Day Three: Exploring South Lake Tahoe

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The great John Muir once wrote: "Going to the woods is going home, for I suppose we came from the woods originally." After spending a few days in the Meiss Meadows area, and now spending some time alone roaming the Caples Creek area, I indeed--for the first time since moving to California--felt at home. Muir also wrote that "the most distinctive, and perhaps the most impressive, characteristics of American scenery is its wildness."

I couldn't agree more.

A writer, activist and wilderness explorer, Muir led the battles to protect of a lot of wildlands in California. As a non-hunting founder of the Sierra Club, Muir did not always see eye to eye with then President Theodore Roosevelt--a serious hunter and conservationist. But, after the two met and camped out together near Yosemite, in 1903, they realized they shared a common love for the wilds and together became a potent force for conservation. It's a lesson, I think, we should still heed today to work cooperatively with others--focusing on our shared love of the land--to protect, restore and sustain the fish and wildlife habitat we all enjoy.

Such were the thoughts running through my head as I ventured alone through the Caples Creek area. I began my journey early in the morning, starting west of Caples Lake and North of Silver Lake, hiking most of the day and taking in a large chunk of beautiful, wild country. I hiked up then down a steep ridge, dropping down into Caples Creek, then followed the creek down to where it merges with the Silver Fork of the American River (which forms the majority of water in the South Fork of the American River) and then I ventured up the Silver Fork for a ways and eventually back to where I started, completing a large loop. Along the way, I passed through dark forests of Douglas fir, Jeffrey and lodgepole pines, and passed through meadows colored with Indian paintbrush, lupine, daisies, and balsam rue. I saw the tracks of a black bear, and several tracks of mule deer. It's the kind of country I would love to someday hunt. And fish.

Both Caples Creek and the Silver Fork American are terrific dry fly streams, full of feisty wild rainbow, brook, and brown trout that aggressively take to the surface to smash a fly. There are two different kinds of water here; classic high-gradient pocket water and slow, meandering meadow water with deep cut banks. I enjoyed working my way upstream on my hike back, casting small attractor dry flies and terrestrials close to the banks, where I quickly lost count of the number of fish caught. Caples Creek and the forks of the American River are definitely two fast-action fisheries with trout mostly eight to twelve inches, but they also hold some big browns and rainbows that will surprise you.

And, like the Meiss Meadows area and Upper Truckee, its pristine, wild headwaters sustain the clean waters and support wild trout and other wildlife, as well as fishing and hunting opportunities. But unfortunately, like the Meiss Meadows area, Caples Creek is not permanently protected. Although it is relatively small in comparison to the Mokelumne Wilderness to the south and the Desolation Wilderness to the north, the glaciated topography, rugged river canyons and old-growth forests of the Caples Creek area definitely has wilderness characteristics and opportunities for tremendous, solitary hiking, hunting and fishing.

Through his work with Trout Unlimited, Dave Lass is working cooperatively with diverse individuals, businesses, organizations, and state and federal government agencies to seek Wilderness designation for the Caples Creek roadless area, which will more formally protect such an important headwater area through federal legislation. This is a long and complex process, and he continues to work in the near-term with this same collaborative to positively influence Forest Service administrative processes to keep it just as it is before such legislation is passed.

After spending three incredible days in the Meiss Meadows and Caples Creek areas, I plan to someday return--with a rifle and rod in hand. It's definitely the most enjoyable time I have spent in California thus far, and exceeded my expectations. There is nothing quite like exploring and spending time in beautiful, high, wild country within remote parts of our public lands--special lands worth protecting. I hope all hunters and anglers join efforts to keep these places just as they are today, great places to hunt and fish.