A Bear of a Trip in the Golden Trout Wilderness


The small and beautiful California golden trout is a lot of fun for catch and release fly fishing | © Jacob Dyste

The small and beautiful California golden trout is a lot of fun for catch and release fly fishing | © Jacob Dyste

The California golden trout is a distinctively beautiful fish that is native only in two small watersheds in the southern Sierra Nevada. Golden trout evolved out of isolation in a distinctive part of California where the towering granite peaks of the High Sierra taper down into sprawling meadows.

The combination of golden trout, isolation, and the state’s largest meadows are what inspired American Rivers’ recent ten-day backpacking trip to the Golden Trout Wilderness to continue our meadow assessment work with the Forest Service and California Trout. Over the course of those ten days, the two groups hiked 175 miles and surveyed 34 meadows totaling over 7,500 acres.

In the 1960s the California golden trout faced serious risk of extinction from genetic introgression with rainbow trout, predation from brown trout, and the destruction of habitat from overgrazing. Since these issues were discovered in the 1960s, golden trout have been the subject of a long series of restoration actions including the construction of barriers to isolate genetically pure populations, treating entire stream reaches with poison to remove invasive fish, and resting two of the main allotments in the wilderness from grazing.

On the second day of our trip we crossed overland to a remote meadow in the center of the wilderness and came upon a black bear grazing on grass and flowers in the center of the meadow. We laid down behind a fallen tree, watched the bear go about its business for a long while, and reveled in our good luck. Interestingly enough, that meadow was among the healthiest we saw all trip.

A black bear snacking on a healthy Kern Meadow, CA | © Jacob Dyste

A black bear snacking on a healthy Kern Meadow, CA | © Jacob Dyste

That experience set the tempo for the rest of our trip and foreshadowed a lot of what we would see – an ecosystem on the mend. The fish seemed plentiful and healthy during our evening fly fishing adventures, the banks are stabilizing with new willow growth, and floodplains are starting to reestablish themselves.

Like all things on the mend though there are still risks and threats. The Inyo National Forest, where the Golden Trout Wilderness is located, is currently revising its forest management plan. While this creates many unknowns, it also creates an opportunity for American Rivers and its partners to advocate for meadow restoration and conservation of native trout continuing to be priorities on our public land.