Fishing for lake trout and landlocked sockeyes in the Cascades
By Gary Lewis
What kind of fish eats a big fish? A bigger fish.
That’s why we use big plugs when we target “keeper” lake trout at Odell Lake. Odell is the place to go to target big mackinaw where a keeper is 30 inches and weighs nine or ten pounds.
But how big is big?
In most lakes, a ten-pound trout is a big fish, but at Odell, something is trying to eat them. The only thing bigger than a big lake trout is a bigger lake trout.
Odell Lake still holds the Oregon state record, a 40-pound, 8-ounce glutton that was boated in 1984. The state, in a net survey, once caught a 50-pounder. Those big fish are out there.
The thing to remember is that lake trout are predators and they will try to eat anything that is up to one-third their own size.
I confess, I wasn’t thinking big fish when I bought the Spiderman rod.
I picked it up late at night. An outdoor writer’s reputation is shaky enough without being seen with a Spidey rod. The clerk asked, “Would you like a bag for that?”
“Two please.” I put the second bag on top and scuttled out.
You can find them in sporting goods section of any department store. There is usually a selection of themed rods for five-year-old fishermen. I briefly considered Barbie, Transformers and Disney Princess but Spiderman is known for being expert in the applied sciences, for his neuroses, for grabbing hold and not letting go. Sounds like a kokanee fisherman.
Big macks and medium kokes on the menu
From various points of the compass, a dozen of us converged at Odell Lake Lodge. Sierra Koepfle with Carson Oil and Ben Brown from Chevron had put the trip together and I tagged along for another try at catching the new state record.
I wouldn’t be using the Spidey pole. I’d be looking for a victim.
Two weeks prior, Jon Ditgen, the owner of Odell Lake Lodge, called to tell me that one of his clients, a 40-something angler who hadn’t fished in three decades, caught a 39-pound, 2-ounce lake trout, not far off the state record. Those big fish are hard to get in the boat, but I think someone is going to break that record soon.
Lake trout, also called Mackinaw, are gluttons. They eat fish (kokanee, rainbows, bull trout and other macks) up to one-third their own size. While they are choking down the last meal, they try to grab another bite.
At Odell, the kokanee run 10 to 18 inches and the limit is 25. The landlocked sockeye are considered one of the best-eating of all the salmon species.
Scott Kimmons, Ken Laudahl, Gene Jones, Corey McCort and I fished with Jon Ditgen the first afternoon. My old friend John McDevitt guided the other group for kokanee.
We motored toward the west end where, Ditgen said, the fish had been the last few days. We found them on the first pass, a stack of big macks that showed as orange smears on the depth finder, ninety feet down.
We dropped two M-2 Flatfish plugs on the downriggers then clipped on two U-20 Flatfish on the inside rods. In less than five minutes one of the rods bounced.
Ken Laudahl popped the line out of the downrigger clip and set the hook. The rest of us reeled in and cleared the decks to let him battle the fish. A few minutes later, the big spotted char flashed like a mirror in the clear blue water. In the net it measured 33 inches and my scale said it weighed almost 14 pounds. It was a brute, but it was also bleeding from puncture wounds on both sides of its dorsal fin.
Something tried to eat that big mack. Something had that 33-inch fish down its throat and clamped down on both sides. Something at least twice as big as a 33-inch Mackinaw.
We made a slow turn and dropped our baits again. This time, Kimmons grabbed the rod when it doubled over. I tried to reel in the smaller Flatfish and hooked his line. As soon as Ditgen had cut the U-20 free, the fish ran through the other two lines and we had a nasty web of braided lines to unwind while Kimmons kept the pressure on the big fish.
This one pulled the scale to 22 pounds and stretched the tape to 38 inches.
The next fish was McCort’s, an eight-pounder. Then Jones landed his, about the same size. Being last in line I caught and released a five-pounder and a nine-pounder. We had hookups on each pass.
Our other boat managed to land a few kokes, the biggest of which ran about 16 inches.
Using our Spidey-sense
In the morning, we swapped boats. We went three hours without a bite. Even the chocolate doughnuts didn’t have enough magic to break our slump.
McCort was first to crack.
“Give me something to do,” he said. “I’m going crazy here.”
I handed him the Spidey rod and tied on a red Crippled Herring and told him to strip out 60 feet of line.
We trolled and McCort held the rod like it was a web shooter.
The minute hand on my watch ticked off another thirty minutes of tedium.
McDevitt zigged and zagged. We dropped the downriggers down, cranked them up again and changed speeds. No bites on the trolling gear. McCort kept jigging and then he set the hook again. He swept that Spidey rod up over his head like he was driving the steel home in a 50-pound chinook.
“Whoa there! With great power there must also come great responsibility.”
But the filament held and the rod flexed with the weight of another 10-inch landlocked sockeye.
You’d have thought we were a bunch of five-year-olds the way we celebrated when McCort pulled his second fish into the net.
At Odell, kokanee are a worthy quarry in their own right. We don’t take them for granted, especially on a slow day. But 30-inch Mackinaw see kokanee as bait. And something in that lake thinks 30-inch macks are on the menu.
Someone is going to break that state record one of these days.
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