Sunday, October 15, 2006

2006 October Fishing Report: Beda Lake, Blue Lake & Lake Lenore

Click here for all the pictures from this essay. Day One - Beda Lake - Nice Weather...
I've been planning this trip for a year. We had such a good time at Blue Lake last year that I knew we'd want another shot at it. I arranged for my mom and my niece to be here from Colorado so they could keep Casey company. Amy and I headed east with our new 12' jon boat hanging out the back of the truck.

Beda Babe in October
We arrived at Beda around noon and joined two other anglers on the water. Fishing was TOUGH. One of the anglers had enjoyed a few in the early morning on chironomids but that was all. Over the course of the day we tried just about every fly in our boxes. The only ones that worked were a damsel adult -- only had one of these and the fish took it with him -- and a silver and red snowcone. Olive or black chironomids had no effect. Unfortunately, Amy only caught two fish -- a couple of tiny perch which I ruthlessly dispatched. I was the king with 4 fish all between 14-17" - the last on a BWO even though there wasn't a baetis hatch to speak of. The fish seemed to be keyed into chironomids all day and weren't interested in much else.

Typical Beda Fish
Towards dark we enjoyed some fat tires and swapped stories with some of the other anglers who were there. They were going to camp it and out try again the next day. We drove north to Pateros and stayed there for the night.

Day Two - Blue Lake, WA
In the morning we continued our northward journey and finally arrived at Blue lake in the Okanogan region around 10:30 in the morning. The wind was strong and consistent -- though probably nothing compared to what it was in the basin from what I heard.

First of many Lahontans for Amy
We headed for the far side of the lake where the wind was a less and found some spawners hanging out near some structure. Amy cast a small streamer to one of them and it chased it to our boat before it bit down on it. I think I got its mate trying to chase away another streamer. Both fish were caught and released quickly so they could get back to making more Lahontans.

That IS my smile - I need a new one
We decided to leave the spawners alone after that and we just trolled around finding fish. Black wooly buggers seemed to work best and even though we were fishing the same fly, on sinking lines, Amy seemed to catch all the fish. At one point she had 7 to my 1. SEVEN.

The Lahontans are so metallic
From 4 to 7 we had consistent action - every ten minutes or so we'd hit or land another fish. Amy ended the day with 8 and I with only three, but the third one was one of the biggest fish I'd ever caught (in a lake anyway). I didn't measure him but I think he's probably around two feet long.

My fish of the trip
Amy said she had a fantastic time catching all those big fish. The smallest was maybe 16" and the largest were over 20". She thought that they fought pretty well despite their reputation. We stayed that night at the Red Apple Inn in Tonasket, which is kind of a nice little town.

This guy was in the room next to ours

Day Three - Lake Lenore - One Monster Fish
On the third day we awoke to overcast, drizzly skies and bad colds. We made the decision to make this the final day of our little trip and start making our way home. So instead of fishing Bonaparte Lake, as our original plan called for, we drove south down the basin. We looked at Billy Clapp lake but decided it was too big to fish without a fish finder.
We spent an hour or so at Rocky Ford, where amy hooked one of the big ones under the bridge. She said she actually had to steer the GRHE into its mouth. But it got off. I wasn't into the RF scene that day so I suggested we hit Lenore or the Yakima. She chose Lenore.

Our new 12' jon boat
Lenore was a total tease. The water was still and inviting when we arrived. there were a lot of older dudes hanging around in their waders taking a break. They all said that fishing had been very slow -- each of them having only hooked one fish which had gotten away. So about 10 seconds after we'd string up and launched the wind came out of the north and tossed us around like the Minnow in Gilligan's Island. Same old Lenore.
We fished off the small island for a while and I hooked a fish but he got off. The wind died down for a while so we got back in the boat and started trolling. Amy picked out a gigantic burgundy bugger (size 2?) and was fishing with that when she hit a big fish. She said it was a gentle take but she quickly knew that it was a big fish. He simply would not budge from his spot, even though the wind was trying to push our boat away from him. He was holding all 400lbs of the boat in place in the wind - that's how strong he was.

Amy's Big Fish
Amy fought him like a pro and I netted him for her. He TOTALLY DID NOT FIT INTO THE NET. Landing him was kind of a joke. He was face down in the net just kind of balancing there with 50% of his body sticking out. But you know, he was very cooperative once we got him up in the boat. He didn't wiggle or struggle and we got some good pictures. I estimate him at 7lbs but I could be off in either direction -- I'm not good at guessing with fish that big. Amy was shaking after she released him. She was glad to have had an audience of older dudes in pontoon boats here and there to see the battle. That turned out to be the only fish of the day, but man it was a doozy. The funny thing is I still have yet to land a fish at that lake.
On the way home we talked about how special these trips are and agreed that, in the interest of marital accord, we should continue doing these trips indefinitely. I need to start planning the next trip.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

2006 Oregon/Idaho Fishing Trip

From September 23rd to the 27th, I accompanied Jim Speaker on a fishing trip that he'd been planning for some time. In general I can say that the fishing varied from merely great to fantastic. In five days I fished Beda Lake (WA), The Owyhee River (OR), Silver Creek (ID), Big Wood River (ID) and East Lake (OR). That's a different location every day and in most of those cases each destination was hundreds of miles from the previous. I put 1800 miles on my truck and caught rainbows, browns and even a kokanee in a desert lake, a muddy tail water, a fabled spring creek, a mountain stream and a volcanic crater lake. Day One - Beda Lake, Washington

Jim and I met "Gary," a friend of Jim's in Ellensburg for breakfast. Gary's mission was to guide us to a "secret" desert lake where there may or may not have been lots of big fish. We drove out to the Winchester Wasteway and tromped around in the sagebrush for a while looking for this secret lake but we couldn't find it. So we went to Beda Lake, instead.
Aside from some hunters, we were the only people there, which I found quizzical for a sunny Saturday afternoon. The weather alternated between just-plain-sunny and slightly overcast. Damsels were flying everywhere. I quickly caught three rainbows between 15" and 17" on an olive Willy pattern. Jim got a nice fish on a blue damsel fly up top, which he had never done before -- I have the same fly and have never had the guts to try it. Gary had to go before he caught a fish but we thanked him for his efforts at finding Lake X. At the end of the day a baetis hatch came off and Jim and I chased rising rainbows all over. We hooked several and brought a few to hand, all between 15-18". I caught my fish on my ratty #14 BWOs that seem to work just about anywhere in the West. The sunset was spectacular and the golden light on the reeds and cool autumn air gave me that feeling of "fishing perfection" that I love from this time of year. Our totals for the day had been 11 rainbows landed and several more lost (including some beast-fish) between the two of us - not bad for an afternoon.
Jim and I drank some beers and talked with the hunters as we put our boats away and then we were off to Oregon. Somehow we got HELLA lost in Kennewick of all places and it was midnight before we crossed into Oregon. Unable to continue, tired from kicking around in a pontoon boat for 6 hours and drinking beer, we stopped and shared a $50 room in La Grande. $25 per person ain't much for a clean bed and a shower if you ask me. Day Two - Owyhee River, OR

I didn't know this, but my dad told me that I caught my first fish in the Owyhee river. I'd like to say that when we finally saw the river it seemed familiar but I can't. I hadn't been there in 30 years so what do you expect? Anyway, we rolled onto the river at 1pm. The Owyhee comes out of the Owyhee reservoir and it is VERY murky and has a touch of mercury. The murkiness makes it really hard to fish because you can't see where the good water is. The mercury keeps people from taking the fish so they get really big.

Owyhee River
Before fishing we stopped at a bar called the Mirage in the "town" of Adrian so we could watch the Seahawks/Giants game. The front door had a big sign on it that said "Chip Jones please pay your long overdue bill!" Jim and I sat down and proceeded to eat two cheeseburgers, down a sixpack and smoke a pack of Marlboro's while we watched that laugher of a game. At half time it was 42-3 Seahawks. We felt no need to watch the rest of the game so we went to the river.
As the sun came off the water, we arrived at Jim's favorite pool where another fantastic mayfly hatch was coming off. I could see what looked like tiny little lips sipping mayflies right next to the bank, so I cast one of my flies in there and BAM, 15" brown. I was shocked. I was expecting a tiny little fish but instead I almost got schooled. The murky, mercury-laden water either made these fish unaware of us or made them stupid I don't know which. Until it got dark Jim and I caught brown after brown all between 15" and 20". Sometimes we'd hook them 2 feet away from ourselves. The Owyhee reminded me of the Gunnison river in that respect except it was even EASIER to catch big old browns. At least during the evening hatch.
When it got dark we had a few more beers and drove back to the Mirage in Adrian. Over cold sandwiches and cokes we listened to the local denizens joining the local banjo/fiddle band and they really slaughtered some of the golden oldies. Jim remarked that Simon Cowell's version of hell would be to get stuck here every night for eternity. After dinner it was time for another long drive, this time to Mountain Home, ID, where we got another $50 room in one of the sketchiest cinderblock Thunderbird motels I've stayed at in a long time. Day Three - Silver Creek, ID
This time I got us lost in Mountain Home. Jim found the way out and we got some breakfast at AJ's and then we drove a couple of hours to Picabo, Idaho. There was a fancy-shmancy fly shop/convenience store there where we got some licenses and bought some flies for Silver Creek. Silver Creek is fabled spring creek that Ernest Hemingway fished and where his son, Jack Hemingway set up a preserve around the creek.

Silver Creek, ID
Silver Creek is basically a super-challenging, technical, boutique fishery. The water is so slow that many people fish it from float tubes. The crystal clear flow allows the "graduate school trout" to get a good long look at your fly which had better look PERFECT in both appearance and presentation. There were some funky regulations that prevented us from using oars in our pontoon boats but we managed with our fins.

Jim Says, "I got nothin"
We fished from noon to 7pm - I was skunked, which didn't surprise me in the slightest (I went in with really low expectations). Jim, who had talked smack on the way there ("those fish have never met a fisherman like me" -- I remember him saying) only caught one fish - a 16" rainbow that jumped out of his net before I could get my camera in position.
It wasn't as bad as I make it sound though. Both Jim and I had 4 fish on that day and if those fish had been landed instead of lost we could have said that we were awesome. We think the problem was that the clear water requires you to use 7x tippet, which is like the width of hair. And I don't mean a fat nose hair either - I'm talking about the peach fuzz hair on Paris Hilton's pinky toe knuckle. Neither Jim nor I ever fish with 7x (or even 6x) and we weren't used to the stretchiness of the line which caused us to lose our fish. We think. Or maybe we suck, I don't know.
That night we drove north to Ketchum, where Papi Hemingway shot himself and is ultimately buried in an unadorned (but not unmarked) grave. Ketchum is yuppie/hippy tourist hellhole if you ask Jim or me. In some ways it reminded me intensely of Boulder, Colorado. The cheapest room we could find was $140 - though we talked the genuine imported European desk clerk down to $105. I must admit, the room was very, very nice. Jim tied up a couple of Red Quills for the next day's fishing while I tried to plan the rest of my trip. Day Four - Big Wood River, Idaho

We had a nice breakfast at the Rustic Moose and then I had to stop at the Thomas D. Mangelsen gallery. I ended up buying a big landscape piece for our house and even though I got a good deal, I got a bad taste in my mouth leaving almost that much dough in Ketchum, which will probably only make the town even more snooty.
We fished the Big Wood river right in town. The Big Wood is a beautiful mountain stream running maybe 100 cfs. The BLM has made the river available in a mountain park-like C&R setting. Looking at the river, you'd think that the average fish size would be 8" but its not. The AVERAGE fish size is 12" and 16" fish are common. Sure enough, our first fish landed were 12" and Jim hooked a lost a 16" fish. Completely opposite of the previous day, we fished oversized generic flies (Adams Irresistible, yellow Humpies, Renegades) and had luck with all of them. The fly of the day seemed to be the Red Quill though. All the fish we caught were beautifully colored.

The Big Wood river was as much a delight as Silver Creek was a challenge. I said goodbye to Jim that afternoon around 4pm. Stopping at a Taqueria in town, I got a burrito to go and hit the road, headed back the way I came. I drove all the way back to the Owyhee and kept on driving across the middle of Oregon to Bend. It was a long, long drive and I didn't get into Bend until midnight. Day Five - East Lake of the Newberry Crater, Oregon
The turnoff for Newberry Crater is only a half hour south of Bend. The park road winds 15 miles up the side of the volcano. On the counter at the East Lake Resort were pictures of people holding up 10lb brown after 10lb brown. One of them was dated just a few weeks ago - it was a young blond woman holding up a huge brown. The caption included her name and the words "taken on a green popper" underneath. A green popper? What????
East Lake is gigantic - 4000 acres, most of it 10-20 feet deep. The edges are shallow and contain weed beds full of leeches and damsels. Elsewhere are broad shoals where all kinds of fish swarm to eat rising midges and callibaetis. At the far side (too far for my pontoon boat!) is a refuge where thousands of monster browns can hide in 100 feet of deep water. In a few weeks they will emerge to terrorize the chubs in the shallows. One guy in a drift boat said that he was watching a 10lb brown chasing chubs in the weed beds just that morning.

The White Slide
Fishing callibaetis nymphs and woolly buggers I quickly landed a nice fat rainbow, a 17" brown and a 6" chub. That's three of the four fish species! I cruised the east shore of the lake for hours hoping to get a kokanee. In the meantime I picked up a few more rainbows and another brown. One of the rainbows I got casting a callibaetis that Jim gave me with a small hare's ear dropper underneath - I cast it in front of a rising fish and he just crushed the nymph. Sweet.

Thick Weed Beds
At the end of the day I hooked a nice fish and when it surfaced briefly I saw a flash of red and realized it was the koke that I needed to complete my grand slam! After that I hooked 10 fish in 30 minutes but could land none of them. I think now that they were schooling kokanee whose hooked mouths had made them "hook resistant." Or something.

Spawning Kokanee
East Lake is an awesome fishery -- How often do you get to catch rainbows, browns and kokanee in a volcano? The scenery was beautiful, the fish were cooperative (enough) and the possibility of hooking into a 10lb brown made for a fantastic day.
I wanted to so bad to stay out on the road. Specifically, I wanted another crack at East Lake and then I wished I could have hit the Metolius or Kalama on the way back. But 5 days away was enough to make me stop taking everything else for granted, at least for a while.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

My Favorite Time of Year

Spring used to be my favorite time of year. But I've changed my mind: Fall is now my favorite time. As Amy will tell you, this time of year I get all "antsy" if I'm not outside. I have my head in the clouds about being in the mountains or the desert fishing. The steelhead are coming. The salmon are coming. Baseball is all about pennant races, and even if my Mariners aren't in it, I still get giddy thinking about all the post season games coming up in a couple of weeks. This is the time of year for fishing trips. You can fish all day in solitude and catch big fat rainbows who've had all summer to put on weight. A friend and I are probably going on a week long fishing trip into the depths of Eastern Oregon, and when I return from that, Amy and I will disappear for a long weekend into North Central Washington to pester some big fat lahontan trout, stay at roadside motels and eat heaps of trucker food at 5:30 in the morning. The air is chilly in the morning and cold in the evening but the "sideways" sunshine during the middle of the day is warm and golden. I love it. Anyway, on Sunday, the day before Casey returned to pre-school, he and I went on a long (for him) hike to Twin Lakes. The nights in the mountains are cold now so there are no bugs any more. School is on for everyone else so there was no one else on the trail. He and I hiked a mile and half to the lower lake. I'm so happy he can hike that far (without complaint even!). Yes, he did fall down and cry three times but only for a few seconds and then he was back at it again. The lake is small - maybe 1/2 acre with a shallow "beachy" corner near the outlet. I hopped out onto a chain of rocks and stood on the last rock looking out at the lake. All of a sudden, I feel these hands pushing on the backs of my legs! I'm at the edge of the rock so I can't turn around. I yelled "Casey! No, don't...!" and then I was in the water (only 6 inches deep, but still). He laughed and laughed as I sprang out of the water -- too late. My expensive new hiking boots were all wet and my socks were soaked which would have made the hike back to the truck uncomfortable if I weren't so blissfully content about everything. I had to laugh about it. What a litte joker. Pushing his dad into the lake. When Casey told me "Dad, I'm starving!" I realized that, once again, I had neglected to feed him or me all day. I'm so bad about that. I was hungry too, so we made the long walk back to the truck, during which Casey only almost fell off a cliff once. There is a little Pizza/Espresso place at the pass only a 10 minutes from where we were hiking so we stopped there and had a slize of pizza and some ice cream. I haven't seen Casey that hungry since he was a baby. We shared the slice of pizza and he literally almost ate my finger he was cramming so much of the pizza in his mouth. HE EVEN ATE THE CRUST which is like, unheard of. Then we each devoured an ice cream bar. As I belted him back into the truck he was yelling "Dad! I'm still starving!" so I told him we'd eat some real dinner when we got home. But as we were driving back down from the pass I started thinking "he just HIKED three miles and ate about a pound of fat -- he'll never make it." And sure enough he fell asleep so deeply that I was able to transfer him from the truck to his bed when we got home and he slept until the next morning.

Monday, June 5, 2006

2006 Southwest Colorado Fishing Trip

The Gunnison : East Portal

My parents live in the town of Montrose, in Western Colorado, which is very close to some of the best fishing in the rockies (so I've heard). When we arrived there the first thing I did was head to the local fly shop (Cimmarron Creek) for the skinny. All over the rockies this time of year, they said, you have to deal with runoff. Basically you have to limit yourself to fishing tailwaters which will be somewhat protected as the flow is regulated. So they directed me to the East Portal in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.

Amy and I fished it the next morning, and we had such an wonderful time that we went back there every day for a week. The water was muddy and had about 4" visibility. I am wondering if this actually made fishing easier for us because most of the fish we caught were at right at our feet. Literally within inches of the bank.

Anyway, on the first morning we rigged up my 5wt with a #14 orange shrimp that I copied from a fly I bought at the shop and her 4wt with #16 red copper john. That morning it seemed we could do no wrong. I would spot what I thought looked like some good water, and Amy would cast into it and bam, fish on. She hooked and released a couple of small browns. I spotted a big brown and directed her to it and sure enough she hooked him. He was probably 18" and he took off into the current and broke her off.

She hooked a 20" rainbow later and this time she knew to follow the fish downstream where she landed him on a little beach. My big fish of the day was the rainbow that I present in the picture. I also caught a brown that was probably 15". Our final tallies for the morning were 4 fish each and several lost.

Over the next week we fished that same mile over and over again and found fish all over the place. One of the highlights for me was hooking a 20" fish on a size #20 EHC. He got away though when he threw the hook after a long (and delicate) fight. I had actually hooked that same fish three other times in the previous few days (behind the same rock) on shimp and egg patterns. He got off each time, leading me to assume that he no longer has any lips with which to get caught on.

Amy's best fish (no picture) was an 18" brown that she caught in the last 5 minutes of a long fishless day (for her). We fished a pool at the end of wadeable stretch of river where I could see many browns with their tails up rooting in the dirt in shallow water. I hooked and lost two of them on my shrimp patterns. She came in and landed the 18" brown. He put up no fight at all -- clearly he had done this before. So we dragged him up onto the bank and boy was he surprised when I bashed his head in with a rock (she wouldn't do it). We are C&R 99% of the time, but my mom loves fish and she scolds us whenever we don't bring her any.

As we made the 1/2 mile trek back to the truck with the dead fish we got some looks from some stuck-up ff anglers there but here's the reality: We had been license-checked by the park ranger the day before, and he told us that they were trying to re-introduce rainbows into the river (whirling disease had decimated them). Apparently the browns were dominating (read: eating) the rainbows, so he encouraged us to take home a brown or two (under 12" or over 16").

Those who know me know that I am primarily a still water fisherman. But that might change now. I had such a great time on the Gunnison that I am having trouble thinking about going back to lakes and ponds. We'll see what happens. Maybe I will have one wife and one mistress. The Taylor River : The Hog Trough

Buoyed by our success on the Gunnison, we found ourselves lured to the (in)famous Hog Trough (as the locals in Almont call it) of the Taylor River, just below the Taylor Reservoir. The state record rainbow was caught and released there (I think it was 34 inches and 29lbs) a few years earlier. And we had talked to a gent on the Gunnison who said he landed a 10lb RB there in late April.

The Taylor river is about a 2 hour drive drive from Montrose, so we packed a bag and left our son in the good hands of my mother. We fished the morning hours on the Gunnison (see other report) and then used the lunch hours to drive to the Taylor River. We stopped at the High Mountain Drifter fly shop in Gunnison and they did everything they could to discourage us from going to the Taylor. I wish we would have listened to them, but we had stars in our eyes.

So let me set the record straight: the hog trough is a lame place to fish. Its about 300 yards of public land RIGHT BY THE HIGHWAY. Its unscenic. The fish there have all been caught 100 times and fishing for them has created a new definition of the term 'technical fishing' in my mind. Fishing the hog trough makes Rocky Ford look like a kids fishing derby.

The rainbows that inhabit this water sit around eating the shrimp that come out of the res. all day long. By afternoon they are full and they just sit there trying not to waste energy. They have learned to spot splitshot in the water and will simply move out of the way of your perfectly placed fly. Your fly better be #20 or smaller or you can hear the fish laughing at it as they simply sidle away from it until it passes and then return to their spot.

We saw a few fish caught, but they were all small (like 16" or smaller). I flossed one fish and foul hooked another but they both got off. This experience was a major bummer after our glorious week on the Gunnison.

That night we drove the 18 miles back down the river to the "town" of Almont, where were expecting to eat dinner at the bar (the only other thing in town besides the resort we were staying at). Well the kitchen at the bar was closed, so we just went in and started drinking with the local alchoholics. We made friends fast and stayed there for three or four hours drinking beer and shots with the ski bums and fish bums.

The Taylor Reservoir (above the hog trough)

I had the opportunity to talk to one of the guides who worked out of the attached fly shop -- he was an animated guy who held several of the state records for various fish. He told some AMAZING fish stories. I was pretty lit up (drinking at 8000 feet elevation) but I vaguely remember him saying that when he visited the NW, he would go out into the Columbia in a friggin float tube and fish a ball of guts the size of a bowling ball on the bottom for pike. He also mentioned that if you could get a camping permit for the Gunnison in the summer time, you could experience fishing 2" dries during some kind of locust plague where enormous flies emerged from the water and enormous browns would rise to eat them. The fly shop the next day confirmed this story and they showed me the 2" foam flies that one would use.

The Taylor Reservoir (above the hog trough)

I slept poorly that night due to drinking at high elevation on an empty stomach. Note: the little "house" cabin at the resort there was awesome. It was a definite great place to stay for only $75. Had a kitchen and everything. Anyway, in the morning we drove past the trough to the res and tried to fish the still water up there, but we had no luck and the fumes from all the 2 strokes chasing mackinaws sent us packing back to the Gunnison. The Uncompahgre : Pa-co-chu-puk

Our final day of fishing was on the Uncompahgre River, specifically at the Pa-co-chu-puk park just below the Ridgeway Reservoir. The locals call this the "Jurassic Park" because of the large broodstock rainbows they stock there. The Colorado dept. of fish and wildlife determined that the river below the res. was too fast to support good fish habitat, so they spent $200K adding structure to the river to slow it down. That's some serious fishery management right there. The river had an eerie "wild yet synthetic" feel to it.

We fished from the cold morning hours until around 11, when it was starting to get pretty warm. We hooked no fish, though I managed to raise some smaller ones to my EHC and humpies. We had started out nymphing but I changed after a couple of fish tried to eat my indicator.

A Colorado Creel Check

We had the river to ourselves all morning (it was Monday) but about 10am a young girl in a hat approached us and said she was doing a creel check and a short survey. We had to report that we had caught no fish. She asked us what we thought of this section of water. I said it was great - just beautiful! Actually, I think that if we had been standing in a slag heap looking down at a tailings pond I would have answered the same way. :)

Anyway, we had an incredible week of fishing and we can't wait to go back.

Wednesday, February 1, 2006

Action Camera

We recently got a new digital camera -- a Canon A520. It inspired me to take some action shots. Fortunately, I have a superhero available!