I am always amazed by nature. Its beauty and order, its variety and grandeur, leave me breathless. And yet, I am frequently astonished by how much we miss. We can pass by something many times and never notice it or ponder it. Perhaps it’s a sensory self-defense mechanism to protect us from overload. Nonetheless, that is the story of Baker Reservoir. I must have passed Baked a half-dozen times on my way to Pine Valley and never really noticed or considered it.
As is typical for me, when spring fever hits at the height of the budget season I begin to look for a sanity day. Early reports of hot fishing for trout up to eighteen inches at Wayne Kirch, coupled with a between-workshop lull in the fiscal year 2008 budget preparation spurred the idea: a day trip to Wayne Kirch. I had fished Wayne Kirch once before in 2005, but the weather conditions in early April were very difficult. Wayne Kirch is exposed in a large valley that is prone to high winds. Its biggest advantages are its proximity (one-way takes just 135 minutes) and its larger than average trout.
So the plan was hatched and I was committed. The problem would be the weather, again. I had been watching the weather forecast all week. A northern cold front had brought with it high winds, winds of fifteen to twenty-five miles-per-hour with gusts up to forty. I can deal with the cold, but winds were a dual problem: casting and float-tubing.
When Thursday came I looked out the window and resigned to myself that the winds were going to stay the whole day. After dropping off Brian at school I drove home to re-think my plans. I even considered canceling the trip. I reasoned that I could stay home and spend the day with Denise which in my heart I knew would have been a very good thing for both of us, but I really wanted to go fishing because it had been four months of winter without even casting a fly. That’s when it hit me… go to Baker Reservoir.
Baker Reservoir is served by the same source as Pine Valley, the Santa Clara River (which is really a creek). But I recalled that it was nestled in a little canyon just east of Utah Highway 18. I also envisioned that it had some small trees around it, desert willows perhaps. I decided that the wind might be lesser of a problem at Baker, and the fact that I had never before fished it was an added bonus: a new adventure.
Upon arriving at Baker at about 10:00 am I noticed that the northern end of the reservoir did indeed have trees lining it. As I approached that end I realized that the reservoir was higher than usual (which is actually normal with the spring runoff), and that many of the trees were actually in the water about 200 feet off the shore. That suggested a nice windbreak. This was the virgin voyage for my new Dakota truck. The truck has a simple on-board computer that does a few simple calculations, one of them being measuring the outside temperature… which was registering forty degrees. After I parked the truck and jumped outside to check out the lake I was reminded that in fifteen-mile-per-hour wind forty degrees feels like thirty-two. I sat back in the truck and pondered the plan I had hatched. I began to wish I had crawled back into bed with Denise. But then I realized that I had driven two-and-one-half hours for a reason. I had the clothes to brave the cold, but the wind was still a concern. I resigned myself to inflating the tube and getting out on the water for at least thirty minutes… if it was miserable and windy I’d simply abort the fishing and head back home.
As I launched the tube between the trees I could feel that they were breaking up the wind. I thought if I could just maneuver the tube to stay within fifty feet or so of the tree line I might be able to negate the wind impact. As I always do while kick paddling into position, I continually cast out (fishing success has a lot to do with keeping the fly in the water as often and as long as possible so as not to miss any unforeseen opportunities). BAM! Within five casts I had a hard strike from what felt like a good trout. The rainbow leaped into the air and then dove deep. And once again, as is the tendency when first starting to fish for the day, I played him too hard and pulled the green streamer pattern out of the trout’s mouth. I immediately forgot about the wind and the cold.
I stayed within the fifty feet of an imaginary boundary and found that the trout were feeding about six feet down along that border. I fished until 1:30 pm, and in those three-and-one-half hours I hooked up with ten trout, and landed seven rainbows (2.85 hook-ups per hour). I had expected the fishing for holdover trout (i.e., stocked trout that survive the summer/fall fisherman and the winter freeze) to be slow, and based on Utah fishing reports I did expect some of those to reach fourteen or fifteen inches, but I was really surprised. These plump and healthy rainbows were all fourteen inches and over, with most in the fifteen inch range. I had read that brown trout were sparse but wild in the reservoir, and I had hoped to catch one or two, but that was not to be. However, these big, tough rainbows gave me all I wanted.
I fished along the tree line towards the stream inlet on the western edge of the reservoir, and then I worked my way back. As I returned to the area that fished “hot” near where I started out the day, I hooked into a heavy fish. It never jumped, not once. It was strong and persistent at diving deep. By now, my forearm and wrist were growing a little weary, and I had to play the trout off the real with the butt of the rod resting against my forearm for leverage. As I worked that trout I had visions of a nice brown, mostly due to their characteristic trait of sounding beep and not jumping much at all. And then there was its weight; it seemed heavier than any other trout that day, which pointed more towards the brown. But when I finally brought it to hand I was surprised to see it was a silvery rainbow, and the lap-scale measured her length right at eighteen inches. I thought that was a great way to end the day, and so I began to head for shore, but I continued to cast out as I did. Then I was hit again, this time by a leaping sixteen and one-half inch male rainbow. I played him to the shore where I tried to get a decent picture, but the beast would not stay still, but rather fought to return to the water. It was a wonderful way to finish the day: two large rainbows fighting hard using two different tactics.
I was the only fisherman on the reservoir that day, which was part of my mid-week fishing plan. And while I thought the day would warm as it lengthened, late season clouds rolled in off the New Harmony Mountains and brought with them light snow flurries. At times it seemed surreal. By the time I got out of the water I ran into a man who was out with his wife and daughter. He said he was a fly fisherman, and that he liked to fish Baker in the evening because he thought the brown trout were more active at night. We exchanged a few more pleasantries, and then I showed him the pictures in my camera. He was impressed.
Looking back, I realize that often these fishing trips are symbolic. It would have been easy for me to succumb to the harsh weather, after all no other crazy fisherman were out there on the reservoir, not even in a motorboat. But, I’ve often felt that the fishing was better in adverse weather conditions, and that there is a certain sacrifice that comes with enjoying nature on her own terms. This trip was just another example of the fruits of perseverance and suffering…