September 2009- 20 Lakes Basin

Time: 10:00am - 4:30am

Water Temps:
Water Level:
Water Conditions: Very Clear.
Insects Observed:
Hours fished:
Roughly 5 hours

# of fish caught:  Can't remember. Lost a ridiculous number of fish...
Method:Sight Casting to cruising fish or likely spots.
Set Up: 7'2" DAX Driggs River Special.  Medium Action Cane 5wt 2pc, 7.5ft leader
Flies: 16 Elk Hair Caddis, 20 Black Gnat, 18 Gold Ribbed Hare Ear, 12 Bead Head Soft Hackle Hares Ear.

Warning: The following is 9 pages long. Half was written in September 2009 and half in March 2010. Most of it has nothing to do with fishing.....


Conness Lake Near-Golden Trout

.And the high country season closes with a bit of whimper….. After a late night barbeque at my place, over a few ginger beers, my friend Sung and I decided to make a late trip to Yosemite the 3rd weekend in September. I put out a few feelers and was able to organize and impromptu gathering for the VFS Southwest Board. I'd plan to spend 4 days in the mountains. It was going to be an epic trip ..... until……..

Wednesday, the evening before my planned departure, I was organizing my gear and walked into my garage to pick up some reels that were sitting on my workbench. There was yellow green fluid all over my garage floor. It was likely coolant but there was soooo much of it, cups and cups and it had poured out in a short period of time. I don’t know cars from a hole in the head so several minutes looking at my Haynes book, Car Repair for Dummies and a few internet sites confirmed it wasn’t transaxle fluid, which was my immediate concern due to it’s placement under the car. It was likely coolant. “What’s coolant doing coming out above the axel I wondered." 

At dawn on Thursday morning I drove the slightly smoking car to the local Toyota dealer.

 “Toyota Guy, I’ve got a leak”, I said.

“Coolant, I can smell it”, came the reply.

“Do what you need to do. I need the car tonight. I’ve got a 4 day trip planned.”

I get a call at work at 2:00pm. “It’s a coolant hose. Unfortunately, I have to order the part”. Ouch. “OK, which hose is it?” He tells me. I call around; it’s likely my normal shop in Berkeley has the part. (How ironic.) I leave work early hoping I can take it to the other shop for repair. Too late, I’d have to bring it in tomorrow.

“Toyota Guy, which part is it.”

“The intake hose.”

“Which intake hose, there are two.” I knew that much.

“Go back and ask parts”


Back at the parts desk…..


 “Parts Guy, I need this hose, you don’t have it but can tell me what it looks like and what it might commonly be called?”

Parts Guys looks the hose up on his computer “Hummm….we usually carry this one.” He pulls out a parts diagram and points. “It’s this elbow shaped hose.”

“OK, I’m going to try and find the part and replace it myself tonight. That number there, is it the OEM number or your internal number?’ I said pointing to the diagram. “What’s the likelihood I’ll find it at Pep-Boys”

 “Our internal number. I don’t know about Pep-Boys but you can try Napa down the street.”

“Down the street?” I query.

 “A couple of blocks down on North Main.”

 “Right! Thanks” I say and I’m on my way. 5 minutes later I’m standing in front of a very large man at the Napa counter.

 “I need a coolant intake hose for a 91 Corolla. It’s an elbow shaped hose” I say and hand him the diagram.

 “I don’t think we have this one” he says and starts poking around in his computer.

 “Is this the one?” he asks…..

”You’re asking me” I’m thinking to myself. “No, it’s an intake hose. That says outflow. Toyota uses that number on the diagram, I’m not sure if that will help.”

The man stares intently into his little screen long enough for me to doubt my success and his ability. I start poking around the different manuals sitting beside the register. The Haynes series of books on auto repair are there as is another book. Its a tattered reference book that appears to be used internally and is not for sale. There seems to be one for each make of car. I casually pick up the Toyota book while he continues to stare into the abyss of this monitor.  

“This looks interesting” I think to myself. “There’s my model and…..hey, the same diagram and the numbers match, except in this book there are some additional numbers.”

“I think this is it” I say handing Napa Guy the book. “Are you sure?” he asks. Again I think, “you’re asking me?”

 “Same diagram, same number….?” He asks.

 “No but it looks right”

Napa Guy checks the computer. They have it. While he hunts down the part I strike up a conversation with “Can’t be Bothered with Ignorant Customers” Guy.

“Excuse me, Sir.” I begin. “How difficult do you think it would be for a rank beginner to remove a starter?” (This particular intake hose was positioned behind the starter.)

He sizes me up, looking me up and down and pausing a bit before asking “What are you working with?”

I don’t really understand the question. “What kind of car am I working with, what sort of tools, what sort of starter, what?” I release the flood gates.

“I need to replace a coolant intake hose on a 1991 Toyota Corolla. This particular hose is found behind the starter, so I’ll have to remove it in order to install the hose.”

He grins slightly, “I’ve never worked on that model before. I can tell you that the Toyota’s I have worked on have been incredibly straight forward. Pretty easy stuff. Occasionally though, they’ll put something in the most unintuitive spot.”

25 minutes after leaving the Toyota shop I’m home with part in hand and books open. Replacing the starter looks easy enough, only 4 simple steps. There’s a footnote that in some models, a half dozen additional steps have to be taken. I check the manual on detailed instructions for the first two. It looks pretty involved but since it’s a foot note, I figure it must be the exception. This’ll be a piece of cake.

I flip to the front of the book and look at the labeled diagram of the engine. No starter shown. “That’s strange. I’m sure the manual must say where it is…….” Nope. I get on the internet and use a search engine to find a picture of a starter for a 91 Corrolla. Picture in hand, I go out to the car.

30 minutes of poking around, moving things around and I couldn’t find it. I had the starter fixed last month. It and the alternator are the only two new engine parts in this vehicle, it should be easy to find. I’ll have to look underneath. I pull out two small unused tire ramps I had picked up at Pep Boys. They’ve sat unused in the shed for about 3 years. The concept is simple. Place a plastic ramp in front of each tire and drive forward. I do so and the car lurches up about 12 inches. Car in park, emergency break on, bricks behind the rear wheels, I crawl underneath the car. My brother in law later tells me I should have kicked the car to make sure it was sturdy before going under…..

If I had a long nose I’d be in trouble, there really wasn't much room to maneuver. I spent another 20 minutes with a flashlight peering through every little nook and cranny.  Finally I see it- hidden by the axle and several plates. I start looking around, trying to figure out exactly what I have to do to get at this thing. The engine cross member and several weight bearing plates seem to be in the mix. It was too involved for this simpleton.

I was going up to the campground a day early to ensure that we get a campground. I planned to put that day to good use by hitting a trophy golden trout lake and had been looking forward to an epic hike.  I email the guys- “I’m going to be going up late. Someone else will have to get the camp ground.”

I’m at the Toyota shop at 6:00am for the second day in a row. 

“Toyota Guy, I’ve got the part. Are you guys busy today? I really need to get going”

Toyota Guy gets the part and I’m confident that I’ll be on my way by early afternoon. Just after 11:00 am I get a phone call, it’s Toyota Guy. “We’re done, I’ll send the shuttle to come get you.”

Things are looking up! If I can get out of the house by 1pm, I’ll have a couple of hours to fish.

11:45 comes, I live 10 minutes from the shop but I don’t want to be pushy, the car was ready earlier than I expected. 

 “Toyota Guy, just wondering when the next shuttle was leaving.”

“He should be there soon. I’ll have him call you”

 12:20 comes.

 “Toyota Guy, it’s Jim. Yeah, I’m still waiting for the shuttle.”

“He should be there soon. I’ll have him call you”

 12:45 comes.

 “Toyota Guy, it’s Jim…..”

Just before 1:30 the shuttle arrives. “If I had ridden my bike to the shop I would be on my way to Yosemite”, I think. “No matter, we’re on our way to the shop now…..what’s that. Another stop first?” The 10 minute drive takes 30.

I take a casual glance at my paper work before heading home. It says replaced hose on top of radiator in addition to some other stuff. There were 3 hoses that needed replacing but I only had the part for one, I figured that they’d had the other 2 in stock and decided to replace them. No problem.

I pull into my driveway with an uneasy feeling. I take closer look at the paper work. At the top it says “1 hose replaced”. Uh-Oh, I pop the hood and sure enough, my elbow shaped hose which belongs behind the starter is sitting large as life on top of the radiator. Not only that, it has been forced into an S shape. I get on the phone with Toyota Guy.

“Toyota Guy, this is Jim. How many hoses did Mechanic Guy replace.” I ask rather directly.

 “Hi Jim, he replaced one.”

“Well, it looks to me like he replaced the wrong one.”

Toyota Guy pauses…..”I’ll talk to the mechanic and call you back. “

Not waiting for a call back, I jump in the car and drive back down to the shop. Toyota Guy isn’t there. I call his cell phone and he says “I’m afraid; I’m going have to ask you to come back into the shop.”

“No need, I’m already here. I’m standing at your desk.”

Toyota Guys high tails it back to the shop and I pop the hood.

Toyota Guy begins to explain, “the mechanic says it’s the wrong hose. It’s a smaller tube.”

Out of my pocket comes the diagram. “Toyota Guy, this is the diagram Parts Guys gave me, it’s clearly shows the shape and size of the hose, as well as the parts number… and by the way, the hose he replaced was an S shaped hose, not an elbow shaped hose. Why would anyone knowingly replace one part with the wrong part. Here, take a look, he cut the tube and forced it into an S shape so that it would fit.”

 Toyota Guy goes back to his computer. “He takes the diagram, can I keep this?”

 “No, make a copy”

Toyota Guys finally admits that the mechanic simply didn’t read the work report from the day before….”we usually get our own parts in”….

“And since it’s not your part he replaces a proper hose with an improper one?.....And by the way, the hose is sitting right on top of the radiator. It’s a 5 minute job. I could have done it. What’s the $176 bucks for….”

Toyota Guy explains that they have to “prep” the car first……

“We’ll fix it and I’ll only charge you for parts”, he says. Parts plus the $176 I’ve already paid….

“I need the car tonight” I say calmly.

“I can give you a rental. I’ll cover it.” Toyota Guy offers with a grin on his face.

My deadpan reply - “Until Tuesday? I’m headed to Yosemite for 4 days….”

Toyota Guy grumbles but I leave with a brand new 2009 Rav 4. I’m packed and on the road by 2:45 pm, too late to avoid Friday traffic. My 4 hour trip has just been extended to just over 5 hours. Uncharacteristically, I’ve brought a stable of fly rods. Among my gear is a Down and Across Quad Driggs River Special. It’s a 7’2” 5wt rod that, if I have truly considered the choice, I would not have brought. I also carried a 6’8” 3pc rod based on the famed FE Thomas 3wt taper, my standby the past two years the 8ft 4wt SLT and it’s little sister, the 7ft 3wt version.

I roll down the hill into Tuolumne Meadows at dusk. My drive through the park has shown that it is as busy as ever despite being “after labor day”. My drive past the Tuolumne Meadows campground confirms it. “Campground Full”. 

Our plan was to camp at the Junction Campground with Ellery Campground being our back up. I pull into Junction Campground in the fading light. I drove the out and back road twice looking for some sign of the others before heading down the road to Ellery and finding a large sign with my name on it on the campground notice board.     

Ryan, Mark and Bob are already comfortable at camp. Roger was supposed to join us later that night and my friends Susan and Sung the next morning.

Though we’d been friendly through the Southwest Board, the 4 of us had never met. Mark goes by "1mocast" and Bob by "SocalBob." We made the introductions and then enjoyed the camaraderie that one does sitting around a campfire with other fly fishers. I gave SoCal Bob his FE Thomas rod, a rod that had been a year and a half in the making and one he’d have a delightful day fishing on our last day.

The next morning, I skipped camp early to search for Roger. He didn’t find us that night but I knew his contingency sleeping spot and had no problems finding him and bringing him back to camp for another round of introductions. In no time the 6 of us were headed to Saddlebag Lake and the trail to the Conness Lakes.

I’m not sure how but I convinced the guys to skip the boat taxi and make the short hike around Saddlebag to Greenstone. Everyone seemed to be handling the altitude well and we made short work of the hike to Conness 1. I headed straight for the “bowling alley” with hopes of raising a decent fish while the others geared up and spread out around the lake.

 The SW Board Crew

The water below the Conness Glacier is not for the timid caster. I’ve had days here when the wind was so strong that hooked fish where launched into the air like kites. This day the winds were less fierce but only slightly. It took a strong double haul to launch a fly 30 feet into the headwind and as a rodsmith, solidified in my mind what you don’t want in a high country rod, namely a soft, full loading rod with a full hook set. That was exactly what I chose to fish.

In the past I’ve called my Down and Across Driggs River Quad the “Jazz of Fishing Rods” or something to that effect. It’s like what I imagine a good sipping whisky should be, slow and smooth. I’ve pegged it as a small stream rod that excels at 25 ft casts in riffles and small runs not as a high country stick but that’s exactly what I tried to use it as and I’m sure my fishing was the worse for it.

The rod did fine in the wind. The full casting nature and relatively heavy line (5wt) allowed me to overcome the wind in an acceptable manner. The short coming of the rod is it’s slow tip recovery or in this case rod recovery because of it’s full nature. It sets up on fish slowly and makes it tough to keep pressure on smaller fish. If I had been fishing my standard high country rod, oh what stories I’m sure I could tell but of the 40 or so strikes I received, I probably hooked half of that and only landed 6 fish that I can recall.

Big fish of the day..... 10 inches maybe?

I chose the rod because I hadn’t fished it in a while and was contemplating selling it. I had a fun day with the rod, trying to cast into the wind with such a deep bending rod is fun but I simply didn’t adjust to it fast enough to catch fish.

My approach to the lake was slower than most. I’d never been here this late in the season and so I was peering and probing, seeing what there was to see. Roger hit his known big fish producers while Socal Bob and the guys quickly found the inlet to lake 1 and it’s little goldens and even hit what I consider to be lake 3 from what I understand.

I on the other hand sauntered. I sauntered up the inlet to the near side of the lake and clockwise along its circumference. Facing into the lake from the outlet was facing directly into a strong head wind. I’ve written about these winds before. They can be fierce. On each back cast the Driggs River Special would bend deep into the butt and with a strong haul on the forward cast, I’d send as tight a line as I could into the incoming gale. I stood in one spot doing this for much longer than I should and much longer than I might normally but it was so much fun I couldn’t stop. I was getting strikes from fish as well, so why not stay put. I could feel what the line was doing throughout the entire casting stroke and I just love that. A 4wt version of a Payne 197 would be a blast here.

Despite all this, I was here to catch fish and not simply cast, I could be casting at home. (But it wouldn’t be nearly as fun; stiff wind, high mountain scenery, you simply can’t beat it.) When Roger found his way around to me, I continued with him to the small inlet.

Fishing the outlet.

The inlet can provide great fun. When I made my first cane rod I came here to christen its first fish as a golden trout or as a nearly golden trout. Most of the fish are smallish but the action is usually a bit faster than the outlet. I think the outlet proper has bigger fish.

We avoided the inlet proper and fished where the inlet dumped into the lake. This is where we met the other guys as they were making their way back from lake 3. They’d had a good day and as the sun was getting lower in the sky and the wind chill turned up a bit, they decided to head to lower ground. Roger and I drew the interest of some smaller fish and then continued our circumnavigation of the lake.  

The far side of the lake is shallow with a maze of channels and drop offs. Despite my many visits to this lake, I’d never really fished it and was intrigued. I like fishing this sort of water- casting to a ledge and seeing a fish slam the fly just after it inches over the edge. It gives you something to target and a viable plan and a pattern if you’re successful. So that’s what I did.

Wind now at my back for the most part, I cast my full loading 5wt so that my fly landed in the upper portion of a channel that ran in a nearly straight line, directly downstream of the inlet. My fly, my typical winged ant if I remember correctly, landed over the deepest part of the small submerged canyon. The fly, caught by the slow current which was the very tail of the inflow from the inlet, bobbed on the surface for a few feet before a bright orange mass launched itself at the surface. I missed the hook up.

I had missed the hook up on nearly every single fish that day. I simply couldn’t adjust my reaction time to the rods full bending hook set. And this continued. I slowly and methodically fished this area- seeking out fish when I could but in most cases casting to likely looking structure. The pattern was exciting and consistent.

In one case I cast to what amounted to a small island in the middle of one of the canyons. If the grand canyon were underwater, than it would be a small mesa sitting at it’s center, dividing the empty space between the canyon walls. I missed my desired landing spot and the fly landed several feet past the submerged canyon wall, nowhere near the small sunken mesa. I lifted my rod tip and skittered the fly toward the mesa. Just as the fly skittered over the far edge, a fish took it with a caddis rise. I likely missed that fish as well but experienced the same sort of action casting just ahead and just below the mesa.

Roger at this time had made his way back to his big fish haunts and was likely confronting his own challenges. When I saw him pack up and start leaving I hurried around the lake to join him. That is until I came to a long flat rock. Likely submerged during the early and mid season but now in late season peaking above the water and giving me access to the center of the lake. It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.

At first I began casting into the wind, hoping to induce any fish facing into the wind to rise to my fly. No takers that I recall. I moved toward the end of the my high country casting platform, looked out on the lake and found the “mother of all” underwater canyons. It was easily 10 or feet wide and deep, so deep that the emerald blue of the lake was replaced with a deep blue-black color.

This is where I missed the largest fish of the day..

I had continued my pattern of casting and missing fish over much of the large canyon but there was one section toward the rear where my fly received little attention. It was ominous the how silent, how seemingly barren that stretch of water was. Time and time again my fly floated across the bareness. I thought surely a fish must be there and doubted my resolve when a VERY large Golden rolled on the fly. A nice slow roll that, even if I hadn’t seen it and just saw the rise form, screamed big fish. I hadn’t caught a large Golden Trout all season and this was going to be my last opportunity of the year.

I don’t know what happened. I hooked the fish but perhaps not very solidly. I back pedaled, started to apply pressure and the line went limp. A Golden Trout of a lifetime, gone in the blink of an eye. I laughed .... why should my luck or skill this day improve with this single fish?

I’m fairly sure I would have caught that fish and others with my standard high country rod. Wishful thinking? Perhaps but my the 8ft 4wt that I developed two years ago has a positive hook set and applies progressive resistance which I’m sure would have kept that fish on. All I can do now is dream about “next time”.

That was as good a fish as any to end the day on so I quickly joined Roger who had been inching his way toward the outlet and down the trail. We make good fishing partners and compliment each other. He fishes deep, I fish dries. He a big lake fisher, I’m really a stream fisher. I’ll stop and wet a line where he might keep walking and he might stop and wet a line where I would keep walking and so it was back down the trail.

I stopped midway to fish a favorite section of brookie stream and caught a fish that while I was fighting it, looked like a Golden/Brook Trout Hybrid. I don’t know if such a thing is possible. Browns and Brooks cross bred to create Tiger trout but I wonder if anyone in a lab has tried to cross bred a Golden and Brook Trout?

Brookie parr marks


Roger stopped to fish the next big lake on the trail and this is where we ran into the other guys. They didn’t return to the parking lot but instead fished the waters lower in the basin. That night we enjoyed a hearty pot luck dinner and were joined by my friends Susan and Sung.  Susan and I had been to this area together before, sharing her luxurious 4 season tent and hiking to the same Golden Trout waters.

The next morning we all fished Lee Vining creek and then went our separate ways. I returned home to deal with my now forgotten car issues, Bob, Mark and Ryan headed down 395 toward home. Only Susan and Sung stayed to enjoy the rest of the weekend in Yosemite.

Roger at Greenstone Lake


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