Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Trout Lake Report: Like Christmas Morning

You wade through another busy stretch, then find a chance to get back to the lake. The day is warmer and dryer than on the inaugural trip.

You go back to the north end again. Just as on the first trip, there is a strong wind pushing up waves, but this time it's blowing out of the south.

You kick over to the other side, put the wind to your back, and prospect the shoreline with a big greased muddler on top.

Once again you stop at the inlet and break down the water with extra attention, but the fly is the only thing swimming.

You continue to work the shoreline, ignoring the big waves that splash down your neck. The fish are nowhere to be found. You find yourself slipping into that irrational opening weekend anxiety: what if this time the big crowds literally cleaned the lake out?

In spite of that, you're having a glorious time. The only thing missing are the fish, but your better self tells you they're in there, try harder. So you try some indicator fishing. Still no results other than pleasure at the new non-slip indicators you picked up the other day. The little victories keep you going.

You're beginning to philosophize about the meaning of getting skunked on only your second trip of the season, and to moralize about the positive effects of delayed gratification when the wind abruptly sits down and a few fish finally show themselves.

You tie on a new pheasant tail parachute and get your trout. The day feels complete.

But of course you keep fishing. And now comes that deep contentment at simply being there with a dry fly resting on its hackles on the calm surface and your hands already smelling of fish.

The fly gets some action, but you don't hook up on every hit, and that's just fine.

The evening is winding down.

You kick across to the other side.

You tie the muddler back on and begin to fish the shoreline back toward the take out. You're remembering the many good fish you've taken along here in years past, including some stellar browns. You're hoping you might find your first brown of this new season. You get a big hit, a hookup, and a good fight. It's not a brown, it's a Pacquiao of a rainbow.

The first brown--along with a thousand other thrills and pleasures--are still to come. This time of year is like when you're a kid, you've just woke up, and you remember it's Christmas morning.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Trout Lake Report: Opening Day

Spring showers greet you on this opening day at the lake.

The campgrounds are full, and various watercraft dot the water. You launch at the north end, the least congested area.

You kick across to the inlet side, and before you get there the rain stops and the sky lightens.

A north wind keeps up, so you explore a sheltered bay in its lee. Many callibaetis are sheltering there, bobbing on the water. While you watch, a fish comes up and takes one with a loud clop.

You tie on a pheasant tail parachute and give the fish a look at it. After awhile you begin to kick slowly around the bend in the shoreline, drifting the fly behind.

The first fish of the season at Trout Lake ambushes the fly before it can get away. It's a pretty fish, and looks like a veteran. It's been a long time coming.

You continue to drift the fly behind you as you scull slowly toward the inlet. More fish come to it with dramatic takes.

The wind has backed off, and you stay with the pheasant tail parachute, happy to be fishing a dry.

You prospect around the inlet, hoping for a spring brown, but find none. The water is already high and remains cold, so the conditions that will attract fish to the inlet as the weather warms are still moot. You explore under the willows along the bank around the inlet, another brown hangout. You think you've got one when a fish takes with a flash of yellow, but it's another colorful rainbow with yellow highlights.

You need a break. The problem with spring is that there are precious few spots shallow enough to--let's be honest--stand and pee. The other problem is that the many boats, holding both genders, make privacy an issue. You try going up the inlet to where it shallows out, but there are downed willows blocking it halfway along. So you kick across to the truck, beach the tube, and take a break in the sagebrush under the big Ponderosa.

By now another squall is approaching. You launch and kick back across to the other side again, trolling a black woolly bugger.

You get some bumps, and then a solid hookup.

The squall soon passes and the lake calms again. There are some fish coming up here and there. You watch from a distance as a large fluttery insect tries to rise from the surface. Just when you think it's going to make it, it disappears in a splashy rise.

You tie on a little muddler you tied especially for opening day. You make it flutter on the water, and fish hit it hard.

One of the Trout Lake eagles flies over and lands nearby. It's been fishing, too.

Finished with its meal, it takes a post by the inlet.

You continue to fish toward the inlet with the muddler. You miss a couple and take a couple. You're enchanted by their beauty.

You got too close, and the eagle has moved off. You're beginning to think it's time for you to move off, too. The fish have quieted down. And after six hours in the water you're getting a bit chilled. The low at home is to be 34 degrees; at the lake it will likely be lower yet, and the slide downward has begun.

So you begin the kick back to the take out for the second time. You're looking forward to the heater in the truck. And you're looking forward to the next time you can get here. It has been a very good opening day. It has opened the season at Trout Lake, and, after a long six months away, it has opened up your world.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Early Lake Report: Time For a Change

It had been a long time since I had gone fishing. OK, compared to geologic time it wasn't that long. But time is relative, and in "fishing time" more than a week, especially at this time of year, is a lonnnggg time. I was beginning to feel a little like this guy.

I went back to Early Lake. The willows are almost fully leafed out, and the catkins are everywhere. The word comes from the old Dutch word katteken, meaning "kitten" because the cylindrical flower clusters resemble a kitten's tail.

I look at this and think of a lot of kittens without tails.

It was a nice day, coming on the tail end of a string of superb bluebird days in which the temperature climbed to the middle 80's. Coming on the end of the string it was still warm but signs of change were evident: high cirrus veiling the sun and forecasting heavier cloud cover on the way, and a brisk wind out of the northwest.

I started out trolling, and then tried a nymph under an indicator, but soon gave up on both techniques. Because of the warm weather, the weeks of outboard boat traffic, and the wind, the water was full of floating weeds (and catkins) which quickly fouled the hook. The worst was the "filamentous green algae," commonly known as pond scum. This was the spyrogyra , bright green and slimy, that floated under the water in fly-seeking blobs.

So I affixed a recently-tied muddler to my tippet and began casting and stripping through the algaeic minefield. I started getting bumps and splashes right away, and then I heard the signature little lip-smacking pop as a fish missed the fly. Bluegill. Sure enough, when I slowed down the strip a little I started catching them left and right.

I like to think I'm not an elitist. I like bluegill on a fly rod. I had fun catching them on this day when the trout were holding out. And they are an important part of the food chain on many a lake or pond, as evidenced by this red-necked grebe who was also catching them (and having a comically difficult head-bobbing, throat-stretching time swallowing them.)

Having said that, I do prefer that bluegill not inhabit trout lakes. Early Lake, though intended to be a trout lake, has been the target over the years of vigilante stocking of warm water fish by persons who apparently find the concept of "trout lake" to be snobbish. So it is today a true piscatorial democracy where all fishermen are created equal. So be it. By this time every spring I've been here the bluegill are coming into their own. So I caught bluegill and enjoyed it. (Good practice for trout, I always think.)

But I was happy when I picked up a random trout in the midst of the schools of bluegill. The bluegill were feisty when hooked, putting on a good show for their size and weight, but they couldn't compare with the trout, even the smallish stockers I caught. These ran and jumped and made a fine ruckus of it before I got them netted.

The wind died down as the sun went down, and the lake calmed. I was still hoping for a good evening rise of trout. There were midges and caddis popping all over.

I tied on a deer hair caddis and looked for rises that never came. So I cast the fly into the pocket water between the mats and drift lines of the becalmed weeds and debris.

And I caught fish on almost every cast--all bluegill.

Time for a change. If I want to catch bluegill I can always come back to Early Lake. But I want to catch trout: fine rainbows, and sleek browns. It has been six months since I caught a brown.

Trout Lake finally opens on Saturday. I'll be there.