It was in April 1893 when I, in an overland journey by horse and wagon to Yuma, met in the desert a short distance west of where now stands Calexico, a cowboy who was in charge of a bunch of cattle. His chief duty seemed to be to float cattle back and forth across the international boundary line without having to answer pointed questions to an overzealous U.S. Customs inspector.
He told me of the great mountain San Pedro Martir, located in Baja California, a hundred or more miles below the border. He described it as abounding in deer, mountain sheep, mountain quail, and on the ponds wild duck came in the fall of the year in great numbers. In short it was a huntsman’s paradise. I of course wanted to visit this paradise but the desire had to go on cold storage while I attended to more pressing demands.
It was about thirty years later when the necessity of bringing home the daily bacon was behind me, that I again had my desire revived to visit San Pedro Martir. This was caused by reading the fairly lengthy report of Mr. Nelson who around 1906-7 made for the U.S. Government a biological survey of the entire peninsula and it’s coastal islands. In this report he speaks of finding trout in the Santo Domingo River at the base of the mountain, near San Antonio. This was too much: a huntsman’s paradise with trout thrown in was irresistible. With a couple of companions I drove down to the Hamilton Ranch and secured from a Mexican rancher a pack outfit for the visit to the mountain. At San Antonio about forty miles out by pack train we found trout in the river and in a branch commonly called La Zanja, which enters it at San Antonio.
The great mountain is some sixty miles long and from five to twenty miles wide above the five thousand foot level. It rises very precipitously from all sides so that no wagon road has ever been built up it. Thus the several fine streams which drain it cascade down its steep sides in leaps which no trout can negotiate.
After our trout fishing at the base of the mountain we ascended the Santa Cruz trail and visited La Grulla, where the ducks gather. After our hunt was ended we returned to Santo Domingo by way of the old ruined Mission San Pedro Martir. We bivouacked one day beside a beautiful babbling brook near the old Mission and mourned the absence of trout where there was such a beautiful home for them.
Returning home to work I was haunted from time to time by those several streams barren of trout. I would dismiss them with the mental remark; "Well they ought to have trout." This went on for two or three years when the thought appeared, ""Why not do it yourself?" Thus I began the pleasant task of teaching trout to climb the mountain-—this is simple but laborious.
It was in the summer of 1929 that with a companion I went again to San Antonio armed with a quantity of five-gallon cans for transporting the fish. As this was my first experience of the kind I did not know how many fish to put in a can nor how long they would live between changes of water. To be on the safe side I put five fingerlings (taken with ordinary fly hook) in each can, the cans fitted two in a case and one case on each side of a pack mule made a not too heavy burden. I loaded one mule with fish and another with four cans of water for change as I did not then know how long it would be to water or how long the fish would live without change.
I had selected the old Mission stream as the first attempt. It is quite hot at this low altitude in summer, so we started just before sundown and traveled by moonlight; about three hours out we stopped on the trail, unpacked the mules and changed the water then repacked and an hour after midnight dumped a score of fish in the stream about six miles below the old Mission and below the cascades. A few days afterwards we started with another cargo just after daybreak and around 10:00 a.m. we put the cans in the shade submerged in the stream. We changed the water two or three times and late in the afternoon we repacked and finished the last six miles of the journey in time to dump a score of fingerlings in the stream a half-mile east of the old mission ruins. Thus we had fish both above and below the gorge. I did not again visit the newly stocked stream until 1934 (five years later) at which time I found it teeming with trout. The experiment had been so successful that I determined to extend my fish farms each summer.
Thus in 1935 I again went to Santo Domingo alone, excepting for two Mexican helpers. This time I went to the Old Mission and took my fish from the stream that I had stocked a half dozen years before. I only took one cargo of fish over the range to an elevation some 2000 feet greater than the Mission stream. We dumped half of them in the main Santo Domingo River, which above San Antonio is renamed La Grulla, and the other half we liberated in La Zanja a half mile below the Meling trail. This trip took all day and we spent the next two days in hunting and in returning to camp at the Mission.
In 1936, accompanied by a grandson of some fourteen years, I again visited the San Pedro Mission stream and this time we made two plantings. On the first trip we liberated 30 fingerlings in a large pool in the La Grulla and on the next trip we put 16 in a nice pool in the La Zanja at the intake of the Young ditch (a mining ditch now abandoned).
In 1937 I went alone excepting my two mozos for tending the riding and pack animals. I had two main objectives beside several lesser ones. I wanted to capture a black rattlesnake for the San Diego Zoo and to stock a branch of the La Grulla higher up with trout. I took over only two cans of fish and a can I had prepared for the rattlesnake. As it was near night when we arrived, we parked our fish in the cool flowing stream before we camped for the night. The fish cans, which had large screw tops, were covered with screen and submerged in a flowing stream so that I did not have to get up at midnight to change water as I often had to when there was no stream, and water for change had to come from a meager supply.
The following morning was Sunday and seemed a splendid day for a good deed like stocking a stream. So we ascended the left fork of the La Grulla, but we did not deem it worthy of planting. We did capture a black rattlesnake and returned to camp and La Grulla. After noon we took the trout over and released them in the middle fork of the Valladares.
I carried that rattlesnake some two hundred and fifty miles in a tin can on a burro and when I finally delivered him to the zoo his disposition seemed to be nasty. The snake sharps tell me this snake is a variant of the pacific rattlesnake but he is usually completely suffused with black and only a close inspection reveals any pattern. I have never run across one at elevations under 5000 feet and this one was taken at around 8000 feet.
Before leaving La Grulla for Mount San Juan de Dios, 80 miles to the south, I tried the stream and took a fine 14 inch trout which contained an eight inch one digested to the point where there was little left but the skeleton. This was probably from my first seeding in 1935 because it could scarcely have grown from 5 to 14 inches since the 1936 planting.
This right-hand branch of the La Grulla rises out of a marsh (cienega) and duck ponds and flows for a half mile to join the left fork. The two form a shallow sandy bottom fifty feet wide and a few inches deep which flows languidly down between granite ramparts until it reaches the gorge where it awakes and by repeated leaps reaches the bottom two or three thousand feet below. The fish in this short right-handed fork are always large. I have taken several of thirteen and fourteen inches and other fishermen have reported them eighteen inches in length. There seem to be almost no small fish. Since the stream rises in a cienega I think it has little trout feed and that the large fish feed on their own fry. I once offered a couple of grandsons one dollar each for trout 6 inches and under and they failed to capture the prize. All the other streams I have stocked have all sizes and plenty of them.
In 1938, accompanied by two school-boy grand-children (Alan Robertson and Jack Deaver) and my usual Mexican pack train man, I again visited the mountain, this time for the purpose of taking trout to the San Rafael River at the north-western end of the mountain, a day and a half journey distant. This time we did not take fish from the San Pedro stream as that would have required two and one half days journey. As the La Zanja was by this time well stocked with trout up to twelve inches in length, we took our fish from this stream. We took only 4 cans and put only four fish in each can as the trail was unexplored by us and we might have to keep trout without new water longer than usual.
We started after noon and by night had come to camp in the Meling pasture, which is fenced and has a good spring of water. I changed the water on arrival, again at nine o’clock, then at midnight and at four and seven the next morning. We started early and by noon had reached a cattle ranch where we lunched and persuaded the cowman to accompany us and show us the best trail. ( Rancho Conception and Tom Farlow) We changed water once that afternoon and poured our 16 fish all very much alive into the brawling San Rafael about a mile below the intake of the Johnston canal (another hydraulic mining venture.)
I thought the San Rafael the most likely stream in the mountains, so to be sure that it was stocked I returned in the summer of 1939. With two other grandchildren I started from La Zanja with 30 fish. (Leigh Robertson and Ted Deaver) We camped that night by the east branch of the Valladares. After an early start we arrived at the cow ranch about noon. I expected to reach the San Rafael before night and wanted to liberate my fish at a place called Rancho Garret, about five miles down stream from where I poured them in the year before. My Mexican guide, however, had not been to this place for over thirty years. As the ranch had been deserted for nearly that long, the brush had grown over the trail and just at sundown the guide said we would have to wait till morning to hunt the old trail. Trout confined in five-gallon cans must have the water changed often, so I told the boys to make camp while the guide and I tried to get to a small trickle of a stream where we had changed the water the year before. When we arrived at this water after dark, about 16 of my precious fish had died and the others were groggy. I stayed with the fish all night so as to change the water while the guide went back with the animals to the boys. The next morning the guide reappeared with the stock and we packed our fourteen remaining trout and returned to where the boys had spent the night for he had discovered the old trail about a hundred yards from where they had slept. We dropped down to the stream and delivered our fourteen precious fish into the care of the good San Rafael.
In June, 1941, with another grandson, I spent a week or so fishing on the La Zanja and the guide, the kid and I carried in pails 50 trout over the ridge to the south fork of the Valladares.
In October of the same year, accompanied by a prospector friend, I visited all the streams I had stocked and took fish from all of them excepting the Valladares, in which I made two more plantings farther down stream. The same month I took fish from the San Rafael where the first liberation had been made three years before--carried them up stream and released them above the Johnson canal.
These 1941 planting in the Valladares or some of them were successful because in June 1943 some friends and I captured fish up to twelve inches in length.
The streams which I have stocked, the San Pedro, La Grulla, La Zanja and Valladares are all branches of the Santo Domingo River but the San Rafael is an entirely different watershed. It drains a great area on the northwest end of the Mountain and flows westerly until within about ten miles of the ocean, where it turns sharply to the south and enters the Pacific about two miles east from Cape Colnet.
I have added some fifty miles to the trout streams of this grand mountain but posterity owes me nothing, for I have had double pay in the satisfaction of work successfully accomplished. This exploit has given me more satisfaction than any or all the numerous business enterprises I have helped develop—because it is more permanent.
So long as water in sufficient quantities to sustain trout runs off the slopes of San Pedro Martir the disciples of Isaac Walton will be taking trout from its streams.
LR Comment; and Grampa Utt’s descendants will be enjoying the mountain!
Return to the Short Stories and Trips Page