Middle Fork San Joaquin River - Ansel Adams Wilderness

 

Directions

From Mammoth Lakes

On U.S. 395, drive to Mammoth Junction / Highway 203. Turn west on Highway 203 and drive four miles, through the town of Mammoth Lakes to the traffic light at Minaret Road. Turn right and drive five miles to Minaret Station. (You'll drive through the Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort.) From the pay-station, continue down hill for a couple of miles. After a steep descent, look for the road leading to Agnew Meadows Campground and Trailhead on the right. This road leads to the River Trail. Note: day-use may require parking near the Minaret Station and traveling down via a shuttle bus.

 

Middle Fork San Joaquin River - Fishing the Ansel Adams Wilderness

From the River Trail, with it's trailhead at Agnew Meadows, a stretch of the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River can be accessed that many folks look upon, but few experience.

The trailheads for Pacific Crest and River Trail are located in Agnew Meadow - the River Trail leads to the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin

By experience I chiefly mean fish. I've been wanting to experience, I mean fish, this upper stretch of the San Joaquin for years. In the early fall of this year, I finally got my chance. The main draw being the abundant wild trout fishery I've heard and read so much about.

The Middle Fork of the San Joaquin flows through the Ansel Adams Wilderness

While hiking the section near Devil's Postpile, I ran into a man and we started talking about the area and it's fishing. This guy said he fished the upper Middle Fork of the San Joaquin since 1958, and has fished every year since. That's 50 years! So, either he's a stickler for tradition, or maybe the fishing is good. Not wanting to paint too rosy a scenario, the old-timer went on to say the quality of the fishing dropped after they constructed a paved road from Mammoth to the Postpile around 1978.

A wild rainbow trout caught in the San Joaquin River inside  the Ansel Adams Wilderness

The other thing that dropped--the flows. Flows were very low in September. How low? "Very low," "extremely low," and "as low as flows in 2008" were the comments from people I talked with before heading out. The water temps remained cool given the proximity to the headwaters and the shorter days and cold overnight temps. I looked at the low flows as an advantage. Besides getting to walk and wade this remote stretch of water, having an alley to cast upstream would be a big win.

The Middle Fork of the San Joaquin flows flows south from its headwaters - Mammoth Mountain seen in the background

No real surprise, but tail-outs into deeper pools proved to be the productive water. The lack of any flows or wind meant the spook-factor for these wild fish was at an extreme high level. Thankfully, I could easily wade and made upstream casts to help level the playing field.

Devil's Postpile National Momument is just a short walk from the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River

In half a day of focused attention, I brought over thirty fish to hand and LDR'ed a fair number. Most rainbow, and another that stood out above the crowd. With the orange belly and large parrs, I thought golden trout at first. But this guy had way too many spots below his lateral line. I accepted this fish not to be a pure strain golden. Putting all the text-books aside for a moment, to my mind that fish had the exotic looks a native trout. A long-time resident of this unique watershed, and one I won't soon forget.