Northern California High Sierra Trout Fishing Near Mono Hot Springs
Trout Unlimited… Rainbow – German Brown – Brook – Golden
The Mono Hot Springs area is truly a trout fishing paradise and the center of every type of trout fishing known. Hundreds of square miles of wilderness with Northern California trout fishing lakes and small streams offer excellent fishing for brook and golden trout that is especially attractive to those of us who enjoy the piece and sounds of small babbling brooks where every pool offers a new fishing adventure.
Seldom does a line touch the waters of many of these wilderness small streams. Here are some Sierra Nevada trout fishing tips of good places to fish to make the most of your adventure!
To start with you can fish right there next to Mono Hot Springs Resort on the South Fork of the San Joaquin River – Northern California’s most remote natural hot springs that’s accessible by automobile deep in the High Sierras’ west slope between Yosemite and Kings Canyon.
During the fishing season they plant the river at this location with nice rainbow trout each week. The trout vary in size depending on what they have at the hatchery, but many times you can get a nice twelve incher with most of the fish here being nine or ten inches.
Devil’s Bathtub and many other Alpine Lakes withing a day’s hike of Mono offer great Northern California trout fishing for the spin casting enthusiast.
From the bridge over the San Joaquin where they are planted the fish spread out, and you can usually catch rainbow trout pretty easily either a mile or two up the river or a mile or two down the river past the campground. And every once in a while you can catch a really nice rainbow that’s a carry over from the year before.
There are several places fish are planted on a regular basis in the area surrounding Mono Hot Springs that’s also easily accessible by automobile. From the resort you can drive north up Edison Lake Road 2.9 miles to Mono Creek Campground where there’s a diversion dam and a lake.
The Mono Creek Diversion Dam was built back in the 1920s as part of the massive Big Creek hydroelectric project that electrified Southern California. The dam diverts water into the giant siphon that’s the pipe you see running parallel to the bridge across the San Joaquin and up the slope to Ward Tunnel where it goes through the mountain and ends up in Huntington Lake. Later the Edison Lake Dam was built which stores water so the excess spring melt isn’t wasted and they’re able to use it all through the summer, even during a dry year.
There’s a nice campground beside the Mono Creek Diversion Dam Lake where they plant trout regularly through the summer that’s good fishing. These rainbow trout planted at the lake work their way up Mono Creek that’s a beautiful stream where it comes out of Edison Lake and then runs down to the diversion dam.
They constantly run water down Mono Creek from Lake Edison, but they also intermittently release more water for power, and that’s when the water flow can change considerably. You have to be careful when the water starts to rise in the creek as it can be a little bit dangerous, but they usually do it slowly to give everybody a chance to get out of the stream bed.
What they don’t divert is a small creek that runs down and flows into the South Fork of the San Joaquin about a mile and a half down the river from Mono Hot Springs. There’s good fishing here below the dam – mostly brown trout that spook easily so you have to sneak up on them. We mainly advise people to catch and release here so there’s good fishing all the time for everyone.
You can also drive to Edison Lake which is another 1.6 miles past the Mono Creek Campground where you come to the south east end of the lake ands there’s a road that takes you right across the top of the damn that you can easily walk down to the shore. Sometimes it’s excellent fishing here especially early in the morning right on the dam. You can also fish Mono Creek where it comes out of Edison Lake at the bottom of the dam.
From Edison Lake Dam it’s a short drive to the Vermillion Resort on the western most tip of the lake. If you drive past the resort and into the campground there’s a parking area there and you can walk down to the lake from there.
If you walk for about a mile and a half beyond the campground along the shore you come to where Cold Creek flows into Edison Lake. It’s great fishing right there where the water comes into the lake from Cold Creek.
Work your way up Cold Creek about a mile and it’s really excellent fishing with all native brown trout up there that’s the first place I caught a fish – that was probably about 65 years ago! That was before Edison Lake was even built, it was just Mono Creek working its way through Vermilion Valley which was a beautiful valley before the lake. It was actually one of the premier fishing areas in the world – a huge area of meadows stretching probably three miles that equaled some of the best trout fishing in Montana!
Now if you want to do that in Northern California you catch fish up Cold Creek which has some of the best fishing in the Western Sierra Nevada.
At the Vermillion Resort you can take a ferry all the way across Edison Lake to the headwaters and fish up Mono Creek. It can be pretty good fishing up there too especially in the fall in September when the brown trout are getting ready to spawn.
You can go across the lake in the morning because they run every couple hours and make a day of it if you have you lunch. Take the ferry back in the evening at 4 o’clock and that’ll give you time to walk three miles up Mono Creek and fish and then come back in time to catch the ferry. Or you can rent a boat at the resort and come back whenever you like.
For the adventurous and hardy there’s another road that leads out to the northwest from the Vermilion Resort to Onion Meadows which is a very rough four-wheel-drive only high clearance road. There’s a small stream there in Onion Meadows that’s very good fishing
If you walk a little ways past Onion Springs it becomes wilderness with a trace of what used to be a road that goes about six miles down to Cold Beer Meadows, Rock Creek and a couple other little creeks you used to be able to drive to but now you have to hike to. It’s a pretty good trek back in there – but has kept the fishing great for determined anglers!
Devil’s Bathtub – not to be confused with Devil’s Bathtub in Yosemite – is a stunningly beautiful high alpine lake at 9,200 ft that is one of the sources of Cold Creek that has such excellent fishing. The trailhead to this Western Sierra Nevada trout fishing lake is past the Vermillion Resort campground about half a mile.
This trail crosses Cold Creek and that’s where really good fishing can also be found. Cold Creek going either up or down from the Devil’s Bathtub Trail is just full of native brown. But they are easily spooked and you have to be really stealthy and sneak up on them – don’t just walk up to a pool. Crawl up to the pool on your hands and knees then just flip a fly in to catch them. Brown trout are pretty leery if they see you, they’re gone and won’t bite for quite a while.
The last part of the hike to Devil’s Bathtub is pretty steep under a forest cover and doesn’t really open up with views until you reach the lake. But what a view opens up of 11,520 ft Graveyard Peak forming the bowl of summits that resemble tombstones to the northeast. The Graveyard Lakes at 10,000 ft are also excellent High Sierra trout fishing lakes just slightly below the tree line, but reachable from a separate trailhead that starts a little further up the path than the Devil’s Bathtub trailhead from the Vermillion Resort.
Another good Sierra Nevada trout fishing lake to explore if you have a four wheel drive vehicle with good clearance is reached by taking the Bear Diversion Dam Road one mile up Edison Lake Road past the Mono Hot Springs Resort turnoff. The turnoff on the right heading east is well marked and is about a three mile drive through ruggedly beautiful country. This road has very scenic views up the South Fork of the San Joaquin rimed by saw tooth, ice sculpted peaks of the Range of Light which make the light colored granite in the Mono Hot Springs area so unique.
The Bear Diversion Dam is another lake created as part of the Big Creek Hydroelectric Project that captures the water of Bear Creek and sends it through a tunnel bored through Mary Mountain which divides this basin from the Mono Creek Basin to the west to connect with the same pipe siphon you see carrying it across the San Joaquin at the bridge, then up the slope to the Ward Tunnel that goes through the mountains to Huntington Lake. It’s a bigger lake than the Mono Diversion Dam.
About a mile and a half after turning off from Edison Lake Road and crossing some beautiful slick rock outcroppings, the road makes a ninety degree left turn where it begins the steep ascent up the canyon to the lake. It’s a good idea at this corner to get out of your car and walk the next quarter mile to be certain your car can navigate what’s ahead and you know what you are getting into.
If you go up this road which has some very high clearance boulders and you find out you can’t make it, there’s no place to turn around. You are backing down a very steep gravel road with a shear drop into a deep gorge on your right that requires extreme caution. It’s very easy backing down this narrow road to get into a spot you can’t get out of – spinning your wheels side slipping on the loose gravel next to a steep precipice you don’t even want to think about going over!
It’s narrow and can be very dicey on this steep section if you meet oncoming traffic. Best to walk it first so you know exactly what’s ahead you are committing to – and have your approach at the difficult sections thought through so you don’t lose forward momentum if you hesitate on the throttle!
Bear Diversion Dam is a lake that’s really pretty. You need to be there very early in the morning or very late in the evening to catch fish here though because they just don’t seem to bite at all unless you’re there early and you can walk the stream. Bear Diversion Dam is mostly native brown trout and there’s a few brook trout too.
Two more High Sierra trout fishing lakes you can easily drive to from Mono Hot Springs is Florence Lake and Ward Lake, which you come to first. From Mono Hot Springs you cross the river and head back up to Kaiser Pass Road you came in on until you reach the junction at 1.9 miles and turn left or east.
Ward Lake is a natural High Sierra lake that sits in a beautifully sculpted granite grotto 3.6 miles east of the junction. The road runs right beside it, it has campgrounds and a trail around the lake and is stocked with trout regularly during the summer months so it’s always good fishing.
It’s a thrill to watch the eagles that perch on the highest trees between the road and the lake swoop down to the surface of the lake and snatch huge trout that they can barely get airborne clutching with their talons in the thin mountain air at 7,375 ft! Ward Lake is a place of awesome natural beauty and a great lake for kayaking.
After you pass Ward Lake, the road to Florence Lake is chiseled into a steep granite cliff with stunning views opening up to the headwaters of the South Fork of the San Joaquin. Note the interesting brown spot on the mountain across the river to the north that’s visible for miles up and down the San Joaquin that once you spot it helps you get your bearings around the meadows and giant granite wall known as Jackass Meadows and the Jackass Dyke in the Florence Lake basin.
2.1 miles past Ward Lake and just before you get to Florence Lake you can take a left turn and drive down to Jackass Meadows which is where the San Joaquin River flows out of Florence Lake. These are big beautiful meadows where you can camp and fish that’s the outflow from Florence Lake that is stocked with trout regularly through the fishing season. It’s rainbow trout around the campground, but once you go down the river about a mile it’s mostly brown trout.
Not far past the turn off to Jackass Meadows you come to Florence Lake which is a stunningly beautiful High Sierra trout fishing lake at 7,200 ft that’s very rugged with giant boulders and the pyramid shaped 11,013 foot Mt. Shinn towering over it.
Ethan’s first Golden…Small stream fishing for the beautiful Golden Trout.
You can fish around the lake shore, or at the store you can catch the ferry that travels across the lake to the headwaters of the South Fork of the San Joaquin River that runs every couple hours. Take a lunch and you can make a nice day of it!
If you hike up from the ferry landing probably half a mile to three quarters of mile you come to Blaney Meadow. The river snakes through this beautiful meadow lined with aspens and there has been some very big trophy trout caught here.
Some have been over 25 inches and I believe there’s been a couple 30 inchers caught in Blaney Meadow. They’re not easy to catch because when they’re that size there’s really smart, but you can catch them and there’s some really big knockers there!
It’s a pretty good five mile hike to Muir Ranch which is a resort with hot springs and is a resupply stop and staging area for people people coming off of and going to the nearby Pacific Crest Trail. If you catch the ferry early in the morning and if you’re good hiker you can go up there and come back in the same day – but it’s a pretty good ten mile hike.
Another High Sierra trout fishing lake you can easily drive to from Mono Hot Springs is the Portal Forebay which is a small 20 acre lake at 7,180 feet that serves as a holding forebay for the Portal Power House located on the other side of the pass at Huntington Lake.. They also plant fish here so its always good fishing, and it’s a good place for kids to fish because there’s a nice sandy beach all the way around the lake. It’s about a 4.5 mile drive from Mono Hot Springs out Kaiser Pass Road you came in on
From the Portal Forebay you can walk down to the San Joaquin River that’s about a mile and a half hike and once you get to the river that’s also good fishing brown trout. It’s pretty steep going down there and climbing back out.
On Kaiser Road a couple miles east of the Portal Forebay you will see the Bosillo Campground near the High Sierra Ranger Station and the trailhead to Corbett Lake. Corbett Lake is a three mile hike from the 7,400 ft trailhead to the lake at 9,070 ft.
About one mile into the hike through beautiful old growth forests you hit 19 switchbacks in a particularly steep 800 foot climb. The views that are opening up of Devil’s Tower, Lake Edison, Devil’s Bathtub and Mary’s Mountain behind the Mono Hot Springs resort makes the climb worth it! The lake itself has excellent brown and brook trout fishing, and for the hearty, about another three quarters of a mile higher through stunning high sierra ice sculpted granite is Givens Lake.
You can stop at the High Sierra Ranger Station to find out about anything you may need like a fire permit, but know you need to get your fishing license back in Shaver Lake as they are not available at the ranger station or the Mono Hot Springs Resort.
The fishing season on lakes in the High Sierra Ranger District are open to fishing all year with fishing season on streams opening on the last Saturday in April and closing on November 15th. The limit is 5 trout and be aware of the special bonus brook trout limit that allows 10 additional brook trout under eight inches long that can be kept per day.
The rivers, streams and high sierra trout fishing lakes are some of the very best in Northern California, and all within under an hour drive from Mono Hot Springs where you can soak in the natural hot springs and enjoy great food at the resort’s restaurant including elk, buffalo burgers and of course fresh trout!