Five o’clock in the morning doesn’t seem to come as early when it heralds a day of late June fishing. A quick “good morning” call from The Wife, a hot shower, a slathering of sunscreen and the packing of lunch and gear took thirty minutes. I was ready for what would be the best Monday. Ever.
Tom Loe, who owns the guide service, kindly allowed me to hitch a ride to the marina, while Darryl (guessing at the spelling here), another client, regaled me with claims of incredible fishing and trout of unparalleled quality.
Then it all came to a screeching halt.
I was asked if I had my license. I glanced at my chest. No lanyard, no license. Damn. Rookie mistake. A quick run back to camp. Frantic searching of the car, the bed, the cooler. Nothing. My license was in my backpack. Which was back at the dock. Lesson learned. I should trust in my preparations.
The sun creeping over the mountains signaled that the time had come to head out. Fifteen minutes later our guide, Doug Rodricks, was doing the “guide thing” — watching the Lowrance, peering into the crystal clear water, on the lookout for rock piles and drop offs. Soon enough, anchors were thrown, nymph depth checked, and Don, my fishing partner for this trip, and I cast out. We were fishing.
Helping temper our expectations was the knowledge, reinforced by comments from Tom and Doug, that calm water doesn’t make for good fishing on Eagle Lake. Especially with fish that seem to be a bit more photosensitive than most.
Managing expectations is a good thing; it makes that first takedown all the more sweet.
That sweetness came within the first thirty minutes. Don’s rod went bendo, big time. Neither of us were prepared for the strength of these trout, nor the overall quality of every fish brought to the net. Soon came my first takedown.
One doesn’t simply horse these fish to the net. And each fish brings a distinct fighting style to the game. Head shaking was common. Some would sound for the bottom. Others “play possum” until the boat is in sight, then make a wild dash. A number of fish would take us on blistering runs as far as they could. A few would jump, often more than once.
I quickly learned to hate jumping fish. More than one trout successfully resorted to this tactic to throw my hook. Keep in mind, they threw the hook. I did nothing wrong.
Soon enough, the coolness of the early morning air went unnoticed as Don and I brought a second, third and fourth Eagle Lake trout to the net, slabs of fish rarely measuring less than eighteen inches. Photos were taken; photos much like many seen before, but now featuring these beauties in our hands.
The number and quality of the fish in Eagle Lake are astonishing. There’s no getting used to such strong, larger and exquisite trout. Whether hatchery raised or wild born, all display full fins, with particularly massive caudal fins, and incredible coloration. The main difference between the wild and hatchery fish is in the markings. The wild fish are almost leopard like, with a dense collection of black spots extending from the tip of the nose to the end of the tail fin and below the lateral line.
Doug called it a tough day of fishing. Probably because he had to haul the anchor and reposition the boat more than usual, adjusting to the faint winds. I, however, don’t think a ten-fish day is all that bad.
Don’t get me wrong, we weren’t getting takedowns on every cast. Stillwater nymphing is less about figuring where these trout are; it’s more about finding locations where one can intercept them. Without wind to create ripples, it’s up to the fisherman to impart some action to the flies. More often than this amateur fly fisherman might deserve, a twitch would elicit a strike. Even unintentional twitches, such as the result of a bad mend, would mean fish on.
Monday would end with a boat total of approximately 20 fish to the net. We probably took photos of at least 19. Flies for the day were pheasant tail nymphs, midge pupa and “Agent Orange.” The afternoon was dedicated to caring for sore wrists and forearms.
the big day
In retrospect, Day 1 was a warm up. Tuesday morning brought predictions of increasing winds and the promise of a better bite. The excitement was palpable as we pulled into “Shrimp,” so named because of nearby Shrimp Island. We would end up staying there all day.
Slanting early morning sun and a breeze wrinkling the water equated to a quick start to the catching. Multiple doubles throughout the day would bring twin trout to the net. Intermittent winds marked the first half of the day, and the catch rate was directly proportional to the wind.
Agent Orange was the name of the game. So strong was this fly’s power to entice a grab, Doug doubled up our rigs, using Agent Orange as both the top and bottom flies.
Once and a while Doug would reposition the boat, adjusting to a shift in the wind, and we’d glimpse large fish cruising the shallows.
After one repositioning, I let my flies dangle in the water while Doug adjusted the depth of Don’s rig. I wasn’t paying attention and soon felt a familiar, slow tug hinting that I had snagged bottom. Starting to flush with embarrassment and moving slowly as to not catch Doug’s eye, I carefully angled the rod to help free the fly.
Line began to peel off the reel. I ended up landing a nice, fat Eagle Lake rainbow. The slowest and the easiest hookup I’ve ever experienced fly fishing. I hope that Doug appreciated this hookset; he’d admonished me the entire trip to slow down in setting the hook.
Then a few funny things began to happen. I’d solidly hook a fish, only to have the reel scream as the trout ran, possibly jump, and eventually throw the hook. This happened five times. Doug swears he didn’t straighten my hooks.
Also, as the afternoon wore on, the wind would die, leaving Don and I to believe we’d get a respite from the wrist straining action. Not so. Contrary to expectations, the bite continued despite the mirror like surface and I, for one, ignored hunger pains so as to keep my flies below the surface as much as possible.
Eight hours later, and with over 50 fish between Don and I, Doug gave the 15-minute warning. Both Don and I made good use of the time…both landing one more Eagle Lake Rainbow. The wind was picking up just as we headed back to the marina, but that good feeling fatigue that comes with a day of hard fishing guaranteed only a half-hearted lament.
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