In Search of Eagles

May 30, 2016
Our friends were moving from Susanville to the greater Sacramento area and they invited us to spend Memorial Day weekend with them in the mountains. We could not pass on the offer and given we’d not seen them since before Kenya, we were very excited to spend time together. It also doesn’t hurt that they are a very adventurous family and their children love the outdoors at their young ages. The trip was actually planned while we were still in Kenya. When my wife asked if there was a particular time that would be best, I threw out Memorial Day weekend. She tossed the idea out to our friends who agreed that the three day weekend would be perfect. My wife then turned to me and asked “When’s fishing seasons start?” “For those waters…Memorial Day weekend.” I responded with a grin on my face. I knew it would be my first chance to wet a line in more than two years.

Our friends were moving from Susanville to the greater Sacramento area and they invited us to spend a Memorial Day weekend with them in the mountains. We could not pass on the offer and given we’d not seen them since before Kenya, we were very excited to spend time together. It also doesn’t hurt that they are a very adventurous family and their children love the outdoors at their young ages. The trip was actually planned while we were still in Kenya. When my wife asked if there was a particular time that would be best, I threw out Memorial Day weekend. She tossed the idea out to our friends who agreed that the three day weekend would be perfect. My wife then turned to me and asked “When’s fishing seasons start?”

Fast forward a couple months and there we were on Highway 80 in Reno approaching the 395 interchange. After a few more hours we arrived at their home and settled in for the weekend. And by settle in I mean put our stuff into the guest room so that we could begin planning our weekend of fly fishing, barbecuing, and gun shooting. Our friend is a gunsmith, my wife had never fired a round, and I was curious to see her reaction/interaction. Anyways, we made out way to the local creek and braved the mosquitoes for the evening hatch. None of us caught anything but the cold clear water was a welcomed sight and feel.

“For those waters, Memorial Day weekend.” I responded with a grin on my face. I knew it would be my first chance to wet a line. Fast forward a couple months and there we were on Highway 80 approaching the 395 interchange. After a few more hours we arrived at their home and settled in for the weekend. And by settle in I mean put our stuff into the guest room so that we could begin planning our weekend of fly fishing, barbecuing, and gun shooting. Our friend is a gunsmith, my wife had never fired a round, and I was curious to see her reaction/interaction. Anyways, we made out way to the local creek and braved the mosquitoes for the evening hatch. None of us caught anything but the cold clear water was a welcomed sight and feel.

The next morning we ventured over to Pine Creek above Hwy 44. There are very strict regulations for the Eagle Creek watershed given the gloomy disposition on the status of the Eagle Lake Rainbow Trout. This special native species has been pushed to the brink of self-sustainability. In fact, were it not for efforts by the DF&G in the late 60s to support the spawning, the species could be extirpated from it’s heritage waters. The extensive logging efforts, the construction of the railway and roads, and cattle grazing has significant altered flows and water conditions. The trout were incapable of reaching suitable spawning grounds in the upper watershed and as a result, the populations plummeted. At one point, it was believed that all lacustrine trout were lost. Thankfully the artificial spawning and rearing at local hatcheries has helped the numbers rebound. Continued efforts by CalTrout and the DFW are working to create a self-sustaining watershed.

The next morning we ventured over to Pine Creek above Hwy 44. There are very strict regulations for the Eagle Creek watershed given the gloomy disposition on the status of the Eagle Lake Rainbow Trout. This special native species has been pushed to the brink of self-sustainability. In fact, were it not for efforts by the DF&G in the late 60s to support the spawning, the species could be extirpated from it’s heritage waters. The extensive logging efforts, the construction of the railway and roads, and cattle grazing has significant altered flows and water conditions. The trout were incapable of reaching suitable spawning grounds in the upper watershed and as a result, the populations plummeted. At one point, it was believed that all lacustrine trout were lost. Thankfully artificial spawning and rearing at local hatcheries has helped the numbers rebound. Continued efforts by CalTrout and the DFW are working to create a self-sustaining watershed.

Our hopes were low for Pine Creek. We knew that the recent drought was tough on system. After about two hours of exploring the creek system above 44 we called it quits. Our hopes were low for Pine Creek. We knew that the recent drought was tough on system. After about two hours of exploring the creek system above 44 we called it quits.


Research and liaising with a fellow trout addict indicated that a self-sustaining population exists in a lake at the very top of the creek. In fact, the lake and creek have not connected for many years due to the lack of rainfall and snowpack. That being said, it is known that this lake holds monster Eagle Lake ‘bows. The concern is that these fish can only spawn in a very small inlet to the west of the lake. If flows and conditions are not perfect, there will be no breeding, without breeding, numbers will be low and perhaps non-existent. We decided to give it a go. Research and liaising with a fellow trout addict indicated that a self-sustaining population exists in a lake at the very top of the creek. In fact, the lake and creek have not connected for many years due to the lack of rainfall and snowpack. That being said, it is known that this lake holds monster Eagle Lake ‘bows. The concern is that these fish can only spawn in a very small inlet to the west of the lake. If flows and conditions are not perfect, there will be no breeding, without breeding, numbers will be low and perhaps non-existent. We decided to give it a go.

We drove as close to the lake as we could and then mounted up our gear. After about 90 minutes of walking we came to one of the most beautiful lakes we have ever seen. The water is a turquoise blue-green that is usually reserved for tropical reefs and Emerald Bay in Tahoe. We were very surprised by the amount of snow still lining the southern edge and the water temps were frigid to say the least. Fly fishing the lake without a float tube or kayak is very difficult. There is a drop off about 60 feet out (at least when we were there). It has been confirmed that the water levels recede about about 25 feet by the fall making the reach must easier. Regardless, I rolled up my pant legs and waded out as far as I could. Thankfully I found some larger boulders that I could balance on and tried my best not to fall. But I did. That’s where a double ziplocking on the phone makes a world of difference.

We drove as close to the lake as we could and then mounted up our gear. After about 90 minutes of walking we came to one of the most beautiful lakes we have ever seen. The water is a turquoise blue-green that is usually reserved for tropical reefs and Emerald Bay in Tahoe. We were very surprised by the amount of snow still lining the southern edge and the water temps were frigid to say the least. Fly fishing the lake without a float tube or kayak is very difficult. There is a drop off about 60 feet out (at least when we were there). It has been confirmed that the water levels recede about about 25 feet by the fall making the reach must easier. Regardless, I rolled up my pant legs and waded out as far as I could stand it. I found some larger boulders that I could balance on and tried not to fall.




We worked about 200 feet of shoreline trying to find a honey-hole. The crystal clear waters provided little hope as not a single fry, fingerling, yearling, or beast was seen. Not even a rise was witnessed. I was not sure what to sling out there as an offering so I just went with feel. I knew that leech patters are often successful. I also knew that I needed to get the line down in the water a bit. So I strung up a green woolly bugger and clamped some split shot to my tapered leader. A few practice cast sessions to feel the load setting on the rig and I was ready to give it a go.

My starting method was simple: sling the line out to drop, let the weight pull the bugger down for about 15 seconds, and then strip in series of three with a two second rest. Honestly, I had no idea what I was doing. But on my third cast I was doing something right. A massive strike hit the line and I set the hook to the sound of whirring of the reel. I was taken to the backing twice while balance on a 2 foot by 2 foot slipper boulder. I did not want to lose this fish and was more than prepared to go swimming.


I fought the fish for a good 10-12 minutes with run after run being made to the deep water. I began to grow concerned that the fish would be too tired and shocked if the fight kept on like this. I maneuvered my way off the boulder and slowly backed myself to the shore. I had not yet seen the fish, I figured it was maybe 14-16 inches. Then the line went slack as the beast swam right toward me. I furiously stripped to bring in the slack in prep for a turn-about once seeing me. True enough to my suspicions, the massive native trout made a hard 90 degree turn toward some sandy shoals. This was good new as I could work my way around the fish and bring it into the shallower water that was pooling behind the sand eddies. We finally were able to measure up trout and he was every bit of 22 inches.

That’s when I realized that I did not have the net. I was at a loss. I was also very concerned about the fish. I know that it’s “just” a fish but potentially killing a fish just so that I can get a picture with it is not exactly my style. I continued to play the trout lightly so that it could begin the process of resuscitation as we figured out how to try to scoop him up for a fast photo.

 

In the commotion and stress I did not realize that he worked his way sideways onto one of the sandy eddies and was partially exposed thrashing about. I was worried he’d bludgeon himself on the rocks only inches away. I move the line too quickly while walking up to grab the beached whale and unfortunately unhinged the barbless woolly bugger. I was pretty upset as I really wanted to examine the markings in my hands, but at the same time was relieved that this beautiful fish survived the ordeal. Note taken! Always make sure you have a net with you when fishing for rare native trout…


We fished for another 2 hours without even a nibble. As we worked around about 1/3 of the lake’s shore we did find the inlet and not for away a good sized school of fry. It appears that the increase in snowfall created suitable conditions for a late-spring fall. I was elated with this finding and hope to return to the lake in the fall with a raft or kayak.

1 thought on “In Search of Eagles”

  • Great read. It really sounds like you’ve got some beautiful waters down there. It also reminds me of something my dad always says about always catching the big guys when you’ve forgotten your net 🙂

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