Monday, February 6, 2012

Blue Lake, snowshoe style

Hey the last time I tried this - hiking in over snowbanks - it worked great and I caught some big brook trout a few feet from shore, though that was a different lake.  But I've been paddling this tube around Upper Blue Lake for an hour or so, scanning the overhanging mounds of snow beween the willow bushes on shore, probing with a big Bird's Nest to imitate a dragonfly nymph, and I still haven't found the inlet stream.

When I started out, the camp host told me some nice cutthroats had been caught near the inflow stream, and though I had checked that a stream was shown entering on the west shore in the De Lorme atlas, I must have failed to remember exactly how far round the lake it was!  Finally I change to a black woolly bugger and count the Type 3 sinking line down really deep.  As I'm paddling through the depths at the mouth of this bay I miss a tug, then land a planted rainbow.  He goes back, and on we go. 

It takes quite a while to get right back in to the corner of this second  bay, and I'm believing I've found the stream now.  There's a deep channel in between shallow fans of silt that stretch in from either side, with extensive willows growing in those shallows. I probe every nuance and drop off with nymphs both large and small, leeches and minnow patterns, but no-one's buying what I'm selling.  It's still too early in the year for any kind of insect activity at this elevation, though I do even try a large caddis dry, in a fruitless nod to one large moth I saw fluttering around the margins. 

Then I make my way ashore through the willows and then the mud, finally up onto a snow bank.  This experience takes me back to wandering around the back streets of a ski resort as a teenager, looking at the first shoots of new growth poking up through frost-rimed mud and gravel, trying to imagine what the valley might look like in spring.  I probe the deep channel of what I imagine to be a stream, but as I go further up it becomes apparent that I've struck out again, there are rocks in this gully, and a flow of sorts, but I think it's just that this step draw funnels snowmelt down into the lake, but dries up in summer.

Back in the lake I work my way further up the west shore, and find what may be the stream bubbling down through piles of rocks, but without any inflow channel to really draw trout.  It is time to go anyway, and though I'm not proud to admit it, the thought of the planted rainbows in the first bay is starting to to exert a little tug.  I'm only caught by a tiny sliver of skin - I enjoy casting after all, but three otherwise fishless hours are starting to grate, and I'm wondering if all the planters are the same size...

Yes they are!  Pretty much peas in a pod in fact, but they are in nice condition, if you can forgive the partial fins.  They like black woollybuggers, but not minnow patterns, and five more in half an hour at least warm me up a bit.  Three, now gone to the great hatchery gods, are in the back pocket of the float tube as I slog back over the high snow banks on the dirt road.  Ironically, going up the banks is OK, it's downhill that's a little nervewracking; you don't want to slip on the re-crystallized snowmelt and crack the back of your head. But downhill is home too.

I've gone round and round on killing fish. I grew up killing nearly all the trout I caught in England; but they were planted trout, and mostly I had to kill them, by the rules.  When I got to California, I accepted the catch-and-release dogma, and why shouldn't those beautiful native fish go back?  But then, there were the wild, non-native brown trout ... and now you're sliding down that snow bank, about to hit your head on your own inconsistencies.  One thing I do know though, if there are wild cutthroat in Upper Blue Lake, well they don't need planted rainbows around to mess with things like love, right?

Maybe in my next post (sooner this time, I promise!)  I will wrestle some more with this kill-or-not-to-kill debate with myself; and maybe with you, if anyone's listening.

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