Sierra Nevada Mountains

Authors Note: This article first appeared on Fallfish Tenkara. However, in an effort to create a resource for Japan and Tenkara enthusiasts I have moved non-Japan related content from Fallfish Tenkara to this site. 

The Sierra Nevada Mountains located in California has become a mecca for me. Every year since I was very young I have travelled to this majestic mountain range and explored her peaks, valleys, deserts, and rivers. This year the agenda was to backpack up to Baxter Pass and depending on the weather possibly head into the Rae Lakes Basin. Due to ominous looking weather and a wicked bout of altitude sickness the plan to go to Rae Lakes was dropped and instead we opted to fish the Upper Owens River and explore the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest.

The trail up to Baxter Pass is one of the most rugged and secluded of the east side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. With over 6,000 feet of elevation gain in roughly 8 miles the trail is unrelentingly steep.

After descending from Baxter Pass in an intermittent snow and hail storm we arrived at the trail-head starved and in need of a bath. A nice deep pool in Oak Creek and we were smelling better for a few beers and a steak at Totem Café. We camped in the BLM land of the Alabama Hills and early the next morning we were greeted with a spectacular sunrise!

The best breakfast on the 395 corridor is at the small Alabama Hills Café. There is almost always a wait for a table but it’s totally worth it. I had the Clint Eastwood Skillet and washed it down with several cups of black coffee. Then we hit the road and headed north – our destination was the Upper Owens River.


Trout Unlimited’s Guide to America’s 100 Best Trout Streams says that the Upper Owens River is “California’s quintessential spring creek and perhaps it’s richest trout fishery. An estimated 7,000 to 11,000 browns and rainbows per mile lurk beneath undercut banks and under aquatic grasses.”

The river flows through a lush meadow surrounded by sage brush and the 14,000 foot peaks of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the White Mountains as a backdrop. It is a river perfectly suited for Tenkara. The river isn’t very wide, so my 11’6″ Tenkara rod was able to effectively fish the opposite bank if need be. Trout Unlimited’s Guide to America’s 100 Best Trout Streams states that “Fishing is difficult. Vibrations from walking its grassy banks spook trout. Gusts from incessant winds grab your casts. Myriad microcurrents like the wrinkles in old glass impart drag to your fly that you cannot begin to see.” 

While we were there, several storms blew across the valley. We were caught in several rain storms and were treated to an impressive lightening display over the distant mountains. The storms created a lot of wind which made casting difficult to impossible. However, we still brought eight trout to hand, had about half a dozen on the line that got off, and numerous bites. The fish were rising and darting about all day. On several occasions we spotted some very large trout in the 18-20″ category! I even spotted a massive crayfish but she darted under an undercut before I could snap her photo…

After 6+ hours on the river we headed back into town for gas and food before driving up to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest deep in the heart of the White Mountains.

We camped at Grandview Campground which is located at 8,900′. It is one of the best campgrounds in the US to view meteor showers due to its distance from light pollution and the high altitude which also affords one a clear view of the night sky.

Early the next day we packed up camp and made the long drive back to Los Angeles. I had a plane to catch, laundry to do, and I was hoping to squeeze in a short trip on the Los Angeles River too!

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