Hike-in trails offer fast action for trout in the Cascades

By Gary Lewis

According to the trail description on the web, this lake was “one of the Mount Hood National Forest’s best-kept secrets.” In the latest Fishing in Oregon book, which has just found its way into my library, the description reads, “The fish here don’t get large, averaging 8-inches.”

One of the most effective techniques for high altitude brook trout employs the simple fly and bubble rig.

One of the most effective techniques for high altitude brook trout employs the simple fly and bubble rig. Photo By Gary Lewis.

We began to believe the first description after making two wrong turns that amounted to 15 more miles on washboard tracks than originally budgeted for. If we could just find our road, we could fact-check the length measurements.

Packing the truck, I forgot to include my BaseImage atlas. That was the mistake that cost us the extra diesel.

I did bring the state gazetteer, which afforded some sense of our destination albeit in small scale. We huddled in the cab of the Ford and tried to make sense of a spider web of roads and canyons. Eleven-year-old Isaac and his dad, James Flaherty and my daughter Jennifer offered their observations and teams began to align. Isaac and I found ourselves in agreement, while Jennifer and James brought derision upon our decisions.

“It is probably our next left turn,” I said with all the authority I could muster. I had said the same thing twice before.

Every other year, if they have the budget, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife stocks over 400 backcountry lakes with fingerlings dropped in by helicopter or transported there by hiker, horseback and llama. Some of these waters are small and shallow while others are deep and cold. Every one is special in its own way, each a precious jewel. Some are well-kept secrets and others are well-used, even abused.

We located our road about an hour after we had planned to find it and about six miles up the canyon, found the trailhead with six cars there ahead of us. The path led up the slope alongside a fast-running creek into a forest of old-growth fir; a half mile from the trailhead to the water’s edge.

A few campsites were scattered amongst the silvered firs. At the shoreline, the water was light green and darkened toward the middle. Talus slides entered the water on the south bank and high on the cliff clung stands of aspen. If this was supposed to be a secret, this 20-acre lake on the east slope of Mt. Hood, I was going to keep it.

Fishing a Fly and Bubble

One of the simplest methods for tempting trout on backcountry lakes is a fly and casting bubble rig. Start with a spinning rod and reel loaded with six-pound test line. Run the line through a clear plastic casting bubble then tie on a small barrel swivel. To the swivel, tie on a three- to six-foot length of fluorocarbon leader. Knot on a wet fly like a Brown Hackle or a Woolly Bugger or Soft Hackle Hare’s Ear.
    Before making the first cast, fill the casting bubble with water that provides the weight for an effective cast. On the cast, stop the throw right before the rig splashes down. This will force the fly and leader to straighten out behind the bubble. Now let the fly sink, then start to reel. Draw the line tight and then pause. Crank the reel a turn or two, then wait again and watch for the strike at the bubble, which has now become a great big strike indicator for the fly. For a little more excitement, tie on a second fly and fish two bugs in tandem. Trout need choices.
-Gary Lewis


Isaac, armed with a spinning rod and a float and fly, managed a 30-foot cast over a submerged log. A trout streaked up out of the shadow and missed the grab. On the second try, the fish and the boy connected. Isaac reeled in his first brookie, a speckled eight-inch former fingerling with a large head.

Rises dimpled the surface, most out of fly rod casting range. Shoreside trees are the biggest obstacle to distance. Even waded out hip-deep in the warm water, my back cast tickled the hemlock. I guessed the fish were feeding on midges and caddis. One fish grabbed my olive caddis pupa, but that was it. I switched to a green chironomid pupa, but still the hungry fish shunned my offering.

Brook trout on the fire. Photo by Gary Lewis.

Brook trout on the fire. Photo by Gary Lewis.

A brown fly with tented wings landed on my sleeve, so I dug through my box and located a brown tied-down caddis. Bingo. The brookies climbed all over it. Along the lakeshore, Isaac, Jennifer and James had connected the dots in a different way and each had tangled with multiple brook trout. We released close to a dozen and kept four.

Jennifer Lewis shows off a brook trout from Boulder Lake.  Photo By Gary Lewis.

Jennifer Lewis shows off a brook trout from Boulder Lake. Photo By Gary Lewis.

When the sun was low over the rim, a golden glow filled the mountain valley. On the bank behind us, a campfire sputtered to life and soon we could smell dinner on the breeze. Someone else’s dinner. We found our way out of the water and back out to the trailhead.

Back at our campground we lit our own fire and put the brookies over the coals. No one had thought to bring butter or salt and pepper, so we grilled them and ate them free of any enhancements. It was a good thing I brought the Camp Chef stove and a jar of deer chili. Four stunted brook trout do not much of a meal make.

James Flaherty gets his first look at Boulder Lake on the east side of Mount Hood. Photo by Gary Lewis.

James Flaherty gets his first look at Boulder Lake on the east side of Mount Hood. Photo by Gary Lewis.

Hundreds of lakes in the Cascades offer good fishing for cutthroats, rainbows and brook trout. Some of these lakes are small and shallow while others are big, blue, dark and deep. Each has its own character and few of them can support much angling pressure.

On the lake we fished, the char were stunted from too much competition and a scarcity of food. There was probably a trout there that would have topped 10 inches, but we didn’t see him. Deeper lakes with a long shallow shoreline are better bets for bigger fish. It takes a certain flexibility to unlock a backcountry lake’s secrets.

Watch the surface, the bugs and the trout for cues. A lot of these lakes are timbered right to the water’s edge and many are not wadable. One of the best rigs for a hike-in fishery is a float and fly combination. With a spinning rod, the fly and bubble can be launched twice as far as the longest fly rod cast.

With the right fur and feather creation on the end of the line, an angler can bring a lot of fish to the bank. Find a lake or a chain of still waters in some remote basin and you have found a jewel to keep close or share with a friend or two over the years. It will be your best-kept secret in the Cascades.

To order a signed copy of Fishing Central Oregon and Beyond, send $34.95 (includes S&H) to Gary Lewis Outdoors, PO Box 1364, Bend, OR 97709 or visit www.GaryLewisOutdoors.com.

Fight Back the Mosquito Menace

Back at camp, we started a fire, started the camp stove and chili and then fired up the Thermacell lantern. It was just a matter of moments to load the unit with a butane cartridge and the little blue mat that was impregnated with the repellent.
In a few minutes, a wisp of smoke wafted off the mat. There was a light breeze in camp, not enough to blow the bugs away, so I set the Thermacell on the upwind side and watched to see how my short-sleeved, bare-legged and otherwise unprotected companions would fare.
True to the advertising, the Thermacell lantern seemed to protect an area of about 15 feet. No one had to apply lotions, smelly spray or oils to keep the bugs off. As long as they stayed close to the lantern, they were unmolested by the merciless devils.
-Gary Lewis