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Stalking the Eagle Lake rainbow

Article and photos by Jon Baiocchi
05/09/12 -- Eagle Lake’s low water level has reduced much-needed habitat for trout and birds that rely on the tule reeds for food and cover. Even the angler is affected.

I was reviewing some past articles and came across this one I wrote in October of 2007 after a successful day of fly-fishing. The game of stalking the Eagle Lake rainbow in the north lake is now gone since the tules are mostly high and dry. Someday the water levels will return to normal, and when they do you can expect a day like we had below:

Our good friend Tony was camped out in the north lake for a 4-day fish out; he had found the fish and they where only a mile away from his camp. He called Saturday night and invited Battling Bob and myself for a mid-morning to early afternoon bite that was going on in the tules. We left the house in Graeagle early Sunday morning; it was cold out, as low as 16 degrees. By 9 a.m. we were in Tony's boat that sat camouflaged amongst the tule reeds and headed for the hunting grounds.

Searching the corn maze like reeds for active feeding rainbows on Eagle Lake. MyOutdoorBuddy.com
Searching the corn maze like reeds for active feeding rainbows.

The conditions were unreal for sight fishing, like bone fishing on the flats of the South Pacific Ocean. This was trout stalking at its finest. We anchored in 5-6 feet of crystal clear water, it was sunny, bright, and not a puff of wind to be had. You could spot the large trout coming in at 70 feet away. Their dark backs and shadows really stuck out against the white sandy bottom of the north lake. The fish cruised for aquatic beetles, and dragonfly larva swimming about in the surreal world of the tules.

Sometimes you would be tracking a fish far off the boat when out of the blue a large trout would just appear 30 feet off the boat. They have ghost like characters of nature. Some spooked when cast near but many came to your bug if they saw it; often you would strip your fly aggressively until a fish turned and chased after it. Then by adjusting to your normal swim strip of the dragonfly, the fish would suck it down like it was a natural. One nice toad Dad caught was so close that Tony and I spotted the fish grabbing the fly then told Dad to set the hook! If this was a paid trip, I would have tipped the captain $200. Tony's eyes and coaching was a thing of beauty. 

With a simple olive mohair wooley bugger that has a short marabou tail and no hackle (but very fat and heavy) in a size 10, we hooked 11 fish in a little less than three hours. The rainbows averaged 3.4 pounds and 22 inches.

Tony Cole and Bob Baiocchi with an Eagle Lake Rainbow caught with a darner dragonfly nymph. MyOutdoorBuddy.com
Tony Cole and Bob Baiocchi with an Eagle Lake Rainbow caught with a darner dragonfly nymph.

The trout here have been on the small side since the lake has been low for the past few years. Once that lake fills up a bit we will have some very large trout in the 4, 5, and 6 pound range again.

Dad was in his glory as Tony sighted the fish for him and then cast to the target. All Dad had to do was fool that rainbow into sucking down his bug and setting the hook. For me it was such a special day, one I might not see for years -- It was that good. By the time we got off the water around 1 p.m. it was 62 degrees and very warm, shortly after that the wind picked up out of the west south/west and the sight game was gone.

After a terrific lunch provided by Tony, we headed for home with 10.5 pounds of flaming orange meat of the Eagle lake rainbow -- hands down the best-tasting trout on the planet. Dad and I just could not stop smiling the whole way home, even the drive down Hwy. 395 was special with that warm autumn sun on the face and those fall colors glowing in the distance. After eating a fresh deboned fillet that had been cooked with a Panko, olive oil, and bacon bits coating, we hunkered down for bed with dreams of stalking trout again at Eagle Lake. The lake’s natural beauty and the stunning rainbow trout will forever haunt me. I am speechless at the wonders I have seen.

Jon Baiocchi is a professional fly-fishing guide with years of experience on Eagle Lake and nearly all of the lakes and streams in the Northern Sierras. He can be reached at baiocchistroutfitters.com.

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