Spring is a time of renewal; it’s also when the trout are hungry. For the past few years, springtime in Northwestern Oregon has been cooler than usual with below average temperatures and low snow levels accompanied by plenty of moisture. So in April, when the forecast called for snow at and below pass levels, we knew that the roads leading to some of our favorite fishing spots remained snowbound.
Waiting for ice-out was wearing our patience thin. Winter refused to relinquish its hold, and it had been months since we’d opened our fly boxes, or taken our fly rods from their padded cases on the shelf.
While Chris anticipated catching salmon and steelhead from full-bodied rivers, I longed for catching feisty trout of mountain lakes and rushing streams. A cold rain was falling—would it ever end? I couldn’t stand it any longer and took the fly box from the shelf, and opened it. The flies, with barbs pressed (always) and hooks sharpened, displayed brilliant buggy colors and patterns. There were flies for all seasons; flies of all sizes and colors. There were salmon, steelhead, and trout flies. There were flies that had never touched water, and flies worn and tattered—trout favorites! I admired each of them. I dreamed what flies to use, and on which lakes and streams to use them, and dreamed of the trout they might catch.
The first dry weekend came in April, and after months of gray, the first golden rays of sunlight felt wonderful. Although it was still unseasonable cold, and the lakes likely snowbound, we wanted to see for ourselves just how much snow had fallen, and how long it might be until ice-out.
Just as we suspected, a four-foot snowbank blocked the entrance to Trillium Lake. From the looks of it, it would likely be June before we could reach the lake with four-wheel drive. Poor weather lasted through April with snow falling down to pass levels that mixed with rain in the foothills. As the weeks wore on, and the calendar turned to May, conditions became brighter, and warmer. By the second week of May, the temperature climbed into the mid to upper 80s. For once, the forecast was right! Warm, dry air scoured out the cold. Finally, it felt like spring.
Hoping that the warm weather had melted the snow enough so we could reach the lake, we grabbed our fly rods and headed out. At the entrance, we could hardly believe our eyes; the gates were open, and the road plowed! Thrilled would be an understatement. We could almost feel the trout on the end of our lines.
As we pulled into the Day Use area, another surprise awaited; the lake was completely iced over. Its banks and trails hidden underneath three plus feet of snow! Even Mud Creek Dam was impassable. Our excitement quickly turned to disappointment that subsided as we gazed across the lake, awestruck by the beautiful scene before us.
Carefully, I made my way across the rotting snowbank until reaching a picnic table where the snow had piled, and was level with the tabletop. Dressed in T-shirt, shorts, and sandals, I didn’t want to press my luck walking any farther, for the snow, should it give way, was waist deep.
The view, although breathtaking, was also blinding. Thank goodness for UV sunglasses! Donning a thin layer of ice, Trillium Lake never looked more stunning. Along the edge of the bank, where the ice was thinnest and starting to melt, were dazzling pools the color of sapphire. Anyone who has ever seen Trillium Lake, has likely noticed its brownish-orange water; a natural discoloration caused by mineral deposits.
A week later, we returned to Trillium Lake finding it fully transformed. Ice-out, the lake reflected a deep indigo that held the image of Mount Hood. Plenty of snow surrounded the lake. Even the campground was buried, but under the blazing sun, it was melting quickly. Crossing Mud Creek Dam through a foot of slushy snow, we fished the lakes east end. Nearby, mallards, goldeneyes, and Canada geese dabbled along the edge of the reed bed. Across the lake, an osprey circled, made its plunge, but came up with empty talons. The air, alive with frog song, was music to our ears.
Except for a lone dragonfly, there weren’t many bugs to be seen. This was because the water was still too cold, and the only bug activity was near the bottom of the lake. Nymphs, such as Damsels, Water Boatmen, Midges, and Beadhead Leeches, work best right after ice-out. Because my favorite fishing is using a dry-fly, I tied on a No. 18 Black Caddis. The first cast of the season felt wonderful! Trout rings formed just out of reach of my casting ability, but it didn’t matter. Just being here was enough. I studied the fly, watching it drift slowly, nudged by a gently warm breeze.
I made a few more casts. Nothing. I reeled in, and tied on a No. 14 Big Black Gnat. I made the cast. The fly landed with a slight twist. A few feet beyond my fly, a large trout surfaced without so much as a splash. With jaws agape, it gulped the water. It was a big fish, five or six pounds—a holdover from last year most likely. In fact, some of the biggest trout in here are holdovers. Moments later, an even bigger trout emerged, and skimmed the surface. An incredible fish, seven, maybe eight pounds! But again, beyond my reach.
Suddenly, I had a strike! Not the big trout I had hoped for, but the first trout of the season nonetheless. Unfortunately, I set the hook too hastily, and lost both trout and fly. Chris did better with a No. 10 Pheasant-tailed nymph, netting a feisty twelve-inch rainbow. After gently removing the fly from the trout’s lip, it was released to be caught another day.
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