Desolation Wilderness: Julie’s first fishing trip

Our first attempt to get up to Mt. Russell was thwarted by COVID (my climbing partner came down with a mild case), so Marty and I pivoted to a last minute backpacking trip in Desolation wilderness! And by last minute I mean very last minute: we got a permit Thursday night and left on Friday afternoon.

My first attempt at fly fishing!

Desolation Wilderness is southwest of Lake Tahoe, and is an area neither of us have been. The permit situation was interesting, you had to get a permit for the particular zone that you wanted to stay in on the first night, but the second night you could stay wherever you wanted.

A map of all the zones, we were in zone 32!

We were eyeing Lake Aloha because our good friends Malcolm and Christina had gotten engaged (!) there, and our other good friends Sara and Abe had been earlier this summer. But due to the permit system, we ended up camping at Twin Lakes and doing a day trip to Lake Aloha.

Marty has been fly fishing since he was just a wee lad in Steamboat Springs. Back then, he would fish with his dad, and when he got too bored, threw rocks into the water to scare all the fish away. As a former vegan+vegetarian for 11 years, I had always thought fishing was a bit barbaric. But Marty assured me the fish don’t really mind, and that we would mostly be doing catch and release. Since I’m just such a wonderful, supporting wife (we’ve been married for 1 month), I decided to come along, and only throw in a couple rocks when I got bored.


We left work around 3pm, and drove the 4 hours up to Tahoe, parking at the trailhead. We got nuked by mosquitos by the car, but after applying some 100% DEET that made my lips go numb, we were left alone. We hiked in the first 3 miles that night as the sun slowly set. The trail was pretty wet from all the rain we’ve gotten this year, so there was some fun rock hopping and stream crossing by headlamp.

Sunset on the hike, Marty and I delayering because we were too warm!

Night hiking was really fun, it was cool and dark out, the stars were out in full force, and the miles went down easy. We got to the first of Twin Lakes and set up camp up in the rocks — close but out of sight from the lakes. I learned that night that Marty will pee on the rocks right by the tent to scare away potential bears, a wilderness trick that I had never heard of (and am still 90% sure he made up)


I awoke around 7am the next morning in a warm, cozy sleeping bag, and turned to my side to kiss my beloved husband. Only to find him long, long gone. Hm, well surely he must just be preparing breakfast for us, perhaps brewing some tea for me, so I poked my head out the tent. But alas, both his shoes and fishing rods were gone.

I had a feeling I knew what he was up to, so I grabbed a camelback and the water filter and headed to the lake. Sure enough, right by the water, there was a lone man crouching, messing with a fly. I decided to turn the tables on him, so I snuck up onto a rock just above (and out of sight) of Marty. Using the camelback tube as a line and the bag itself as a fly, I “cast” my lure out to this big land fish. Marty, after a brief moment of confusion, realized what was happening, and fell right for my delicious lure. I snagged my first catch of the weekend!

It turns out Marty had just finished setting up for his first cast, and he showed off his technique for me. But the fish weren’t biting. Having heard that “fishing” is distinct from “catching”, I started teasing Marty that we weren’t actually going to catch any fish that weekend.

Marty imagining fish

Marty insisted we move to a different part of the lake, and sure enough, he started reeling them in!!! He actually caught a fish with his first cast! And another with his second! He ended up catching 4–5 fish. No such luck awaited me though, and despite trying for a while, I got nothing. However, it was pretty fun just trying to get into their little fishy minds and figure out where they would be.

The first fish of the trip!

After a brief dip into the lake, we packed up camp to try and either make it to Lake Aloha (far) or just to Island Lake (near). But as we walked to the upper lake of Twin Lakes, Marty spotted more rising fish, so off we popped with the reels again. Once again I got nothing, and Marty caught several more fish!

Upper Twin Lakes with its dark green, almost black water

We decided to keep one of them, and Marty killed, gutted, and fried it up in cornmeal. I gotta say, the process of killing and gutting the fish was a little gruesome, and it made me reconsider how much fish I had been eating since going pescatarian. Ultimately, I think it’s really important to have this connection to any animal that you eat — If you can’t kill it you probably shouldn’t eat it.

A slightly guilty feeling Marty + Julie

After our morally confusing lunch, we continued on our way. I was indecisive about whether we should bring all of our stuff up across a pass and down to Lake Aloha, or just leave our heavy bags at Twin Lakes. We decided to leave our heavy bags behind, and just take day packs.

There was no real trail up to Aloha from Twin Lakes, but there were two weaknesses in the ridges above the lake that you could sort of wander up. We went up what felt like an impossibly steep scree field for a while, eventually reaching a peak where we could see the beautiful, large, gemstone blue of Lake Aloha. I really wanted to make it to the lake, while Marty was pretty nervous about losing all that elevation we just gained.

Surveying the beautiful, blue Lake Aloha from 10,000′!

I prevailed, and we cashed out on that elevation. Along the way, we passed a magical fairy meadow pond with a waterfall that we loved. We finally made it to the lake after some fun third class scrambling, and Marty got the line wet while I took a nap (shocking! I know!)

The magical fairy pond, straight out of Legend of Zelda
Lake Aloha vibin

With the late afternoon setting in, we headed back up the pass, this time employing the old guide trick of moving at whatever speed we wanted, but never stopping. It only took us about two hours from Lake Aloha back to camp. We were aided and abetted by the Snow Super Highway- a snowfield from the top of the pass back down to camp. Marty is quite good at stand up glissading (he credits teleskiing), and we zoomed our way down, whopping and hollering. Along the way the meadows, the deep gushing rivers, and the flowers were out in full glory.

the glorious flower strewn meadows

We got back to Island Lake, made dinner, and cracked open our little stash of red wine. Then we went to bed without Marty even thinking about fishing the lake. Just kidding, of course he tried fishing again, but no luck this time. He concluded that since he didn’t catch any fish in Island Lake, there must simply not be any fish. After the sun set, we went to bed tired, happy, and dreaming of more fish.

Our beautiful campsite, belongings in full yard sale mode


We awoke relatively early to try our hand at fishing once more. We walked down back to Twin Lakes, passing a little lake where I saw fish, but failed to catch them. Marty meanwhile had to take a big poop, and was shouting instructions to me mid-squat. We went down to the upper of twin lakes, found a good spot, and started casting. Marty caught a couple, and I was skunked out. Despondent at having caught 0 fish to Marty’s 10+ of the weekend, I cast my line behind a rock by accident, and complained. As I was reeling the line back in, I hit some resistance. Thinking it was just caught on the rock, I pulled more, then realized, there was actually a fish on the line!!!!! I screamed in delight, called Marty over, threw the rod into his hands, and just went ham on pulling in the line. It was a glorious little fish! Marty had just caught one too, so we decided to keep both and have them for brunch.

fish #1
fish #2!

After another morally confusing meal, we got right back into it, deciding to not keep any more. What followed was the best fishing session of my life (I’ve gone fishing twice). The fish were biting just about everything! I would cast my line poorly, and a fish would bite! Marty would cast his line perfectly, and a fish would bite!

I am starting to get why people put fish pics in their tinder profiles

This naturally turned into a competition, with us neck and neck in fish count. They were mostly brook trout, with beautiful red white tipped fins. At one point there was plier contention, as we were both just reeling them in non-stop. We teased each other quite a bit, elbowing the other out to get the good spots (but also pointing out fish for the other to cast to).

We made our way around the lake, eventually settling in by a long sloping bank into the water. There we fished, swam, and ate second lunch — an everything bagel with melted cheese and avocado — yum! This was also where I had my proudest catch — I spotted a fish, set up the line, cast to it, and snagged it first go!

Marty showing off that new wedding band

Finally, around 4pm we had to hike out. Along the way we met some nice fisher people who had also had a great fishing session. The hike out was beautiful and new to us, as we hadn’t seen much on our night hike in. There were water cut canyons, flowers, and so much grey slabby granite.

A cool steep canyon on the hike out

I think I got spoiled by this fishing trip — in the end I caught 12 fish on Sunday, and Marty caught 14! I also had a newfound appreciation for the lives of fish, and the beauty of Desolation wilderness. Finally, after getting home, Marty did in fact confirm that Island Lake had no fish in it! They had all been removed to help the native frog population bounce back.


  • Fish caught: Marty 24, Julie 12
  • Fish consumed: 3 (thank you fishies!)
  • Lakes fished: 5. Twin Lake 1, Twin Lake 2, Unnamed Lake, Island Lake, Aloha Lake
  • Number of times the word fish has been used in this post: 53

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