BY TIM E. HOVEY
I’d venture a guess that the first trout caught by most fishermen was the ubiquitous rainbow trout. Thanks to a historic planting program throughout the state, most sportsmen probably started their fishing careers as kids fishing a stocked pond or lake for rainbows. Designed to increase fishing opportunities, the trout stocking program was instrumental in guiding young kids along the angling path.
I caught my first trout ever out of a stocked creek in central California during a camping trip with my grandparents when I was eleven years old. Amazingly, I still have the photo of that first catch. Possibly owing to my future as a fish biologist, I knew enough to place something in the photo to establish scale.
As I got older and started reading more about trout, I became aware of other species that an adventurous sportsman could fish for. I read about landlocked steelhead that turned silvery like an ocean going fish despite being nowhere near the sea. I learned that in some streams in the high Sierra resided the golden trout; a fish so colorful it looks hand painted. The colorful illustrations of the fire-belly and white-striped fins of the brook trout didn’t look real to me, but photos of fishermen holding the trout proved me wrong. Reading about their life histories and ranges was certainly interesting, but all I really wanted to do was catch them.
I admit that while in college and studying marine fisheries, trout were the furthest fish species from my mind. However, during a summer break, I headed to the Mammoth area to fish with my buddy Rich. We goofed off and caught stockers out of the mountain streams, and rented a boat to troll one of the local lakes. It was during that boat ride that I added a brown trout to the list of trout species I had caught.
A few days after that, we were casting lures at the edge of Crowley Lake and I hooked and landed a large silvery trout that looked like a steelhead. After asking the locals, we determined that it was a rainbow that was going through a color shift.
Years later, I was fishing with my buddy Darren and I landed a more respectable brown trout on a quick weekend trip to the high Sierra. After we took a few photos, we let the fish go.
One species I had to find in another state. After a successful hunting trip in Wyoming, I got to fish a river plugged with trout. After weeding through a few rainbows, I hooked something that just fought harder. After running me up and down the river on 6-pound test, my first ever cutthroat trout was in the net. The 16-inch trout was gorgeous. Overall a bronze color covered with spots and punctuated with a slash of fiery orange under the chin.
After spending most of my life chunking bait or casting lures, my buddy Ed introduced me to fly fishing during a high mounting camping trip. After a slow start, I finally started getting the hang of presenting a dry fly to a rising trout.
We spent the first day of our trip catching resident rainbows in the stream near camp. After lunch, Ed suggested we do a hike to a high mountain lake that held plenty of brook trout. After a hike that nearly killed me, we spent the rest of the day catching the feisty brook trout, a brand new species for me.
That trip changed the way I looked at fly fishing. Following Ed’s suggestion, I purchased a 5 weight fly rod and a few flies. I enjoyed the finesse required to be proficient at casting a fly on fly line and was excited to catch more trout with the new fly rod.
The following summer, Ed and I headed to another high mountain area to fish a small creek for golden trout. Prior to the trip, I read up on the colorful fish. Ed suggested the fly sizes and types for the trip.
At the trailhead, we hiked a half mile to the narrow creek and started fishing. It took me a few minutes to get back into the groove of casting to narrow water, but about ten minutes after we started, my first golden trout was on the line. I took several photos of the beautiful fish and quickly released it.
Ed and I caught dozens of golden trout that day and that short trip to the golden field remains one of my favorite fishing memories.
If you’re interested in being a little bit more adventurous about freshwater fishing, jump on the California Department of Fish and Wildlife website and do a search for the different species of trout available to west coast anglers. Believe it or not, some of these beautiful fish are a lot closer than you think.