Fisher mixes it up as he tries to stay out of Hot Water...
Bring your thermometers with you when you go fishing! Record high temperatures in Portland last weekend indicate that the fishing will be impacted in ways never before seen in this area. I think it is safe to assume that the rest of the summer will be hot as well. We all must learn how to deal with this new reality. So bring your thermometers.
My girlfriend and I visited the Wilson during the heatwave, ostensibly to swim. It was a balmy 108. I also brought a rod, but when I broke out my thermometer the water was 72 degrees. That is way too hot to fish for trout. Cold liquid holds dissolved gasses much more effectively than warm liquid. That’s why your beer fizzes more if you pour it out of a can stored at room temperature as opposed to one from the fridge. The same thing applies to trout water. At high temperatures, it holds less oxygen and puts stress on the fish. Optimum trout feeding and activity temperatures are between 45 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. If you fish for trout at all when the water is between 65 and 67 degrees you need to play those fish fast, use heavier tippets, and never take them out of the water. Fishing for trout when the water temperature is between 67 and 70 is very strongly discouraged. Just because a fish swims off doesn’t mean it’s going to be okay. And if I ever catch you fishing for trout in water above 70 degrees, I might ban you from fly fishing. I bet you didn’t know I could do that. So take care of these animals that give us so much.
In light of this reality, it might be time to start changing up some of our fishing. This is not to say don’t fish for trout. Just make sure you find cold water, maybe at higher elevations. Or only fish in the mornings and evenings. I’m sure the Deschutes and the Metolius will have opportunities all summer. We just have to be conscientious. But the trout fishing opportunities in the immediate Portland vicinity are going to be increasingly limited. As some of you know, I am a big advocate for variety in your fly fishing. With that in mind, and with limited time and no other option due to the heat, I went out to target bass. I made a 20-minute trek to the Willamette last Wednesday, the 30th. This marked my first trip in which bass were the intended quarry.
For a fish that I’ve accidentally caught so many times, I was surprised by how much I struggled. I suspect I could have caught more if I had tried other flies, but I wanted to catch the critters on topwater. Now is the season to do it! Throwing poppers is very satisfying fishing. It’s one of my favorite things to do in Puget Sound. I was using a big olive popper. I targeted structure or visible drop-offs, but being new to bass fishing I didn’t neglect any water. I can learn from every cast at this emergent stage.
I was working my way down the shoreline, making long casts, most often parallel to the bank. I would let the popper sit after it first landed, and then give it one hard strip. I then let it sit again until the rings disappeared. I repeated this until I had retrieved the fly. Having thrown poppers in the Sound, I prefer to strip them such that they are loud rather than splashy. I am not sure if prioritizing volume is the move for bass but I’ll tell you my technique anyway. I angle the rod tip down and straight at the fly, sometimes jerking the rod tip a little, as I give the fly a hard strip. This usually drives the bug underwater, making some splash and a good amount of disturbance, but most importantly producing a resounding ‘popping’ sound. That is what poppers are named for after all.
As a dramatically inexperienced bass fisherman, I don’t want to belabor too many bass techniques. I’ve picked stuff up from being in the shop, but come talk to my more experienced co-workers if you want the low down. Especially because my specific popping technique didn’t work. I suspect that it’s effective or I wouldn’t have done it, but I only connected with one fish. And that fish hit as I let the fly settle on the water after I made the cast. I hadn’t popped it once. The strike was exactly as exciting as bass on topwater are supposed to be. But I wasn’t ready when it happened. I was managing some of my extra line, unaware that a bass would hit what was, at that point, essentially just a dry fly. I was still quick on the set, as I was tight to the popper, but I suspect not quick enough. After maybe five seconds of fighting, the fish came unbuttoned.
Trout occupy a special place in the collective imagination of the fly fishing world. And rightfully so; they are incredible fish. But other fish are worthwhile as well. They offer different opportunities, different excitement, and an endlessly expanding world of fish knowledge to learn (as if trout aren’t difficult enough already). Of course, many of us are in fly fishing because of that lifelong learning and improvement process. In my competitive swimming career I was a butterfly, freestyle, and I.M. (individual medley) swimmer. The I.M requires that you swim all four strokes. Aside from that fact, once I got to college I never raced breaststroke or backstroke by themselves. Sometimes I spent three-hour practices swimming only breast or back. Improving those strokes made my butterfly and freestyle better. Rounding out your fly fishing game, and learning about other fish and other water, will not only be fun but will make you a better fisherman in every respect.
This Fourth of July weekend, however, I was able to get out for some trout fishing. My girlfriend and I headed to Seattle for the holiday. Rather than celebrate conventionally, Abbey, my mom, and I took to the mountains. As many of you know from a previous report, fly fishing for alpine lake trout is my favorite thing to do. But when I say that to fishermen in the Portland area they immediately start talking about the Mt. Hood lakes. Fishing those lakes is not a similar experience to fishing the mountain lakes I grew up with.
Every summer of my life except this one, I spent as much time as possible exploring the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area. This special place is dotted, gouged, and hollowed with over 700 lakes. You can catch fish in seven different spectacular lakes in one day. I have caught rainbows, coastal cutthroats, west-slope cutthroats, cutbows, brook trout, brown trout, and golden trout there. I have yet to visit a lake without fish. Originally the lakes were stocked but the fish are now self-sustaining in most of them. Thus the trout are not native but they have become wild. When you check the WDFW stocking history on these lakes the official report often has no bearing on what you find there. I know many, though far from all, of the area’s secrets. I know many, though far from all, of the tricks for catching the fish that live there. It is the only location, and alpine lake trout the only fish, that I would consider myself an expert on. It is the place closest to my heart.
We hiked to a particularly special, secret, and favorite lake of mine. The trail is defunct and difficult to find on the internet. It now exists primarily in old hiking guide books and guarded whispers. Even on the Fourth of July, we did not see another soul. It is a small and unique lake. The water is clear but appears dark, as the bottom is heavily stained with tannins. A stepped waterfall, a couple of hundred feet tall, flows out of the lake. Even more impressive, a waterfall well over 100 feet tall drops directly into it, spraying rainbows across the darkened surface. And the brook trout that live there, haunting a pool no more than a couple hundred feet wide in any direction, have the colors to match. If you have never had the pleasure of catching brook trout from dark water you should rectify that immediately. They are chameleon-like, retaining their flamboyant markings while their skin underneath becomes nearly jet black. The feral brook trout in this particular lake range in size from 8 to 14 inches.
My girlfriend, Abbey, is continuing to improve her fly fishing at an exponential rate. I strung up her rod with an intermediate line and a small wooly bugger. Space was limited, testing her newly minted backcast. Only sometimes was the cast far enough to be effective, but the fish are plentiful and densely packed. It took a little work, but soon a thirteen-inch trout, in its full regalia, was brought to hand. The sight of that beautiful fish, framed against a waterfall and solitude, was all the joy we could’ve asked the weekend to give us. Abbey eventually called it quits and I went on to net many more. I fished my way along a rock ledge that rings the lake to a boulder field and then the waterfall. The traverse is quite difficult and I risked a fall into the water many times. Casting from the ledge demands a lot of the fisherman but rewards him with fish after fish. When it was time to go, I’d had more than my fill. Living in Portland I deeply miss the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, but we made our chance to visit into the best experience it could have been.