Backcountry Travelogues by Phil
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Throw the kitchen sink at them

ur wilderness areas are special, where Mother Nature is landlord and natural forces operate freely. Within the wilderness you will find no roads, shelters, picnic tables, toilets, or other conveniences. You enter at your own risk and you must be prepared to take care of yourself and possibly others.

I started writing about wilderness adventures to raise awareness to what it has to offer. But I’m torn between trying to inspire folks to experience the wilderness and keeping things hush-hush. In some areas we are loving our wilderness to death.
Indian Paintbrush is a favorite wildflower that carpets wilderness landscapes. Phil Flip Akers,
Indian Paintbrush is a favorite wildflower that carpets wilderness landscapes.
Phil Flip Akers, Landscape of stark mountains and small lakes at the foothills
The wilderness environment may seem rugged, but it is actually quite fragile and slow to recover from negative human impact.

High numbers of people do not practice “Leave No Trace” ethics. This causes water pollution, soil erosion and compaction, loss of vegetation, litter, improperly placed campsites and fire rings, trail markers, and other impacts. It tarnishes the wilderness experience for all others who follow.

Phil Flip Akers, A lone bobcat standing among rugged mountain terrain
You will encounter many forms of wildlife while traveling the wilderness areas, a constant reminder we are merely visitors here.
hand holding cutthroat, before releasing back into the water, Phill Flip Akers,
Fishing is excellent in wilderness waters mainly because of low pressure and vibrant, more naturalized fish. There are no dumb put-and-take planters here, rather native, wild, or put-and-grow fish planted as fingerlings by either stock or plane.
But let’s get off the ethics sermon and get on to fishing! This is what first allured me to explore the wilderness. It all started in 1990 with a friend, Ray. Knowing nothing, Ray and I outfitted ourselves the best we could, purchased a couple of maps, and started studying. Pinpointing the most remote, off-trail, horribly inaccessible lakes and canyons the maps had to offer. We did not baby-step our way into backcountry fishing. Our goal was simply to fish where nobody else did.
Colorful spotted fish being held by extended are, with deep blue lake and sky in the background, Phil Flip Akers,
The further off the beaten path the better quality of fish you can expect. There is no surprise that locations requiring off-trail treks generally offer the most unique and memorable angling experiences.

Our first trips were unbelievable and will never be forgotten, but not in terms of fish. The fishing was non-existent, fishless lakes or bad luck I suppose…whatever. But we learned a lot. We quickly realized our packs were way overstuffed -- burning clothes in the campfire, along with pillows, bags of peanuts, and any other superfluous item we no longer desired to lug around the mountains. We even sported 3-cell flashlights! Again, we knew nothing.

Ray was known to charge gung-ho into hobbies, throw tons of money at it, enjoy for awhile, then toss aside. And sure enough, he quickly dropped out of the wilderness fishing scene. I however, continued on, determined to find those trophy spots I knew had to exist. And boy did I ever find them!

Brown trout on line, but in water. Phil flip akers,
Enjoy the fight of the larger fish, then return for someone else to experience. Eat all the stunted brookies you can, but please, handle the big fish with proper catch-and-release etiquette.

A few years later Ray and I reunited, and now found ourselves planning an epic seven-day trip (ten days if you want to count travel time and a night spent at the trailhead) into arguably the best high country fishing the state of California has to offer. It would be a 3-day hike to reach our target water. I had been there just two years prior and knew exactly what to expect. I knew we would experience broad-chested, wary trout cruising our target lake‘s shorelines, but I also knew we would spend our second night camped at a stunted brookie lake where you can catch a fish on every single cast. Ray wasn’t sold on the “catch-a-fish-on-every-cast” tale. Well, not only will I show him, I’ll rub his nose in it.

A closeup of wilderness map with a nickel pierced with a treble hook laying on top of the map. Phil Flip Akers,
In some backcountry waters it doesn’t matter what you use.

I bet my cohort a twelve-pack of IPA that I could catch a trout on every single cast with my kitchen sink lure -- this is where the story really begins. I make lures out of stupid stuff, such as coins, jewelry, Legos, bent metal, and yeah, a kitchen sink which started the fetish. I do this purely to prove a point; it doesn’t matter what you throw at some fish, they will attack it. Countless backcountry lakes in our wilderness areas are gagged with emaciated brookies, hungry and aggressive, eating and breeding like crazy until their population far exceeds the food source.

The idea of a kitchen sink lure came many years ago when my daughter had outgrown her doll house. My wife placed the doll house in the garage for me to dispose of, and like most other otiose items, this would be the end of the doll house story. But I studied this toy for a moment before disposal, and while focusing on the kitchen, a brilliant idea came to mind as my eyes crossed over the sink. I popped the plastic sink out, drilled a lengthwise hole, ran a wire through, attached a treble hook, a small bullet weight, a couple of beads, and finally a spinner blade -- a new fishing lure was born. To wrap this gibberish up, the kitchen sink lure performed as expected, the IPA tasted great, but more importantly I was right -- I can catch trout on every single cast with a kitchen sink!

Mountain lake with mountains rising in the background, Phil Flip Akers,
When descending to a lake, take time to notice the structure and layout.
Lake shallows with a fish swimming around a rock,, Phil flip Akers
If you can see them, they can see you. So are your chances already over? Perhaps, but just sit motionless, study their behavior…patience, waiting -- fishing.

Now on to the target lake. Monster backcountry trout are not easily duped. The kitchen sink lure would be a foolish choice here! To enhance your chances of tangling with a backcountry trophy, it’s best to employ a well studied approach. If possible, try and view the water from a high vantage point to gain knowledge of the layout in terms of both where to fish, and where not to fish. Look for transitions of light-to-dark blue water, indicating underwater shelves where big fish ambush prey. The inlet area of a lake is also a good place to scout because it is rich in food source and oxygen.

Grass Lake Inlet surrounded by the backcountry,, Phil Flip Akers
Large backcountry trout feed heavily in shallower water. Fertile ground for insect life, attracting large numbers of trout and amphibians, but challenging to fish.
Lures laid out on a wilderness map,, Phil Flip Akers
I‘m fond of larger casting spoons and Z-Ray‘s -- which are no longer available. Larger Kastmasters and Daredevil lures also work well. And always have a large spinner on hand.

Large wild trout are finicky and easily spooked. They are hard to stalk and you will often only get one cast. So calculate each movement, take every advantage you can to make things count. If you are lucky enough to spot a large fish, cast well beyond it (if possible) then retrieve your presentation over the fish. Another rule I follow is to fish the windblown side of lakes. Casting into the wind is certainly more challenging, but zooplankton -- the beginning of the food chain -- is wind driven, forced to the windblown shores and coves. Behind this is larger aquatic life, small fry, and your adversary.

Deer hair flies lying on a wilderness map,, Phil Flip Akers
These are the type of flies I commonly use in backcountry waters. Yes, that is a deer-hair mouse…don’t laugh, try it.

Whether fishing shallow water with files, or dredging the deep blue depths of lakes with metal lures, wilderness fishing is highly entertaining. And the surroundings -- wow -- provides everlasting, scenic pats on the back for experiencing. There are all kinds of lakes to explore, each requiring their own approach and level of study. Many fishless lakes -- some gillnetted for the sake of frogs, who face much bigger issues than trout -- are out there. The CA DFW produces backcountry fishing guides, detailing the trout species for each individual water. As always, plan well and be safe, and when you find yourself at a stunted brookie lake, reach deep into the vest, grab that fly or lure you have absolutely no confidence in, and give it a shot. Heck, even throw the kitchen sink at them.

Phil “Flip” Akers is a diverse angler and outdoor adventurer. For over 20 years he has backpacked, packed llamas and fly-fished the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges, venturing into the farthest reaches of our wilderness areas pursuing quality trout and solitude. He enjoys sharing his experiences including tips, techniques, outdoor cooking recipes, and storytelling. He is certified in wilderness first response and rescue including swiftwater rescue, technical rope and technical animal rescue.


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