Yes, you can cast for trout anywhere. But for anglers who want to hook a life-list memory in a stunning alpine setting, landing a pure golden in its native Sierra habitat is not like any other trout, anywhere. Head to California’s Golden Trout Wilderness and bring a camera.
Goldens tend to be small—four to 10 inches is typical—so Guy Jean, a fly-fishing guide based in Kernville, California, deliberately uses bigger flies to “weed out” the tiniest fish, which can’t fit a size 12 hook into their mouths.
The best fishing is usually June or early July. That’s when the biggest goldens leave the deep water to spawn. In creeks, fish a size 14 egg pattern, with a little weight on the leader to keep the fly sub-surface.
After spawning ends, goldens go for dry flies in basic stimulator patterns (Jean favors the Parachute Adams, Elkhair Caddis, and H&L Variant). Like all wild, high-mountain trout, goldens are wary of drag and require a delicate presentation: Use a six-foot, 5x or 6x tippet on a 10- or 12-foot leader.
Find the biggest goldens in lakes, where you should try a pheasant tail nymph. Let it settle on the lakebed, then give it a tiny twitch to entice trout.
California Hike to Golden Trout Creek (10 miles one way); rainbow trout, which breed with goldens, haven’t been introduced there. For bigger fish, try Chicken Spring Lake (4 miles) or Cottonwood Lakes, which sit in a gorgeous basin with private casting (get GPS data and waypoints for a 30-miler at backpacker.com/hikes/55937). Contact: sierrawild.gov/wilderness/golden-trout.
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