Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Horseshoe Meadows

The Brookie Bash was actually the second fishing event I went on sponsored by the Long Beach Casting Club.  The first was a local trip to the San Gabriel River near Los Angeles.  But the Brookie Bash was not local, and I believe I was the only beginner in the group of fly fisherpersons.

Traveling north on highway 395 from Los Angeles to Mammoth Lakes, I took a break in the town of Lone Pine.  I like this town.  I’ve traveled through it many times over the years, and I always stop to gaze at Mt. Whitney to the west.  On occasion I’ve driven the Whitney Portal Road to its terminus just to enjoy the views of the giant mountain.  But on this occasion I drove only a few miles before turning back to finish my journey to Mammoth Lakes.  However, this time I noticed a road leading off to the south called Horseshoe Meadows Road.

I don’t know why this stuck in my head, but it did.  I didn’t know anything about Horseshoe Meadows, nor did I care.  Anyway, I needed to finish my drive, find the condo the club had rented, and get on with the Brookie Bash.  I was on a mission to catch and release all five of the trout species found in the area—golden, rainbow, brown, cutthroat, and brookie—and I needed to stay focused.

At the condo I found out that several people had stopped at places along the journey from Los Angeles to fish for golden trout.  Kennedy Meadows was the most utilized location, but there were others as well.  One place everyone seemed to know about, although no one stopped there on this trip, was Horseshoe Meadows.  I decided that if I had time, I would stop there on the way home to see what it was about.

The Brookie Bash was great fun, but all too soon it was over, and on the final morning I reluctantly packed the car to drive home.  When I stopped in Lone Pine for my Mt. Whitney break, I realized I was several hours ahead of schedule, so the drive to Horseshoe Meadows was on. 

The drive was a bit longer than I had expected.  At first it was a relatively straight road with a gentle rise, but then it made a sharp turn to the right and the switchbacks began.  “Onward and upward” as the saying goes.  It was a good road, but there was no room for error, and there were no guardrails.  I didn’t keep track of the miles, but I would guess it to be about twenty-five from bottom to top.  And probably the same back down if one could stay on the road.

At one sharp turn there were a number of hang gliders waiting to launch, so I stopped to watch for a few minutes.  I put hang gliding in the same bucket as bungee jumping, skydiving, bull riding, and noodling.  Interesting to watch, but not for me to do.  One of the individuals awaiting her turn to jump off the mountain came over to my car and told me I was late, and where was my gear?  Then she noticed that I probably weighed more than any three of them combined, and she realized most likely I wasn’t there to hang glide.

I finished the drive to the campground at the meadows, and there I saw some people returning to their vehicles after some fly-fishing.  So I walked over and asked how they did.  “The golden are hungry” was the basic reply, so I grabbed my 5-weight (all I owned at the time) and journeyed into the meadow. 

This stream was three to five feet wide at the most, but it was full of trout.  I could see them, but this meant they could also see me.  So I slowly made my way upstream about fifteen feet from the water’s edge.  I had a #16 elk hair caddis still tied on my line from my last fish, so I tried it.  I flipped it into the water and the water churned as several of the little golden fish leaped for it at the same time.  I brought out a beautiful six-inch long golden trout.  I stepped up to the water’s edge and released it and threw the caddis back to the same place and pulled out another small golden.  There was nothing to this.  I spent about an hour and a half walking along the small stream pulling out fish at will, until it was time for me to hit the road.

It couldn’t have been a better ending to a perfect fishing trip.  But then there was the return to Lone Pine back down the switchbacks.  This time I was on the outer edge of the road looking down instead of the inner edge against the mountain.  Where are the guardrails when you need them?  Actually I didn’t need them to keep me on the road; I needed them more as a security blanket than anything else.  Forty-five minutes up the road, and two hours back down.  I wasn’t going to take the shortcut.

The hang gliders were gone, but there were several cars and trucks parked along the side of the road.  I’m sure they figured out some way to retrieve them.  At the bottom of the switchbacks I stopped to look back up the road, and I decided I would definitely be back.

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