Over McGee Pass and Down Fish Creek

This was a trip over the Sierra crest just south of Mammoth Lakes I completed Saturday, 8/19, with my wife Pat. It was a combination horse and backpack trip. McGee Pass is just short of 12000' and you start from 7500', 8 miles away. Having had a hip replacement last January, this "one real hip guy" decided to take it a little easy on himself and have the McGee Creek Packers take us over the pass. This we did with a bunch of friends who made a "spot trip" in to the high lakes just west of the pass with the packer.

The ride up McGee pass took us up along McGee Creek past Lower and Upper McGee Lakes. These are above timberline and reputedly have good populations of goldens, but time being short, we did not get to fish them. The upper approach to the pass is really barren, acres of nivated rock, rather what I imagine Tibet looks like. At the pass, the packer offered us a chance to dismount and walk a mile or two and a thousand feet or so down on the other side. After eight miles and 4500' our sore arses were off our asses (actually mules) in a heartbeat. After this interlude, we mounted up again and rode the rest of the way to a campsite on a meadow below Lee Lake. The packer left us there; and Pat and I spent that night and the next there with our friends .

The next morning I was up fishing on Lee Lake, which is in a granite basin at 10500'. The water was very clear, but there weren't any fish to spot near the outlet. So I started thinking in terms of upslope blow-in, and where I would find it. These are the bugs, mostly terrestrial, which the wind carries up to these high lakes and which form a major part of what the fish feed on. So I worked my way downwind to the far end of the lake, and that is where the fish were. They weren't real picky--wulffs, beetles, ants, parachute adams--size 8-12-- all worked; but it helped to have a long, thin leader. Getting tired of this, I put on a sink tip line and a brown woolly bugger. On the first cast, as I was letting the line sink, I got a really vicious big pull which didn't hook up, but that was all. Another hour of casting got me nothing this way. So I am left wondering how big that fish was. The afternoon and evening got spent in some consternation when one of our friends, a 75 year-old with a history of cardiac problems went off fishing by himself and was nowhere to be found. We all got plenty of exercise in an increasingly forboding search. Another party we had alerted about him showed up with him in tow about nightfall--a huge relief.

The following morning Pat and I were on our way down Fish Creek to a camp at Horse Heaven, a wet meadow about three miles down. The Creek is a rushing freestone stream above the meadow and turns into a slow meandering spring creek-like stream in the meadow. One way of describing the fishing would be to say that there was a bodacious Royal Wulff hatch on everyday from dawn until dusk and maybe beyond. Another description is my answer to which flies to take up there--yes, take flies. They weren't very discriminating and the proverbial 100-fish day is possible here. Of course they are real spooky--if they see you, they're out of there. In the meadow there is a large shallow pool. A long cast with a gentle landing gets them here. I was having trouble hooking up until I started striking sideways rather than lifting the rod. That way the surface tension on the line would work for me with so much line out.

We moved the next day down the Fish Creek trail to where it joined the Muir Trail at Tully Hole--another meadow with nice meanders. We continued on down and parted from the Muir Trail where it crosses Fish Creek on a bridge over a spectacular gorge. This took us down into the Cascade Valley. It's called so because, over four or five miles, there are five or six waterfalls and cascades the creek passes over, reminiscent of Waterwheel Falls on the Tuolumne in Yosemite. The bed is all a beautiful white granite. Interspersed with this are fine meadow and freestone sections of the stream. We spent a couple of days in Cascade Valley, moving the camp each day. The fishing remained great and by now too easy, so I got to playing various games of spotting fish before casting, fishing wet flies, and so on. The fish even this far down, ~8000', were largely goldens and brookies; but rainbows are also there (which unfortunately hybridize with the goldensand the occasional brown). So for what it's worth, you can do the "Sierra Grand Slam"--all of the species in one day.

Leaving Cascade Valley we walked over the hill to Fish Valley and Iva Bell Hot Springs. Solitude was not to be found here as the springs are quite popular even though they are eleven miles from the road's end. They are fixed up with a couple of nice, rocked-in granite tubs for soaking. I was joined by a few PMD spinners who made an unfortunate mistake as I soaked.

Our last day and night on Fish Creek were spent at the bottom end of Fish Valley at Bridge Island Crossing. By now I was seriously looking for bigger fish. Where a short waterfall plunged into a deep pool, I saw a significant shadow on the bottom. I knew I would get just one chance at him, so I went for a Cutter E/C Caddis rather than the Wulffs I had been throwing. I put it just where the border of the foam from the waterfall thinned out. It didn't drift more than a second. In a minute or so I was admiring a beautifully speckled 15" rainbow.

The next morning we made the eight-mile hike out to Red's Meadow below Devil's Postpile and on to the fleshpots of Mammoth.

Mike McGuire