The pursuit of the state freshwater fish

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BEYOND COLORFUL – Fishing in beautiful country and catching one of the most colorful species out there has got to be a high point for any angler. TIM E. HOVEY PHOTO
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BY TIM E. HOVEY

As a lifelong angler, I often think about what it is exactly that draws me to fishing. I’ve always been drawn to what lurks beneath the surface of any body of water. Once I started fishing more, I became obsessed with the challenge of catching fish consistently. When I became a proficient angler, I started to notice the diverse beauty of the fish I caught.

SHORT CASTS – The standard long stripping and back casts usually associated with fly fishing are not needed when fishing for golden trout in these narrow habitats. TIM E. HOVEY PHOTO

Few can match the golden hue of a dorado as it jumps to throw the hook. The tiger stripes of a wahoo on the gaff makes it clear why they are the assassins of the sea, and watching a sailfish light up near the boat will never get old.

Early in my fishing career, when I started branching out beyond the muddy hue of the stocked trout, I began finding a whole new color pallet displayed on the wild trout in the back hills of California. I remember catching some wild rainbows in a high mountain stream that looked amazing.

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MEADOW FISH – In some areas where golden trout inhabit, the creeks are narrow, meadow water ways and can be easily casted to, even for new fly fishermen. TIM E. HOVEY PHOTO

The brown and red spots, against the honey-colored background of the brown trout looks like a painting. The fire belly, coupled with the cream-colored edges of the dark red fins made me place the brook trout at the top of the list when it came to coloration beauty. Then I caught my first golden trout.

I was aware of the golden trout long before I decided to fish for them. I knew that they were limited in distribution and had just never set aside some time to chase them. My good buddy, Ed Davis had mentioned making a trip to Horseshoe meadows in the Sierras to fish for golden trout. During a break in a desert hunt, we made the trip.

Pulling into the group parking area, we started getting our gear ready. At the tailgate, we started stringing up our fly rods and tying flies on. Despite being relatively new to fly fishing, I had caught some trout at lower elevations, and I was ready to add the golden trout to my species list.

Before the trip, I had read up on the golden trout and poured over stock photos of the California state fish. They truly were beautiful. Pouring over a few forums, I was able tease out the fly patterns goldens seem to prefer. With the proper gear and my guide buddy Ed, I was anxious to look for gold in the hills.

At the stream, we split up and started making casts. The creek was extremely narrow and less than 12 inches deep. The surrounding bank was spongy, and fish were easily spooked if you didn’t walk softly.

The creek wound through the meadow, and if you didn’t know it was there, you’d believe the field was waterless. The bends were sharp and almost every pool held fish. With some instruction from Ed, I made short casts to the deeper pools, letting the fly drift with the slight current. I didn’t have to wait long.

Without warning, a dark shape raced from beneath the far bank and smashed the dry fly on the surface. His attempt to make it back to his hidden lair, took the slight slack out of the line and I whipped the three-weight rod tip back, hooking my first golden trout. After a short battle, I knelt down and scooped up the fish.

GOLD IN HAND – The author with a golden trout he caught during a side trip fishing with his buddy, Ed. In a lifetime of fishing, the golden trout is the prettiest fish the author has ever caught. TIM E. HOVEY PHOTO

The colors on the 8-inch trout were amazing. With a honey-colored base, the belly and throat of the fish is fire orange, which extends to the pelvic and anal fins. Like the brook trout, these fins are edged with a cream color. The bronze back is covered with small dark spots, blending into the gold sides. Darker colored ‘thumb-prints’ extend down the side of the fish, connected by a fire red band that extends from the gill plate to the tail. In that meadow, I knew I was holding the prettiest fish I had ever caught.

We spent the rest of the afternoon catching and releasing dozens of golden trout. While the fish averaged 8-10 inches in size, we’d occasionally catch a fish pushing 12-inches. The weather was perfect and the only thing chasing us from the meadow was the setting sun.

The golden trout is native to only two stream systems on the eastern side of the Kern River: Golden Trout Creek and the South Fork Kern River in Tulare County. They were also extensively stocked outside their native range into numerous high elevation lakes and streams throughout the Sierra Nevada.

FLY FISH – The golden trout will readily take a fly, making this species a must for dedicated fly fishermen. TIM E. HOVEY PHOTO

Golden trout are known for readily taking flies, and several dry fly imitations and some terrestrial ant patterns were the preferred flies the day Ed and I fished the creek. They are challenging to catch and one of the most amazingly colored fish species I have ever caught.

Dedicated anglers fish for different reasons. Some fish to relax, others are looking to catch the biggest example of the species they chase. In a lifetime of angling, I’m always looking to add a new species to my lengthy list of fish caught. The golden trout just happened to be one of the prettiest fish on that list.

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