Beaver Lake Trout, Again

It is that time of year. I am especially privy to select “special events” in local fishing. The Puget Sound pink salmon run is a notoriously popular special event, but besides the obvious I’ve come to look forward to many other public and personal fishing events on the calendar each year. Chum salmon on the Green in November, annual floats down the Upper Yakima in July, October Coho, and various annual/unique trout stockings throughout the region are only a few I can count on and that will be added to over the years.  Always on the calendar is the annual November stocking of Beaver Lake by the Issaquah Hatchery. This year for an unknown reason the hatchery stocked the lake a month early on October 14th and so yesterday I went out to try and land a few of the 2,493 trout, averaging 2lbs each, that they planted.

It was supposed to dry out a bit, but it was cold all day with sporadic squalls keeping us wet. Two of us took the rowboat out and started on the northwestern shore of the lake. I knew from experience that you needed to find these fish and they weren’t scattered like a group that was planted in March or later. They were freshly planted and the water was cold. I saw maybe ten fish surface over the course of the day, which told me that there was not a lot of movement happening on their end of things. We fished the first spot for twenty minutes and then moved on farther south. My buddy caught a 14″ trout and I, with my bait in the water, used my other rod to cast a gold Mepps spinner. I caught a tiny bass. Things died down and we trolled back north along the shore with a wedding ring until we anchored at the wooded bend in the very top northwestern corner of the lake. With bait off the bottom about 2 feet we cast towards shore and landed four more in about an hour’s time. The largest was 2lbs plus some change and none were under a pound.

We launched at 9:30am and were off the water by 4pm. It was a cold day and a bit back-breaking due to the fact that we were two grown men in a tiny rowboat all day, but the fishing was fun and the big trout put up a hell of a fight. One in particular peeled off 30 feet of line and then jumped straight out of the water, far enough way to make my friend think that it was a different fish than the one on the end of my line.

Labor Day Coho & Crab

Labor Day weekend started Saturday for me with a  bi-annual float down the Skykomish River fishing for pink salmon. We put the pontoons in at Sultan and floated down to the Ben Howard take-out. While there were a fair amount of fish in the water, it was nowhere near the abundance we encountered in 2013. I hooked and landed four for the day, one on the centerpin and the others on twitched jigs. The highlight of the day came at the end of the float on the long flat section before the river bend that takes you to Ben Howard. I was casting to some rising fish, long casts from my pontoon with quick twitches on a white 1/4 oz jig when I hooked a fish that immediately jumped out of the water and then took off across the river and behind my pontoon. After a couple of minutes and a couple more runs I landed what must be the first Coho caught this high in the river, this early in the year. It was a beautiful fish and I broke my long-standing rule of never keeping a fish caught in fresh water. The Coho had sea lice and must have just come up the river that day.

On Sunday I went to Kayak Point County Park to have a picnic at a shelter reserved by a friend.  Someone had brought a small boat and we used it all afternoon to drop crab pots in the calm bay off the shore where the shelter was. We had great luck crabbing and were treated to a crab boil, prepared by my longtime fishing partner and friend, Scott. Labor Day weekend was a great time this year and a fitting end to summer here in the Pacific Northwest.

Drift Jigging Fred’s Hump

Springer I helped land at Fred's Hump using a small 2oz white Pt Wilson Dart
Springer I helped land at Fred’s Hump using a small 2oz white Pt Wilson Dart

My family has a home at Bliss Landing which is at the mouth of Desolation Sound in British Columbia and for the past three summers I’ve been allotted the use of a small tin boat with a 25hp engine. From this boat I primarily fish using Pt. Wilson Darts, targeting Chinook salmon (called Springers here in BC) that come into shallow areas chasing bait fish pushed up by the high tide. It has been a frustrating learning curve getting these fish in the boat. The first summer I spent first discovering that there was a spot close to our home that I could access safely in a boat that frequently had mechanical issues and is very small. By the middle of August I think had hooked 6 kings, but not a one made it into the net. I was having troubles with my reel and rod choice and the appropriate amount of drag to be using. Barbless hooks were another challenging variable and I was also hooking these fish by myself in most instances, doing a one man keystone cops impression as I attempted to keep the line tight on the huge salmon now at the surface, while trying to get the net positioned effectively. On one memorable day I had hooked three, losing one that ran then surfaced close to fifty yards off of the back of the boat and another that broke off after I lost the net in the water and tried to host the 25lb fish into the boat by grabbing the 30lb test leader.

I thought about the failures of that day all winter long. Last summer I came prepared, or so I thought. I bought a small arsenal of jigs in all sizes and colors. I spent so much time throwing every color in the rainbow at them that I ignored the color that had worked that day the summer before: white. A long 4oz white needle fish jig with red eyes had hooked every salmon I had got into the summer before. I lacked patience and ignored many of the environmental contributors to great salmon fishing (tides, time of day, bait fish and bird activity). I landed one 14lb salmon towards the end of August in the small boat, but I was trolling and brought it in on an Islander mooching reel and a lucky net job.

This summer I’ve experienced hundreds of more days fishing and even more hours to think about what I was doing wrong. I stocked up on those white darts in a variety of sizes. I’ve had ample practice netting and playing fish in other situations that have practical applications to landing these larger ones. I pay more attention to the environment that I’m fishing in when it is both and not. These things are ingrained in me now, and have allowed me to focus more on technique. My rod and reel of choice was once just my rod and reel of default, but I’ve come to like using it. It’s a 6′ casting Shimano Trevala Jigging rod. The reel is a Shimano Calcutta with 50lb braid as it’s mainline. It’s the shortest rod I use in all my fishing, shorter than my ultralight trout rod, which lends itself well to netting fish by myself without having to worry about breaking it. To the braid I tie a snap swivel and about 4ft of 30lb flurocarbon leader which is then tied to the dart jig. With the drag set right, this reel and line do a great job of tiring a running salmon down.

A fin-clipped Columbia River-bound Chinook caught at Fred's Hump on the white Pt Wilson Dart needle fish
A fin-clipped Columbia River-bound Chinook caught at Fred’s Hump on the white Pt Wilson Dart needle fish

In putting this equipment to work I do what is generally referred to as drift jigging. I’ll motor to about the middle of the bay north of Fred’s Hump and put her in neutral, waiting to see which way the current and wind are gonna push me before I cut the engine. Once I get an idea of the drift I’ll go north or south along the shore depending on the direction I’ll be drifting, so that I can start at the “top” and drift across the small bay where there is a drop off from water averaging 90 ft in the bay to 300ft just outside of it. I try to drift right at the edge of the drop off. I’ll drop my dart to the bottom and then reel up about 11 times to get off the bottom and out of the way of the small rockfish. As I’m dropping the jig I’ll keep my thumb on the spool and every so often I’ll feel a fish bump it on the way down. When this happens I stop feeding line out and give the rod a couple mooches. Twice I’ve hooked salmon this way.

I’ll drift jig until I’ve drifted into water too shallow or deep to productively cover water where I’ve historically hooked fish. I’ve hooked two big salmon drift jigging in water under 40ft deep. This summer I landed three nice Chinook in the tin boat at Fred’s Hump. It’s taken a long time but I feel I’ve finally figured out most of the techniques that are successful and learned to work with most of the variables that might suggest tweaking these techniques.

Barely legal
Barely legal

Lake Takhlakh Early July

I booked a campsite over 4th of July weekend at Lake Takhlakh back in February. I had visited the lake last year late in the summer and we had a day of monsoon rain and a final clearing of the clouds right when we were packed up and leaving. This time around we camped only the second weekend the site was open for the season and it had been a mild winter with little to no rain over the two weeks leading up to the 4th. As soon as we arrived we set up camp and drove down to the launch to get the pontoon and an inflatable kayak in the water so that we could ferry them across the lake to moor at a spot where we had easier access from our site. As soon as we pulled up to the lake we had a visit from the resident Hoodoo host who cryptically asked us if were camping or day tripping and then, without further inquiry, told us to go look at the lake and that “it’s doubled in size since I first saw it” We had no idea what he was referring too so we went down to the lake and saw a smoke plume rising out of the forest very close to the campsite.

View of the Horseshoe Fire on Mt. Adams over Lake Takhlakh.
View of the Horseshoe Fire on Mt. Adams over Lake Takhlakh.

The fire covered 250 acres and caused much of the surrounding area near Lake Taklakh to be restricted forest, closed to public access. We were very lucky to be on the outside edge of this boundary. Here is a view of the fire from the southern face of Mt. Adams.

Smoke plume rising from Horseshoe Fire  as viewed from high on the slopes of Mount Adams  (photo credit:GPNF)
Smoke plume rising from Horseshoe Fire as viewed from high on the slopes of Mount Adams (photo credit:GPNF)

Below is the map of the restricted area released by the forest service. Lake Takhlakh is just beyond the far northern tip of the restricted area, with the fire located in Horseshoe Meadows in the central portion of the map at the base of Mt. Adams.

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The fire was contained and the smoke plume dissipated after only a couple of hours. There were lots of rumors swirling around camp about whether or not we were safe or able to stay.  The camp host did not have any communication with any fire teams or the forest service and was telling people that they should probably go. I did my best to ease Katlin’s worries and we waited until officially hearing that the fire was being contained. It was burning between two lakes, we would have at least a couple hours notice if we did need to leave, and most importantly, we could stay.

On the northern side of the lake looking east.

So with the boats in the water and camp set up we got into what would become our daily routine of cooking quick meals and taking about 3 trips a day out onto the water. The fishing was best mid-morning or evening, with the bite dying with the brightest sun, close to 2pm each day.

The lake had just been stocked the week prior with some 3000+ rainbow trout. Two hundred of these were big, 4lb brood stock fish that I could see rising and porpoising all over the lake. There were also resident Westslope Cutthroat in the lake that I caught a couple times, using small #0 or #1 bronze Mepps spinners with either blue or red dots on the blades. These spinners were my go-to fishing tactic all weekend. Of the many fish that I did catch, most hit the spinners hard and fought well on my ultralight gear.

I did try fly fishing but it was a tough go. There were a few other fly fishermen on the lake who were having luck with the smaller fish (I caught one on a grizzly-hackled black woolly bugger) but no such luck landing the larger brood stockers that seemed to be jumping all around us. I stuck with the spinners for the most part as they seemed to provide the biggest chance of landing a cutthroat.

One of the few Westslope Cutthroat I caught.
One of the few Westslope Cutthroat I caught.

The fishing was great I would say, given the bite was generally on and I didn’t have to resort to using bait. The view from the water is one of the best in the world as far as I’m concerned. There is a trail that leads around the lake and that has numerous bank access spots as well.

Bank fishing from the day-use beach
Bank fishing from the day-use beach

The black flys and bugs were out in full force and a smoky fire, citronella candles, and well-placed DEET applications helped a little. When I return to Takhlakh again this early in the season I’m bringing an upgraded kitchen tent with a netting that can keep the bugs out. There’s no water at Takhlakh and I’m glad that we brought plenty. We were also happy to have a new toy, the Goal Zero Switch 8 and Nomad 7 backpacking solar charger for our devices that worked well in the clear sun up that high.

View of Mount Adams from the road out of Takhlakh
View of Mount Adams from the road out of Takhlakh

Lavender Lake

After a slow trip at Rattlesnake Lake earlier in the week, I decided to check fish stocking reports and go where they had been planted in June. The heat makes any lake trip a gamble, but Lavender’s fish were biting. It took me around two minutes of sitting on my truck bed with a line in the water to hook and land the one in the picture below. Many of the trout were bigger, in the 1-2lb range, with some smaller ones in the mix too. They weren’t biting flies or spinners and only bottom fishing from the middle of the lake produced strikes. The lake is not deep but is full of long grass on the bottom and some pockets of really shallow water in spots where you wouldn’t expect it.

Little Nestucca & Neskowin Rivers

Katlin and I drove to Pacific City, Oregon for Memorial Day and I got a chance to fly fish for the first time in two of the several rivers that empty into the ocean near there. The drive in along winds along Little Nestucca Road and includes several points where the narrow road funnels across one-lane bridge crossings across the river. At each of these bridges on the way in I had a chance to check out some nice pools that had me chomping at the bit as I formulated an easy way to break it to Katlin once we landed at her folks’ house that I was going to be taking my fly gear back there to get a line wet. The moment arrived and with some support from her Dad, I made my exit and headed back up to scout the bridge crossings a bit more and find a good spot to access the river safely. After a couple stops I found some proper access with decent pools and hiked down below a bridge and along the bank for a short while, posting up in a nice tailout that looked promising. I hadn’t fished drys yet, and was really curious about the presence (or not) of fish, so I tied on a nymph and let it swing through the tailout into a nice pool that formed below. The fish were there and what they lacked in size they made up for in abundance. I caught a small cutthroat on nearly every cast, took in the scenery, and then mosied on back to the house for BBQ and time with the family.

On Sunday I was promised that I’d get a shot at fishing the Kellow Farm in Hebo, Oregon. The farm was about a fifteen minute drive from where we were staying and was on a nice stretch of the Neskowin RIver, above the hatchery but still the possibility of seeing a late Spring Chinook lurking in a big hole that formed just down the driveway from the farmhouse. I had caught a big Coho there two Christmas’ ago in that hole. There weren’t any big fish to be seen, so I waded across the river and upstream a bit, with the plan being to work my way down, through the big hole, and beyond to some water that I hadn’t seen before. There was nothing happening at the big hole, but downstream I found some promising water tight to the bank and switched to a dry fly. The dry was instantly hit on a cast tight to the opposite bank and I quickly caught two healthy rainbows which were much bigger than the cutthroat I’d been hooking the day before. Those two were the perhaps the biggest once around on the small part of the river I fished that day. It felt great landing my first two fish on a dry fly and great practice before I take on the Yakima here once my summer break begins.

 

On Monday we headed to the beach before the drive home to Seattle. I’ve always had this juvenile dream of driving on a beach and there’s no better than Tierra Del Mar north of Pacific City.

Twenty at Rattlesnake

I fished at Rattlesnake twice over this past week. On Sunday I fished from the bank, hooking two on a red spinner and struggling when I tried to fly fish due to wind, minimal room for backcasting, and a generally amateurish level of skill at this part in my fly fishing development. My friend and I then drove up to try the middle fork of the Snoqualmie, only to be greeted by the road closure that has much of the best water off limits to everyone except those prepared to hike in (which I may do here in the next couple weeks). Yesterday I headed back to Rattlesnake with my pontoon ready and had a lot of success in both catching fish and honing my fly fishing skill set. I landed about fourteen trout in the first ninety minutes and then committed to staying until I got to twenty, which took about four more hours as I tried different patterns I’d tied up and took some shore breaks for lunch and for watching the show being put on my a couple ospreys who were diving and catching their own lunches. The fly of the day was a woolly bugger with black maribou, grizzly hackle, olive green dubbing on the body, wine-colored thread, and a brass bead. I posted a picture of it below, slowly unraveling and beaten down by the ten trout who had tried to swallow it. I’ve never had to pluck hooks on artificial presentations that were as deep as these buggers got in the fish. They were all barbless and not that small (size 8), but the bigger fish were nearly swallowing these things. I take it as a good sign as Rattlesnake has been a selective gear, catch and release fishery for most of the past year and these bigger planters are starting to feed voraciously on the natural foods available to them in the lake. I hope that as WDFW continues to regulate this lake with these selective gears rules and continues to periodically stock the lake that we’ll see, if they can sustain it for 3-4 years, really big and colored fish roaming about.

Deception Pass & San Juan Halibut

I was invited to fish for halibut by a friend and his girlfriend’s dad and dad’s co-worker. I stayed in Anacortes Thursday night and we checked out at 4am to meet Steve and drive to the launch at Washington Park. There we met Rydell, whose boat we would be taking out and who proved to be an incredible guide. He’d live in or very near to Anacortes all his life. His system for fishing halibut was very dialed in and meticulous. From the choice of waters to the anchor system to the chum-on-the-downrigger. We anchored in about 113 feet of water (shallower than I expected) and Rydell got all the gear in the water promptly after a lesson on rigging the herring and the rational behind using both octopus and herring (rigged to look like the octopus is attacking the herring). Our phone service was alternating between towers in Canada and the US. We hooked two big halibut before 11am. I reeled in a 61lb fish and Perry, about an hour later, a 45lb fish. In checking in with the fish checker we learned that these were the two biggest fish caught at least two of the launches in the area. I’d like to think they were the two biggest fish in the state caught that day.

After being on the water for 12 hours, we docked and Perry and I went to Deception Pass where he and I would stay for a night and he left in the morning. I had three more friends coming up to meet me from Seattle and they arrived close to 11am and we tried fishing for searun cutthroat underneath the Deception Pass Bridge and then loaded up the pontoons to try and fish Pass Lake.

Three Pontoons In A Truck

Pass is a flyfishing-only lake that we were undergunned for. The fish were deep and our flys were not. I also fished Cranberry Lake and hooked about three fish and landed none. Trout fishing was finicky but the trip was good recon and I’ll be better prepared next time.

Cranberry Lake

Cranberry Lake

Last Casts at Cranberry Lake

Rattlesnake Lake

I fished for fours in a downpour today at Rattlesnake Lake. The plan was to hike the shoreline, but once I arrived and the wind was minimal, I assembled my pontoon and headed out about 150 yards from the boat launch. I caught my first trout on a fly. A red beaded, grizzly hackled, brown tailed wooly bugger that I cast and stripped back in. My casting is improving and I learned a lot today. I used that fly all day and landed four on it. I also had my ultralight spinning rod and was getting bites every other cast on a red Mepps spinner. I landed another five on the spinner. The lake was very active with trout, they were jumping all around all afternoon. The water was bright green and not as murky as would be expected with all of the rain. A great day fishing and I’m glad to have made despite the last two days of rain.  There was only one other angler on the water and he was catching his share too with a nymph below an indicator.

There will be days when the fishing is better than one's most optimistic forecast, others when it is far worse. Either is a gain over just staying home.