Thursday, July 28, 2011

Inventing 'Lake Mode'

Travis DuBois of The Tailout kicks around a
hidden lake high above Centennial Valley.
I'm not much of a lake guy.

Don't misunderstand that statement. I like lakes as an idea. Fishing them, though, is problematic, mostly because the lakes I would relish fishing are well off the beaten track–I'm only willing to tote a float tube so far before I lose interest, and I'm only willing to go so deep before casting becomes akin to forced calisthenics.

But, like I said ... I like the idea of lakes.

After that wordy introduction, what I have to say next probably won't make much sense. But here goes anyway.

I got the chance to fish a sweet lake earlier this week, one that bristles with big, healthy rainbows that eat willingly and all through the water column. One that's hidden from view and requires a bit of a leg stretch to reach, but one that makes the jaunt worthwhile, even with a tube on my back.

It's the ideal alpine lake ... all natural (even if its fish aren't), and stunning to behold from a bluff above the water. Lined by healthy Montana firs and lodgepoles, this lake has that typical alpine lake drop-off. A guy could wade up to his junk about a dozen feet from the bank. After that ... he's swimming.

But with a tube...

Mike Sepelak of Mike's Gone Fishing nets
a nice rainbow.
I own a float tube, and have for a dozen years or so. I traded an old, crazing bamboo rod for it when I moved to Idaho in 1999 (I'm ashamed to admit the rod brand–it's likely that I got hosed down pretty good in that transaction). I've probably used the tube once each year since, and that might be a bit of a generous estimate. Like I said, I'm not much of a lake guy.

But I loaded my tube on the back of my pickup late last week for a little gathering of bloggers in Montana, thinking, if nothing else, one of the guys might like to take it out for a little ... yawn ... lake fishing. I'd be back at the lodge enjoying a delicious gin and tonic (it is spritzer season, after all) and maybe swapping a joke or two ("No, it's just ice cream") while some poor sap kicked his way through clouds of mosquitoes in search of that one big fish.

I'd wait for the creeks. Moving water. Spunky trout. Action.

A river otter takes to the lake.
But after I got a look at the creeks, I figured I better get into "lake mode." More accurately, I figured I better invent "lake mode," because the action on the creeks was not to be. We're "enjoying" record water levels in this corner of the world this year thanks to all that snow we got last winter, and it might be the middle of August before the streams come back into shape and are deemed fishable.

The lake, it seemed, was about all I could hope for in terms of seeing a trout attached to the end of my tippet.

And hope springs eternal ... or so they say.

Hope springs eternal.

I sauntered down the little trail to the lake, the tricked-out tube (it was pretty fancy a dozen years ago) resting somewhat awkwardly atop my back. I wandered past the well-used put-in, figuring the farther I got from any place that looked well-used the better. Minutes later, decked out in waders (I haven't worn waders since March) and fins, I stepped into the tube and began kicking my way across the deep, green lake.

Size 12 Adams?
And for the first half of the day, lake fishing lived up to my expectations. At one point, I actually dosed off–I awoke when a family of river otters started splashing nearby, and that, I figured, was the coolest thing that would happen to me this day.

But then something hit my streamer. Something big. And it pulled really hard. And then it was gone.

This lake had a pulse. And I started fishing like a physician might start working on a patient, knowing there's hope. And there was hope.

Minutes later, I saw the first rise, and while I wasn't so optimistic as to tie a dry fly to my tippet, I did cast to the rise ring. Two strips later, and I was hooked up. Two minutes later, I released a healthy 19-inch rainbow, all spots and dipped in sweet rosé.

Then I began to fish with a purpose. I kicked over the to the bluff along the lake's western edge, figuring this is where the fish would congregate when the sun began to fade and the "evening hatch" would begin. The rises grew more frequent, more frantic. I'd see noses break the water, then dorsals and then tails. Big, beautiful tails.

I tied the dry on–a fluffy size 12 Adams. Big enough to see, and maybe a size bigger than the calibaetis spinners I was noticing on the lake's suddenly calm surface. A fish would rise. I'd guess which direction it was working, and I'd do my best to put my fly in its path.

And then the hook-up. Gulpers on still-water lakes feed with abandon. They're all about putting on weight, ingesting protein and then finding the next meal. Quickly. When they hit, it's a determined hit. The line goes tight with the hook set, and then all hell breaks loose.

He's not the only one smiling...
These rainbows fought like the devil, and they dove as if they were headed straight to his lair. Only one of the big fish bothered to jump and cartwheel–the others went deep and took line with them. And they were all big. Really big.

It turns out I found my "lake mode." It was hidden behind something of a purist streak in my angling makeup, one that prefers moving water, dry flies cast upstream and fish more remarkable for their lineage than for their size. Lake mode took some digging to find, but there, behind the penchant for cheap light beer, fried cheese and reality TV, I found it.

And I liked it. It won't be so tough to find next time...


  1. Nice. Glad you found it. This was a really beautiful piece of writing...thanks!

  2. We've got to make the best of a difficult situation...high water. Good job!

  3. Funny - I started off a post this week with "It's not that I hate trout fishing, or trout fishermen..."

    Nice fish!!!

  4. You said " Ta da!" ;) LOL What a great write up. It was like I was almost there with you. Seriously, if I hadn't been took us all there with that one. Great photos, too!!!! Love 'em.