The state fish of California, golden trout have a radiant color scheme that begins with an olive back that blends into a blazing crimson lateral stripe and golden belly that rival the hue of any freshwater fish in North America.
On top of their beauty, these little fish can fight. And when anglers finally land one, they're usually surprised at their size. Most goldens run from 7- to 12-inches long. The California record is over 9 pounds, but anything over a pound earns bragging rights in the backcountry lakes and streams where the few natives remain.
Where to Find Them
Although golden trout have been transplanted to lakes and streams across the country, the majestic fish are native to the high country Kern River watershed in the California's Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. Reaching the true stomping grounds of golden trout is no simple task as nearly all the streams and creeks that hold native fish require anglers to backpack or horseback in. On average, the quest for gold takes anglers on a trek of more than five miles, through the oxygen-thin Sierra Nevada air and elevations exceeding 8,000 feet.
Pure-strain golden trout populations have dwindled throughout California's Golden Trout Wilderness due to the introduction of invasive species and habitat destruction. It is believed that less than 10 miles of streams in the area still contain pure-strain golden trout.
While the numbers of native golden trout have dwindled, hybrids have been transplanted in high mountain lakes in Western Montana, Utah's High Uinta Mountains, Wyoming's Wind River Range and a handful of other mountain streams and lakes across the West.
Tackle and Flies
When packing for a trip to the South Fork of the Kern River or any backcountry fishery that holds golden trout, anglers should pack light. A four-piece pack rod with an ultra light spinning or fly reel should be sufficient.
Fly fishermen should contact local guides for up-to-the-minute reports and fly patterns. Start off with a small fly, something in the #14 and #16 range works well on a calm morning or evening. Try an Elk Hair Caddis, a light Cahill or Parachute Adams to determine their mood.
If they're not hitting the dries, switch to a nymph setup. A standard Pheasant-Tail nymph dangling below a Parachute Adams, as an indicator, is a good approach in the afternoon when fish aren't rising on a regular basis.
On bright, cloudless days, try switching to streamers and subtle makes like the Clouser Minnow, Muddler or Wooly Bugger. Remember to debarb all hooks and practice catch and release.