August 16, 2009

Back to the Holy Water

This last Friday was reserved for a day of fishing with one of my middle school teachers from up the hill a ways. If there's one person that may be more committed to, and gets more excited about fishing than myself, it's my 6th grade math teacher Louise. Louise is that, "Just one more cast," type of person who refuses to head home without catching a fish. The last time we fished the Yuba together, she got skunked, and I'm pretty sure she took it personally: an insult from the fishing gods that she's still waiting to avenge, and she'll have her chance before the summer's over. I knew that if I threw a crazy trip at her this weekend she'd be ready to go regardless of how early we got on the road.

I had hoped to turn the trip into an overnighter to several different waters, but Louise and I decided to just do it all in one day which, surprisingly, wasn't too bad. We had plenty of time to fish each piece of water and we caught fish in every water.

We started off with a short 4 wheel trip to Grotlo Lake, a tiny lake tucked behind some dramatic mountain peaks in a circular basin fed by year-round runoff.

This lake (as with many of the lakes above 8,000 feet) historically had no fish in it until it was stocked with reared brook trout many years ago. I'm not sure from which hatchery they came from, but these trout are still some of the most beautiful fish caught in the region. They're unlike brook trout in other waters, with much brighter colors and markings.

Although you can catch fish all day on this lake in the summer, the prime time is before the sun gets down on the water which, that morning, was at about 6:00 am. With the shade out on the water the tiny midges and mays hatch first thing in the morning all along the bank making it easier to catch fish without using a float tube. But, you gotta get there early! If not, it's a lot more work for many fewer fish.

Even though we got an early start, we still missed the prime time by about 40 minutes or so. The water was really low which probably didn't help the fact that we were late.

When we pulled-up the rises had subsided and I was having a hard time finding fish cruising the banks, so we both started out using a couple of wooly buggers hoping to catch the fish as they retreated to deeper water. I had a polyleader on while Louise stuck with the floating line and weighted fly.

First cast with the root beer wooly bugger... fish on!... Second cast... fish on!... I thought, "This morning is gonna' be a good morning...." I spoke too soon...

I'm not a superstitious person, but I've come to realize that sometimes, no matter how hard you try to succeed, failure usually follows high expectations that are based on a quick burst of success. It's like when the Kings go up by 25 points at the end of the third quarter and everyone is cheering and thinking, "These guys may actually win one," and then they proceed to give up 33 unanswered points in the first 10 minutes of the fourth... How does the saying go?.... "Don't count your chickens before they hatch?..." yup... that's the one...

Four more fish was all we could manage in the next couple of hours. Poor Louise only got one to hand. Granted, it was the best fish that morning, and by far the most beautiful, but she was working pretty hard with no takers.

Most of the time a brook trout will take on a slightly golden color with some red spots here and there, but the brookies out of this lake are bright red with bright red fins. Very pretty fish.

The wind was picking up as the sun came over the ridge so we blasted out of there and headed to our next destination. The trip wasn't a total dud though, we did manage several fish and a sweet vintage can of Anheuser-Busch's finest.

I couldn't help myself. I had to see if it still tasted the same... nope...

After a couple hours of driving we arrived at the next stop which you might recognize from my previous post, and again, don't expect me to draw a map to this place. If I did draw a map, you'd find this water somewhere between the towns of Takea and Hiké.

Again the temps were perfect and the fish were abundant. After nearly striking-out earlier this morning Louise was a bit happier in this water as she pulled several fish out of every hole.

In the first couple of pools we caught mostly cutthroats which included one that may have been an example of a pure strain. A lot of the cutts out of this water do have some rainbow in them, but every now and then you'll catch one that's a little darker with fewer, larger, spots and some solid deep orange/red slashes under it's jaw. Without being a fisheries biologist, my belief is that these few fish are a pure strain that live in these waters.

Louise was using a dry-dropper combo that was working well, except that it didn't take much to bring down that dry fly: if a tiny fish (and I mean tiny, like 2 inches) managed bring down the dry, it would sometimes inadvertently take a quick flying lesson when the hook set came. It was funny to watch sometimes, I won't lie.

I was using an olive wooly bugger hoping to run into some of those huge brown trout again, but that day the wooly bugger was working great for all sizes of fish. A couple of times I would switch up to a nymph rig, but most of the time it was the bugger that caught all the fish.

The nymph rig nearly paid-off in when I hooked a huge brown trout in the head of one of the deeper pools. She took the big rubberleg stone, which was the lead fly, and gave several head shakes before I felt the fly pop out and the dropper fly foul-hook her below the jaw. I got the fish almost at my feet to take a good look. It was a HUGE brown trout and she was hard to move. I reached down to get the fly out, but before I could, like a big ship in a vortex, she got sucked down to the pool below. I figured, "no big deal, I'll just unhook her in the lower pool," but when I got up to her I noticed that she had taken a path between two rocks that made it impossible for me to reach her. Here's me trying to "fish" her out through the two rocks without sawing-off my leader on the rocks.

After a minute or so of reaching between these two rocks the dropper fly popped out and she swam down to the end of the pool. She would've made a great hero shot! I'll find her again next year.

After that, Louise started to make it look easy, again hooking several fish in nearly every piece of holding water. I could tell that this stop was quickly making-up for all the fish that hadn't been caught at Grotlo Lake. Louise was finding fish in every pocket and seam. The spots where it looked impossible for a fish to be would have two or three good-sized fish lurking under some rocks or behind some fallen branches.

I worked hard to bring-in more of those big browns in several other pools, but only managed one other. I hooked a couple more, but never got 'em in. Great fight and an even prettier fish.

We saw some fish in a couple of pools that my buddy Scott categorized as "steelhead", but they wouldn't budge for any fly. A couple of those fish were easily pushing 5 pounds in about 5 to 10 cfs of water. It was definitely fun to see those fish. From what I could tell they were rainbows, but they may have been huge cutts too. We'll have to catch one next time to find out.

Once we had finished-up at the Holy Water we drove for about 2 more hours to get down to the E. Carson for some dry fly action. When we got to the river the sun was declining quickly so we had to hurry and hike up to some of the better holes where the toads like to hang out. We didn't quite get to the hole that I wanted to fish before it was time to turn around for fear of hiking in the dark, but we did find a few smaller fish rising in some skinny water as we fished our way back. All on Cutter's finest creation: the E/C Caddis.

Not the action I'm used to for that stretch. Actually it was quite disappointing and unusual. We did pass a couple of guys on their way back down the river who may have done a good job at putting the fish down, at least that's what I'm going to tell everybody. Seeing those guys was sort of weird too: not many people fish that section because it's a long ways away from... well... anything. It just goes to show how word can get out, and then the droves follow. Oh well, we'll just have to find a new secluded section where we can hide from the masses.

That being said, the day turned out to be a great day of fishing with some catching to boot; however, next time this trip's gonna be an overnighter, that way we can fish the spinner fall in the morning which has always been productive. As for now, it's almost time for caddis crazy fish on the Yuba and halfpounders on the A, not to mention the big girl stripers calling my name.

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