The Echo Lakes are outside the Wilderness proper. People often love Echo lakes for fishing and camping. These lakes can also be great for sightseeing as well. However, the entrance road to the lakes from Highway 50 provides easy access to the backcountry.
The real claim to fame for this access is that it starts at over 7,400′ so that there is little need to gain more altitude. This entrance is made even more attractive by the Pacific Crest Trail along the north shore of the Echo Lakes.
Due to it’s over construction, the Trail has been described as the Santa Monica Freeway of the High Sierra. There is also a pleasant lodge at the start of the trail (Echo Chalet). Finally, to attract even more visitors there is a water taxi running from the end of the road two or three miles to the end of the upper lake.
Using this entrance, one gets a running start at getting into the Sierra. This fact has not been missed by the hiker and angler and the area is heavily infested with both. Nonetheless, there are interesting lakes in this area which escape the masses.
The Echo Lakes can be really interesting place for overnight hiking, camping and fishing. Check out the tips and options that are available in these echo lakes. They are given with brief description below.
This lonely lake probably offers the best chance for the novice to catch a moderate sized golden trout in the Wilderness. One look at a topo map will show why: it is virtually unvisited. Although it is located only 1.5 miles or so from either Upper Echo Lake or Highway 50 below Phillips (Pow Wow), it is at the 8,600′ level of a very steep mountain.
Access can be attempted from Highway 50 up 1,700′ of screen (rock) slopes. One stays to the east of a small spur. This route is only for those familiar with navigating loose rock.
The approach from Echo Lakes is more civilized if one can get the water taxi to drop you at Dartmouth Cove. From here a trail leads to Saucer Lake. One starts this climb at 7,400′ which is 600 higher than the Route 50 approach. One climbs from Saucer Lake to a ridge to its south then west to overlook and descend to Cup.
The problem with this approach is the descent, which again is over the screen and the depressing fact that one has to go back up to regain the ridge when leaving Cup.
A final issue is that unless you make careful arrangements you will find no water taxi waiting for you when you return to Dartmouth Cove. This leads to a long walk around Echo to return to your car.
In either case, getting to Cup is an adventure but one that can be accomplished in a single day. Cup Lake has been air stocked with goldens since the 1960s. There were earlier plants of brookies, but they do not seem to have been successful.
I have taken fish up to 14″ here. They seem to have the unusual food source of some freshwater shrimp. The flesh of these fish is bright red, quite different from that of other lakes. The taste is exotic.
The most important point of strategy for this lake is to arrive at the right season, either early spring or late fall. Take proper sleeping gear, if you planning to stay. For fishing, you need right fishing items. The fish are clearly feeding at these times and are near the surface and in the shallows. In the summer the fish scatter and are found in deeper water, virtually inaccessible.
The big problem with selecting the spring and fall seasons to visit is the unpredictability of the weather. I have found the lake starts to freeze over about November 10th. This, however, will vary by season. A wildcard in visiting the lake is snow.
Any appreciable snowfall makes the trip impossible since one cannot move safely over boulder fields half covered with snow.
Light snow burns off on the south-facing slope above Highway 50 so this really is the most likely approach. My experience with spring is that by the time the snow melts, so has the ice on the lake, and it is not worth the trip.
The access to this lake has already been described in reference to a trip to Cup. This lake in and of itself is not worth the effort of the climb. It almost led to a divorce in my family. However, if you poop out on the way to Cup, at least there are some fish to be had at Saucer.
Goldens have been stocked in this lake since the 60s but do not seem to have done well. There is a surviving population of brookies. The brookies are perhaps the best (worst) example of stunted trout I have seen in Desolation.
Apparently, the meals are few and far between here, and anglers do not cull the population. The air drops of golden fingerlings once a year must seem like CARE packages. If you do fish this lake, please keep a few fish.
There is nothing unusual about Saucer in fishing and camping strategies with gear organizing. Especially, other than I would not like to make the approach early in the season. Specially, when the north facing trail is likely to be very wet, if passable at all.
The easy way to get to Triangle Lake is clearly the Pacific Coast Trail from Echo Lakes. It makes for a very pleasant day hike and camp in the right time with little altitude gain. There is also access from the Fallen Leaf Lake area via a trail which departs the road just before Lily Lake.
This hike is a death march and not to be recommended unless one is marooned at Fallen Leaf Lake for longer than a week and is desperately seeking some fishing. This lake has been stocked with both rainbows and brookies, though it has only received rainbows since 1970. They grow rapidly, maximum size is about 12-14 inches.
Unfortunately for spin anglers, Triangle Lake is weedy. One could probably stock a sporting goods store with the snagged lures on the bottom. There is also a large log right in the middle-seen from the hills on a calm day. Fly fishers should strongly consider a float tube as there is very little back casting room.
The lake is small enough that roll casts can get a long way proportionately into the lake, but a tube is still best. Just carry right cloth and headgear with you. There is one area which supports full fly casts near the point where the trail meets the lake. Do not visit here without damselfly nymphs and adults.
This lake can be part of a trip to Triangle. A topo is necessary to find it, though it is close by. The easiest way to find it is suggested by Wood: from the point on the Triangle Lake Trail that you first see Triangle Lake turn left and contour over (move left and do not change altitude), and the lake is within a quarter mile.
Alternatively, one can see the course of the Lost Lake outlet stream from Triangle Lake (a line of trees) and work your way over. Both these routes are off-trail and can easily lead to a broken ankle for the unfamiliar.
This is another brook trout stronghold which receives regular feedings of golden fingerlings, care of DFG. The lake has a good food supply of brookies and the fish are nicely developed. I have yet to catch a golden here. One might find out if they exist in the spring if they go through the motions of spawning in the small inlet stream.
This lake is small and shallow in most parts except very conveniently right in front of a large boulder at the nearest point to the Triangle Lake Trail. Casting from this area with fly or spin gear is feasible and it provides an excellent picnic spot.
This name is really a misnomer as the true tamarack pine (Larix or Eastern Larch) does not live in California. Often the lodgepole pinus murrayana) is referred to as a tamarack pine and this is probably the source of the name.
The lake is easy to reach from the Pacific Crest Trail and catching trout from shore is easy. Unfortunately, since it is so easy to reach the shoreline has been heavily overused at the point where the trail meets the lake. For that reason alone, I put this lake low on my list of attractions.
There are, however, other good campsites around the lake. This is a brook trout fishery. The best hope in this lake is inlet area strategy, though access is easy along most of the shoreline and there is room for fly fishing along the southwest shore.
Ralston Lake is named after William Chapman Ralston, a prominent financier of gold-rush days. It is right next to Tamarack Lake and is a pleasant visual alternative, especially given its striking alpine setting. This lake has received both brookies and rainbows and they attain moderate size.
This is a large lake with deep cuts near shore. A float tube would be extremely useful for cruising the edge. A particularly interesting spot is just across the stream outlet dam where a bluff enters the water.
Through a set of lucky circumstances, I met the person who constructed this dam. The name is Haven Jorgensen, who now in his 80s is one of the few surviving members of the Mount Ralston Fish Planting Club (MRFPC). Jorgy was once the owner of Echo Chalet and in his retirement still climbs up to Saucer Lake to check on the status of the golden plants.
This dam was the last constructed in the area and is in some disrepair due to Jorgy’s attempt to use less mortar between the stones to give the dam a more natural appearance.
This dam provides enough consistent flow into Echo Lakes to provide spawning for its residents, Jorgy notes that the clever angler can find trout all along this stream and in particular along the small stretch of the stream down to Cagwin Lake.
Cagwin is just downstream from Ralston and is named after the Hermit of the lake, Hamden “El Dorado” Cagwin, a hunter and fisherman who settled on Lower Echo Lake in 1896. The Hermit was an accomplished snowshoer and carried the mail from Strawberry to Carson City.
This smallish lake has received primarily rainbows, but you can bet there are also brookies from upstream. Much of Cagwin is shallow and not prime territory except for the southwest rocky shore, where there are deeper areas near drop-offs.