By Gary Lewis

“You are in bull trout country.” It is the first sign you see at Laurance Lake on the east slope of Mount Hood. We passed it again as we started across the dam, up the Laurance Lake Loop Trail.

Crankbaits 149On the north side of the lake, the trail switchbacks up the ridge. After we gained elevation, we began to see Mount Hood in the clouds and more of the water became visible. At full pool, this lake is 127 surface acres and is over 100 feet deep at its deepest point.

Wind howled down out of the Cascades and the clouds blew through, whitecaps whipped up. Fed by the Clear Branch and Pinnacle Creek, the lake’s outflow joins the Middle Fork of the Hood River.

From various vantage points we should have had a clear look at Mount Hood, but the clouds hid the glaciers and summit. We climbed on, my daughters Jennifer and Mikayla stopped to look at “fairy caves” and wildflowers. We were almost to the next switchback when I heard a high-pitched whistle. Not a marmot. A pika.

A pika surprised on a boulder field high above Laurance Lake.

A pika surprised on a boulder field high above Laurance Lake.

At that moment we became hunters again, stalking a pika for a look at the elusive animal that my girls had never seen before. We hid in vine maple and scanned a rock slide. There, perched on a rock, looking out over the mountain valley, was a pika, a rock rabbit, one of my favorite creatures. Now I knew why we’d hiked all this way, we needed go no further.

On the way back down, the clouds parted, the wind began to still and Hood’s Langille, Coe and Ladd glaciers appeared, lit from the east.

The afternoon before, I’d borrowed a 12-foot Hobie Pro Angler kayak and strapped it to my trailer for the two-hour drive to the lake. After lunch I slipped it into the water. Mikayla was in another kayak. My dad, who had joined us for the day, pushed his pontoon boat in.

Crankbaits 218The Hobie Pro Angler can be paddled like any other kayak, but its real strength is the Mirage Drive system, which runs on a pedal system. Drop the rudder then pedal it like a bicycle. Beneath the boat, two fins kick like a merman’s tail and the boat goes. A rudder control at the left hand turns the boat left and right.

Crankbaits 012This time I left the fly rod cased and tied on a crankbait. First cast. Bam. I was in bull trout country. This one was about 12 inches long.

My second fish was a hatchery rainbow. It is easy to imagine the rainbows know they are in bull trout country shortly after they go in the water. The slow ones don’t make it. Once a bull trout reaches about 16 inches, it makes its living eating other fish. And a 24-inch bull can choke down an eight-inch stocker.

Some big predators lurk in that lake. Dad caught a nice rainbow on a rubber-legged Hare’s Ear and, when I figured out where the fish were concentrated, I caught two more bull trout and another rainbow. Some of the best fishing is at the mouths of the creeks, along the north shore and along the dam. Parts of the lake are protected from the wind. We found calm water off the mouth of Pinnacle Creek and along the south shore.

A two-inch crankbait can be a great go-to lure when the fishing is good, but the catching is tough.

A two-inch crankbait can be a great go-to lure when the fishing is good, but the catching is tough.

When I ventured into the wind chop, the Hobie did well out there too. It is a unique kayak in that a person can stand and cast. This one was equipped with a rod holder behind the seat. At first I wanted one up front, then I realized I didn’t need a rod holder at all. I used the paddle only in very shallow water and pedal-kicked everywhere else, my rod in my right hand, ready to set the hook.

Hatchery rainbow trout, native cutthroat trout and bull trout are the main catch in this irrigation reservoir. There are some smallmouth in the lake as well. There is no limit on smallies. Only fin-clipped trout and bass may be kept. Bait fishing is not permitted.

As we pulled our boats out of the water, the campground host, Ken Nelson, related a story about three anglers that didn’t abide by the above-mentioned rules. Fishing with bait, they had 10 trout each in possession when the trooper fingered them. According to Nelson, it cost each fisherman $4,350 and all their gear. Welcome to bull trout country, where it pays to read the regulations.

Crankbaits for Trout
A lot of us tend to think of crankbaits as bass gear, but trout like to think of them as food. It is a reaction bait designed to trigger a response.

In the spring, before the water warms and bug life burgeons, a crankbait can trigger fast limits from some of our best hatchery trout lakes. There is no easier lure to fish. Tie it on and reel it back. The trick is to run the bait down where the feeders are.

They can be anywhere in the water column. If you think fish are deeper, use a deeper running plug. If the fish are in the top 18 inches, use a short-lipped bait.

How do you choose from the staggering number of lures on the market? Pick several. Start with a pattern that matches the size of the local bait fish, then focus on strike trigger details. Small scared fish have big eyes that suggest vulnerability. Glue-on stickers or 3-D prisms – make sure it has big eyes. An erratic retrieve suggests fear and fear provokes a predator. A rattle might be a strike trigger, as well, allowing fish to find the lure in murky water.

Red is another strike trigger. When fish feed, they flare their gills, which may be a signal to other fish there’s something to eat. For me, the most dependable trigger color is that dark, bloody gill-colored red.

Crankbaits 011Many lures show gill flash color already. You can add it with fingernail polish or by changing out one of the hooks. Because predatory trout often strike from the side, I change out the center hook on a three-hook stickbait, swapping the standard bronze for a blood red treble. Rather than hiding the treble, I want that red hook to become the target.

There are lots of good crankbaits on the market, but some of my favorites for hatchery trout are this new Bandit Lure (in pink), Worden’s Timber Tigers, the Rapala Countdown and the Luhr Jensen Hot Lips Express. For fast action, smaller is better.

To order a signed copy of Fishing Mount Hood Country, send $24.95 (free S&H) to GLO, PO Box 1364, Bend, OR 97709 or visit www.GaryLewisOutdoors.com.