John Files and I left Friday, July 26 at 3PM and inched through Livermore on the way to Highway 4. On arrival in the mountains, we checked with the ranger to find that we needed only a "fire permit" for "distributed camping". The campgrounds at Bear Valley and Lake Alpine were full to overflowing. On the way to Pacific Pass we pulled into an extended turnout by a granite rock. There was a picnic table and view south over Utica Lake and the Sierras for tens of miles. The next morning's breakfast was enjoyed with a gorgeous sunrise view.
Highland Lakes are five miles back on a dirt and gravel road. It is very passable, but very steep (the signs said twenty-four percent grade). The Mokelomne River parallels the road, though it is barely a creek this year. John said he saw rises in the morning. The fish had only about a footbeing generousof water to rise through. It is a dry year. The benefit was that there were almost NO mosquitoes!
There are nice campgrounds on the road to Highland Lakes at the base of the hill and again at the lakes themselves. The lakes are pretty, a few acres each, sitting in a saddle with a nice campground in-between. They sit in an area with treeless hills to the south and sparsely wooded areas to the east and west. The lakes are on the edge of an open meadow section. Upper Highland flows both south and north. This is a drive-to put-and-take fishery; there were several families there. Even so, it was noticeably quietnot even overhead airplanes.
After fishing through the morning, we ate lunch and napped under a tree. A mild wind breezed, the temperature was eighty degrees, it was really pleasant.
We moved up to Ebbetts Pass for the afternoon (requires a serious car engine to make it), and hiked the two miles into lower Kermet Lake. The hike was easy, but the lake is loaded with cuts and brookies only four to eight inches long. We did not see anything larger. They would pop-pop on a stimulator or my bubble on every cast. I caught several on a small bead-head Bird's nest. Too small.
Sunday morning, on the way down from the pass, we stopped along the canyon and hiked down to the river, maybe a quarter mile below. It's a very pretty mountain stream here. This section is granite pools and falls, so even with the low flow, there were pools to eight feet deep in places with nice fish, but the water was crystal clear and the fish were very easy to spook. I used my three-weight to land four for six cutthroatsor cutbows, I could not tell. They ranged from six to eleven inches. The hot flies were #18 pheasant tail and #16 black ant.
This is an easy weekend jaunt of car camping and fishing along the way. We drove in on Highway 120 to Escallon and then across to catch the fruit stands. I would recommend this as faster than Highway 99 to Highway 4.