Thursday, September 25, 2008

Fall fishing on Nunally, Yakima

Nunally Lake
Nunally Lake, a Desert Fishing Boutique

Took another day off to try to squeeze out just a little bit more sunshine out of 2008 before its gone for good. The west side of the mountains were going to be soggy so I packed up my cooler, audiobook and all my fishing stuff and hit the road going east. An hour later I was parked at the Nelson Siding Road and exploring a new (to me) section of the upper Yakima. There were a half dozen corpses of hatchery Chinook in the shallows -- its always surprising to see them up there, it seems so far from the ocean.

This week saw a couple of melodramas at our church and while ultimately they are probably meaningless they really got under my skin today. I couldn't stop thinking about what people said and it was making me angry. I got so caught up in my head that I almost stepped in several holes that would have been emergency situations. I hooked some fish but didn't really care, they weren't anything to write home about. Soon I was so upset I wasn't even enjoying myself. So I went back to the car, again nearly stepping right into some dropoffs. Nice looking water anyway.

I kept driving East, to Nunally Lake. Never been there before. I was the only person on the whole lake -- it was windy but manageable. The walk to the lake was only 5 minutes. In another 5 Minutes after that, a 13" tiger trout got himself stuck on my olive willy. Pretty fish; only the second I'd ever caught. I tried to be thankful for catching a fish so quickly but it was hard to stay focused. I again became internally consumed, replaying the melodramas over again.

Nunally Rainbow
Nunally Rainbow

A few minutes after that, some large fish fish swirled on my olive willy and broke me off. It felt big. I tied on another, this time using only 3X tippet and kept fishing. Not 5 minutes later, a 16" rainbow cooperated for the above picture. Nice fish but he didn't fight at all. Again, I tried to be thankful about it but I just wasn't enjoying myself. After not very long, I turned to head back to the "launch" area, which was just an annoyingly small tunnel in 20 feet of reeds.

Nunally Rainbow
Caught and Released

The wind was blowing hard now and all the reeds looked the same. I couldn't see any exit! Heart started beating a little harder now. I kicked east for a while. Was it this way? Then I went west for a while. Where was that exit???

Suddenly a 19" rainbow exploded out of the water with my fly in its mouth. He launched several times and was not cooperative at all! I was able to get him onto my apron for measuring but he was too squirmy for a picture. Fantastic fish, wow! As good as he was I was still looking for the exit. Eventually I found another, different egress and bashed my way out through the reeds and then hiked back to the car again.

On the way home I stopped at Wanapum state park. I stood on the beach and actually considered wading out into the Columbia and fishing for whatever was there. If there had been a single rise I probably would have done it. But instead I trudged back to my car and kept driving home. At some point I came to some conclusions and my mind finally calmed somewhat.

As the sun was setting, I stopped at Ringer Loop on the Yakima and fished an October Caddis in some new (to me) water. I caught an 8" wild rainbow and somehow he was the best fish of the day.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Secret Lake #2

Image "borrowed" from

After having so much fun on my previous outing I took another day off to repeat it. I had plans to revisit the Hyas Lakes but instead I got a late start and changed my plans for a closer location. I'm very glad I did. I won't name this hike or this lake but if you've been there I'm sure that you can take a single glance at these pictures and know precisely where it is.

Flowers in Summit Meadow
Flowers in Summit Meadow

Like the previous hike, the trailhead for this Secret Lake #2 is only 30 minutes from my house. I arrived there at 1pm. Soon I was hiking across the meadow above. I was very hot in my waders and by the time I reached the saddle at the top (1 mile and 500 vertical feet later) I was soaked with sweat.

Beaver Pond at Saddle
Beaver Pond at Saddle

Just on the other side of the saddle is this funky little beaver pond. I bet it gets fished a lot but it doesn't look more than a couple of feet deep at most. I was so hot that I was tempted to wade into it to cool off but instead I kept going. The trail descended into the forest, leaving the roaring sounds of I-90 behind.

L Lake
Secret Lake #2

One mile on the other side of the saddle is Secret Lake #2. Its not a secret, I'm sure its on every map and its probably even in some guidebooks. This particular lake is about 8 acres and round in shape. The forest creeps right up to the very edge of the lake so there is no casting room for us fly fisherman. Total hiking time to get to the lake was 1 hour, so I guess I hike at 2 miles per hour. Told you I was slow.

I inflated my tube and floated out into the lake. Small fish were splashing here and there, taking the damsels and dragonflies that were quite active on the surface. On the far side of the lake, just as I was practically falling asleep in my tube, my rod jerked forward and a surprisingly large trout rocketed out of the water in front me. He was a 13-14" male rainbow with dark spawning colors. I didn't measure him exactly and once again, I had no net so getting him unhooked took a long time. I was quite pleased with the size of this fish!

I fished for three hours and caught two more rainbows, both about 11" and they also put a good fight. I had several more hits but didn't convert them. I only fished a carey special and an olive woolly bugger -- action was just consistent enough that I never really considered switching away from them. The sun went behind the trees around 5:30 and it became quite chilly so that's when I hiked my way out.

L Lake Trail
On the way out

Hiking back out requires ascending another 500 feet to the saddle again and then walking back down through the meadows. All in all, it was an easy, satisfying afternoon trip. 6 hours door-to-door, 4 miles hiked, 1000' elevation (500 in, 500 out). The best part was enjoying the warm golden fall sunshine in a small, alpine lake.

Friday, September 12, 2008

A Perfect day on a Secret Lake

There's this Secret Lake about an hour from my house. Its not listed in any of the major guidebooks, probably because it resides just outside the Alpine Lake Wilderness. One tiny regional guide mentions it but has little to say other than "watch out for Devil's Club" and "produces small rainbows." The trail that leads to the Secret Lake is a fisherman's trail, meaning that there are no fancy switchbacks and the trail is basically straight up. I'd fished this lake once before a few years ago and caught a couple of those small rainbows.

Valley View
Valley View

I woke up this morning with an itch to fish the Secret Lake. Actually the itch is more like a compulsion this time of year: its almost as if I didn't WANT to go but I felt that I HAD to go. So I grimly loaded my gear in the car and then procrastinated for a long time. I checked email, drank coffee, sent out some letters and packages and then finally hit the road for the Secret Lake. This time I was going to hike to it in my waders, and packing a float tube. With gear and lunch my pack was about 20 pounds. About half way up the trail I ran into a couple of guys who were shooting off a handgun. In fact, when I turned the corner on them the guy with the gun was pointing it my way; I politely asked him to point it somewhere else. They were nice enough campers who had been camped in the valley for a couple of days. They said there had been no one at the lake for days and they themselves were just leaving.

Secret Lake
Looking across the Lake

I once met the Slugman on a trail somewhere. He called himself that because he said he was the slowest hiker in Washington. Well I think I can give him a run for his money: It took me a leisurely 90 minutes to ascend to the lake. The trail doesn't mess around, it goes straight up and gets steeper and steeper as it goes. Wearing waders turned out to be a good thing because there WAS a lot of devil's club up there (the book was right?).

When I finally dropped my pack at the side of the small,sunlit, secret lake, I realized I was the happiest that I had felt in months, if not years. I felt like the luckiest guy within 20 miles in any direction. There were fish rising all over the lake and I was armed with all my best fishing gear. I was the only man in the whole upper mountain valley.

Half of the Secret Lake
Half of the Secret Lake

80 breaths inflated the float tube. I kicked around the 5 acre lake, expecting to hook up with a multitude of small rainbows, but I got nothing. Exactly nothing. Not even a tap on my line. I saw fish rising here and there and there were bugs all over the place. Why do dragon flies seem to get larger the higher the elevation? These ones seemed like bats they were so big. Finally I had kicked around the whole lake and was right back where I started with nothing to show: it was puzzling. I switched to a floating line and put on a pheasant tail which had worked for me here before. I cast it toward shore (right where I had launched from) and was rewarded with a tug. And then some head-shakes. What? Small fish don't make head-shakes. Well it wasn't a small fish. It turned out to be a 15" rainbow with big shoulders. Clearly this bad boy has been eating well and clearly that regional guide was wrong about the lake producing only "small rainbows."

Fat Trout
Fat Trout

I was incredulous, I had no idea that the little secret lake, which looked so barren, could support a fat 15" trout. It must be the dragonfly diet. A few minutes later and I was fishing in very shallow water -- maybe 2 feet deep at the most when I got some tugs. Aha, I thought, here comes a small fish. Suddenly the water in front of me exploded and another big trout flew skyward with my fly in its mouth. I could scarely believe it but apparently there's enough food for two 15" rainbows. I almost quit fishing right then because my fishing lust was satisfied and I was so cold.

secret, rainbow
The Biggest One of Three

But I caught one more. This one measured at exactly 16". He put up a great fight, jumping a few times and going deep a few times and then rolling over so I could get the fly out of his mouth. He was the most beautiful trout I think I'd ever seen. By now the sun had gone behind the high valley wall and my teeth were literally chattering I was so chilly. As I packed up my gear, the fish continued rishing all around the lake. Who knows, maybe they are all 15 and 16" fish in that lake! I made it back down to my car in 35 minutes and was back home an hour later.

It just could not have gone any better today, really.