Monday, September 28, 2015

Marge Lake

My wife and I have started a tradition of hiking into a high mountain lake every year for her birthday. This year we chose one we had never been to, Marge Lake, North of McCall. I had to work until 6 on Friday evening and we planned to hike on Saturday. Instead of doing the logical thing and leave early Saturday morning in the daylight, we choose to leave Friday night and drive in the dark to a brand new place, setting up camp in the dark. But when you're excited to get out of town, you just want to get out of town.
We found the trailhead no problem and found a suitable spot to camp nearby. At 11:30 PM, we crawled into the tent, just as frost was starting to cover everything.
We awoke early the next morning to find the sun nearing the horizon and beginning to melt the frost covered woods. We packed our things for the day and set out on the trail. It was grouse season, so I brought my shotgun. I debated carrying the thing all the way into the lake, but if I didn't, we would surely see a lot of grouse. Worse yet, we might see a pack of ferocious, rabid wolves. Ok maybe not likely, but it never hurts to be prepared.      
The area had been burned in the last 15 years and there were a lot of standing snags.
The trail was relatively flat and easy going as it meandered through the burnt trees and colorful fall bushes.  
The path took a turn and crossed the small creek coming out of Pearl Lake. We knew we were now getting close to Pearl Lake. The trail began to head uphill and gain elevation. We reached the top of the hill and had a wonderful view of the valley and surrounding mountains.
We hiked a little further and Pearl Lake was before us.
We knew the fishing in Pearl Lake was good, but we were in search of larger, less educated fish. Marge Lake was only another mile or so, but there was no marked trail. I got the map out and made a few bearings. 
"Ok, honey. You up for this?" I asked, as we stared at the so called "trail" in front of us.
"Yes, I think we should. We've come this far. We need to check out that lake." Katie said with optimism.
We began to work our way through the fallen trees, bushes and rocks, slowly gaining elevation. According to the topography map, we would need to gain almost 500 feet of elevation to make it up and over the mountain in front of us.
It was difficult to navigate without a trail, but we eventually made it up to the top.

We took a moment to catch our breath and enjoy the beautiful view.
The fresh snow at the top reminded us that winter always has a grip on the mountains of Idaho. 
We could see Marge Lake below us now and my excitement grew. Now we only had to drop another 500 feet of elevation, a detail I knew I would dread on the way out.
The lake was crystal clear and I couldn't wait to peer into the water in search of cruising fish.
It was nearly noon and the strenuous hike had given us a fierce appetite. Of course, I didn't know I was hungry because there was a lake with fish in front of me. My wife usually has to remind me it's time to eat in these situations. While I rigged up the fly rods, Katie made us a couple of sandwiches.   
I "woofed" my sandwich down, drank some fluids and had a fly rod in my hand in about 3 minutes flat. I walked out onto a log that extended into the lake and began casting a small black beetle pattern. I was just about to lift the fly off the water to present my 3rd cast, when a large shape emerged under my fly. The large cutthroat trout sipped my fly slowly, but deliberately. I set the hook and was amazed at the size and fight of this fish.
The little 4 weight reel was whining as the fish pulled with all it's might. I slowly worked the fish in and apprehended him. I was thoroughly satisfied with the quality of our first fish at Marge Lake.
After releasing the fish, we worked our way further down the lake towards a small wooded cove. We walked out onto some logs and began casting. My eyes were scanning the clear waters for a cruising fish to cast to, when something strange caught my eye. A fish, no 2 fish, 3, 4... a whole school of trout was swimming towards us!
The school of 10-16 inch cutthroat swam right towards us and passed directly under the log we were standing on. They then swam around behind us in search of food, surprisingly unafraid or unaware of our presence. Katie made a soft, short roll cast towards the fish. A quick twitch brought the "Bumble Butt" fly to life and a cutthroat responded favorably.
Katie set the hook on the 14 inch fish and the battle was on! The fish immediately dove for the submerged branches twisting and turning. Katie did her best to control the fish but it was no use. The fish swam around a branch and the line was stuck. The fish was still on the line though, still spinning and kicking. I carefully walked out onto the log, trying to keep my balance. A fall in the snow chilled water at this point would surely ruin my day. I slowly knelt down where the fish was stuck and reached into the water to unwrap the fish. I was able to get the fish unwrapped, but now I was out in the lake on a thin log and unable to turn around. I carefully began crawling backwards on my knees until the log was wide enough to get my balance to stand up, a task that quickly reminded me I wasn't as young as I used to be. Like a newborn fawn, I slowly wobbled myself to a standing position and turned around to get a picture of Katie's fish.
Katie released the fish and we waited for the school of cutthroats to return. It only took a few minutes before the school was back and cruising around at our feet amongst the cover of the sunken branches. Katie dropped the fly off the tip of the rod and gave it a couple twitches. A fish materialized beneath the fly and slowly rose to devour it. 
We both giggled as Katie set the hook.
"That was so cool! That fish ate the fly right here!" I said, as I looked through the photos I had just taken. "And I got pictures of it all!"
We didn't want to spook all the fish again, so Katie gave the fish some slack, letting it shake the hook. It shook it quickly and she placed another cast to the school of fish still in the area.
We had fun playing around with these fish for some time before we decided to move on. We crept around the lake to another cove, this one covered in submerged grass. We couldn't see any fish and nothing was taking an interest in our flies, so we kept going.
We reached the rocky side of the lake where the mountainside seemed to disappear into the depths of the lake. Large, granite boulders became our trail, as we hopped from one to another. We made casts here and there in search of guilable fish. We kept hearing loud squeaks behind us and I turned around, catching a glimpse of an illusive Pika, the "gerbil" of the alpine country. 
We kept moving around the lake with no success. While one end of the lake was deep and rocky, the other side was quite shallow with prevalent weed growth. This is a great balance for a high mountain lake, ensuring the fish have cover and great areas for feeding.  

We made it all the way around the lake, with only having success on the side we had started. We decided to try the cove where we had caught all the fish before. We walked out onto the logs and stood waiting for the school of fish to reappear. The school never reappeared, and I noticed it was starting to get late. I knew we better start hiking back so we wouldn't be stuck hiking in the dark. We packed up and began the trek up the steep mountain, which seemed even more steep than before. We huffed and puffed our way to the top, where we could see Pearl Lake below us.
When we reached Pearl Lake, we stopped to take a short break. I couldn't let myself walk past the lake without throwing a few casts. I rigged a rod back up and made some casts.  

Immediately, I was rewarded with a fish that shortly shook the hook. My next cast also produced a take that I wasn't able to set. Pearl Lake showed promise, but as quickly as the action had heated up, it died down. Despite trying a couple other areas around the lake, Pearl Lake was giving us a sign it was time to head back to camp.
I packed up my rod and we set back on the trail. With the motivation of fishing now gone, my legs told me they were weary and tired. We finally made it back to camp, where the once cold, hard slab of granite barely worth noticing was now an inviting bed to relax our tired bodies.

We made a fire, ate a healthy sized meal and watched the sunset. The day had been a blast and we couldn't wait to see what tomorrow would bring. 

Friday, September 18, 2015

Dove hunting

For some outdoorsman, the month of September means bow hunting. I do not bow hunt and don't get me wrong, I would love to learn how, but I doubt the bank account could support another "gear rich" hobby. For me, September means dove hunting. It's a wonderful way to "dust the cob webs off" of your wing shooting. What's better practice than real birds? It's a fun, warm weather, casual hunting activity. One that I look forward to every year.
I am very fortunate to have a friend who lives in Caldwell, and not only loves to dove hunt, but has a great piece of land to hunt on. Ryan invited me to come out and hunt the opening evening of dove season. He said to be out near 6 pm. I didn't want to be driving west at 5 o'clock so I headed out to Caldwell early and decided to spend a couple of hours at Lake Lowell targeting carp.    
I was delighted to find the lake calm as glass. I geared up and walked down to the water. A thin green layer of algae covered the surface of the water. Gross, I though to myself. I hesitated to enter the water, but the desire to catch fish overthrew my desire to stay clean.

There were small bass all over the place, leaping out of the water after dragon flies, so I decided to start with a small popper. 

A few minutes of fishing the popper revealed that most of the bass were too small to actually fit the popper in their mouth. I switched to a small carp fly and BAM! I was into a whopper of a largemouth bass. 

I walked along the weeds a little further and began to see a pod of carp milling near the surface. I could see their leathery, orange lips sucking the slimy, green algae off of the surface. Gross; the cockroaches of the aquatic world. These things will eat anything! I thought as I tied on a small, green dry fly. I fished the fly for 20 minutes or so with no interest. The carp would suck towards my fly and then turn away when they got close enough to eat it. Apparently they won't eat just anything!
I tied on a small, slow sinking leech pattern and fished that for a while. The carp were still not interested. But this trophy bass sure was!
I kept trying for the carp with a couple other patterns before giving up. It was nearly 6 and time to switch gears to dove hunting. On the way to Ryan's house, I saw plenty of doves, making me very excited to hunt.
When I got to Ryan's house, he was ready and waiting. I hurried to get my gear in order, but at my feet was Ryan's dog Grace, telling me I wasn't going fast enough.
We walked out to the edge of the hay field and began setting up on the canal bank. Ryan had taken a couple of tree branches and buried them vertically in the ground to look like small trees. We clipped a few decoys on them as well as on a nearby fence. 
With our set-up complete, all we had to do was wait. Doves are fast flyers, and it seems that no matter how alert you are, they can show up out of nowhere. Luckily, I have a bucket with a lid that has a swivel seat. No dove is sneaking up on me! I thought to myself as I spun around like a little kid who'd never been on a rotating chair.
My self confident daydream was interrupted by Ryan's word's, "Behind you!"
I turned around to find 3 doves bombing towards me at mach speed. I mounted my shotgun just in time for them to fly over my head at 5 yards high. I spun around to pick a target, only to find that the 3 had curved to the left and were headed towards the neighbors' herd of cows. If I shot, my pellets would likely hail down onto some cows. Those doves were safe now. 
"Dang-it! Those suckers snuck right up on me!" I said, returning back to my seat.
As I spun to look at Ryan, he stood up and shot a single dove that had also snuck in.
"Nice, Ryan!" I said, as I watched Ryan's 2 dogs, Gauge and Grace, retrieve the bird.

Gauge brought the dove over to Ryan, but dropped it 6 feet away and stood there to see what Ryan would do.
"Gauge! Bring it here." Ryan said, with authority.
Gauge picked up the bird and brought it over for Ryan to take.
"Good boy. You know what you're suppose to do."
We sat around and talked for a bit before more doves flew our way. Once again, taking me by surprise, a double flew into range. I caught them out of the corner of my eye, but this time I was determined to at least get a shot off. BOOM! The birds kept flying and within a couple of seconds were out of range. Dang, I hung my head low but reminded myself they were small, fast targets. 
In the meantime, another dove swung low towards Ryan and he made a quick, clean kill.  

Gauge brought the dove to Ryan's hand.
"Good job, Ryan. I'll get a dove one of these days." I chucked.
Another small group of doves came straight at me and gave me the perfect shot. BOOM! Miss. BOOM! Another miss. Crap!
"I'm a little rusty, Ryan." I said, as I reloaded my shotgun.
"You need to lead them more." Ryan said, just before he blasted another dove.

Ryan had spent several years competitively shooting clays, so I'm used to him making me look bad. 
After missing another few, my pellets finally connected with a mourning dove. Grace quickly picked it up and I called her towards me.
"Good girl. Thank you. Finally!" I said, taking the dove from her mouth.
The action was starting to heat up and we began to see more doves. A group of 3 came low over the hay field directly at me. I mounted my gun as one started back-peddling to land in a bare patch at 15 yards. BOOM! I dusted the one bird and moved onto another. BOOM! My shot missed, so I quickly moved my eyes back to where I had marked my dead bird in the hay field. The 2 dogs worked the field in search of the bird. Grace came out as the winner, bringing me the dove. 


Our pile of birds were growing as we continued to pick off one or two here and there. The sun was nearing the horizon, casting long shadows and making it impossible to detect incoming doves from the west.
Another single came over and Ryan made a clean kill, sending Grace into action.
A few minutes later, I dusted a single from a good distance out and Gauge brought the dove to hand.

Gauge made it a point to shake off the canal water right next to me, like any faithful dog would.
Legal shooting time was nearly upon us, creating a wonderful sunset. We decided to call it a day and gather the decoys and our spent shells.

We laid the birds out on the tailgate of my truck and divided them up equally. We certainly didn't limit out, but 14 doves is a great dove hunt any day. Although the mourning dove doesn't give you much meat, they have a wonderful mild taste that melts in your mouth, especially when grilled. It was a wonderful evening of dove hunting that helped my shooting improve. I'll now be much more prepared for the next wing shooting adventure.