where you'll find the next marker. The trail will go up/east and north from there before heading south east to the lakes. Ignore the trail which appears to go south along the base of the ridge, through the trees. This presumes of course that you crossed the creek where I did.....
I've mentioned the Topo Maps app on my phone in previous chronicles when I've ventured off trail or travelled cross country but in this instance it was invaluable for route finding. It's ability to pin point my location to within feet of the trail or where the trail was supposed to be helped me stay on track. Even so, the unexpected route finding probably added 30 minutes to my total travel time.
When I arrived at Rosasco Lake I broke a cardinal rule of high country fly fishing. I left rising fish to pursue the unknown. The unnamed lakes were the goal and knowing myself, I knew that if stopped to fish Rosasco, I'd likely not fish the other lakes. Rosasco was bigger than the others and the extra route finding had only left me with about 3.5 hours to explore 4 lakes with travel time between. Lakes WL7890T, WL7834T where the objectives.
When I arrived at the first lake, it seemed the perfect place to hold big fish. It looked deep, though I have no way to know for sure, there were plenty of vegetation and plenty of bugs. There were no rising fish like at Rosasco and as I sat eating lunch and watching the lake I started to get a sinking feeling.
There were no active fish- no fish rising, no fish cruising the weed lines or bank. While it's certainly possible that it was too late in the day (around noon) and too hot for large fish to be cruising high in the water column, the amount of insect life in the lake was staggering. Water boatman and dragonfly nymphs swimming about unmolested, without a care in the world. I had to imagine that at least one fish in a lake of this size would attempt to capitalize on such a smorgasbord.
I made the requisite scouting trip around the lake before heading to the second lake. The second lake was smaller, looked like good water but again appeared to be fishless. I scouted both lakes and did some prospecting before heading to a 3rd lake. The 3rd lake was supposed to hold smaller fish than the other two so I decided to take a cursory look. In short order a single fish rose and then another. I made several casts with a dry fly before noticing several cruising fish closer to shore. These fish were actively taking something sub-surface so I cut off the dry and put on a Gold Ribbed Hares Ear (with bead of course).
I was allowed one cast to each of 3 or 4 fish before they started ignoring the fly. On the first cast they'd follow the fly and just before the strike, decide something wasn't quite right and turn away. Once they'd turned away, additional casts where ignored. I tried a different retrieve with each fish but in their eyes my fly wasn't acting quite right. I wasn't prepared to spend a whole lot of time on these fish. I knew from my research that the fish in this lake were smaller than the fish in Rosasco and I was just about to leave when I finally got the retrieve right. A fish rose about 25 feet from shore and I made a quick roll cast in it's direction. A 15 second count down with an ultra- slow, steady retrieve is what it took to hook the first fish of the day- an 8 or so inches rainbow trout. I hooked 2 or 3 fish with the same method before heading to Rosasco to look for bigger fish.
The fish at Rosasco where more cooperative but I was short of time and didn't get to fish very much of the lake. It was now a few hours since I'd seen the rising trout and they weren't rising any longer. There were several rainbows in the 10 to 11 inches range that were cruising the bank. At the 3rd lake I'd discovered that a beadhead, soft hackled Gold Ribbed Peacock fly was more effective than the beadhead, soft hackled Gold Ribbed Hare's Ear. That's what I had tied on when I arrived at Rosasco Lake so that's what I fished first. A well placed cast and the cruising fish rushed the fly and practically hooked themselves. However, just like at the 3rd lake, if I missed the strike I wouldn't get another opportunity. Sight fishing to cruising fish with dry or nymph is what I love to do so I worked the bank as thoroughly as I could given the time allotted. I managed to land several medium size rainbows before heading back to the trailhead.
On the way out, I made several cursory scans of Cherry Creek, Piute Creek and Lily Creek. I was surprised to see trout in only Lily Creek but I imagine that Cherry Creek must hold fish. It's a good sized stream with trout waters feeding it almost it's entire length. At Grouse Lake I witnessed several very small trout smacking the surface. My research says it's a small trout lake but maybe one day I'll see for myself.