A chili day of fishing

Michael Condon
Staff Writer

One of my favorite places in Plumas County is Lakes Basin. My wife and I often go there to enjoy the beautiful hikes or do a little fishing.

Lakes Basin is a popular area and some summer weekends the more popular lakes can be a bit on the crowded side. This time of year however the crowds are gone. One day recently I loaded the kayak in the truck and headed up for a day of fishing.

Kayaks (or canoes) are perfect for Lakes Basin. Only a few of the many lakes have boat ramps. I have used my float tube up there but mobility is limited with a tube.

If there is one downside to Lakes Basin, it is the wind. Float tubes don't travel well into a wind. Kayaks on the other hand do just fine.

It was warm in Quincy the morning I headed up to the Basin. It was cloudy but the weather forecast called for clearing skies. Shorts and sandals seemed like appropriate attire.

There was just on problem. The skies never did clear. In fact, the Lakes Basin was shrouded in clouds all day. It was windy, cold, and drizzly.

The shorts and sandals were not a good idea and the kayak never left the back of the truck.

My wife and I bought kayaks for our anniversary a couple years ago. With so many lakes in Plumas County, the kayaks may be one of the best investments we ever made.

I do have one suggestion for accessorizing a kayak. I figured a fly rod holder would be an essential addition. I mounted mine far enough forward so my fly rod would not be in the way while paddling.

What I learned on a recent trip to Echo Lake just north of Chester: When a fish strikes, that instinctive lunge to grab the almost out of reach fly rod can have unintended consequences. As it turns out, the salesman's claim that this particular model of kayak was nearly impossible to capsize is a bit overstated. I might re-think where that rod holder is mounted.

But this day was chilly enough I decided to leave the kayak in the truck and fish from shore. Here are a few of my favorite Lakes Basin fishing spots.

I started at Upper Salmon Lake. I don't fish here often because of the crowds. I figured it would be quiet this day. Much to my surprise, the parking lot was full.

If anyone was fishing, I could not see them through the thick mist. My guess is that the guests were all crowded around the fireplace in the lodge.

This is a "put and take" fishery and is popular for a good reason. It has lots of fat rainbows and brook trout.

I did not visit Lower Salmon Lake on this trip. The two lakes are connected by Salmon Creek. If you don't mind a short walk in favor of uncrowded conditions, Lower Salmon is an excellent choice. This is a great lake for the float tuber.

I     moved on to one of the more popular lakes in the area, Lower Sardine Lake - the only place I saw other people fishing. There were two prams with electric motors trolling silently in the mist.

I talked to a couple anglers who were doing well from shore. I thought I would give that a try and I was quickly into a couple of fish.

I moved on again because I wanted to sample as much of the area as I could and I thought a hike might help me stay warm. I struck off cross-country with my four-legged fishing buddy Sierra to find a "new-to-us" route to Salmon Creek.

Sometimes cross-country treks can lead to seldom-fished spots along creeks or even the occasional beaver pond loaded with brook trout. (There are a couple of those in Lakes Basin.)

This trek turned out to be a bit longer than anticipated and the open track I was on eventually gave way to thick brush that my shorts and sandals were not well suited for. We turned back.

I was cold and a bit wet by the time I got back to my truck. It was lunchtime. This was a problem with an obvious solution. I needed a bowl of chili; not the cold bread, cheese and salami I had brought with me.

So I headed down to Bassett's Station just a few miles down the hill on Highway 49. Maybe it was just because I was cold and had such a craving for some warm chili at that point, but that bowl of chili is now on my list of all time best chili meals.

It is second only to a bowl of chili I had many years ago at the Steamboat Inn on the North Fork of the Umpqua River in Oregon.

Steamboat Inn is legendary among steelhead fly fishers, as is the North Fork of the Umpqua River. What I remember most (perhaps because I got skunked by the steelhead) is that chili on a cold afternoon.

Now warmed and refreshed, Sierra and I headed back to the lakes. Sierra doesn't eat chili but she was happy with a couple pieces of jerky.

I always take some jerky when I go fishing. That may be what Sierra likes most about fishing.

Our next stop was Gold Lake. The normally full campground was deserted except for one fisherman. He was a retired fellow from Tahoe. He had his tent, his canoe and a nice campfire. Just the basics - the very sweet basics.

We talked awhile. He told me where he had been catching fish. I thanked him for sharing his campfire and moved on to fish.

The water temperature at Gold Lake was in the mid 50s. The lake had turned over as I suspect most of the lakes in the area have. When that happens fish will come up out of the deeper water and cruise the shallow water looking for food.

That is good news for bank anglers. It didn't take long to catch a few more fish from the shore.

Even though it was cold and damp, Sierra and I had a great day.

I did manage to bring home a couple fish for dinner. I pan fried them and served them with a meuniere sauce. (Good thing this is a newspaper column and not a talk show because I don't have a clue how to pronounce that. I just know it tastes good.).

But the best meal of the day.... that had to be the warm chili.

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