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Social Distancing and a Tale of Two Fishes
We left home early Wednesday morning. It was an easy drive to Monitor Pass on highway 89 where, mid morning we drove into where our friends the Teds were camped. They had been out for a couple of days watching bald eagles and breathing high mountain air. Adhering to safe social distancing protocols, they agreed to follow us to another eastern Sierra high point and a trailhead for the Carson Iceberg Wilderness.
We arrived at our high spot around noon. The horse and mule stock from the nearby Pack Station were uphill from us. They moved down to greet us. A large dark mule walked up and put his head against my chest. Mules love to have their ears scratched. I made a friend. Other mules lined up with the Lady and the Teds. They all wanted attention. All the stock was well groomed and in very good condition. This was good to see. Ted opened up their camper and grabbed a carrot as the herd was leaving. The last mule walked over and took the carrot leaving all of Ted's fingers intact. Now Ted had a friend. This mule no longer cared about any of his buddies. He followed Ted everywhere. The Lady asked, "Hey Ted, do you have a extra bunk in your camper? It looks like that mule would love to move in with you two."
We sat out and got caught up with our friends. Mrs. Ted joined us for a walk down to the pack station and we looped back on the access roads.
The Lady and I took a nice walk after dinner to watch the changing light.
We had last been up here in 2015. 2015 was a very dry year and amazingly we had driven up here on May 1st of that year.
The Lady and I left the next morning on one of our favorite hikes in this area.
The East Fork of the Carson River and its tributaries inside the Carson Iceberg Wilderness is protected home water for the native Lahontan Cutthroat Trout, listed as a threatened species. But we were not going to visit the East Fork, we were headed into visit Silver King Creek, home to one of the rarest and endangered trout species in the world.
Cut off from its Lahontan Cutthroat ancestors by an uplifted steep gorge on Silver King Creek above Snodgrass Creek, the Paiute Cutthroat Trout evolved and existed in only a few miles of Silver King Creek. It was a beautiful trout with purple sides and it lost the dark spots of other cutthroats.
The Paiute Cutthroat survives today because of Basque shepherds. In the early 1900's shepherds introduced Paiute Cutthroat Trout into the fishless waters of Silver King Creek above Llewellyn Falls and also into nearby tiny Corral Creek and Coyote Creek.
Paiute Cutthroat in its original range was lost due to planting of non-native trout into Silver King Creek.
We dropped in Corral Valley, a beautiful high open meadow.
The highest point of our hike was the divide between Corral Creek and Coyote Creek.
It is a steep drop into Coyote Valley on this old trail.
Huge Western Junipers thrive here.
We took a short break along Coyote Creek, as we always do. We enjoy this place and have never encountered another person here.
After our break, it was up and over the next divide and down to Upper Fish Valley on Silver King Creek.
This is the section of Silver King Creek above Llewellyn Falls where Paiute Cutthroat remained because of the accidental efforts of the shepherds.
Looking up Upper Fish Valley we immediately noticed something new -
a large landslide.
If you'd like to have fun with Google Earth, enter these coordinates - 38°25.614'N 119°35.950'W and go back in the historical images. The landslide first appears in the August 2019 image.
We were alone here as we looked north down the valley.
Our favorite backpacking camp is hidden in the timber back from the meadow and creek. Alas, our last several day backpack into here was July 2009.
We headed over to the old cow camp.
For years volunteers with Trout Unlimited held an annual summer work event here fencing off the creek to try to limit damage by grazing cows. Fishing was stopped in 1934 but it took an additional 60 years to halt grazing to save the rare trout.
Our hike was a loop. We headed down along Silver King Creek. We made our usual stop at Llewellyn Falls, the barrier that saved the Paiute Cutthroat and dropped into beautiful Lower Fish Valley and entered the original range of this rare trout.
We continued downstream and stopped at the bottom end of Long Valley. The wind was blowing.
It was a controversial and hard fought effort to restore Paiute Cutthroat to its original range in this reach of Silver King Creek. I strongly supported the effort and took the time to attend the meeting of the Lahontan Water Board in South Lake Tahoe and stood up and voiced my support for the permit needed to remove all non native trout.
The permit was issued and a multiyear project followed that successfully removed all non-native fish. The reintroduction of native Paiute Cutthroat Trout to its home waters began on September 18, 2019. Now you know why we wanted to walk along Silver King Creek once again.
We continued our hike downstream. We completed the circle (15 miles today) by climbing back to the trailhead and camp.
It was a wonderful quiet night as we enjoyed the Teds company and friendship.
The next morning we moved to another favorite high point and trailhead into the Hoover Wilderness. After a relaxing lunch, the Lady and I did the short but steep walk up to Emma Lake.
Emma Lake holds non native Brook Trout. I do not like Brook Trout because of the impact their introduction into western waters has caused to native trout species (Paiute Cutthroat) and native amphibians such as the Mountain Yellow Legged Frog.
Emma Lake is a nutrient rich lake, yet the Brook Trout remain small. I watched the little bastards swimming around and decided I'd worry them the next day, chase them around a bit. I would do some fly fishing.
We headed back down to camp, dinner, and our friends.
We distanced during dinner and then sat out near our truck on the point to watch night come. The near full moon rose. This was our last night with the Teds. They would leave the next morning.
We waved as the Teds left the next morning. We were ready to return to Emma Lake.
Last year when we were at Emma, it was a zoo with numerous groups at the lake. It was the kind of day that included loud people and two or three dog fights. We sure hoped this Saturday would not be a repeat and remain quiet. We found our spot on the far end of the lake, far from the arrival point of others. I put my fly rod together and was pleasantly surprised how well I could see with my new glasses and bifocals to tie on a size 18 caddis dry. The wind was calm, the water still. A Brook Trout was holding still under the dwarf willows lining the shore. I put the fly and long tippet in front of his nose.
The day was like this. I had to come up with something to hold my interest, something to keep me motivated, something I could do to work on skill and tactics. I watched how the little bastards were cruising out from shore, almost invisible, only a shadow in the water. I'd spot one and then make a long cast to drop the fly carefully in front of the brook trout. Close enough to get an immediate charge to the fly, but not too close to spook the fish. This was enjoyable. I have no idea how many char (Salvelinus fontinalis) I caught and released; as many as I wanted.
It remained quiet at Emma Lake. The single male backpacker who had spent the night left in the morning. One middle aged couple arrived just as we did. The man was talkative, the woman not so much. The Lady gave me her thought, "I think they're computer dating and they are spending the weekend camping. They are not going to make it together."
"Why's that?" I asked. "Because she did not join him skinny dipping?"
"Yes, there's that," the Lady said and added, "All her body language says she's not interested and he doesn't have a clue." That couple left just after noon and we were alone at Emma Lake until a young couple arrived with their dog and two small sons. The boys may have been twins. Although the father was a hardware chunker (spin casting with lures), he spent time teaching his boys how to fish. Perhaps one day they will rise up and embrace the noble fly rod. Mom stayed close by and took part and watched over her family. It was fun to watch the interactions of this young family that obviously likes to spend time outdoors. Mid afternoon another couple showed up with their large water dog. The loud baby talk began as "Precious" frolicked in the water.
"Your such a sweet girl!" and kissy sounds echoed back and forth in the cirque. "Oh, look at you!"
I wanted to yell across the lake, "The dog looks like an adult, probably out of preschool. Could you at least teach it to kill and eat brook trout?" Ah, but the Lady is always correct in admonishing me to model good behavior. I kept my thoughts silent. There was not a dog fight when the young family approached. So, all in all it was a good day at Emma.
We were the last to leave in the afternoon. It had been a good day at Emma.
We returned home the next day. We were so happy we could spend time with our friends the Teds with social distancing. It was indeed inspiring to walk along Silver King Creek and witness the beginnings of its rebirth. Adding in Emma Lake did make our adventure a tale of two fishes.