Monday, June 6, 2016

Trout Lake Report: Delayed Gratification

You get to the lake around 5. With the long days--still stretching out--that gives you 5 hours to explore the Drake Bank and gather more data on whether the hatch is over or still building.

You pull in at the channel access. There are spittlebugs in the weeds. You first learned about them at a camp in Idaho when you were a kid. Then it was enough that they lived in a loogie. Now you google them and discover that they're the nymphal forms of Froghoppers. They make their foamy sanctuaries by ingesting sap and blowing bubbles through holes in their abdomen. The "spittle" is also referred to in common usage as "cuckoo spit," "frog spit," or "snake spit." Still cool after all these years.

You kick out into the channel. It's hot. The time and temperature sign in town said 103 degrees. It's a bit less than that up here, but it's still hot. But, as we can truthfully say out here in the high desert, it's a dry heat. It feels good.

The first thing you hear is fish splashing about. The first thing you see are damsels swarming everywhere.

A fish comes up in frame and takes one out of the air or off a reed, leaving only a bubble in the spreading rise rings, and alarmed damsels lining up to land in their former resting places.

You do the obvious thing and tie on a fresh Damselator.

You test some of the splashy rises, and get swirls but no takes. Then you get a take. You feel the fly scrape out of the fish's mouth. It will be the theme of the day. You cut across the channel toward the Drake Bank, wanting to get there as soon as possible.

Along the way, though, are those splashy rises. You get some bumps and swirls, and more misses. Are the fish striking short? Refusing at the last minute? Or is your timing way off? When you do hook up it's an eager little troutlet.

It's the same story on down the shoreline. To add insult to injury, while you're messing about with troutlets, two guys with faster rigs get ahead of you. They're obviously aware of the Drakes, so that's more evidence of the hatch. But it doesn't tell you how far along the hatch is.

At the same time, you see the first Drake on the water. You tie on a Drake dry and continue down the shoreline. You come out of a little bay and the other two guys are way at the far end already. That's OK. You work down to the reedy bay you like so well and stake it out.

This is where, on a hot dusky evening several years ago, while thousands of Drakes gyred overhead, you hooked into a fish so heavy you couldn't move it. It took the fly right up in the reeds. When it felt the hook it came slowly, ponderously out from the shoreline, almost to the float tube. Then, as though appraising you from the dark depths and deciding you were not worthy, it turned and slowly, inexorably, like a tidal force, swam back into the willows and broke you off. You tried to stop it. It would not be stopped.

Are there any like that in here tonight? You think not. There aren't many Drakes, for one thing, and little fish keep flipping at your fly for another. You get some fish to porpoise on the fly--are some of them Browns?--but you either miss them, or hook them briefly and have them come off. What's with that?

Then you hook a decent fish and get it in the net. Seems it was looking for Drakes.

You work up and down your stretch of shoreline, and the other guys stay far away. Live and let live.

You manage two more hookups. One of them--a Rainbow--immediately launches out of the water and throws the hook. The other is a Brown, not big but very browny. You get it close enough that you're reaching for the net when it does a triple somersault off the hook.

You have to admire them both. You just tip your hat to them and go on with your life.

Mostly it's the troutlets. This one finally does in the Drake dry.

Time for your secret weapon: the Brown Drake Muddler.

Evening is deepening, and the hatch is proving to be disappointing. There just aren't very many Drakes around. Rises have backed off as well. You begin working your way back toward the truck hoping the Drake Muddler might move something big.

You get some swirls, and you get a couple hits--that you miss. You go back for them, but once a fish makes a pass at the fly it won't come back.

Close to the channel you drift the fly behind you and enjoy the warm twilight. Fires have been lit in the campground, and woodsmoke perfumes the air. Frogs tune up for their nightly chorus. Bats flit in and out of your periphal vision. A single star winks overhead. And a Loon calls, and calls again and again, elevating the moment to a state of transcendence. You float in the middle of everything.

You kick into the channel and a nearby splash calls you back to consciousness. There's another splash from the same place. In the dim afterglow you can just make out that a fish is launching itself into a bush. Seems like a likely candidate for the Drake Muddler.

You flip it in as far under the bush as you can. Nothing. You try again. Still nothing. You hope you haven't sent the fish running. You flip the muddler in again, let it sit, begin to strip--strip--strip...

The fish's self control breaks and it rushes out and lunges on the fly. Here we go.

It's a good hookup on a strong fish, and it takes a few minutes in the dark, spinning with the circling fish, to bring it to the net. You knew it was a Brown. It's a solid 19 inches of attitude. And it's the perfect way to end the day.

Gratification delayed can be especially gratifying.

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