Monday, August 31, 2009

Flip the switch: High-country cutts on and off

It never ceases to amaze me how fishing can change drastically from one day to the next.
Take last week, for example. I hiked into a mountain lake that contains Bear River cutthroat trout. This lake gets hit hard by Nebraskans and other meat fishermen, so I wasn't expecting much. If I caught five or six fish, I would have been happy.
I packed in some neoprene waders for the cold water and waded out toward a dropoff where cutts have cruised in the past.

They were there again. My first four casts with an emerger produced four hits, of which I landed two cutts. The rest of the day was pretty steady action, especially after I switched to an ant pattern. I caught and released 24 trout and missed at least that many strikes. The cutts in this lake have an uncanny ability to sense when I'm gazing at the scenery or looking for my dog. They always choose that moment to strike.
I made plans to return two days later with a fresh supply of emergers and ants. Again, I packed in waders and waded out to the ledge. Again, my first three casts produced hits although I didn't land any of them.
Then it slowed down. I mean, really slowed down. After three hours of casting, using the same patterns as two days before, I quit with a grand total of five trout landed and released.
Both days were about the same temperature. The wind blew out of the east each day, about the same speed.
The one variable seemed to be cloud cover. My first, successful day, there was sunshine all day. But two days later, it was overcast with only a few breaks in the clouds.
Of course, there could have been some other factor that I'm not aware of that made Day 2 so much less productive than Day 1.
But any time you can spend a day in the mountains, catching even a few beautiful cutthroat trout, is a day worth living.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Alaskanator: I'll be back

I went to Alaska with my wife this summer on a cruise to celebrate our 25th anniversary. Saw a lot of nice water but didn't do any fishing. Just thought about it. Click here to see photos of our trip.
We took the Inside Passage and stopped in Juneau, Skagway and Victoria, B.C. All three places had fishing opportunities.
The best situation appeared to be in Juneau. I stopped in a fly shop staffed by a retired guy who ties flies for the store and fills in when the owners are off. On a Sunday afternoon, he wasn't busy so we shot the breeze for a while.
I asked if there were any good streams around Juneau that you could fish without a guide to show you around. He said just go down to the harbor and you can catch salmon from shore right now. That's what he had been doing.
He also said you could flyfish from shore for halibut at certain times, using a sinking line and weighted fly. Of course, the fly is about 10-12 inches long
Sure enough, as we walked around Juneau we could see salmon jumping in the harbor.
In Skagway, I saw a guy catch a nice king salmon out of a little pond in a town park.
I will return to Alaska, and next time I'll take my gear.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

New water: The eternal quest for fish

Ever since I was a kid, I have searched for new water in hopes that next lake or stream would become a secret honey hole.
This summer, I am exploring some high-country lakes and creeks. Some were lakes I've heard of or looked at on maps, wondering how the fishing was. Others were unnamed dots of blue on a topo map or small waters I've seen in the distance while hiking to more familiar destinations.
My first exploratory trip of the summer was to two small lakes downhill from the trail to a proven brook trout lake that I hit a couple times a year. A friend said they used to contain brookies 10 or 12 years ago, and I found they were still there. The fish were decent-sized, nothing special, but it was fun finding them there and in the lakes' outlet streams.
Yesterday, I did a lengthier search for a couple lakes that I heard were pumping out nice brook trout this year. The first one required a slide down a steep snowfield to reach. Once there, a storm blew in, raising water on the lake, and producing thunder, lightning, rain and graupel. After the storm passed, the lake turned glassy calm and trout were rising everywhere for tiny gnats. I finally caught a few on No. 16 Adams, but the action was far from hot and heavy.
I fished the outlet, caught a few more, and headed over the ridge looking for my next destination. The lake appeared below, and I could see trout were rising steadily. The Adams produced a couple larger fish right away before it got shredded. I switched to a Royal Wulff, which received less enthusiasm. I lit out again and fished the outlet creek to where it intersected the main trail in the area. Brookies were everywhere in the creek and it was fun to dap them out of the small riffles and pools.
Not every exploration for new water is successful for fishing. For instance, I told Sam about some no-name lakes that I used to fish for brookies years ago. Now, he found no fish there.
Even if you don't find fish, the hike is usually an adventure, especially when you go off-trail and bushwhack. Yesterday, I wasn't sure where I was going but the sense of exploration kept me going. There are a few more places I want to check out, but I'll save them for next year.