I had been awaiting the arrival of spring weather, and for that lull in the budget season between the March Budget Workshop and the May Budget Hearing, to set up the first fishing trip of the year. I decided to avoid Cumins at this time since the big ‘bows are in spawning mode and not actively feeding. Rather, I decided to return to Illipah Reservoir just off Highway 50 (known as the Loneliest Highway). I got on the road about 10:30 am and arrived at Illipah about 2:30 pm.
Although sunny and warm (highs around 70°), it was quite windy. White caps were on the lake, and they caused me to stay within a hundred feet of the shore. Not so much out of concern for capsizing as I don’t think the Fish Cat can capsize unless the waves get quite large, but because trying to cross the wide part of the lake takes too much effort in high wind. In calm weather it’s easier to criss-cross a lake, but in high wind lots of leg energy is expended, sometimes resulting in leg cramps.
Wind aside, I was the only one on the lake. One guy drove down to the lake and fished for about fifteen minutes, but that was it. I understood his frustration because the fishing was very tough. The lake level was very high, and the water was murky from snow runoff. In four hours I only hooked four fish, and landed three of them: two rainbows and one brown. Fortunately, all were in the range of fifteen to sixteen inches, which was pleasing. One of the ‘bows was quite lethargic, while the other one was very acrobatic. The brown was an interesting catch. I apparently foul-hooked him in the right pectoral fin. I really couldn’t remove the hook so I cut the line off and released him. The hook should rust out just as it would if hooked in the mouth. Poor thing will probably die of rust poisoning. Anyway, the strong winds caused me to decide to try Cave Lake on Friday. My thought was that the proximity of the nearby mountains of the Schell Creek Range would shelter Cave Lake from the winds (Illipah is more or less on a hilly plain).
I slept in and headed for the café across from the Best Western at 7:30 am. At that time the wind was dead calm. By the time I got to Cave Lake, around 9:00 am, it started to get breezy. Cave Lake is in a State Park. There is a year-round presence of Park Rangers. As I was preparing to get on the water, their cat, a Siamese-long-hair mix, came down to greet me. A good omen.
Once again I had the lake to myself, not a soul in sight. I started fishing around the dock, casting to the edge of the reeds. I then proceeded to circumnavigate the entire lake shoreline. I stayed on the water all day from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. I was on the water so long I lost my land legs. On the drive home I could still feel the waves rocking me, similar to after being on an ocean boat for a while.
The fishing was brisk at Cave Lake, although most were small, stocked fish. In nine hours I hooked over forty trout, and landed twenty-four. About six or seven were brown trout, and two of those were about twelve inches. They were a little skinny, though. At the end of the day I spoke with one of the rangers. He asked me how I did and I told him about the browns. He said that the lake did not fish as well as it used to fish. Not sure what happened, but he assumed the freshwater shrimp had declined.
When I reached the inlet, I noticed a large fish working in the shallows, occasionally supping from the surface. I swapped from my nine foot, five weight rod (rigged with a sink-tip line) to my little six foot, four weight rod set up for dry fly fishing. I must have worked down there for forty-five to sixty minutes… never got a strike. Nonetheless, it was exciting to try sight-fishing dries to a large trout (presumably a brown).
Often I find that the most interesting fish I catch are the last of the day. That might be coincidence, or it might be that I tend to quit on a high note. Whatever the reason, the last fish of the day was a fourteen-inch rainbow, the largest from Cave Lake. It fought hard, and when I brought it to the tube I noticed it had an unusual coloring. Although clearly in spawning color, it’s back and belly were almost ashen. There seemed to be an absence of spotting, similar to what you find with stocked fish. This didn’t make sense because while this was a stocked rainbow, it clearly had lived in the lake for at least a year, maturing to spawning size. It was a male, sporting the early beginnings of a kyped jaw. I returned it to the lake, along with all the others, but it’s unusual colors will forever remain in my memory.
Sometimes when I fish for stocked trout, I keep score just to amuse myself. Catching lots of small, stocked fish can become monotonous, and keeping score makes it interesting. If you occasionally hook up with a trout over twelve inches, well it’s a nice surprise. But I find that stocked trout eagerly take any fly, sometimes before a larger, wilder trout would. The effect being that it seems there are only small trout. So, for those who like to keep score, too, here are the stats: