Californian Golden Trout - by Chase Bartee

Life on the Fly

Story and photos by Chase & Aimee Bartee

Fishing can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. For my wife Aimee and I, it’s always been a vehicle; a vehicle to adventure and explore places we’d never dreamed possible. As I unzipped our tent door and felt the crisp, thin air of our 9,300-foot-high campsite rush into my lungs, my mind immediately went to the rod case I’d stashed outside the tent, which held an engagement ring I’d smuggled in without Aimee’s knowledge. Lifting my hand to shade my eyes from the sun I squinted and gazed across the emerald green waters of Sylvan Lake. A large stone cirque hugged the far shore, and the rocky bluffs surrounding the edges were sparsely dotted with gnarled, stunted pines. Only the hardiest creatures can survive at these elevations, and even they struggle during the short summer season in a scramble to obtain enough resources for the long icy winter. This fishing trip was far from ordinary, but then again, very few things we do are.

Fishing can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. For my wife Aimee and I, it’s always been a vehicle; a vehicle to adventure and explore…

Three months before our trek into the high-country of Southwest Montana’s Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, Aimee and I had left our home on the East Coast. We moved into our brown 1985 VW camper van, which Aimee had affectionately dubbed “Bullwinkle” with one goal in mind: to spend as much time as humanly possible fishing, hiking, and exploring the vast expanse of the American West. We’d quit our day jobs, piled our cameras and fishing gear in the van and set off in search of adventure, with no plan other than to document our travels and hope to inspire others to follow in our footsteps. I knew long before we embarked I was going to ask Aimee to marry me that summer, and I assumed the opportunity would present itself somewhere along the way as we meandered through some of the most breathtaking and pristine landscapes North America had to offer. But as August waned, and so did our funds, I knew the opportunity to do it somewhere special was slipping through my fingers. I’d heard a rumour about a place, and more importantly of a fish that was so rare, and so hard to reach that few people even knew of its existence. That fish was the California Golden Trout, and upon discovering that a genetically pure, wild population of them had found an unlikely home in the Montana mountains I knew I’d have to get us there.

This fishing trip was far from ordinary, but then again, very few things we do are.

Golden trout are a genetic anomaly. A subspecies of rainbow trout, they distinguished themselves on the evolutionary ladder through glacial isolation nearly 10,000 years ago. A small population of rainbow trout, separated by the vast ice sheets grinding across the continent, developed unadulterated in the Kern River drainage in the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. Why they developed such brilliant hues of blaze orange and canary yellow is a bit of a mystery, but after being discovered by mountaineers in the late 1800’s their iridescent brilliance was coveted by sportsmen the world over. Attempts to transplant the rare, gaudy salmonids began almost immediately. However having adapted to live in such a unique environment, their habitat requirements were increasingly hard to replicate. Hundreds if not thousands of attempts were made, but very few yielded success…

Thanks to for allowing us to share this excerpt here with you.

>>Continue reading Chase & Aimee’s full adventure here…

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