Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Dry Falls Lake

Certain features make Dry Falls Lake, a stone's throw south of Coulee City in Grant County, nearly perfect for fly fishing from a float tube. A rock island divides the lake into north and south sections. The northern section's bank slopes too much for working a fly or spoon from land. And water 30 feet deep below the basalt rimrocks makes wading tough, unless you're very, very tall. Eight-foot tall cattails, shin-deep water and mud deter waders from the southern section. So, Dry Falls Lake anglers need to float. And that makes the wind a factor. On the highway, several hundred feet above the lake's western edge, wind often whips along at 40 miles an hour. On the water, the winds swirl. But only at 36.3 mph. So, because float tubes sit so low in the water, they're exactly what you need for the lake. Therefore, what did I do last week? Of course. I left my float tube in the basement. I'm using it to collect and study rare dust specimens and spider webs. When I rolled into the nearly filled parking area below the leaning toilet of Dry Falls _ with the canoe strapped atop the car _ I counted 15 float tubes bobbing around the lake. A drift boat, a two-man blue and yellow rubber raft and two 12-foot aluminum boats dashed before the winds. And as I rigged up my gear, two dummies in a long-green canoe sliced between the weeds and into the narrow launching slot. ``Too windy for a canoe,'' the older of the two said. ``It skims you all over the place.'' Still, both men seemed to be happy enough. So I probed, using the famed anglers' mind-meltdown perfected by Dr. Sprockett. Employing a jaunty French accent, I asked if they'd ``caught zem all.'' ``We caught some,'' the older guy said. ``My son-in-law caught a couple of 17-inchers. All rainbow.'' Ah, I wheedled, with what? ``He caught 'em on a zug bug.'' Well, I didn't have any zug bugs, not that I knew personally. ``Didn't we see you down at Lenore early this morning?'' the younger man asked. He meant Lake Lenore, maybe half an hour north of Moses Lake on Highway 17. That made it maybe 10 minutes north of Soap Lake and 20 minutes south of Dry Falls Lake. Lenore, of course, has earned widespread fame for its huge Lahontan cutthroat trout. Dry Falls Lake contains somewhat smaller but more feisty rainbow and German brown trout. No, I just come in from Lake Chelan, via Wenatchee, I told the man, shifting to a German accent. That's the scenic route from Walla Walla. But I plan to fish Lenore tomorrow, I added. ``It's a joke,'' he said. And I studied his face. He apparently meant ``joke'' to be ironic. I noticed the car he leaned against bore a Minnesota license plate. ``I've never seen such big, beautiful fish,'' he said. ``I caught two over 20 inches. He (the son-in-law) caught a 24-incher. A gorgeous fish. ``But it's just a joke.'' Well, at that moment, the rainbow of Dry Falls concerned me. My watch said 12:01, so I decided to eat lunch while I rigged up two fly rods. One _ a 9{-foot, nine-weight that I normally use when pursuing whales _ I loaded with fast-sinking-tip line, a 9-foot, knotless, 4-pound test leader and a barbless black woolly booger pattern. Such special fisharies allow only artificial lures and flies with single barbless hooks. One fish may be kept. The other, an eight-foot, 3-ounce, four-weight _ it felt like a toothpick compared to the nine-weight _ I loaded with buckskin floating line, a 2-pound test leader and a gold-ribbed hare's ear. At 12:52 p.m. I paddled onto the lake. Gear nearly filled the 12-foot boat: extra jacket, two fly rods, canteen, 80-pound rock to hold the bow down, fishing vest with fly boxes, fingernail clippers, needle-nosed pliers, camera and a spare blueberry muffin wrapped in a red bandanna. Then I fished. And I fished. I tried fly, after fly, after fly. Nothing. No bites. No nibbles. Only a blister on my left hand, between the thumb and index finger, from paddling. All the while, of course, I watched float-tubers catch and release fish. One guy, about 37 yards away, whooped when he hooked one. He finally lifted it. ``I thought it was a big one,'' he said. ``But it's only about 16 inches.'' Hummmph. ``That's five,'' he added. ``All on a peacock with a floating line.'' Hummmmph. Shuffle. Scramble. Dig. I wouldn't recognize a peacock that hooked my thumb. But I pulled in the sinking line and tried the floating line again with a bright streamer. Nothing. It had to be the float tubes. Or, maybe I just wasn't a very good fisherman? Maybe I'd never catch another fish? Obviously, I'd failed. I'd have to live with that. And pout. So, at 5:38 p.m. I paddled back to the car. With the sinking sun turning the water to gold, I dug my penultimate sandwich from the cooler, poured the last chocolate milk into a cup, set the coffee pot on the camp stove and pouted. Who needed fishing, anyway? By the time my water boiled, virtually every other angler had left the lake and a steady stream of vehicles rolled past the toilet. But the drivers all appeared to wear smiles. A frown etched deeper across my face. Eventually I studied the lake again. The wind had calmed. Two float tubes and no boats remained. Should I? I stuffed the cooler and stove into the car and paddled back onto the lake, lips pressed tight with resolve. Just north of the island in the middle of the lake, a mad impulse led me to tie a black, No. 4 woolly bugger onto the floating line. On the second cast, the fish struck very lighty. I guessed it to be 12 inches when I slipped the hook from its lip. It was 6:22 p.m. and the sun had nearly disappeared. At least I wasn't a total failure, but one fish in six hours didn't make a great trip, either. The next cast produced a 17- to 18-inch rainbow that leaped and flashed its red sides in the failing light. In the next half hour, I lost track of the fish I brought to the boat and released. Seven or eight? One, that appeared to have a six-inch wide red stripe, spit the fly after jumping twice. It was a monster that I had too much line out to control. One, a German brown about 16 inches, dragged the canoe for several minutes and felt like the lunker of the lake, but it was hooked in the side. It eventually became a breaded and baked dinner. By 8 p.m. I beached the boat and packed the gear by lamplight. The 30-degree chill didn't even register on my hands. And, after camping at Sun Lakes State Park, I fished from 7:30 until after noon at Lenore on Monday. I didn't even get a nibble, but I still smiled. Just feeling the canoe slip across the lake, with the sun shining on my face and the light breeze ruffling my locks, well, that was the important thing. Besides, the old, deflated float tube was safe in the basement collecting all kinds of new dust specimens for me to study over the winter.

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