The Emigrant Wilderness
June 9, 2002

Time:11:00am- 6:00pm
Weather: Clear and mild
Water Level: High
Insects Observed: Dragon Fly Nymphs
Hours fished: ~6
# of fish caught: 3 at Camp, 10+ at Bear

“A great place for beginners.” “A sure thing.” “I guarantee you’ll catch fish.” I’ve used all of these phrases at one time or another to describe the fly-fishing in the Emigrant Wilderness. For the second year in a row though, fishing was almost a dud. 

The formula says- second weekend in June + Emigrant Wilderness = brook trout on dry flies all day, everyday. I’ve even boasted as much.  In truth, last weekend was the first two-day weekend in June. Going on autopilot, I had originally scheduled the trip for June 15-16. That is until my wife asked, in that tone that wives use when you’ve done something wrong. “You’ve scheduled a fishing trip for June 15!?!”.

Instinctively, with a “duh”, my brain registered: “second week of June- Emigrant Wilderness trip”.

I hesitated for a moment and then gave the appropriate answer. “Of course not, I wouldn’t schedule a trip for June 15th.”  I had caught the intonation of the question and knew to be cautious. Then, with an “oops”, I registered another pertinent fact. Feigning ignorance, I continued. “That’s your birthday! Why do ask?”….  She shot me one of those wife looks. “Well the Pish Page says you’ve scheduled a trip.”….. And so, the June 9th trip was born.

Fishing was poor at Camp Lake. Dan, Francesca and I arrived expecting to find a calm, clear lake with brook trout freely bobbing the surface. Instead we found a slightly swollen, wind swept lake. No problem I thought, visibility was somewhat poor but if the fish are on their normal pattern of cruising the shallows, then casting to likely spots should produce some fish.

Leaving Dan to show Francesca the ropes at one of the better spots, I quickly started moving toward the far side of the lake. Camp lake usually produces well on the west, southwest and southeastern shores. The water was high but I was still able to see many of the submerged logs around which I know fish cruise.

After a fishless half hour, I switched to a non-descript nymph pattern that I had tied up the night before. The pattern was nothing special, just something I put together at the vice. A mish mash of differently colored dubbings (red, orange, olive, black, tan), it wasn’t quite slim enough to imitate a damsel nymph nor was it thick enough to imitate a dragon fly nymph- perhaps it did both. When fished with no retrieve, I managed to induce 3 takes. Each time I wasn’t paying attention to what I was doing so I really have no idea what retrieve worked. Each time I’d start to daydream, I’d hook a fish. The one fish I did manage to land was a record fish for me at Camp. I’ll know better when the pictures are developed but I’m guessing it was a fat 10-12 inches. 

Camp Lake is incredibly fertile. Dragon flies, damsels, calabeatis and of course midges all in habit it’s waters. Throw in some flying black termites or ants and you’ve got quite a smorgasbord for the trout and a recipe for big, healthy trout. Unfortunately, the growing season at camp lake is short and the lake is apparently overpopulated and/or over fished. I’ve also heard conflicting reports about whether or not the lake suffers from winterkill and gets annual stocks to keep it fishing. The average fish here is 6 inches and the lake does experience fish kill in the summer when the water temperatures are high. I’ve witnessed as much first hand.

Whether the lake has a self-sustaining population of fish or is planted is the subject of much confusion. A guidebook I have says one thing, a fly shop another and the rangers yet another. Fortunately, after several phone calls to various and sundry government agencies, I was finally put in touch with someone in know. The official DFG hatchery records state that Camp Lake was planted with brook trout in 1999 and again in 2000. Bear Lake was planted with Rainbow trout in 1998. Neither lakes will receive plants this year because of the restoration of the Mountain Yellow Legged Frog.

My guess during the trip was that the water temps had not yet risen to a point where the fish were active at the surface and/or the lake was at some stage of turning over. In truth, the culprit may be a limited fish population due to winter and summer kills with no supplemental stocking. Whatever the case, the fish were deep and suffering from a severe case of lockjaw.

Dan and Francesca caught up with me in the early afternoon and we sat to eat lunch. Both had apparently gone fishless, Dan had brought some waders and took  advantage of the lakes gradual slope to wade fish with no success.

After lunch we made the 30-minute walk to Bear Lake. Again we split up briefly while fishing the lake outlet and stream. Dan picked up a fish at the outlet while I picked up two in the outlet stream. More fish were visible in the stream, including two fish trying to spawn on top of a long flat rock!

Convinced that the we needed to move on, I queried if Dan and Francesca were willing to make the hike to the far side of the lake in search of the inlet. Back at Camp Lake, some passersby told me of an inlet stream above Bear Lake where they had seen but were unable to catch large trout. I now wanted to find this inlet. Dan and Francesca were game.

The trek to the far side was much shorter than expected and we quickly arrived at a small stream that trickled over the surrounding rocks. This “stream” must surely dry up in the summer as it was little more than 12 inches across and a few inches deep in sections. Still, it held fish. I quickly crawled around to the downstream portion of a small  pool and made a poor attempt at presenting my fly.  The fish weren’t interested. There was a piscatorial power play in motion. Within the pool, larger fish moved in, pushing smaller fish out of their holding lies, who intern pushed still smaller fish from their lies. Dan soon joined me in casting practice. By this time I figured the fish were spooked and decided to move on in search of another inlet. Dan was doubtful of such a place but I had to be sure.

As I crossed the stream just above, I scared a rather large fish (7-8 inches) from underneath a rock. I couldn’t believe it. The “pool” I was crossing held little more than a toilet bowl and yet here was this fish. Just for fun I dapped my BH Prince above the rock…..the fish slammed it. I missed the hook set the first time but not the second. I laughed, showed the fish to Francesca and moved on.

It wasn’t long until I came to a virtual fly-fishing Shangri-La. 5 minutes further on, there was indeed another inlet. A rather large volume of water tumbled over a narrow cascade 6 or so feet into a large, deep pool. A beautiful run with smooth even flows connected the pool with the lake some 50 feet or so down stream. I initially approached on a small ledge overhanging the pool. Careful not to create a large profile or cast a shadow, I removed my hat, lay on my belly and slowly peered over the edge. I could easily see 20 or more trout milling about. I rolled over to grab my rod and cast so that just my rod tip and fly line where hanging over the edge.  Three casts and fish later, I dropped my gear and ran to get Dan and Francesca.

We fished the plunge pool for an additional hour. Each of us with various degrees of success. Just before leaving we regrouped to discuss our experiences. At one point, Francesca was telling us how she had had some strikes and played some fish but was unable to solidly hook and land them. As she speculated why this was so, her line lay in the water. 

Old habits die hard. If there’s a line in the water, I’m going to watch it.  Francesca recanted her day; I watched her indicator. The longer she spoke the greater the confused look on my face became. You see, as she spoke, her indicator started to dart erratically under the surface. “B…b…but, you’ve got  a fish on now.” I said in a half confused, have surprised manner. It was truly one of the funniest moments in my recent fishing memory. Francesca landed the fish and thus caught her first trout on a fly.

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