Fishing Trip on The John Muir and Pacific Crest Trails

Camping On The John Muir Trail
Great Weather, Waterfalls, John Muir Trail, 
Pacific Crest Trail, Wild Trout Dinner, Sleeping Under The Stars! What More Could We Need In Life?
Our campsite near Shadow Lake on the JMT


This past weekend was a weekend adventure into the wild away from the fast pace of city life. Just like every trip into the wild I have fun, relax, learn new skills and humble myself with plenty of mistakes. My buddy and I started the trip off with a five hour drive ahead of us. Since we weren’t able to get our wilderness permit online, we had to leave at 2 am in order to make it to the ranger station by 8. Luckily we were able to get the last two spots into the Shadow Creek Trail starting at Agnew Meadows.
 We finally arrived in Mammoth Lakes around 9 am and parked at the over night parking along the road near the Mammoth Lakes Lodge. We got our packs together and headed towards the shuttle. The trail head at Agnew Meadows is on Minaret Road (SR 203). Minaret Road leads to famous spots such as Devils Postpile and Rainbow Falls, but is only open in the summer months. The road is closed daily between 7 am and 7:30 pm for the shuttle. So if you don’t want to ride the shuttle, you have to get an early start. In order to leave from Agnew Meadows on any trail, you need to either get there before 7 am in your own vehicle, have a campsite at Agnew Meadows or take the shuttle from the Mammoth Lakes Lodge. We got to Mammoth later than we wanted, and were forced to take the shuttle. The shuttle isn’t too bad, but it is a weird feeling to stand in line for the wild like you’re at Disney World. The shuttle is 7 dollars per person round trip. We took the shuttle down the winding Minaret road with the the coolest 80 year WWII vet whipping it around corners like a nascar driver. After we survived the scariest drive in the Sierras, we drank some water, ate a snack, and situated our packs before getting on trail.
Waterfall Cascading Down From Shadow Lake
Once on trail, my buddy and I just walked and walked on what we thought was the right trail. Well, of course I got complacent and led us to a campsite instead of the trail we needed. My buddy and I took a quick second to orientate our map, and agreed on the direction of travel. Although we were slightly off course, a good map study prior to leaving allowed us to readjust and quickly cut through the woods and find the right trail. We took the Shadow Creek Trail to shadow lake. (4.2 miles) The hike was a very moderate hike. It took about 3 hours with about a 1000 foot elevation gain. If you hike straight through it will probably only take 2 hours and 30 minutes. We stopped twice on the way to Shadow Lake. The first was to scout for trout at the river and the second was to take photos of the beautiful waterfall cascading down from Shadow Lake.
Two Rainbow Trout at Shadow Lake
We arrived at Shadow Lake at 1 pm and hiked to the western edge of the lake to drop our packs. We were so excited as we watched the ripples on the lake of fish hitting flies on the surface. We quickly ripped our fishing gear out of our packs, and that is when I hit the low point of the trip! I own multiple fishing poles, and had two different poles in my truck when we left for this trip. If you are a fisherman, you understand what I’m about to explain.  If you don’t fish, I’ll explain this frustrating and funny story to you. Fishing poles come in hundreds of different shapes and sizes, from poles meant for catching 400 pound tuna on the deep sea, to poles meant for catching 1 pound mountain trout. Well I had two different fishing poles of very similar color and size in my truck. A lot of fishing poles break down into two different pieces in order to make them easier to travel with. Well of course when we left the truck 3 hours ago and 9 miles away, I grabbed two different sized poles. Of course I was very angry when I realized my amazing fishing trip might be cut short before it even started. A million ideas ran through my head, from snapping the pole into pieces, to hiking all the way back to the truck, to just taking photos all weekend. Instead; I took the route determined to make these two pieces of pole work together. Usually I bring a small roll of duct tape and rope with me to fix problems like this, but of course this was one of the times I didn’t. I started to go through my pack and see what items I could use to Macgyver a fishing pole together. The top piece of the pole was only slightly bigger than the bottom piece. I needed to make the thinner pole thicker in order for them to fit together.  I came up with the idea to take my Moleskin and wrap it around the smaller piece of pole and make it the same size as the top piece. To my surprise it fit on the bottom piece nearly perfectly. My Frankenstein pole worked to perfection. I didn’t have any problem casting or catching fish the entire weekend.
The Frankenstein Pole Macgyvered with Moleskin


My buddy and I fished almost every angle of shadow lake and caught 7 trout. (4 rainbows and 3 brooks) We threw a couple small ones back and kept four good sized ones for dinner. Since we left our packs and our stringer on the other side of the lake, we had to make a makeshift stringer from a thin bendy branch of wood. Basic cast master/shine baits we like candy to the trout all weekend. After each catch we gutted the fish and put them in a Ziploc bag with half a lemon and spices to allow them to marinate before dinner. At about 4:30, we decided to make our way to camp to cook our catch and turn in for the night. Well I didn’t follow my own rule of doing a good map study before stepping off and was once again complacent. The campsite we were looking for was only 0.7 miles away from Shadow Lake. Well when we got to a Y in the trail, my buddy pointed in the right direction, and I said “no it’s this way!” Well boy, was I wrong! haha I brought my buddy for almost two miles, uphill in the wrong direction. After 45 minutes of huffing and puffing wondering where the hell this campsite is, we came across another hiker. Drenched in sweat and pissed off that the map had lied to me! haha  I asked this guy if there is a campsite coming up soon. He replied there was a campsite at the next lake. My face dropped when I heard that, because I knew there wasn’t any lakes near where we wanted to camp. I double checked my lying map and turned humbled and slightly humiliated to my buddy.  I simply said, “Do you want to hear the bad news?”  I told him we had hiked two miles in the wrong direction uphill! Well luckily my buddy is a very chill and understanding dude. He just laughed it off,  said shit happens and quoted Yvon Chouinard,  “the real adventure begins when everything goes wrong.”  I felt bad, but at least I had someone with me who didn’t complain and just rolled with the punches. It was a good lesson learned to always do a detailed map study, and if you come to a Y in the road, take a second with your fellow hikers and agree on which direction you are going to take. We turned around immediately and raced down the mountain as fast as we could. We were back to the Y intersection where we made the wrong turn in nearly 15 minutes. We got on the Northern running John  Muir Trail and found a quiet, isolated, beautiful campsite near the creek. We had plenty of time to set up camp and get a fire going. Once we had a good set of coals, our feet in flip flops and a cool cup of Jack Daniels, we couldn’t have been more relaxed. As dusk fell, the sky turned beautiful shades of pink and purple. We cooked our trout over a crackling fire with sounds of crickets chirping and a cascading creek passing by. As the sun faded away I couldn’t help to think about how amazing my day was. Hiking into some of the most beautiful and remote wilderness in the world, catching dinner, and sleeping under a clear sky filled with stars. We can’t ask for much more in life.
Garnet Lake and Banner Peak
Day 2 started with a crisp cool morning with the sun just barely breaking though the trees by 8am. We slowly packed up camp, cleaned ourselves up, grabbed a bite to eat, and headed off for Garnet Lake. Garnet Lake, was the first of 4 lakes on our trek to Thousand Island Lake, one of the most picturesque lakes in the world. We arrived at Garnet Lake around 11am, about a two hour hike from Shadow Lake. It was a glorious sight as we broke over a small pass and saw this massive blue lake below. We hiked down and began fishing as fast as we could! It felt as if the lake had never been fished by man before, with almost every cast a fish was hitting our bait. We landed 3 brook trout a piece within the first 30 minutes. After about two hours of fishing, we decided to go for a swim/bathe in the crystal clear mountain lake. Although the water was very cold, it was quite refreshing. We swam to a small island about 50 yards from shore and basked in the sun. We found a small rock point that dropped straight down 10 ft to dive in the deep blue water. We swam back to shore shortly after, settled down for lunch and an unplanned two hour nap. After sleeping in one of the prettiest places on earth, we got back to fishing for about another hour. We caught a couple more trout, cleaned them up , threw them in the Ziploc bag and made our way towards Ruby and Emerald Lakes.
Six Brook Trout Caught in Garnet Lake, Seasoned up with Garlic Salt, Onion Powder, Tony Chachere’s and Fresh Squeezed Lemon
We stopped at Ruby Lake, a gorgeous blue hole with 100 foot cliff walls towering over the waters edge. As I studied the cliffs for a place to jump into the water, my buddy caught a nice sized rainbow trout. With the sun starting to set, we made our way past Emerald Lake and on towards Thousand Island Lake. We jumped off the JMT and onto the 1000 Island Lake trail. We found a great campsite behind a couple boulders for wind protection that featured a 360 degree view of the Lake. This is where we got the best shots of the trip. We were out of the trees from the previous night, and that clear pink and purple sky cast against the mountain backdrop was breath taking. We just sat there in amazement at the wonderful place we were able to be a part of for a short time. We refilled our bottles with the clean lake water and cooked our fresh caught trout. We washed it all down with the rest of the Jack and talked about how much it sucked the weekend was coming to an end. After turning in for the night, we woke up and took our time eating a mountain house breakfast before the long 9 mile hike out. We left Thousand Island lakes around 9:15. From here we left the beautiful John Muir Trail for the infamous Pacific Crest Trail. The PCT southbound from 1000 Island is simply amazing. It follows the winding Middle Fork San Joaquin River though dense lush forest. We came within 50 feet of two beautiful bucks with velvet still on their antlers. We stopped once at a small pool to fish one last time, and then pushed on towards Agnew Meadows. We were able to make in back in just over 3 hours since the PCT from 1000 Island is nearly all downhill and shaded. We stepped off the PCT pumped and satisfied with our adventure, but also slightly saddened the journey had come to an end. Just by shear luck we walked up just as the shuttle arrived. We got back to the truck just before 1 pm and started our drive to the nearest In-N-Out.
With every trip into the outdoors, you learn about yourself and find true happiness. Ever triumph and failure reminds you of what you are capable of and what you can over come. This trip turned out to be one of the best weekend hikes I’ve ever been on, and highly recommend. We were able to see nearly everything an outdoor enthusiast can ask for in such a short period of time. From cool mountain creeks, waterfalls, epic views, fishing, and wildlife. We were able to hike North on the famous JMT trail and South on the PCT. If you are looking for a quick weekend fix from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, this short loop is definitely for you. World class views, fishing and hiking are all wrapped into one. The hike was easy enough for the novice hiker and fulfilling enough for the seasoned vet.
Send me an email if you have any questions about gear we brought, fishing baits, trails etc.
Our Campsite at Thousand Island Lake and Banner Peak 30 minutes after Sunset