Ultimate Adventure Handbook: Catch a Golden Trout

Cast for beautiful fish that live in beautiful lakes.
golden trout

Golden Trout caught at Cottonwood Creek (Photo by Anthony Greco)


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.

Top spots

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.

Ultimate Adventure Handbook: Make An Adventure Movie | Climb Big Trees | Ride A Whitewater Roller Coaster | Grab Steep Thrills | Become A Backcountry Batali | Climb To Heart-Pumping Heights | Discover The World Off-Trail | Hike 30 Miles In A Day | Catch A Golden Trout | Paddle Pristine Shorelines | Drop Into A Slot | Easy Upgrades