The far northern area of the Trinity Alps Wilderness, near Callahan, sees far less traffic than the southern portion of the wilderness area accessed from Weaverville. This is probably due to the extra drive time required to get to the trailheads from California’s big cities. Less traffic means the lakes receive less fishing pressure.
I started my wilderness fishing project to see some new country and do a little fishing. I soon discovered the State quit stocking wilderness lakes in 2009 due to funding cuts brought about financial crisis and even sold the airplane used to do the job. This year the wilderness stocking program resumed with the use of private helicopters contracted to do the job. This year’s stock fish are small but you can see them in the crystal clear high mountain water and watch them feeding on the surface.
I am trying to get an idea of what areas have been stocked and continue to monitor the program in the future as I build maps, lakes and trail information anglers will find useful.
Fall is fast approaching. The trees are beginning to change color, the last cut of hay is being bailed and cattle are being moved to their winter grazing pastures. At sunrise low hanging clouds drape the peaks of the Salmon Mountains. In the distance, a lone coyote crosses the highway.
Most of the clouds were now below me as I crossed Carter Summit. A half a mile west of the summit is a well maintained dirt road Forestry 39N08. Take it three miles to the Long Gulch Trailhead. The first section of trail is literally a walk in the park, forest interspersed with meadows. Alpine mountains are visible as the creek crosses a large meadow and Long Gulch Creek.
Latest news from the Forestry and rescue folks is to take your smartphone and a small LCD flashlight with you into the woods. Even if you don’t have phone reception your phone can be located by GPS.
According to a group of horsepersons I met on this trek, who belong the Eldorado County Search and rescue team, if 911 is notified you are missing they can locate you with an accuracy of a half a mile. “Once we get to a search area we make lots of noise.” One of them told me. “Even in dense forest the injured but conscious can signal us at night.” He said.
One of the keys here is making sure someone knows where you are going and your itinerary. In the interest of safety I have been testing cellphone reception on my wilderness treks. On this trip I lost reception the second I crossed over Carter Summit on the highway.
The last third of the hike to Long Gulch Lake is a little more challenging. I would call it a “moderate” climb. Total time hiking was about two hours from the trailhead to the lake.
When I arrived at Long Gulch Lake, the first thing I saw was a nice trout come completely out of the water on the other side of the lake. It took some time to work my way to the spot where this photo was taken. There were thousands and thousands of little (3/4” long) black frogs in the meadow. The big fish was still on this side of the fifty feet deep lake, trolling the shoreline and occasionally breaking the surface. I had not seen any flying insects around the lake.
I made my best late summer guess and tied a black ant on the fly line. Apparently that wasn’t what he was slurping down. Over the course of a couple hours, I tried at least a dozen patterns to no avail. I was able to place a #18 ginger colored classic dry directly in front of him. The trout bumped the fly but didn’t take it.
There was still time to make it over the ridge to my east to see if there might be more cooperative fish in Trail Gulch Lake.
Due to a poorly placed sign, I lost some time locating the Trail Gulch Trail. When you find the sign, go left not straight as the arrow indicates. The climb out of Long Gulch is seven hundred vertical feet! The trail is a series of long, steep switchbacks. The old growth fir trees are magnificent and the panoramic views of Long Gulch are breathtaking. Did I say steep? Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and you’ll reach the ridgeline in about an hour. It’s all downhill from there.
The trail gently descends as it follows the ridge to the south of Trail Gulch Lake. The views of the Trinity Alps are spectacular across the Coffee Creek Drainage. At one spot you can see Mt. Lassen some eighty miles to the southeast. It is a fast paced hike for a half an hour to a major trail junction.
When you see this nameless mountain you better be looking for the trail junction. The North Fork Coffee Creek and the Steveale meet up with the Trail Creek Trail. You want to make dang sure you do not head downhill here! A short easy climb brings you to the ridge overlooking Trail Gulch and trail Gulch Lake.
I took a ten minute break and watched the twenty feet deep lake to see if there was any fish action. A couple of fish broke the surface.
The vertical descent to Trail Creek Lake is about five hundred feet of steep rocky switchbacks through the forest. About a half hour later, when you near the bottom, you can see there might be a way to traverse across a meadow to the lake. I didn’t try it and I couldn’t tell you if it would be a safe route earlier in the season. Eventually, after surrendering a couple hundred feet elevation, I reached the junction with the trail to the lake.
It is getting late in the day. It will take a half an hour to climb back up to the lake and another half an hour to come up with a fishing strategy and get set up to fish. Add to this the time it takes to navigate around an alpine lake to where you want to fish and figure in the fatigue/safety factor; I’m sorry to say it just didn’t add up that there was time to safely fish Trail Gulch.
It took another hour and a half to navigate my way down to the trailhead. The distance is shorter, steeper and rockier than Long Gulch. I didn’t take photos because it pretty much looked like Long Gulch. From the Trail Creek Trailhead it was another .9 miles downhill walk to my truck. I was able to measure the distance with my odometer.
At the first wide spot in the road after crossing back over Carter Summit I stopped and called home.
It was a fantastic day trip I look forward to making again when the fisheries recover and the couple of pints of ale I had at the Etna Brewery might have been the tastiest and most rewarding I’ve ever enjoyed in my life! The steak dinner waiting for me when I got home was awesome too. Nothing like camping……….
If your interest is strictly fishing, it would probably be better to set up camp at Hidden horse Campground and only hike into one lake a day.
If you think you can fish both lakes in one day, hit the trail at first light!
The hike over the ridge is definitely worth the effort.
You might choose to fish Long Gulch, hike over the ridge and return to fish Trail Gulch the following day.
If you are hiking the “loop”, start at the Long Gulch Trailhead. The hike is easier and you won’t be facing a mile hike uphill at the end of the day, when your exhausted, back to your wheels.
Take a spinning rod and Powerbait. 😉