Friday, September 30, 2011

Chopaka Lake Report: So Long, September

I closed out September with a trip to new waters. I finally made it up to Chopaka Lake, storied in Pacific Northwest fly fishing lore. It's not the easiest place to get to. The road starts there across the valley and continues for several miles winding up and up and around the mountain. It's rough as hell, and make sure you watch out for that first cattle guard, and for the log trucks rumbling down toward you filling the whole road. But just when you think your little truck is going to come apart at the seams, the road dips down into a high little valley, and there's the lake.

It's a pretty lake, and it's fly fishing only. That means there are lots of fly fishers there, especially on a Friday at peak season. I found plenty of room, though, and fish seemed to be everywhere.

From what I could observe, most of the fishers were trolling, paddling slowly along on the windy lake. So of course I started with the Bomber. I got a couple of bumps, but I'm pretty sure they were babies. I decided to paddle to the other side so tied on a green bead head nymph and started across. Halfway there I caught my first Chopaka Rainbow.

Once there, though, I went back to a surface fly. I started casting the Carpet Caddis up along the reeds and stripping it out. I caught this pretty fish, and another too small for a photo.

A squall came through, with strong swirling winds, cooler temps, and some rain. My rain jacket was still in the truck, so I thought I'd go get it. I tied on a black muddler and dragged it all the way across without raising a fish.

On the way back across, I trolled a red bead head leech, and then a black one. No action on those either. So I went with my hunch and tied on a brown muddler.

That worked. Just as I reached the dropoff a fish hit it. This was a better fish, thick and heavy.

I paddled up the reed line against the persistent wind casting the muddler in and stripping it out and caught fish pretty steadily for awhile. These were the best ones.

When the sun set behind the mountain I began to think of the jolting drive down the mountain, and decided I'd like to make it with some daylight left. So I began paddling back across to the truck. Along the way the wind settled down and fish started rising.

I tied on a flashback pheasant tail nymph and trolled it for a few minutes, then couldn't resist stopping and casting to rises. Some looked like nice fish. I cast the nymph out into the dimpled water and let it sit. I saw the take as a fish swirled on it. It felt like the best fish of the day, but it made another jerking run and broke me off.

I tried a Callibaetis dry and caught one more fish, a little one this time, as I paddled very slowly in.

I made it down the mountain with daylight to spare, and all the way down, as I bounced in the seat and held onto the steering wheel for dear life, I was thinking in the back of my mind of the dorsals slicing the calm surface back at the lake. I wondered if I had been seeing some of the famous twenty-inch-and-more Chopaka trout, and whether one of those had taken my pheasant tail.

Now that I've made the trip, I think I could make it in the dark. Next time I think I'll stick around at the lake and see if I can find out more about those trout.

So long, September. It was a nice way to go out.


  1. Sweet photos of some really nice fish...
    thanks for sharing them.