The lake trout of Boulder Lake in Wyoming have always given me trouble. These over grown char are weird. Rather than spending most of their lives down deep preying on other fish like normal lakers, these big fellas are often found in shallow water feeding on nymphs over weed beds. I know this because I’ve been fishing Boulder Lake (mostly through the ice) for over 20 years. Nonetheless, whenever I first arrive there I always find myself dredging the depths with my usual laker tactics.
Speaking of usual lake trout tactics, mine are plain and simple, get a big white, chartreuse or yellow colored fly as deep as you can in a place that lakers feed. The best laker feeding grounds are bars or humps surrounded by deep water. Here in the Rockies, a bar in 40 to 80ft of water is ideal. Of course getting a fly this deep is a task. But before you even worry about that, keep in mind lakers often ambush suspended fish well above them. Your fly doesn’t necessarily need to get all the way down to them. If a hungry laker sees your fly 30ft above he may charge up and get it.
Lake trout can get huge so I break out my big sticks. This weekend I had two rods rigged. One was my Ross RX 9’ 8-weight. Attached to it was my F1 reel loaded with a WF – 300 – S Streamer Express. This reel can stop a permit and the line gets me down 20ft easily. My second rod was my RX 7-weight with an Evolution LT Reel. On this reel was my Uniform Sink Type 5 Line. If I hooked a 20lb laker I could be out matched, but this line flat out sinks and gets me in the zone fast and the 7 is a new rod of mine and it’s extremely enjoyable to cast.
Granny and I arrived at Boulder Lake Monday evening. We have a killer campsite right on the lake that we haven’t been to in years. We can literally launch my boat off our private little beach. It was a balmy 60º and we munched some dogs and drank wine well past sunset.
Early yesterday morning I awoke to flicker hammering on our cooler. I sat up in the back of the Explorer and looked out on the lake. Things looked perfect. We had a slight wind from the north creating the perfect chop to put fish on the feed. I brewed some coffee and woke up Granny. 20 minutes later I was dunking flies up the north end of the lake.
Rather than bore you with a full day about getting our *** totally kicked, I’ll just tell you, WE GOT OUR *** KICKED. A day of a thousand casts without a strike in ten of my favorite areas (including the shallows). We even went as far as trolling with my ice fishing jigging rod and nothing. Honestly, even on a slow day at Boulder Lake, we can usually squeeze out a few 16” peanut sized lakers. But today they were nonexistent. But that’s laker fishing. Our weather is too nice. The barometric pressure is high and I prefer it to be as low as possible for lake trout fishing. Nevertheless, it was a fabulous day to be alive and instead of dogs, tonight we feasted on steaks while watching another brilliant sunset with a few curious mule deer.
We slept in till about 7 today. That’s late for us. What woke me were the deer sneaking around camp. After yesterdays fishing and no change foreseen in today’s weather, there was no rush to hit the water. We relaxed and drank coffee on our beach before finally pushing the boat off at about 8.
There’s a part of Boulder Lake that I’ve never fished. From a distance it looks like nothing but a steep drop off the side of a rocky-treeless mountain. That’s not good laker water. However, as I drank my wine last night while staring at this area from a distance, I was intrigued by one spot that looked like it may have a shallow bar in front of it. Sure enough, we motored to it first thing and the area seemed perfect. Still, just like yesterday, despite how perfect this spot looked and felt, I went three hours without a bump.
We hit this area hard yesterday and nothing. But that was everywhere, who knows, today the mysterious char might be ready. I motored us there and picked up my 7-weight for some quick deep casts with two smaller flies. One was a Brent Dawson’s (Warpath) epoxy head jig-like fly and the other some odd looking black and white minnow imitation.
The wind was light and blowing from the southwest. It was just strong enough that I flipped out my drowg (wind sock) to slow down our drift. An hour into the drift Granny was asleep in the front seat and I was daydreaming as I cast and stripped like a robot. Then a light spot within casting range caught my eye. It could have been the top of a rock 15ft down or perhaps the tip top of a sand bar out in the middle of this bay. I tossed my flies right over the fishy looking contour and let them sink a count of ten. It was a long cast and I expected a strike right away but there was nothing. As I continued stripping back I made up my mind this was it. This was my last cast. We were going home. And just as that terrible “giving in” thought crossed my mind I got that jolt. I strip set and saw the laker flash. I had a decent fish!
If you’re one of those who thinks lake trout don’t fight, than you haven’t caught enough of them. Lakers are a favorite of mine. Sure they don’t jump and many times they just twist their way all the way in. But when you hook one two weeks after ice out in shallow water, buckle up! Lakers are at their strongest at this time of year and when hooked in the shallows it causes them shear terror. My lake trout took off like a wildfire to the point where my first comment was, “Why aren’t I using my 8-weight?”
Naturally, the fleeing laker was headed upwind. He was going the opposite way that the wind was blowing us. Granny awoke and went to pull in the drowg. Normally this is the smart move, making sure the fish on doesn’t get wrapped up in the drowg like on an anchor rope, but with a big fish going the opposite way of our drift, the drowg was helping me stay closer. Instead she did what’s best – get the camera.
This laker even surprised me. I’d seen a glimpse on the hook set and thought I had a nice 25 incher, but this guy was fighting harder than that. Three times I got the fish close enough that I saw the butt of my fluoro leader but could not see the fish before he screamed off line again. After a good eight minutes he came to the surface. He was no beast but after a day and a half without a strike – he’d do just fine. Moments later I scooped up a 28” 7lb laker with my NZ weigh net on the Warpath Clouser.
It was time to end an already great weekend on an extremely high note. We rattled off some photos and took for camp. At camp I filleted the perfect eating size laker and then did what any sensible angler would do when the opportunity exists. I opened up his stomach to see what he was eating. Sure enough his stomach was jammed full of nymphs. Not chironomids but rather huge – bigger than cigarette butt – cased caddis – most of them still alive. It was unreal. It’s no wonder we couldn’t buy a fish on a streamer.
I can’t stop thinking about the heap of cased caddis in his stomach. Can I imitate them? Could we go back and catch a dozen of these gorgeous lakers instead of one in two days? We’ll have to see. It sounds easy, put on a caddis nymph next trip and hammer them, but fishing nymphs on a lake is an art. And imitating cased caddis on a lake is even more of a challenge. And most important of all, do the real big lakers, say over 20lbs, eat nymphs too? If not, I’m not fishing nymphs. But how am I to know? You got to love fishing. You never know it all.
It’s back to the art table. The next five days I’ll continue to do the illustrations for Boots Allen’s new book, Modern Fly Fishing. With a little luck I’ll actually finish this massive project by Monday and then it will be back to fishing. Next week is the annual Blackfoot Reservoir Carp Tournament. This is one of my favorite events of the year!