October 12-16th - Eagle Lake, CA
I picked up my brother Paul in San Francisco and we headed up to Eagle lake. Mid October can be good there if the weather is cool enough to get the big trout to move into the shallows where you can get them on flies. I haven't fished with Paul since we were in our teens in New Hampshire. In the twenty years since then he married into a family of northern Maine fishing guides and worked his stint in the Army to pay his medical school, and now is an emergency room doctor in upstate New York. Though he and Lisa love to fly fish in the Adirondacks and on trips back to her hometown, they don't get that much chance. It was my goal to get him into a western style trout of twenty inches or thereabouts.
We had a rental trailer for that first night, inspired by the snow and sleet that fell just a week before as I came through. It was adequate but creaky and cramped enough to help sway me from considering one as I get older. We woke at 5:30, fortified ourselves with latte and hiked out to the corner of Pelican point as the first light painted a thin yellow band over the deep purple ridges to the east. Pelican point is now an island, since the lake has risen about ten feet in the last three years. It approaches the height of chest high waders to wade across anymore, but just south of the base of the peninsula are some rocky points that are natural gathering places when trout are moving from the deep southern section into the shallower middle section.
Eagle might as well be three lakes. Long peninsulas extend for miles to delineate a deep southern section, shallow north, and middle section of medium depth. Autumn water temperature changes drive the trout from one section to another, and the major peninsulas and smaller points are natural places to intercept them and to attempt to discern from movements where the trout are and where they are moving. As the sun rose we didn't see a fish or feel a tug so we knew this wasn't the place.
We drove to the north end, with its extensive weedbeds that are a giant feed bin for trout when the water temperature draws them in. We went out in the tubes until the wind came up, again with no fish, no tugs, no sightings and none of the boats in the area getting anything either. In October if the fish aren't in the north section or moving across Pelican point, that leaves the middle section. We drove back to the town of Spaulding and set up the tent right near the airstrip and looked for options to pass the time until the winds would die down, at dusk or at worst dawn tomorrow.
We left for sightseeing around the Lassen area, but as we drove by McCoy reservoir an hour away there was no wind there so we tubered up and went out. We fished the same leeches on intermediate lines that we had rigged for Eagle lake, his olive and mine the trusty green and red Christmas leech. As a kid Paul always preferred to try on his own rather than take advice from older brothers; and I fought the impulse to give unasked advice. Experienced tubers point the rod straight down the line with the tip at the water so there is no slack in the line to feel the slightest touch and react instantly, while Paul fished as you would on a stream with the rod held high. But when I first tubed I did the same and still caught fish so it went unmentioned. After all, he is a doctor and I am homeless and unemployed, only a dwindling bank account from bumdom. As soon as we kicked beyond the shallows we each had jolting tugs on the lines, and within minutes we were simultaneously into rod-bending fish. Paul's towed him the opposite direction while I had my hands full with mine. I could hear Paul's reel as his fish pulled out line. Mine looked just like an Eagle lake trout - about four pounds and twenty inches of firm healthy shining rainbow. I paddled over to Paul and he had released his but said it was that big too. Within a few minutes we had each caught another. We decided to each keep one for dinners.
I ventured further off a shallow point and hooked another. To keep it without any stringer with me I kicked for the point as I played it in. I stood up when it was shallow enough and pushed my pontoon tube to shore. The wind just caught it and as it drifted away my fins stuck in soft mud, but I pulled my feet loose and got to the tube before it drifted away, holding the rod high with the fish still on. This time I really threw the tube onto shore, caught and cleaned the fish and went back out.
A few minutes later Paul hooked a fish and started towards the point as I had. As he stood up and played his fish his tube too started away in the wind. He caught his but didn't get it up onto shore completely and as he played the fish I watched the wind take the tube away. I was a couple of hundred yards away, too far to shout advice anyway. I started kicking towards it but I was not gaining. All we could do was laugh. At Eagle lake the tube would really be gone, but McCoy is less than a mile across. Paul kept his priorities right and landed the trout. We laughed more, happy at the good catchings and walked back to the truck. The tube hung up on a point only a half mile away so the was no harm; Paul hiked over and got it.
Back at Eagle that evening we tubed out into the maze of channels between the tules off our campsite at the airport. There were boats and other tubers around and we lost track of each other in the tules. I had a big fish on and lost it then caught another in the last light as I paddled back to camp. Paul had no action but his trout from McCoy made burritos aplenty for both of us.
Tuesday we tried the canoe. In a canoe you can cover much more area than a tube but the trick is to move slowly enough to fish the fly as a leech. We took turns paddling, trying to keep it as slow as possible as we tracked outside the tule line. The wind never came up as it normally does at midday so we canoed a mile out to Pelican Point island and hiked along the point to the end. We scared a deer that ran out onto the end of the point and jumped in and swam across the lake, and I kidded Paul that his old camouflage army made the deer think we were hunters. In addition to the usual pelicans and herons we saw a golden eagle. The day stayed warm and calm, but on Eagle they say the better the weather the worse the fishing . I sketched at the end of the point while Paul explored.
Canoeing on the way back we kept the flies in the water, as I kept reiterating the only really important advice - to keep the flies in the water. It worked. Paul caught a twenty-inch Eagle Lake Lucy on the way back. That evening I used the canoe while Paul chose a the pontoon tube. I was not at all surprised that he enjoyed the solitude and independence of the pontoon tube versus fishing in close proximity in the canoe. He went back out Wednesday at dawn while I packed up camp but that morning nobody was catching anything in the area. We left and took the long way back, stopping to give Hat Creek a try and giving Paul the view of Mt. Shasta and Lassen. They just don't have mountains like that in New York.
October 20-22: Klamath River
After a few days of city life I was ready to head out to the great Northwest. With the good sketches from the Rockies in spite of inclement weather, I am more relaxed about production of paintings now. I expect rain more than half the days so now I am more inclined to fish, take pictures, and make paintings when weather and scenery come together. The concepts of work and vacation are relative. The Rockies were a working project to get as many good sketches as I could, while this time in the Northwest is to be more of a steelhead fishing vacation.
I headed to Orleans on the Klamath. The steelhead are thick in the Trinity river with thousands of fish returned to this largest Klamath tributary, but I passed by this river that is easily accessible to the Bay Area. The Klamath is a bit further, less populated, and holds a long tradition in steelhead fly fishing. I camped at the Ullathorne access, which most people know as the Farm Hole. A rough camp spot above the river gives a long view of the quarter mile riffle and the beautiful farm. Two other anglers were on the water Monday at dawn so I left it for them, and as the sun came up without fog I painted the view across the river.
During the midday I fished the long riffle from top to bottom, carefully covering the half of the river I could reach. I had a few tugs that I can optimistically imagine as steelhead nibbles, but caught only one small half pounder - the small juvenile delinquent steelhead that the Klamath is famous for. Usually they are around fifteen inches or so and can really give a good battle. This one was twelve inches but still took line off the reel even with the lightweight two handed spey rod that is adequate for ten pound steelhead.
Tuesday morning I fished early, still with nothing, then worked on another painting looking upstream. Together the two will make a nice diptych but that one needs more work so I'm not showing it here.
To fish for steelhead you really need to drive, stopping every mile or so until you find some fish. It is best with three or four anglers, so you can cover a hole together in fifteen minutes. I dislike this kind of fishing because I like to park at a fishing destination and not drive until I leave. I spent about five years trying to catch a steelhead in this way with no luck until I was invited on the Laws family trips where we'd cover ten or twenty miles of river in a day. Now, free to do as I choose, I only tried that one long pool and riffle for two full days. What I gave up in possibilities for fish, I gained in peace of mind. My truck appreciated the days off.