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The Year in Trout, 2016

See also The Year in Trout, 2017 and pages keyworded by trout, brook trout, rainbow trout, fishing.

For all my life I have liked trout fishing but did little of it for most of the past two decades (work, family, ebb in interest). But as I’ve aged (not as old and crusty as Dan M yet but it’s coming), I’ve found that life flows in circles, and back in my teens I grew expert at fishing. And 60 to 80 hour workweeks run me down after a few months, so I need a diversion or two.

Cycling was and remains an enjoyable and necessary diversion, including 25 double centuries in 4 years, one I still pursue just about every day. And it’s critical for my health what with sitting in front of a computer so many hours.

And so late in 2015 the old “fishing bug” returned—mainly because I discovered that the small alpine trout in creeks and streams I had fished for years were not the only quarry out there.

Late last year (2015) was... early, as in fishing season closed early, because of ice-over. But the high Sierra starts to thaw out by June, and it was in late June 2016 that “the bug” hit when I caught the first large trout (16 inches) of what was to be a haul of 25 or so large to very large “trophy trout” (16" to 23") caught over several trips—a nice diversion from photography, and about 50 pounds (cleaned and gutted) of fish eaten as my primary meal from August to November while in the Sierra.

I did not photograph all the trout I caught; what follows is a fraction of my catch in 2016 (starting out with late 2015). I release about 95% of the trout I catch—I now (as of 2016) only like to eat the salmon-like large ones because the flavor and texture is so much better, including significant fat versus the nearly pure protein-only flesh of small 'brookies'. I released 250 to 300 trout this year so as to grow larger, good for them and hopeful for me.

A hard day’s effort and a lot of patience in mostly ice-covered lakes yields two or three dinners for this trip. I hate taking such beautiful creatures, but such is the way of life, and I never over-use a resource. Moreoever these trout cannot reproduce naturally. A ranger at the park service told me the new policy is “catch and take” in many areas due to endangered frogs. Well... the frog population is very healthy in the areas I visit and a lake with no fish could have them is sad, IMO. Very few lakes in the Sierra are being poisoned to kill trout, but some are being designated as “never restock”, which I really dislike. I hope the trout keep their place. The largest trout here is an incredible trophy of about 16.5 inches (at least at super high altitude where caught), but it is relatively small compared to the 21" and 23" rainbow trout shown further below.

 
Golden Trout on Ice Before Gutting
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2016 started off strong for me in the high Sierra for Golden Trout, fishing through deep blue holes exposing 5% of the lake.

 
Golden Trout on Ice. The two larger ones are 16 inches long, perhaps 16.5".
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What pushed me “over the edge” is that large high Sierra trout have deep orange flesh and taste pretty much like Coho salmon. The Japanese yakitori sealed the deal, and I like “living off the land”—it resonates somehow.

This 16.5" 2.5 pound rainbow trout looked like salmon and tasted quite similar. It was fantastic. Smaller trout cook fine too, but are harder to grill without drying out or burning because they are so thin on the tail end and belly area. Here I cut this large rainbow trout into two large chunks. On one trip, my dinner was grilled trout for 9 of 14 days.

Cut the trout into pieces that fit the yakitori. There is not much meat left on the head, but why not grill it and eat what there is? The heart may be good, but I’m a little squeamish on that one, though heart of deer never bothered me.

 
Large Rainbow trout (chunked) before being grilled on FireSense Yakitori Japanese-style grill
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Below, a trophy golden trout of about 16.5 inches. See Pentax K1: Unrivalled Image Quality in SuperRes Pixel Shift Mode.

Golden Trout — Oncorhynchus mykiss aguabonita, about 16.5 inches — a trophy at this altitude
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Brook trout do not often grow this large in the high Sierra—no, don’t eat this beautiful 12" brook trout—it’s too beautiful and it’s a female and spawning season is about to start. Then again, the eggs are tasty if cooked in a dutch oven. Still, I returned it to the lake unharmed. So eat the big rainbow trout below instead and return mama Brook Trout to the water (but eat the smaller ones, since they overpopulate just about any lake or stream, being prolific reproductively).

 
Brook Trout caught by lure - Salvelinus fontinalis
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No, not this one either! WAY too beautiful. Well, unless there are reasons, which there were in this case. Silent thanks to the spirit of the trout before gutting it are good karma. This Golden is a stocker also, but with many years on its belly. It cannot reproduce in the waters it came from, and is near the end of its natural life, so I ate it.

 
Golden Trout - Oncorhynchus mykiss aguabonita
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Below, an orange-fleshed rainbow trout. And it was a 'stocker' some years before, cannot reproduce in the lake it was caught—it is for eating. I used to be put off by stockers, but the large ones with orange-colored flesh taste like wild salmon—fantastic.

Get yourself a Benchmade Osborne knife for gutting trout in the field. This model 940 has a beefier blade, easier for cutting through big fish heads. Model 943 with a finer and more evenly beveled blade is a bit better for gutting, but model 940 rocks for all-around use.

 
Large Rainbow trout 'Oncorhynchus mykiss' before gutting
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Some rainbow trout are stunningly beautiful. But this one below was/is really special. Compare to the drab rainbow trout above. The crummy iPhone color gamut (sRGB) does not do this fish justice (below).

This 19-inch 3.5 pound beauty came out of Saddlebag Lake. See An Exceptionally Beautiful Rainbow Trout Unlike Any Other I’ve Seen.

 
Very Colorful Rainbow Trout from Saddlebag Lake, 19.0 inches long, 3.5 pounds
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This image below made with the ProCamera app in raw/DNG on the iPhone 6s Plus. I had much better luck in rendering as desired than the crappy Apple JPEG mode.

 
Closeup of very Colorful Rainbow Trout from Saddlebag Lake, 19.0 inches long, 3.5 pounds
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Below is an about 12-inch Brook Trout in full spawning colors, which I nickname “Jaws”. It hit my worm unexpectedly, probably trying to protect its redd. I returned it unharmed to the water and it sped off. BTW, worm fishing can be incredibly challenging notwithstanding the disdain of some fly fisherman.

 
Large Brook Trout in full spawning colors
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This trout is only about 10 to 11 inches long (very large for an alpine brookie), but deep-bodied with a big jaw. There were larger ones, perhaps up to 13 inches. I caught six such trout, releasing all of them carefully. They returned to their activities without any sign of distress, but did not favor my lure a 2nd time! It was incredible to witness, and I’m very glad no other fisherman hiked to this far side of the lake to destroy (catch and eat) these trout at their crucial spawning time. See Brook Trout in Spawning Colors.

 
Brook Trout 'Salvelinus fontinalis' in Spawning Colors
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See The Resident Bald Eagle Swoops and Grabs a Moribund Rainbow Trout at Saddlebag Lake.

Haliaeetus leucocephalus (bald eagle), successful fish-grab
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To catch a 20-inch trout that the net is barely big enough to handle is a “problem” I don’t dislike much.

20-inch 4.6 pounds Rainbow Trout (Onchorynchus Mykiss)
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See My Record Trout.

This hefty and nicely fat Onchorynchus Mykiss took a small crappie jig about 15 feet down, on a day when fishing was very slow. Caught with a G Loomis rod and Shimano Stella reel and Berkley Vanish 6 lb test.

21.2-inch 4.6 pounds Rainbow Trout (Onchorynchus Mykiss)
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Below, a 23-inch 5-pound trophy, and a 16+ inch trout, the smaller one sure to make any high Sierra fisherman very happy, the 23" one...ecstatic. I was thrilled with the 23-inch lunker; it was like a small salmon. I hooked what felt like an even bigger trout a few days later on closing day, one that stayed low and after playing expertly for 7-8 minutes the hook pulled out (probably torn out of soft tissue). See also Examples: Eastern Sierra (Nikon D810).

23-inch and 16-inch rainbow trout (Onchorynchus Mykiss)
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A hearty dinner, and tomorrow’s lunch as well—about 3 pounds of trout.

 
Large Rainbow trout (chunked) being grilled on FireSense Yakitori Japanese-style grill
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Not all trout are for eating, particularly endangered ones. They are for photographing; see 'Oncorhynchus clarki seleniris' aka Paiute Cutthroat Trout, in Cottonwood Creek, White Mountains.

'Oncorhynchus clarki seleniris' aka Paiute Cutthroat Trout taking tiny bug
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See also:

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