Weather: Sunny and warm
This week we practiced the art of fishing without fishing. Bruce lee would have been proud.
What do I mean by that, well we were able to achieve the same feeling of serene satisfaction that one gets from fishing without actually catching fish. In other words, "it's not about the fish".
"It's not about the fish" that's probably a concept that new fly fishers find hard to grasp. When you're new to fishing it's all about the fish. Catching fish, usually catching as many fish as possible.
I once wrote a post on the Sierra Topix site outlining my not clearly defined definition of an excellent fishing trip. I'll reprint it as a rant when I get time but this trip is in that category. It was an excellent fishing trip and we didn't see a single fish. It was as simple as that.
What made it an excellent trip? Timing possibly- it came at the end of a long ten day process of planning for and attending the funeral of my father-in-law, a process that's sure to instill an appreciation of the little pleasures of life, location- we were packing into my favorite wilderness and into an area I've wanted to visit for over a decade and company certainly - I was joined by my brother-in-law on what was a long overdue joint backpacking trip.
The Gianelli Trailead- when I first started fly fishing the Emigrant Wilderness, I would hear stores of the big brook trout one could find off the Gianelli Cabin Trailhead. Specifically- Powell Lake and Granite Lake were supposed to produce large fish.
I never made time to fish these lakes in those early years and as the last decade drew on, storied of fewer fish surfaced. First it was- "Powell is dead."
Stories of "forget Y meadow, fish Granite" instead were replaced by speculation that Granite was dead as well. Speculation is just that though. I still wanted to see the country; I still wanted to see for myself whether the lakes still held fish.
The Corolla was once again called to off road duty. In its 21st season and with nearly 400K miles it's still a trusty fishing stead.
Chad navigated as we barreled down the rocky and slightly rutted fire trail. "On the right" he'd say as I weaved back and forth across the road to avoid the various vehicle disabling obstacles. Just as we reached the trailhead and let our guard down- "CRUNCH!!!" came the sound of something buckling on an unseen rock.
Crowded was the trail for a midweek jaunt. Backpacker after backpacker warned of the swarm of mosquitoes waiting to greet us in the backcountry. "Ouch" I said to Chad. I'd meant to remind him to bring his mosquito netting.
I adorned mine which, instead of a warning, would elicit a "boy, I wish I had one of those" from passers by. To which Chad would remark "I USED to have a brother-in-law who would warn me about such things....."
The hike from Gianelli is much more scenic than from neighboring Crabtree and a bit harder as it reaches as least 1,000 ft higher. The views are more spectacular. Chewing Gum lake becomes visible from the ridge line two hours into the hike, even though the lake itself is another hour or more away by trail. The ridge line above Y- Meadow Lake is seen from this vista. We didn't know it on the way in but we were going to cross over that ridge on the way out.
The country and lakes in the Emigrant never disappoint. The deep blue water of Powell Lake was captivating; a small overlook just off the trail provided the perfect spot for our lunch break. We hadn't travelled very far but we got a late start and so a noon-ish lunch was in order.
Fueled up, we took a pretty pedestrian pace along the rolling trail. We talked, laughed, enjoyed the views and slightly challenging trail.
By mid afternoon we found ourselves on the banks of Y- Meadow lake. From here it was off trail to Granite Lake. We walked along the bank a bit, looking for crushing fish before coming to the spot which, based on the map, we decided would take us to Granite without much elevation gain and allow us to miss and not have to go around the small lakeletes along the way.
Granite Lake is in a basin surrounded by lots of irregularly sized Granite. Hence it's name presumably. We quickly found a very good camp site on the north end of the lake.
I set up my Chrysalis tent and the less spoken about what Chad set up the better. Suffice it to say it was bright orange and involved cloths pins.....
A quick "ok" message from my spot messenger to our wives and we hit the water. The plan in hand? Hit the water close to camp and then walk the lake counter clockwise looking for fish.
The granite moraine that the lake is situated in creates high cliffs and lots of underwater structure. Chad often remarked about taking a high dive off the cliffs into the lake and the touted efficacy of a rope swing at this lake.
Make no mistake. This is a fishy lake. Very fishy. Lots of structure, lots of water critters but seemingly few fish. Neither one of us was really in the mood to "chase" fish. We circled the entire lake looking for active fish and found none. We made some probing casts in likely areas with no response. We could easily see large, shinny water-boatmen swimming in the water unmolested. The real kicker was when we found extremely large, size of my pinky large, dragon fly nymphs swimming around with little fear.
Either the fish were gorged on big bugs and done feeding for the day, or they were hunkered down in colder water or there are simply no more fish to be caught in Granite Lake.
The evidence- no fish sign on walking the lake's perimeter, lots of fish food happily fining in the water, no fish rising that night or the next morning, water that was so warm that in the morning I warmed my hands by submerging them in the lake and the kicker- a frog population that was larger than any I've encountered on a Sierra lake. The frogs were so loud, they kept me up that night.
The mosquitoes were there but not so bad as our comrades in backpacking had lead us to believe and not bad enough that Chad, who is one of those folks whose body chemistry renders them the mosquito equivalent of broccoli to an 8 year old, needed a bug net.
I on the other hand was inundated with mosquitoes and found the bug net quite useful at times. And oh, the old story that smoke keeps the mosquitoes at bay? Well, that only works if you're directly in the path of the smoke and who wants that? Out of the smoke but next to the fire, the mosquitoes liked the flavor of "smoked Jim" just fine.
The day following our little escapade Chad found a total of 6 mosquito bites on his person. I had more than twice that on my right shoulder .....
That night, the frogs did their best to sing us to sleep with one very distinct frog channeling Barry White.
The next morning the surface of the lake was as flat as a pane of glass. There may be fish at Granite, I've been to lakes in the Emigrant that you'd swear didn't contain fish until you do something right and ...they do; but, the signs speak to either no fish or a very small population of large fish happily hanging out in deep water.
We didn't miss the fish though. Not catching fish is part of fishing. In a way it's the most important part of flyfishing. It's the part that builds character- it challenges us and forces us to become better fly fishers, it teaches us humility and patience and if you have company as I did, it teaches you to appreciate the camaraderie of your fellow man.
From Granite we climbed the bluff above the dam at Y Meadow lake and then down to the dam itself. The water at Y meadow was not as clear as at Granite but again we found no fish and plenty of bugs.
That's not to say that Y - Meadow doesn't have any fish in it. We really didn't check.
I was pretty sure that Chewing Gum lake didn't have any fish in it but not being distracted by fish gave us plenty of time to explore. We were both up for a visit to Chewing Gum and instead of taking the trail, we decided to go cross country.
If there's one annoying thing about topo maps it's the real lack of detail regard the lay of the land. They're great for giving you high level detail regarding elevation change but often the lay of the land is quite different.
The topo map made it seem like once we crested the top of the ridge over Y- Meadow Lake, we'd be able to see Chewing Gum. Not really the case. It also doesn't provide detail regarding the shallow canyons which lined up like blades from Y-Meadow Lake to Lakes Valley.
We made the correct choice in our approach though and traversed over a saddle which separated the two. From the edge of the saddle we could see the valley and through the trees, Chad spotted the lake a little higher.
I doubt we saved time but there were fewer mosquitoes and we were treated to some great vistas of the headwaters of Bear Lake as well as the southern Emigrant and into Yosemite.
Chewing Gum Lake was fairly crowded with folks passing through to.... I'm not sure where. My map shows a pack trail which simply ends on the side of a mountain.
On the way out we again stopped at Powell Lake, this time walking to its edge to peer in, in search of fish. Here again, we didn't look too closely. We'd spent time walking the shores of Chewing Gum lake, taking a short break to eat lunch but at Powell it seemed our fishing without fishing had come full circle. We didn't need to look for fish in Powell Lake. It's an amazing lake and we enjoyed the lake purely for its own sake. For its beauty and aesthetics and not for what it could provide us. Time after time during out trip I would turn to Chad and say "I love this country" (the Emigrant Wilderness, the Sierra)
And so we left the Emigrant with the appreciation that we are blessed to be able to make such trips, especially together, and we should never loose sight of that.