Saturday, July 2, 2016

California Heritage Trout Challenge #1: Lahontan Cutthroat Trout

The California heritage trout challenge has always been an interest of mine since I started fly fishing. The challenge involves catching and photographing six different trout species from their native watershed. Easier said than done. Each species of trout lives in a different area of California ranging from the rocky Northern Coast to the remote High Sierra Nevadas. As a trout heritage challenger expect long hikes, curved and sloped roads, and beautiful Golden State wilderness.

The Lahontan Cutthroat Trout was once the only trout native to the Eastern side of the Sierra Nevadas other than the Eagle Lake trout. Historical documents recall LCTs that were over ten pounds living in their native Truckee, Susan, Carson, and Walker riversheds. However with the introduction of dams, logging, over harvesting, mining, and non-native species, the LCT lost over 90% of their native habitat. Today only small populations of LCT reside in their native range. The Upper Truckee is one of the few LCT fisheries in California where these are fish are self-sustaining. Independence Lake is also a note worthy achievement in LCT conservation.

After careful planning and consideration, I decided that the LCT would be my first qualifying heritage trout. A visit to the Upper Truckee drainage could easily be made in a day trip since the drive to Tahoe was only three hours. Time to get my first heritage trout.

The missus and I woke up at 6:20 in morning and we were out of the house by 7:30. I decided the day before that we should cut around Sacramento due to morning work day traffic. We drove through the smoke filled towns of Lincoln and Auburn and finally hit HWY 50 after Placerville. Once we rode through HWY 89 and HWY 88 we finally arrived at our destination, the Meiss Meadow trailhead.

Meiss Meadows Map

Snowpacked Round Top

Ridge Peak Pond

"That was not a moderate hike!" my fiancee stated as she caught up to me. The hike from the PCT to the beginning of the meadow took about 2-3 hours. The climb over the ridge was a bit exhausting but the USFS does a great job as describing it as a moderate hike, not too easy but not strenuous. "That wasn't too bad." I replied.
There were a lot more hikers than we expected but they were spread throughout the trail and meadow.

The meadow was beautiful. Typical Tahoe terrain.

Overlooking Meiss Meadows

In Meiss Meadows

Scenic Green Meiss Meadows

Red Lake Peak

The first thing that caught our interest in the meadow were a pair of wooden buildings. Further inspection taught us that these two buildings, a cabin and a storage unit, were built by the Meiss family who owned the land way back then. Along the historical buildings ran a small stream. Was this a piece of the Upper Truckee?

Meiss Family Summer Cabins

Fresh Snowmelt Streams

Small Stream Tactics

I narrowed my eyes to get a better look at the structure of the stream. As I took a step to get closer to the stream I saw a small fish dart out of the main current into the heavy cover along the bank. Bingo!
After I set up my 2WT rigged with a size 14 humpy, I spotted a decent size fish holding in a concave pool in a tailout. I made several casts and finally rose the fish. My first Lahontan cutthroat trout!
The cutthroat was very squirmy and I lost it before getting a good picture. No worries, looks like I'll just have to catch another one.

First LCT

I found several more fish but they weren't rising for my humpy. "What do these fish want?" I took a second to observe my surroundings and found a ton of small black stoneflies swarming around. This gave me the idea of using a black midge pattern since I didn't have any patterns that size and color. After the switch I caught several more LCTs that were also just as squirmy as the first but fortunately not camera shy. The fishing was great. A fun hybrid of small stream and spring creek sight fishing.

On a Midge Dry

Beautiful LCT

After an hour and a few fish in hand we decided to hike up to Showers Lake which was about two miles north. The last mile incline to the lake was tough and the thousands of mosquitoes that were eating us didn't help either. I can't believe we forgot the deet... We finally reached Showers Lake but couldn't find any fish aside from little chubs. Either the five year drought had an impact on the lake or the fish were deeper. A bit of a bummer but we made it!

Fly Fishing Showers Lake

We hiked back down to the meadow and fished the Upper Truckee again before leaving. I helped Amanda land her first LCT and caught one last for myself.

Amanda's LCT

Tons of Hungry LCT

One Last Look

The hike back down to the trailhead was much quicker than coming up. We made great time back which was good because the sun was beginning to go down.

Resident Pacific Chorus Frog - Green Morph

Goodbye Round Top

We most likely won't return to Meiss Meadows anytime soon so we took a ton of photos. We came, we saw, we conquered. That's one down, five more to go. Next challenge!


  1. Showers Lake has some nice LCTs. Nabbed a 14-incher this weekend with a bubble and fly and spinning reel. They're in there, but they're only rising at dusk.

    1. Nice! I'm glad you caught something out of there. I wasn't able to get deep enough or sight any while I was there. Good to know they are there though.