The Trout of Volcano Creek | PART 2

Anticipation built as we began our windy 6,000 ft assent up Horseshoe Meadows road to the Cottonwood Pass Trailhead. We planned to take the Trail Pass route following the South Fork of the Kern into Tunnel Meadows. Camping here would allow us to be within walking distance of The South Fork of the Kern and Golden Trout Creek. On day two, we would follow Golden Trout Creek to Big Whitney Meadows and loop back to our starting point through Cottonwood Pass.

After climbing Trail Pass, we descended to Mulkey Creek, our first point of interest. Mulkey Creek is a tributary to The South Fork of the Kern and marks the first reported stocking of Golden Trout. Goldens taken from Mulkey Creek were stocked into Cottonwood Creek. From here, they were later transplanted into the historically fishless Cottonwood Lakes. Mulkey Creek proved to be some of the most exciting fishing on the trip. This was due to an insane grasshopper hatch we stumbled into upon entering the meadow. After tying on a small foam hopper pattern, I hooked up with the first golden of the trip. Which launched like a torpedo across the small creek, bringing a healthy arc to my tenkara rod and only succumbing to the net after an exciting final dance across the water’s surface.

After catching and documenting a few more Mulkey Creek Goldens, we waved goodbye to Mulkey Creek and started on the next phase of our trip. At this point, the trail meets up and parallels the South Fork of the Kern. Every little pool along the trail supported one or two little South Fork Goldens. I captured a few trout on video but did not stop for a hook-and-line sampling due to my excitement to reach the famous Volcano Creek.

An old guard station marks the entrance to tunnel meadows and lies past a tunnel created in the 1880s. The tunnel’s purpose was to divert water from Golden Trout Creek to the South Fork of the Kern. This water diversion was destined for failure, with the tunnel caving in soon after construction. It then transformed into an open cut that soon caved in as well. Efforts were abandoned at this site, and a diversion about 1.5 miles above was attempted again. By Mr. Everman’s return in 1905, both diversion sites were closed and thought to have been so since 1899. Mr. Evermann believed that the diversions allowed trout to escape from Golden Trout Creek into the South Fork of the Kern but did not allow trout to migrate in the other direction.

We set up camp on a ridge separating both creeks and began working the banks of Volcano Creek. After I caught and released a few Volcano Creek Goldens, lost and then found one of my cameras. We ended the day with a Mountain House meal, followed by a late-night discussion of the fishing and trout characteristics observed.

The trout we were searching for was (Salmo Roosevelti, the golden trout of Volcano Creek). It was a new species described by Evermann in 1904 and proclaimed the most beautiful of all trouts.

Our plan was to use the color plates and descriptions from Evermann’s publication to help identify the Volcano Creek Golden.

The most notable difference is a lack of spots above the lateral line in the Volcano Creek Golden.

The second day brought a rejuvenated excitement. We spent time fishing both streams before packing up and starting the last leg of our journey. At this point, we observed a considerable variation in characteristics from both streams. But we had caught trout true to the descriptions and color plates.

Golden Trout of Volcano Creek-



Golden Trout of South Fork of Kern River-

Mid-morning, we began our assent following Golden Trout Creek to Big Whitney Meadows. We stopped to fish about a mile outside of Big Whitney meadow. Almost every trout caught from this point on met The Volcano Golden’s high standard of beauty, as described by Mr. Everman. The trend continued through Big Whitney Meadow until fatigue drove the conclusion of the fishing part of our trip. With headlamps in place to cut a descending blanket of darkness, we began our hike back to the truck.

I know this will not be my last journey to Volcano Creek. Besides marking some of the most beautiful trout and topography I have seen. This trip has inspired new questions and revealed additional threads left to unravel in the story of the Golden Trout of Volcano Creek.

Afterword- Death of the most beautiful of trouts

It is with some regret that I attempt to close this article with a few citations from the literature. I tried to omit this part in my original drafts. Knowing that if I continued with my current interests and pursuits, I would one day have to confront this information. But, after review, it became clear that the article only added to the confusion surrounding the Volcano Creek Golden trout. And only through careful examination of the information could we further the discussion around this topic.

Here we go.

In 1911, David Starr Jordan wrote in a letter to William E. Colby, president of the Sierra Club, that he “was unable to see how the species of Evermann, Salmo Roosevelti, differs from the original, Salmo aguabonita.”

1933, Brian Curtis conducted the second scientific study on the Golden trout. Mr. Curtis spent three months working in the Cottonwood Lakes basin. In his unpublished thesis, The Golden Trout of Cottonwood Lakes, he concluded, “From all evidence available, the fish known as Salmo roosevelti, Evermann, is not a distinct species but a color variation of S. agua-bonita, Jordan.”

In 1971, Carl B. Schreck and Robert J. Behnke later expanded upon these observations in their paper, Trouts of the Upper Kern River Basin, California, with Reference to Systematics and Evolution of Western North American Salmo. “Stating that S. “roosevelti” and S. a aguabonita are similar, and the former should be considered a synonym of the latter.”

The paper went on to state:

“The color plate of S. “roosevelti” published by Evermann (1906) is an accurate representation of the color pattern of a “typical” S. a aguabonita.

“Despite Evermann’s opinion, there are no consistent differences in spot distribution between S. “roosevelti” and S. a. aguabonita.”

This would lead one to conclude that the Golden Trout of Volcano Creek, Salmo Roosevelti Evermann, never existed. It was only the proclamation of one passionate man in 1906.

Today, the most accepted scientific name for trout from the South Fork of the Kern and Golden Trout Creek is Oncorhynchus mykiss aguabonita. It would seem that this debate was settled shortly after discovery. Why, then, do we continue to revisit a documented inconsistent variation in color and spotting patterns?
From updated taxonomic methods to modern genetic analysis.
Is it the relentless search for truth or the mark of the insane to continue a search for something that was never there, to begin with?

A rational mind could point to the latter. And I, too, would have believed this if not for my adventure to Volcano Creek in search of the most beautiful of all trouts. For it was here, walking in the same steps as Evermann, that I was confronted with the same animating spirit of enthusiasm, known only to the observant angler immersed in sport and surrounded by the enchantress that is the natural world, that I found what I was searching for.

For what is beauty but a few minor variations in the “typical.”

Watch Video Here