Pelican Cove

It was first light when the boat moved away from the bank in front of the lodge. I was already planning a strategy to entice large rainbow trout to take my offerings in Pelican Bay. The route to the bay was down the Williamson River to the lake, west across to Klamath Lake to the bay entrance. The eastern sky was showed a yellow glow as the sun began its upward journey. Early morning visibility was less than 300 yards in the dim light of the wide, slow moving river.

The smell of the river permeated the air as the boat passed a muddy pool where myriads of waterfowl and shore birds gather. The distinctive odor of ammonia laden bird scat permeated the air. Farther down river curious cattle standing in knee-deep water raised their heads, gazing through dark, frightened eyes. Pasture on this section of river was not fenced. It was distressing to see riparian vegetation trampled to a muddy pulp by cows and calves. As I passed the bovine eating machines I said, “see you at the market, meat!”

Destruction of riverbanks by livestock is a common occurrence in the west; the Williamson River was no exception.

After clearing the island at the river’s mouth I turned on a westerly course, advancing the throttle to cruising speed. The lake has its own distinctive smells from the bloom blue-green algae in the water, rotting vegetation and the distinct scent of a variety of tree species lining the shore. During the hot summer months blue-green algae is so abundant that it is harvested, processed and sold as a food supplement.

From the river mouth it is a six and a half mile run to the bay entrance. I cruised at a comfortable twenty knots, the fifty horsepower outboard motor purring like a kitten. Wavelets slapped the bottom of the hull like drumsticks striking aluminum drum head. A breeze tickled the lake’s surface causing a stippled effect, wavelets moving in every direction at once. Any surface disturbance caused by air movement, short of a gale, is a preferred condition as far as I was concerned.

The entrance buoys to Pelican Bay appeared in the distance. With excited anticipation I said to no one in particular, “the experiment will begin soon.” Just past the entrance buoys is a series of single buoys leading to the inner bay where the big trout hand out. Aquatic plant growth was everywhere in the shallow water as I ran up the channel. Intense summer sun heats the lake to temperatures exceeding eighty-four degrees during August and September. When this happens aquatic weeds spring up everywhere in the shallow water. Aquatic growth can become entwined in the propellers boaters when they leave the marked, well-traveled channel.

As lake temperatures increase into the eighties trout migrate to the cooler waters of the rivers feeding the lake and the spring-cooled water of Pelican Bay. My mission was to travel to the inner portion of Pelican Bay to execute the ancient art of trout foolery. This day I was trying to advance my practice of the art.

For many hundreds of years anglers have tied fur and feathers on hooks, creating bug imitations that trout will eat. Fly tying has been known to become an addiction to those of weak will. Catching fish on a personally tied creation can only exacerbate the addiction to the level of an affliction.

Every once in a while a miracle of nature provides an environment where those addicted trout anglers can successfully practice the ancient art. The Klamath Basin, with all of its natural beauty and majesty is one of those special places. Large trout gather to feed on a plentiful population of aquatic insects in the spring-cooled waters of the inner bay. Timing can be tricky and the fish move frequently. I hoped the fish would be present and feeding where I planned to fish.

After clearing the buoy system the boat moved slowly and quietly along in the inner bay, propelled by an oversized marine electric motor. I could see trout feeding sporadically in the deeper, weed free water. Horned bill grebes were making a racket everywhere. The young of the year, with their squeaky, staccato demanding chirps and squeaks, called to their parents, demanding to be fed their diet of minnows.

It was nearing 7:00 a.m. The sun remained low on the eastern horizon creating a low light condition. A breeze-rippled surface danced about the bay. Midges began to pop through the surface film. A midge hatch was just getting underway.

I had one eye on the depth finder and the other looking for feeding fish. Whimsically I recalled TV show about chameleon lizards. They are able to move each eye independently, focusing on two images at once. It would be handy to have this ability I mused. Spotting feeding trout within casting distance, I quickly redirected my full attention to the task at hand.

The depth finder read ten feet when I stopped the boat, anchored it fore and aft, knotted on a size#16 emerging midge pattern and began casting. The new, experimental fly was still under wraps. It was apparent that the trout were feeding on emerging midges. As a fish fed I would cast toward it. This went on for some time. After a while the grebes were making even more of a racket as if to say, “hey dude, why have you invaded our space without showing us a trout?” “Good question,” I replied silently. It was time to change to another fly pattern.

I considered the alternatives. The first was a large leach pattern touted and marketed by a local guide who is reputed to be an expert on the lake. I had no reason to doubt his notoriety. The second choice was a small, simply constructed soft hackle. I had tested versions of this pattern for a couple of years on moving water. It was successful some of the time, for reasons I do not understand.

I wondered if this simple pattern would work in the bay. My bugs are typically tied with extra long hackle and a thin, ribbed body, in olive, brown-olive, black, claret, chartreuse, tan and brown. I conjectured that depending on the size of the hook, the bug might represent an emerging midge; a calibatis may fly emerger, a caddis pupa, and a damsel or dragon fly nymph. That pretty much covered available food sources with the exception of leaches and minnows.

The experiment started began. I selected a size #16 brown-olive soft hackle for openers, knotted it on to three feet of 5 X tippet and cast with nervous anticipation. After three casts a nice rainbow took the offering. Wow! What was that all about? One local expert/guide recommend much larger leach type patterns. I had just hooked a good fish on a tiny soft hackle. Game on! The 18” trout was not large by local standards, but the skunk was off the boat. The morning was still young. Over the next four hours a number of fish were hooked and released on various versions of my experimental flys. Several fish ranged on the small side, ten inches or less, although a couple topped twenty inches. Large trout are generally defined by locals as twenty-two inches, or better. Size of fish caught not with standing, the experiment with the new fly pattern experiment may be successful. Every fish caught that morning took a soft hackle of various colors.

At 11:00 a.m. the wind died. The birds became still and the trout ceased feeding as if a no-activities switch had been thrown. The morning’s result was a dozen fish landed. Not bad for an experiment I thought. This was a good time to head for the tackle shop at Rocky Point for a hot cup of coffee and some lunch. On the way to the dock I looked up at majestic Mt. Mc Laughlin. It is by far the best looking mountain in this part of Oregon, as far as I was concerned, even without its snowy cap. I saw puffy white cumulous clouds starting to form in the sky half way up the mountain. “Interesting,” I said to myself. If fate smiled on this part of the lake there may be wind, cloud cover and rain showers during the afternoon. Any of the three would be fine with me.

The boat was away from the dock at 1:30. I was anxious to continue the experiment after the morning action. I moved to a spot very near where the last fish of the morning was landed and settled in. I cast into a welcome breeze. On the third cast I looked back over my shoulder to check the shape of the back cast. As I glanced over my left shoulder I spotted a large bald eagle sitting on a log, two hundred feet behind the boat. When the forward cast hit the water I started stripping the line back as quickly as possible. On the fifth strip the line tightened. A nice trout, perhaps the largest of the day ate the rapidly moving fly. Pressure was applied as the fish fought for it’s freedom. The fish tired, was netted, measured at twenty two-inches and released.

The eagle continued to stand majestically on the log. I got a few nice images of the big bird and resumed casting. “Why did that trout take a fly moving at twice the speed of a normal retrieve,” I asked myself? “More importantly, would another trout take a fly retrieved at an accelerated speed as well?” The answer was an unequivocal, “Yes.” The fast retrieve worked for the remainder of the afternoon. Several more good fish came to the net before the wind died.

When the water surface became still and fish stopped rising it was time to seek more productive water or go home. I chose the former. Old channels and lake bottom depressions exist throughout of the bay. I suspect they are remnants of logging operations conducted which, including dredging to from channels, more than seventy years ago. As I headed slowly across the bay I watched the depth finder looking for water depths of ten feet or greater. I recalled that trout sometimes select a particular depression, channel or structure to live around, for weeks at a time. Moderate boat traffic will put them down if they are feeding, but they do not seem to want to leave an area where they feel comfortable. As I crossed a drop off from nine to fourteen feet I saw movement down in the water out of the corner of my eye. A pod of big fish swam slowly away from the boat, well below the surface. I quickly anchored up and I waited on pins and needles hoping for wind or feeding activity, or both.

Noting the sun was high in a bright blue sky, I replaced 5X tippet with 6X, and knotted on a size#18 bug with a loop knot. Minutes later a breeze riffled the water again. Two trout stuck their noses through the film, taking hatching midges within seconds of each other. I cast to the closest fish, let the bug and sink for a few seconds, started the retrieve and bam, fish on. Mindful of 6X tippet I worked to keep my excitement in check. A beautiful chrome bright rainbow eventually came to the net, measuring twenty-three inches. Ten minutes later another trout of similar size took the tiny soft hackle.

This was a remarkable experience for a Klamath Lake outing. As another good trout fed on the surface I began to rig a dry line with 7X tippet. “Why not push the envelope and take a fish on a dry fly,” I asked myself? It was at that point the wind died. The lake surface was like a mirror now, not a promising situation. Several minutes passed and still no wind. I glanced at my watch. It was 4:00 p.m. “Time to head home” I thought. It has been a very full and productive day. The final count was eighteen trout hooked and released. I could not hope for anything more? This level of success in the bay had eluded me for some time and it might be a while before it happened again. “ It was a day to be remembered.

I could write a story about this day, but who would believe it?

Robert Rathborne
Half Moon Bay, California

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