Sept 13 -14, 2014 The Anonymous Lake and the Search for Large Char- Days 4 and 5 of 5 Days in the Sierra
If you've read the first two installments of "5 Days in the Sierra" you're probably wondering what happened to Day 3. Well, Day 3 was a rest day of sorts. We hung out, took showers and fished Hot Creek for a bit. The morning of Day 4 however we took our leave of each other.
Originally we had planned to backpack up to a Golden Trout lake together but as part of this trip I had been looking to rehab a soleus injury that I developed trail running. The soleus is the muscle in the lower calf that runs along the sides of the Achilles tendon. This trip to the Sierra had been partly about trying to maintain some fitness while I couldn't run at home. I found that navigating the talus up to Lake Zuul had aggravated the injury slightly and didn't want to risk the same thing with a full backpack on.
Instead, I chose to fish The Anonymous Lake (TAL), while Roger followed through with our original plan.
TAL had been on my must do list since the beginning of the year. In fact, I had planned it to be my first "Fastpack and Fish" lake for 2014. Fastpack and Fish is what I'm calling day hiking into lakes that would generally be considered too far for day hiking. The idea is simple, I don trail running shoes and an ultra running vest (in this case the Ultimate Direction PB Adventure vest) and run to the lake, fish and run back to the trailhead. I had several of these trips planned, all scuttled when I injured my soleus. Still, a trip to TAL in 2014 was still nagging at me. Roger and I figured it was 8 miles. I was familiar with most of the route and thought at worst, it would be a 4 hour hike. With the days getting shorter, that wouldn't leave much time to fish but it wouldn't be the first time I've fished fewer hours than the actual hike in or out of a place.
I was excited. I got to the trailhead early and by 6:30am I was on the trail. I made good time on the trail despite not opting to carry my UD vest. I'm pretty familiar with this trail and it's rhythms. I know where the tough spots are, where to take it easy and where to press. The last mile to the lake was new to me and took some route finding. Overall, it was a shorter and faster trip than we'd figured.
Immediately upon reaching the lake I found bear sign. This was not a surprise as this whole area is known for bears and I don't think I've ever hiked the trail and not seen some sort of bear sign. This sign however had me stay a little more alert than usual. Cub prints, lots of cub prints..... "Where's Mama, baby bear?" I thought to myself.
I've always said that "trout don't live in ugly places" and TAL did not disappoint. It was a beautiful lake set in a horseshoe basin. Short golden grasses contrasted against stark grey granite and forest green pines to create a scene that one has to see in person to truly appreciate. I plan to return and if the lake had turned out fishless, I would still return just for the view.
Fortunately the lake wasn't fishless and I quickly spotted a single cruising fish by the outlet. I made a cast with a dry fly, I can't remember which fly and watched as the fish approached the fly and turned at the last instant. Memories of Lake Zuul haunted me....
The water was obviously lower than normal. The mossy like grass along the lake's edge stopped abruptly and fine grain sand continued for a foot or two before the edge dropped. The water was clear and I could clearly see the underwater structure. There were plenty of rocks and places for fish to hold so I tied on a nymph and went to work prospecting. On the third or fourth cast I hooked into a very nice Golden and somewhere along the way tied on what, this day, became my new favorite high country nymph combination- the beadhead soft hackle hares ear and small Stillwater Nymph dropper.
With the proper retrieve, I could not keep the fish off these flies. The key of course was finding the fish. They seemed to be concentrated and not always in the same type of water. In some areas they were concentrated around rocks and in other areas sandbars.
Initially, I had decided not to wade the lake and left my wading gear (Simms Ultra-light Travel waders and outdoor Crocs) in the car. Sometimes as you fish a lake or stream you just have a feeling about a particular piece of water. You just know in your gut that there are fish there. So it was with one section of deep blue water just past a sandbar that I couldn't reach from shore.
On the backside of the lake, the shoreline drops so that the granite and surrounding shrubs make for a challenging back cast. Try as I might, I couldn't quite cast far enough. The water had a rich blue tone and seemed to draw me to it like a beacon.
"There have got to be fish there" I thought.
In front of me, just out of casting range, the deep blue beacon water. Between it and me a small sand bar and just to my right, a little farther out, another sand bar created by the inlet. I wet waded my way out to the near side of the sand bar, careful not to wade out too far and spook fish that might be on the other side. The fine sand from shore had been sticking to my fly line all day. It whistled and ground it's way into my rod guides like sandpaper as I made by first double haul. Cutting deep into my finger as I retrieved line.
On the first cast a Golden slammed the fly. Golden Trout don't often slam anything. Their takes are often soft and gentle, almost unsure or at the very least, untrusting of that on which they've chosen to feed. Not in this case. I'd found fish. Lots of fish. Lots of large Golden Trout and they weren't shy.
I fished this area until late in the afternoon and then made a cursory probe of the remaining water before heading back up the trail. The fishing at TAL was one of those great high country experiences that you're treated to once every couple of seasons. I'll definitely be back for the view and hope to catch some trout.
The last day of the trip I chose to fish a bit closer to home. A beautiful lake that I could reach quickly so that I could hike out in mid afternoon and still arrive home at a reasonable hour. In the past I've caught large Brook Trout here and had high hopes of also catching large Brown Trout. The lake contains both and I'd hoped that as it was getting closer to Fall, the larger browns might be on the move.
I'd made exactly two trips to this lake previously. The last trip, Roger and I tried unsuccessfully to hike through knee deep snow. We hiked for a few hours before turning our attention to the outlet stream and hiking out. On my first visit, I caught several beautiful brookies.
The Sierra can be filled with such randomness. The lake is on a plateau, at the base of a pass to higher lakes. It's surrounded on two sides by high walls, not very steep or sheer but high and I guess this must create some sort of acoustic anomaly that attracts musicians. That, or it was simply the beautiful scenery but as I sat eating lunch and hydrating at the lake I could hear music. At first, between the great gusts of wind, it was almost indistinguishable but then as he fell into his rhythm the sound was unmistakable- an alto saxophone.
Some guy, some European guy (he sounded Dutch or Flemish maybe) was playing an alto sax on top of this bluff, with the lake in the background and they, he an his buddy, were filming it. Or trying to anyway, I can't image the sound quality was very good with the wind howling off the pass.
The wind was horrible and made it difficult to spot fish or cast for that mater. I started fishing from a small peninsula that jetted out from the right bank, just above the outlet. I fished my now favorite nymph combination and was quickly catching small, 6 or so inches Brook trout. The skunk was off but small brookies weren't really what I'd come to the lake for, so I quickly moved along up the bank. During my last trip, I spotted fish holding tight to the bank. With one exception, that scenario did not play out this time around. I did scare a 12 inches Brook Trout that was holding tight to the bank, just inside a small inlet.
This trip the fish were holding farther out and were more fully dispersed. With the wind chop on the water and visibility poor, I had to fish all the water and fish it all pretty thoroughly. Where normally I might make 6 casts to an area and then move on, here I had to make 12 or 18. The fish were there and in numbers but seemed to take their time getting to the fly.
The only fish that stands out was the first brown that I caught and only because it seemed to be in the most random spot and get caught with the most random retrieve. Until catching this brown, most of the fish, brookies of course, had been caught with a perpendicular retrieve to shore. I this particular instance, I'd fished the water pretty thoroughly and then moved down the bank about 20 feet or so to a small outcropping that gave me better access to the deeper water. Typically I'll fish the water in a fan pattern before moving to another spot, making a cast parallel to shore in both directions if I can. This has the benefit of maybe enticing a fish coming up on water I've already fished. It also has the benefit of presenting the fly to fish that might be cruising the water to where I'm about to move.
In this case, I made the cast to my left, "behind" me in fishing terms and out of nowhere this brown takes the fly. It was strange. It felt like he'd been there all along but just wasn't interested until I changed the direction the fly travelled. (Yeah, I'm totally coming up with nonsensical rationalizations here but it just seemed random.) A bit snaky but by far the largest brown that I've caught at this lake.
Just like that, it seemed that I'd uncovered the key to catching browns on this lake and they kept coming- though none as large as the first and none as large as I suspect the lake might hold. I've caught 14 inches Brook Trout here, I've got to imagine the Brown Trout grow larger. Afterall, 14 inch brookies would make good food for some monster browns....
I fished around the lake, catching small and medium sized browns and brooks until some rain came in during the afternoon. Then I headed back to my car and home. The guy with the sax was huddled in his tent when I left. The weather was looking sketchy but I hope he got what we wanted. No large Char on this trip, maybe next time.