Time to head for the high country
The term “dog days of summer,” originating in Roman or perhaps even early Greek culture, refers to the hot sultry weather of July and August.
Bad things happened to the Romans and Greeks during the dog days. Food spoiled. Wine went bad (heaven forbid). People apparently got cranky and even acted crazy.
I don’t know if this was a big concern in ancient times, but trout fishing can get real slow during the dog days of summer. (It is not known how much of a factor that was in the cranky and crazy behavior observed by the Romans.)
Air conditioning and refrigeration have done much to help us cope with the dog days. But what do we do about the fishing? There is a solution — a very pleasant solution: head for the high country.
Plumas County straddles the Cascade Mountains in the north and the Sierra Nevada to the south. Both ranges are full of high-elevation lakes and streams. The fish, like the lakes, tend to be on the small side compared to their lower-elevation neighbors. Both the fish and the lakes are also very beautiful.
There are too many lakes and streams to cover here, but I will mention just a few of my favorites.
Lassen Park and the adjacent Caribou Wilderness are full of lakes.
One of my favorites is Snag Lake in the park. The hike into Snag is moderate with a bit of a climb through beautiful high-elevation red fir forest. If you hike in from the Juniper Lake trailhead, don’t be tempted to fish Juniper. It is beautiful, but sterile.
Snag Lake is large for a high-elevation lake and the fish habitat is excellent with grassy flats and a good spawning creek on the south end and deep water along steep lava bluffs on the north end.
Most visitors fish Snag from the shore but you will do even better with a back-packable raft or float tube. A friend of mine actually carried a kayak in and left it hidden at the lake for several years until the Park Service reminded him that was strictly against the rules.
If you prefer to drive rather than hike to your destination, Silver Lake and Caribou Lake on the eastern edge of the Caribou Wilderness are two great options. Both are beautiful, but I have found the fishing is actually better at Caribou, probably because it gets less pressure than Silver Lake.
The one caution I offer for Silver and Caribou is to be prepared for mosquitoes. The Caribou Wilderness itself is even worse. There are hundreds of small ponds in the area making for ideal mosquito habitat.
I avoid the area entirely in May and June. The skeeters can still be pretty pesky in July but are nearly gone in August.
A little to the south is another high-elevation gem, Echo Lake. There is a road into the lake and a few primitive campsites right on the lake shore.
I fished Echo just a couple days ago. The couple rainbows I caught weren’t large, but I was in heaven fly-fishing from my kayak.
Echo Lake can be reached by driving north on Forest Highway 10 a few miles east of Chester.
Just west of Meadow Valley on the edge of the Bucks Lake Wilderness is another Silver Lake. There are a dozen or so primitive campsites on the east side of the lake. An island in the center of the lake offers some good structure and a seep on the west end of the lake provides some colder water.
There is a trailhead in the campground that leads to Gold Lake, an easy 1.5 miles away. Gold Lake sits in a gorgeous classic granite basin typical of the Sierra.
The most popular high-elevation lakes in the area are those found in the Lakes Basin. This spectacular granite basin is nestled just beneath the Sierra Buttes. It straddles the divide between the North Yuba and Middle Fork Feather watersheds. The glacial landscape is dotted with dozens of pristine lakes.
Access into Lakes Basin is excellent with a paved road running from Graeagle to Bassetts on Highway 49 dissecting the area. The more remote lakes can be accessed by several four-wheel drive roads and an excellent network of hiking and riding trails.
Another option, which my wife and I took advantage of on our first visit to Lakes Basin, is to hire some horses from Gold Lake Stable. We, along with three other couples, had all of our gear packed into a drop camp at Spencer Lake. We could have ridden horses to camp but instead opted for a leisurely hike carrying only our daypacks. Full ice chests and all the gear we could possibly need was waiting for us when we got to camp.
Among my favorite lakes to fish in Lakes Basin are GooseLake and Haven Lake. They are right on the highway and each have primitive campsites. Haven Lake seems to have the better fishing of the two. Try the springs at the far end of the lake.
Gold Lake is one of the few lakes in the area with a good boat ramp. It also has a fine campground and some good fishing for browns, brooks, rainbows and some big lake trout.
Packer, Lower Sardine and Upper Salmon are all generously stocked, very popular and postcard beautiful. Being popular, they can be a bit crowded on a summer weekend. If you want something a bit quieter, take the very short hike to Lower Salmon Lake. It is quiet and the fishing is very good. I once caught a brook trout that I believe was close to 3 pounds: my largest brook trout ever.
So how do you fish these high-elevation lakes? I like fly-fishing. Woolly buggers, damsel nymphs and the standard attractor patterns all work.
You can keep it even simpler with a spinning outfit. I like 4- or 6-pound line. Lures such as Kastmasters, Daredevils and smaller Rapalas all work well. Salmon eggs, PowerBait and worms all work well.
The key is to suspend your bait so it is not lying on the lake bottom. PowerBait is very effective because it releases a fish attracting scent and also because it floats. Simply attach your weight 18 to 24 inches from the bait and your bait will float off the lake bottom. If it is windy, suspend a crappie jig under a bobber. The waves on the surface will give your jig a nice fish-attracting action.
So grab some fishing gear. Check out your map to find the many options, and head for the high country. The fishing, the wildflowers, the gorgeous views and the cool mountain air will make for a most rewarding outing.