Having spent the last 2 weekends on the Fish Lake Plateau, I've grown very tired of waiting for this record winter to loosen its death grip on my beloved mountains and lakes. The gate at FS640 (Gooseberry Road - south end) has been locked right at Johnson Reservoir, keeping vehicles from attempting to blaze a trail through the lingering snow drifts. With my frustrations coming to a head, I decided to take advantage of the long day and just go on foot.
After this decision was made, my best friend called, informing me that he would be moving to California in a couple of days and that this week was our last chance to spend any time together for quite awhile. I briefed him of my plan and he was all for it! We would have one final blowout day to send him off in style. Fat brookies were our target and we weren't about to let anything keep us off the mountain.
We parked at the gate and started the hike to get to our spot. It was a bit of a surprise to see the snow drifts still hanging onto the road in a few places. They weren't too bad though and it shouldn't be more than a week or two before we can use the road again (hoping).
Once we arrived at the "trailhead", we were faced with the problem of crossing Seven Mile Creek, which was running high and fast. Normally, anyone would be able to cross the creek by hopping across some rocks or just wading through. This wouldn't be possible on this day.
Holdsworth wasn't wearing waders and didn't really want to get soaked before a rough hike, so he wandered the banks in search of a good crossing point. Though I had waders on, the current was quite strong and I was almost swept off my feet several times before finally reaching the other side. Holdsworth ended up crossing about a quarter mile upstream.
Thinking ahead, I tossed a couple of limbs across the creek to make a temporary bridge for our trip back.
Even though we'd gone to hike into Ranger Lake, there was water all over the mountainside and it definitely warranted some investigation. Beaver dams and natural ponds were scattered everywhere we looked and we took our time enjoying the incredible country we'd earned our way into.
Ponds upon ponds.
Asking for a better backdrop for a day's adventures would be blasphemy.
And the fishing? It was unreal! The first place we found fish in was a large shallow beaver dam that had a couple of deeper holes throughout. The last time I was in the area, I caught a small fish there and thought it would be fun to check it out again. Bingo.
At first, we weren't throwing what they wanted, but then I tied on a black marabou and the rest is history:
Nice, fat brookies filled up our hands! They weren't HUGE, but as nice or nicer than any brookies I've ever caught. We had a riot and ended up staying there for a couple of hours. They gobbled up the jigs in black and brown.
Eventually, we set off to find Ranger, a place I'd been to before but didn't know that it was stocked annually at the time. My expectations were high, considering the amount of effort required to get to this "bushwhack only" lake.
My memory of hiking to Ranger had apparently left out how brutal getting in there was. It took a long time to find, even with the GPS. We were as close as 300 feet away from it and still couldn't tell where it was. Talk about a hump!
The only trails in the area seemed to disappear without a clear path of continuation, leaving only tightly forested hillsides and ravines loaded with fallen timber. Navigating this mess was pure punishment and I can't imagine trying to push through all the branches and climb barriers with a tube. It was already bad enough with our rods and backpacks getting constantly hung up.
What a relief it was to finally reach the water!
There's a price for this kind of solitude and we paid in full. Gorgeous lake!
The rewards, we hoped, would be in the form of large brookies, but it turns out that Ranger is full of dinks. We still enjoyed the fast catching with fish on constantly. We drove many a hook through many a lip and at one point, I caught fish on at least seven consecutive casts. Lights out fishing.
Who knows? Perhaps there are some really large fish in there, but it would require weeding through a lot of dinks to find any. It would also serve well for a tube, as it's much larger than I remembered. Last time I went, I was fishing well below the high water mark and I'm guessing the lake covered only half as much area as it did this time.
Nothing special, but at least we did it! We were both satisfied with the fast action and chose to head back down to the first pond we hit, where the brookies were much larger. We were not disappointed by that move.
When we got back down the hill, we saw that the day's heat had brought a bit more water to the creek and the bridge I made had been washed away with the higher water. It took us over an hour to get across the creek this time. It may have taken us longer, but pure luck came into play when a drifting branch got stuck at a bottleneck, giving us an opportunity to reinforce it with a couple of other branches.
The new "bridge" had water raging over it and it only lasted long enough to get Holdsworth across. My attempt at crossing left me leaping for the bank, only to land in a pretty deep eddy. I didn't get wet because of my waders, but my pistol took its third dip of the day.
The creek was really rolling.
Just glad to be across, we hobbled our way back to the truck. After all was said and done, we'd hiked about 12 miles for the day and got our butts kicked. It was the proper way to bid farewell to my best friend.
We made the long drive home filthy, beaten, and smiling.
Happy Fishing, Humans.
SOUTHERN CULTURE ON THE FLY - No. 29 - Grossman punches the clock of 40, Jason Tucker finds brook trout in new places, two "scientists" get nerdy on what's in the water, the Floridian Viking sha...
4 hours ago