Monday, July 21, 2008

Fishing Mason Lake in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness

Mason Lake Hike
Ira Spring Trail to Mason Lake

The trail to Mason Lake had beaten me in 2006 and 2007; in the previous years I had attempted to make the hike only to be turned back due to lots of snow on the trail (2006) and lots of weight on my person (2007). With a free day yesterday, no snow on the trail in mid-July and weighing 24 lbs less than when I tried it last year, I made plans for a Sunday morning assault.

Ira Spring Trail
Looking back down to I-90.

Mason Lake used to be somewhat inaccessible but earlier this decade the Forest Service re-graded and moved the trail and made it much friendlier. But its STILL a long hike (to me): 3 miles each way with 2000 feet elevation gain. That's about 1900 vertical feet more than I like on a usual hike.

Ira Spring Trail
Looking back from the saddle

I was by the far the slowest person on the trail and that's saying something. I was even passed by a confused elderly immigrant who was fully dressed in completely inappropriate garb. He was sweating profusely and had no water with him and he was more shambling than walking. And even though he looked near death he was STILL faster than me.

Mason Lake
The Outlet

Two and a half-hours after leaving the car I descended the saddle into the cool trees. Taking it slow had at least conserved my energy so that when I got to the lake I felt like I had just left the car. The water was amazingly clear: perhaps 20 or 30 feet of visibility. An 11" rainbow trout was brazenly cruising in the shallows at the outlet. However, he was not to be fooled by my crude spinning gear. All that I had brought were spoons, powerbait and salmon eggs. The line itself seemed like ROPE in the crystal clear water.

Crawdad at Mason Lake
2" Blue Cawdad

Two other times I saw fat trout in the 10-12" range cruising within inches of the shore. There is irony for you; I had left my fly-fishing gear behind and brought spinning gear so I could cast farther out into the lake. I would have traded it all for just some leader and some flies. You wouldn't even need to cast!

East Bay

Besides seeing numerous fish rising, I saw the biggest crawdad I've ever seen in Washington state and two 4" salamanders. Midges, damsels and dragonflies were all active at the lake. And while the pictures don't show it there were dozens of people at the lake the three hours that I was there. Most were concentrated on the easily accessible NW shore (opposite me). By bushwhacking on the SE shore I had that half of the lake to myself. I hopped from boulder to boulder about a quarter of the way around the lake.

Mason Lake
Boulders on the Lake

I fished for three hours but didn't get a bite or even a bump. That's okay; just having the ability to sight fish such a beautiful mountain lake was a reward in itself. It took 90 minutes to get back to the car and my knees were achin' something FIERCE by the time I got to my car. Best time I've had gettin' skunked ever.

Friday, July 18, 2008

July 17th, 2008: Snoqualmie River Report

Plum's Landing

I'd been wanting to do a husband-and-wife pontoon float down the Snoqualmie for years. Yesterday was the day it happened. But not the way we'd hoped.

I borrowed a pontoon boat from my friend Brent Comer. I stopped at Creekside and bought a Scotty Rod holder for it. I arranged for a baby-sitter to come at 7am. Our plan was to float until noon from Plum's Landing to Fall City. I spent the entire previous evening getting everything ready. I was so excited about it I could barely sleep.

An overcast, chilly morning finally came around and when our baby-sitter arrived, Amy and I drove my Cobalt down to Fall City. She followed in her CRV and then we drove back up to Plum's Landing where we launched. The water was A LOT higher than I had anticipated and was moving WAY faster. I was in Brent's pontoon and I was tightening the oarlock when it just fell apart in my hand and a crucial wing nut went "bloop" into the river. Apparently I had been loosening it!

Amy almost got stuck sideways against some rocks in fast current. It made her laugh but it scared the sh1t out of me. We had PFDs but like idiots weren't wearing them. Then she got her flyline caught around her oar and couldn't row. I couldn't row either with just one oar.

We were finally able to beach ourselves against the far bank about a mile down the river. Its a good thing, too, because one of her pontoons was deflating. That was the last draw - I decided that we were not proceeding. There was an older gentleman who was fishing nearby and when he was done I asked him if he would give me a lift down to Fall City. He was nice. He's retired and just spends all his time fishing all over the northwest. He was on his way to the Dean river next week. I told him that I wished I could do that and he said something like "yeah all you young guys do, but you probably have to work huh. This is the one benefit of getting old."

Amazingly, we fit BOTH pontoon boats into my red car. I dropped Amy off at her car and she fished the Plums landing area for several hours more while I went home and returned the baby sitter.

And, of course, we didn't catch or hook or even see any Steelhead.

I'm hoping to try this again when a) the water is lower and slower and b) when I replace my pontoon.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Moonroof Chewbacca Gunsauce

Moonroof Chewbacca

Chewbacca looks out the Moonroof on a sunny day driving down the Parkway. Had to bring him inside though so he wouldn't get stuff in his eye.

Monday, July 14, 2008

July 10, 2008: Kalama River Non-Report

On Thursday I took a day off because I had to go to Portland to get Casey, who was staying with his Aunt and Uncle for a night. After I picked him up we drove back up into Washington and I fished the beautiful Kalama river for about five hours while he hung out riverside. The short version of the report is that I didn't catch any steelhead, or even see any. So my scoreless streak on the Kalama continues.

There were not very many anglers on the river. Just a few at the Beginner's Hole and they said that a couple of fish had been caught lower early that morning and that was it. Casey and I fished about 6 spots on the river starting with the first concrete bridge. The water was murkier than usual, but warm. In fact, I wet-waded, all day -- that's a sure sign of summer; fishing the Kalama in your shorts!

At one of our last spots, very high up the river above both hatcheries we visited my favorite hole. I've taken my friend Keith Newham there when it was full of fish. There were no fish there on this day but there is a brand new natural bridge! Check it out! I'm guessing that during the high winter flows a tree came down and got stuck in such a way as to make a cool bridge.

The highlight, or lowpoint, of the afternoon was at this hole, where I heard Casey cry out. I turned around in time to see him tumbling down the bank, head-first, in sort of slow motion. I was not particularly concerned because he is wearing a "floaty" swimsuit making it impossible for him to sink. He tumbled toward the water and went into the water head-first. Immediately beneath the surface was a rock shelf which stopped Casey's downward motion. For a second he balanced there upside down with his head underwater. Then he toppled over, sat up and began wailing and wailing. When he could finally talk he asked me why he got hurt. I told him that nature doesn't care and when you are in nature you've got to be careful. For the rest of the day he wailed that he hates nature and never wants to go into nature again.

Friday, July 11, 2008

July 6, 2008: Yakima River and Rocky Ford Report

In short, a FANTASTIC day of fly-fishing.

Leaving Casey with my sister's family (visiting from Byron Bay, Australia), Amy and I got up at (gulp) 5:30AM on Sunday morning. We stopped at the Safeway in North Bend to gas up the car and get some breakfast at the Starbucks. By 8:30 we were stopping at the Bullfrog Flats area of the upper Yakima river. The water was higher than I've ever seen it there but it was still definitely fishable.

I hooked a good fish on my first cast in some slack water just downstream from the launch we had parked at. I saw it roll a few times before it got off in the current. Appeared to be a 10" rainbow. We fished the river down to a beautiful a productive pool where Amy got a whitefish and I got another 10" rainbow. By now we both had dual-nymph indicator rigs: prince nymphs on top and copper johns on the bottom.

The Ringer Loop area of the Yakima River

Next we drove onward past Ellensburg to the Ringer Loop area and parked at "The Corral." Here the river is carving away the bank. You can see the jagged edge of the meadow in the picture above. It seemed like a very unlikely place to catch fish but Amy suggested we try it anyway. I didn't think much would come of it because the water was so fast and so turbulent. I plunked the rig into the water and the current sucked the whole thing under. I could see it quite clearly so I just let it continue. Suddenly I felt a twang on the end of the line -- it was a 12" rainbow. We had a little trouble netting it but we managed. A few casts later, I got a 14" rainbow tucked right up against the bank. This fish had taken the prince nymph. Here's a picture of Amy fishing that same spot.

Fishing undercut bank

We fished for another hour at Ringer Loop without catching anything more than dinks so we took a break for lunch and drove into Ellensburg. Amy was in the mood for Chinese Buffet. So we gorged and gorged until we were as full as ticks and then we got back in her CRV and drove out to Rocky Ford (SE of Ephrata, if you've never been there).

At the first parking area at Rocky Ford there was an older gentleman there with his wife and son; he was showing them the big fish cruising around. He and I got to talking and before long he was loading me up with about a dozen of his flies; mostly damsels, since that's what was flying about. I protested because he REALLY loaded me up but he would have none of it. Its a good thing he did that because his flies came in handy the rest of the afternoon. Amy and I moved down to the third parking area (by the ranch). I'd never been down there before but WOW are there some big fish there!

I talked with some young guys coming off the water and they said they were catching fish with hoppers "the bigger the better" they said. Sounded good to me. I had one giant 2" foam hopper in my box so I tied it on and began flinging it around. It got some looks which was exciting. I cast it out over the larger part of the creek and was stripping it back when a giant beast broke the surface and chomped on it. I saw the fishes eye flash in the water and then my line snapped. Damn. That's going to look funny sticking out of that fishes mouth until someone else gets him and takes it off.

This fish was WAY bigger than it looks in this picture I swear.

Next I tried one of the almost photo-realistic damsel nymphs the gentlemen had given me. I put it under a fluffy indicator and was drifiting through the current. Soon it disappeared and I set the hook on a rainbow. He was FAT.

Since Amy hadn't caught anything larger than a dink I gave her my rod hoping that it was the hot rod. I took her (pink) rod and tied on one of the damsel dries that the gentleman had given me and I started casting it toward rises in the shallows. Before too long there was a swirl and I set the hook on what turned out to be a hog. I'm guessing he was 20" or more and three or four pounds. By the time we got the damsel out of his mouth it had no more wings on it and it was just a small blue line with a hook in it -- unusable now.

Sunset on Rocky Ford

The light started to fade and the fish started rising everywhere; it seemed they were rising to midges. I tied on a mosquito pattern with a little snowcone dropper and cast until I thought my arm was going to fall off with no success. It was downright frustrating because there were so many rises and they were all ignoring what we thought were good presentations of decent flies.

On my way out I stood next to the bridge and cast upstream so I could see the fly against the reflection of the sunset. Suddenly a giant snout rose up and inhaled the fly. I was not expecting it. The fish began leaping all over the place. It was big - probably 25" and more. It leapt 4 feet out of the water several times -- boy he was PISSED OFF. I had no idea what to do -- there was nowhere to land that fish and my net is only about 15" across. The fish took off downstream underneath the bridge. I tried to give him some slack but he was too fast and he broke me off. That was fine with me.

As were were leaving Rocky Ford I reached down to grab some pop cans that I had left. When I realized something was moving underneath them I backed up fast -- it was a snake of some kind. Copper color. Juvenile. And on our way home Amy found a tick on her neck. Gross!!!

So the final tally of the day had me at a half-dozen or so fish to hand. Sadly, Amy had caught only dinks but she was okay with it. She'd been outfishing me for a month anyway so I guess it was just my turn to get some fish. We finally rolled into our driveway at 12:30AM and we were exhausted. What an awesome day.