Sunday, October 10, 2010

Eat that, Spirit Lake

A week ago Spirit Lake managed to elude my keen sense of direction.  This week I vowed vengeance on the lake, and did the little extra preparation I should have done last time.  I already knew how to get to the right forest dirt road and to the general area, but my previous trip proved the hiking trail to the lake too difficult to locate.

Thank God for Google maps!  I looked up the area and figured out where the trail should be and it turned out it was just around the bend from the one and only sharp switchback in the road.  How could I possibly miss it after this super-sleuthing investigative prowess?  It's unpossible.

All the research was done Friday evening before I went to bed.  I printed out the above map and packed my bag so I would be ready to go in the morning.  When I woke up Saturday morning I was greeted by a lovely cold and rainy morning.  I had checked the weather so I knew it was coming.  I just grabbed my rain jacket and told myself it wouldn't be that bad.  It doesn't really rain out here in Oregon like it rains in other places.  It's generally more of a mist or drizzle that comes and goes, and it was the same this morning.

I hopped in the car and took off.  The rain sucked but on the plus side the trees are beginning to turn colors.  This is a nice sight that I was been missing the past six years living in Colorado.  I'm not sure it's worth the perpetual winter rain, though.

The trip up to this lake is a little on the long side.  It's an hour from my place to the forest road, then about 10 miles on the paved portion of the road before it turns into dirt/gravel, and it's another nine miles on the gravel.  I reset the odometer when I hit gravel just to keep myself in check.  Better safe than sorry. Another twenty minutes later, and no additional dings to the undercarriage of my car this time, the odometer turned past eight miles and I began to slow down and look harder check things out.  One part of the drive that I remembered from the previous trip and using the satellite imagery in Google maps confirmed for me, was the longish sweeping left turn that passes over the outflow from the lake in the map above (I enter the screen from the top driving south).

This wide turn is actually around the rim of a fairly shallow portion of the hillside.  Most of the rest of the drive is over some extremely steep, even bone-chilling drop-offs.  Once I was around the long left turn there is the signature sharp switchback up the hillside.  I made the turn and started looking to the right for a hiking side.  And not too far up the trail I saw it.

I don't know how I missed it last week; there are actually trail signs on both sides of the road.  And to top it off this is the second of the two trails I had tried out last week, only going in the wrong direction.  Feeling like a total idiot for missing this last week I hit the trail to the lake.  It's a short trail so here's a brief picture story.

When I got to the lake it was drizzling very lightly.  I tossed my bag against a tree and began to pull my waders, boots, and other gear out and get ready to hit the water.  When I was all ready I took a look around and noticed the lake near me was shallow and stayed shallow for quite a ways out into the water.  I figured this was not the best place to start.  The bank on the far side of the river was pretty steep, and my brief stint as a competitive bass fisherman (team Colorado, 6th place at the Big 12 Championships 2008) taught me that the river/lake bottom generally follows the steepness of the bank so I headed over there.

I had no idea what to start with so I just tied on a Para Adams and a little midge dropper and began tossing my fly out there.  There wasn't much happening outside the occasional fish making a splashy rise too far out for me to get to.  Eventually, however, I got lucky.  I hooked a decent fish and excitedly brought him in.  I was excited to catch my first brook trout ever!  When I got him close I reached for my camera in my jacket pocket.  Apparently reaching for the camera scared the fish because he spit the hook and was gone.  I did get a decent look at him, though, and I didn't think at the time it was a brookie.

I kept fishing and couldn't get anything else in that area to bite so I moved on.  In the next spot, I got nothing and eventually decided the dry-dropper maybe wasn't going to do the trick so I opened up a box that I haven't looked at for over a year.  The dreaded streamer box!  NO!  I don't really have anything against streamers, it's just that if I'm going to cast something out and then pull it back in slowly I think I should be using a spinner rod.  It just makes more sense to me.  But I tied on a small green bugger and I should give props to my friend Mark for tying it for me.  Thanks Mark.

One of the next few casts made me feel a little better about myself for stooping to the streamer too when I hooked another fish.  And unfortunately I lost him again when he got close, but this time I saw for sure it was not a brook trout.  That made me a little upset that I had been fooled that this was a brookie lake and I just lost fish 2 of 2.  But that's ok because I managed to pull in a couple nice cutthroats shortly thereafter.

Overall, the fishing was fairly slow and I was working my way along the far bank step by step.  The steep and brushy bank behind me necessitated my learning to roll cast in a trial by fire.  Sure, I've done a roll cast here or there, but I've never really been in a situation where a roll cast was really really necessary to fish anywhere.  Usually I just avoid fishing the hole that can only be reached with a roll cast.  It took an hour or so, but eventually I figured out why my roll casts were dying out after twenty feet.  After correcting the error I was pleasantly surprised with the distance I could reach and I therefore kept trying to cast as far as possible even though it wasn't necessary.

As soon as I decided to cast along the shore (not roll casting) I managed to hook another fish.  Maybe my roll cast isn't what I think.  I pulled the fish in and had a little celebration on the log I was standing on doing my best not to go crazy and fall in the water.  The fish was a beautiful small brook trout, my first ever.  I really do think these are the most beautiful of the trouts, even though it's not actually a trout, but a char.  Sorry I'm covering up mot of the color of the fish.

I pulled a few more brookies out of the lake too.  They were all around 8 inches and all the cutthroats were an inch or two larger.  It makes me wonder if the cutts were stocked, and if so when?  Since they were all larger than the brookies I wonder if they will eventually take over the lake?  Let's hope not.


  1. sweet victory!
    now you need a float tube or kayak

  2. i think green back cut throats rival brookies. the only two brookies i've ever caught were on a small, green wooly bugger, too.