As fall approaches, the evenings cool and the days grow shorter, trout begin to move back into the shallows of lakes and reservoirs. These seasonal changes stir in them an instinct to pack on the pounds for the coming winter. Minnows and leeches become a prime food source, and if they're available, trout will even feed on dead Kokanee salmon.
Katie and I planned our next adventure to put us in the Central Idaho mountains chasing trout in our float tubes. This particular reservoir was one I hadn't fished in years but had fond memories of. We chose to camp and fish where the river entered the reservoir. Google Earth revealed some great drop-offs and a distinguishable river channel; key features to focus our effort on.
The first day of fishing started like most trips to a lake; calm, glassy water with fish rising everywhere. Once our float tubes touched the water, however, the wind kicked up and waves started lapping against our tubes as we kicked away from the shore. It's almost comical how many times this has happened to me and I suspect many anglers can relate. Regardless, the water was very clear and the sun was out, showing us exactly where the river channel was. We trolled our flies over to the river channel, tethered our boats together and anchored near the edge. I started casting a flesh fly and Katie a leech. BOOM! My line tightened and I set the hook on the first fish of the trip. A chunky cut-bow darted about in the clear water.
After releasing the fish, we continued casting and stripping with no success. Rather than moving on to another location, I reeled my line in and looked over at Katie.
"It's bobber time!" I said, grabbing the other rod in my boat already rigged with a balanced leech and a large yellow strike indicator.
Katie chuckled and grabbed hers as well.
I started with an olive and brown leech and Katie with a halloween.
It couldn't have been more than 20 seconds before Katie's big pink bobber dove under the surface and she heaved back on a nice fish. This one was a gorgeous cutthroat.
The next several hours were filled with a lot of nice fish: rainbows, cutthroat and cut-bows. The trout were cruising the edge of the river channel. When one spot slowed we would re-anchor 20 yards away and resume catching fish. The chop on the water was also helping our flies dance under the water as our bobbers rose and fell with the waves.
The following morning we rose to the chirping of bald eagles. The skies and shorelines were full of them, as well as osprey, vultures, sandhill cranes and herons. Today we would try a different spot. Google earth showed a clear drop off that extended out into the lake a couple hundred yards. We kicked off from shore, this time trolling a flesh fly and a leech. I hadn't gone more than 30 yards from shore when my line went tight to a fish. I brought in the cutthroat and released it.
Katie was on next.
We continued to troll along the edge. To my right it was 4 feet deep and to my left, 10. We continued to pick up fish here and there.
We eventually lost track of the drop off and turned around, trolling our way back. We began picking up fish once we found the edge again. We decided to anchor up and try the bobbers for a little while. It worked like a charm, despite the calm water. From my experience, fishing a balanced fly under a bobber works about the same whether it's calm water or choppy.
We took a few hours off from fishing to eat lunch and go for a hike. But at 5 pm we were back on the water to see what the evening held. We anchored our boats near the river channel and caught several more rainbows, cuts and cut-bows to finish out a great day.
The last morning of our trip we rose bright and early to catch the morning bite and the calm water before it was time to drive home. We tried trolling the drop off before kicking over to the river channel. On the way over we passed through some deep water with large pine stumps scattered about. My line quickly tightened to a strong fish! A silver flash came from the depths. What is this? A black, freckled, silvery fish came thrashing to the surface. A chinook salmon! I scooped the 17 inch fish into the net. Fish and game has been planting chinook in many reservoirs in Idaho over the last few years and in some locations they are thriving and reaching sporting size. This was the largest land-locked chinook I'd ever caught, but surely more to come in the future.
We released the fish and proceeded to the river channel. The calm, clear water enabled us to find little pockets of old creek channels, stumps and holes the fish were using adjacent to the river channel. The action was consistent, however today our hooking success was lacking.
"Honey, you got one!" I shouted with excitement as I watched her bobber dive.
Katie heaved back on the rod, several seconds too late. "Darn-it! I was looking at the eagles! Oh, you've got one!"
I quickly looked at the end of my fly line to see my bobber one foot under the surface. I yanked back in a futile attempt, seconds too slow for a seasoned trout. "Darn-it! I was paying attention to your bobber!"
We both laughed. After re-casting, the same thing happened again.
"Stare at your own bobber!" I said, frustrated that we kept missing fish due to looking at each others bobbers instead of our own.
Even after we committed to looking at our own bobbers, something else would distract us, causing us to miss more fish. At least we were having fun. Despite the poor hook up rate, we managed to land numerous fish, including this nice rainbow.
We drove home with big smiles on our faces. The fall can be a fantastic time of year to get the float tubes back out, and most of the time, you'll have the whole lake to yourself. Concentrate your effort on river and creek channels, drop offs and flats. Locate these topographic features with a depth finder, google earth or simply clear water on a sunny day. Find these and you will likely find the fish. When things seem to slow down, remember: put a bobber on it!