Overwhelming frustration can come to hunters
and fishers in many forms. A bird hunter is
working a brace of dogs in an Idaho sugar-beet
field. The dogs set and flush a trio of Chinese
rooster pheasants and the gunner discovers he had
forgotten to load his Model 12.
An elk hunter tracks a herd in deep snow - in a bulls
only area - and after long hours, walks up to a large
group of cows and calves.
An angler hooks a steelhead that appears to be in
the 20-pound range. It takes him nearly a quarter
mile downstream. Just as his partner is set to tail
the fish, it spits out the fly and swims off.
No, dear friends. These three episodes are not
fictional. Ask my wife. She was there on all three
These are indeed examples of genuine frustration. But
if I had to pick my most frustrating outdoors experience,
it would be something that happened to me on one of
Idaho's alpine lakes. The scene: Ten acres of lovely
emerald-green water, liberally laced with high-country
moss beds and dotted with lily pads. The sun is setting
and a heavy hatch of mayflies stimulates a good population
of rainbow trout into frenzied feeding.
Two- to four-pound fish begin cruising the shoreline,
feeding at predictable intervals on the tiny evening
sulphers. I pick a strategic casting station. A
peninsula from which I can cast to rising fish in
three different directions. Using a 7X tippet, I
offer size 20 and 22 dries and stillborns to the
feeding trout (with as much skill as I possess)...
I cast...and cast...and cast. Four pounders feed to
my right. Four pounders feed to my left. I cast...and
Sixty minutes later, after changing flies half a
dozen times, I am completely wilted, drenched with
perspiration, fishless, and completely frustrated.
I've had two such experiences on this same little
mountain lake, I'm not sure my blood pressure could
stand a third.
There are side benefits to such experiences. At least
that's what I wrote in my Humble Sportsman's Handbook,
(in very fine print). Besides making occasional
moments of success sweeter, my yet to be published
book says: "Frustrations like this tend to deflate
super-egos and provides tons and tons of humility."
Which according to some psychologists is a good thing (
unless you're a fly fisherman, in which case it wouldn't
The major problem fly fishermen encounter in fishing
high mountain lakes, is how to make a decent back-cast.
It isn't often we find a casting station, such as the
one described above, that allows for easy casting.
Since many alpine lakes require hikes of several miles,
it is not practical to carry a boat in. Sometimes we
find log rafts, or are able to build one, allowing us
some degree of mobility. But the angler who hasn't
fished from a crudely-built high-country log raft,
has a unique experience awaiting him.
The first raft I used was on a beautiful jewel of a
lake near the central Idaho Primitive Area. The lake
had a reputation of producing rainbow trout as big
as seven- or eight-pounds, so I felt lucky when I
located a reasonably seaworthy log raft, and a fairly
decent paddle, along the shallow end of the lake. I
was surface trolling, exploring the fringe of the
little lake, when a large trout inhaled my bait.
The fish grabbed my fly and pulled my untended rod
over the end of the raft and it began to sink. Since
it was the only equipment I had with me, I didn't
hesitate. Diving over the side, I managed to grab
the sinking rod at a depth of about four or five
feet. The fish was long gone, but at that point I
wasn't especially concerned with losing the fish.
I swam to the raft and threw my rod up on the platform.
I was about to discover my problems had only begun.
The raft's logs were covered with a thick layer of
algae (slime). I had trouble getting the grip on
the platform I needed, to swing my knees up and
climb aboard. I mentally compared my predicament
with climbing a greased pole. After five minutes
of heavy exertion, I ended up towing the raft to
From that day forward, I have carefully cleaned the
slime off any raft I use. Although I've caught some
nice trout in several Idaho and Montana high mountain
lakes, I believe the fish I lost that day on Honeymoon
Lake, might have been the best of the lot.
The float tube may not have been designed with alpine
lakes in mind, but it could have been. It can be
deflated, stowed comfortably aboard a pack horse,
or personal packboard, and carried with comparative
ease. It is easily inflated with a simple bicycle
In fishing high mountain lakes before I became a float
tuber, I had always used tiny dry flies, Mepps-type
spinners or salmon eggs. Once I learned something
about tube fishing nymphs - and began tying flies - I
changed my thinking about mountain lakes. I discovered
that in addition to taking high country trout on small
dry flies, I could also catch them on many of our lowland
The entomology of a high lake is more in tune with
lowland desert reservoirs than I once believed.
Besides the obligatory mayflies, midges, and caddis,
almost all high country lakes also contain populations
of dragonflies, damsel flies, leeches and scuds. It
may offend some high lake purists who insist on fishing
with 7X tippets and size 24 dries, but the deeper
sinking lines with leech patterns, for example, will
take fish. In many cases, the larger fish.
I had a "lesson on leeches" on another central Idaho
alpine lake early in my fly fishing career. We were
fishing Loon Lake, near the Secesh River; a lake
full of average sized brook trout and some very
large bull trout. I had spent most of an afternoon
wading bare-legged where the main creek flows in.
The fishing had been steady, and I had not bothered
to go ashore in over four hours.
Around the campfire that evening, one of my companions
noticed some blood flowing below the cuff of my levis.
When we examined my legs to find out why I was bleeding,
we found a dozen fully fed leeches on each leg. We
tried salt, a burning cigarette, and everything else
Boggie tried in African Queen. Finally, I had my
friends pull the leeches off, one by one. I carried
scars for the next 10 years.
The only real difference between fishing crystal-clear
alpine lakes and lowland reservoirs, is the length of
the leader and the length of the typical cast. I fish
high lakes as if I were fishing a spring creek. I'll
often lengthen my leader to 10 or 12 feet and work
with a long distance casting technique.
Day in and day out, lowland reservoirs may produce
larger trout than high mountain lakes, but not larger
rewards. The contentment a float-tuber can experience
on a crystal-clear high mountain lake will more than
balance the scale (assuming it isn't central Idaho's
My basic equipment for alpine lakes now includes a
float tube, waders and fins, a 9-foot, 4-weight
graphite fly rod, a collection of lines that include
a floater, a Type I slow sinker, and a Type III or
IV fast sinker.
My high lakes fly boxes are stuffed with standard
dry fly patterns like the Adams, Gray Fox, Elk Hair
Caddis, Blue Duns, and an assortment of midges. My
nymphs are Gold Ribbed Hare's Ears (in a wide range
of colors and sizes), Pheasant-tails, Peacock Emergers,
and some small midge larvae and pupae. I also carry
scuds, leeches, damsel nymphs, dragonfly nymphs, and
my favorite all around streamers patterns, the Stayner
Ducktail and the Blonde Stayner.
As a general rule, I tie my alpine patterns one or two
sizes smaller than I do for my typical lowland reservoir
I spend most of the summer with my 5th wheel in an R.V.
park within 3-hours drive of Bernard Lake. I have a
friend with horses who has invited me to fish "frustration
lake" with him this summer. He knows my history at the
lake, but thinks "third time might be charmed." I'm not
so sure. ~ Marv
Marv Taylor's books, Float-Tubing The West,
The Successful Angler's Journal,
More Fragments of the Puzzle, (Volume I) and More
Fragments of the Puzzle, (Volume II) are all available from
Marv. You can reach Marv by email at
firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: 208-322-5760.