Jan 21, 2013

I'm Calling it a Sports Injury

Davis Lake, Oregon

So let’s go back to early June, when high in the Cascades, snow still lingers under tall pines and nighttime temps hover around 30 degrees. This is the Oregon we all love to play in: hot, sunny days followed by whiskey in your coffee as night settles in. I couldn’t resist the rumor that Davis Lake holds monster largemouth bass anymore than one of my buddies, no make that all of my buddies, can pass up a free beer. A huge 5000 acre fly fishing-only trophy bass lake that’s only a few hours’ drive is enough inspiration to have the truck fueled and ready weeks before the trip. But did I mention, that it was high in the mountains? So as we were enjoying 70 degree days, the lake was getting fresh, let’s call it bass-lethargic, snow.

Our local fly fishing bass expert (we will question his credentials later) kept reading his weather reports and proclaiming too cold, too cold, and too cold. I would reply too old, too old, and too old. I am getting too old waiting for this band of warmth that, by his calendar, would finally arrive sometime in late September. Ah, but using fishing logic I hatched a plan that would get us there now and if the fishing sucked, the plan would allow us to fish several other nearby lakes where huge brown trout lived like the Loch Ness Monster, seen by a few locals with grainy photos to back up their claims, but never really verified.

Once we had settled on the date, we gained the one fisherman that we love to invite for the simple reason he has a boat. All winter we had been hearing about his new boat. A sled like no other. We learned during one conversation - in a boast of epic proportions – that it could fish five or six fly fishermen with room to spare for gear and maybe even a dog. Did I forget to mention, like he never forgot to mention, the massive motor? Well the day of reckoning came and it wasn’t pretty. A heavily used fourteen foot wooden barge that made the trailer look good. I can see five or six guys fishing from this rig while their roommate, Snow White, waves to them from the shore. No worries though, as the other two of us were taking our pontoon boats, allowing plenty of boats for the three of us.

As we all ran on different schedules each of us left and arrived at the lake at different times. Mike, who is geography handicapped, found his way to several other lakes and campgrounds before getting pointed in the right direction all while setting a new record of only taking 6.5 hours to make the 4 hour trip. Al, pulling his boat, joined us before the sun went down over the lake. The team had arrived.

Day one… Did you ever notice that on the first day of fishing, if you are not catching fish, that you refer to that time as exploring or checking the water? Not taking into account we had already read every piece written on where and when to fish this new chunk of water. But as we casted and casted, coming up empty time after time, it is only because we didn’t understand this body of water, yet.

We were laughing as Al and his boat with its massive motor pushed us along at full throttle no more than a whopping five knots, but I think it was laughing right back at us. After three hours of getting nowhere fast we pleaded starvation and headed back to camp. A quick bite before the pontoon boats were launched and then all three of us became captains of our own crafts. A Redington 11 foot 8wt switch rod with a foam frog was my weapon of choice. This rod would lend the ability to cast great distances to these easily spooked bass in the gin clear water.

And cast I did, sweet long sixty foot pitches to the rocky lava banks. Casting over and over, drifting with a slight wind for a mile and a hundred casts. Then I got lucky in a small, narrow cove that had a three foot-wide, floating blanket of weeds that was no different on the surface than the last twenty I had worked. I see it all now: my line lazily drifting across a stunning blue sky; the plug hitting the water; a mouth larger than my fist swallowing the entire plug; the automatic jerking back; setting the hook; the sun reflecting off the shiny sides as it rose clear of the lake in a gallant effort to shake the hook. Finally spent, it came to the net with a glint in its eye knowing it had been beaten. Yeah that’s how it plays out now. Reality was: no rocks, no rocks, no rocks, and then no weeds, no weeds, no weeds, and ending with net, net, net. This was followed by a primal scream that a five pound largemouth caught on fly rod should bring out in all of us.

The rush of the catch faded as the day lingered on. We all shouted words of encouragement as our boats passed, though as the sun started its march below the mountain, our dreams of a stringer full of monster bass were fading with the light.

Campfire talk centered on, how to justify the lack of fish while still bragging about how good a fisherman you are.

Day two, was each man to his own devices, making their own educated guesses. Would the weed beds be productive or was it back to the warmer water along the lava flows? Hundreds of casts later both choices proved that these fish were really not ready to bite. Lunch wasn’t eaten in the same rush as the day before - each of us making the grand excuse of why we would stick around for a tad longer before getting back out on the water. Now the worst part is something that I had failed to mention earlier: We had actually seen tons of fish. Rowing into the weed beds you would spook a fish every twenty feet. The grumble was, Okay Mr. Bass don’t like a foam frog, how about a tasty mouse, no? How about a black leach, No? Maybe a sculpin? Soon the fly box was empty and I started thinking dynamite was the only way to get another fish to the net. Afternoon on the water was called for lack of fish and anyway it was my turn to make dinner.

I found Al back in camp heading for a nap. Knowing Al, he is a much better fisherman in his dreams than in real life. Dinner simmering, comfortable fire, a little brandy in the coffee. Who really cares about fish?

Mike was still out on the water working the far weed beds as darkness dropped its blanket upon the evening sky. We put off dinner and then put off dinner some more. The last of the rays of light found both Al and I on the beach yelling Mike’s name. During a moment of quiet we heard the sound of squeaky oarlocks way off in the distance. Focusing on the sound we watched a black dot inch along a channel by the shore. We decided to get back to dinner, because judging by the distance and the speed, Mike was still an hour from camp.

Then, an excited call of Bring your camera; Bring your camera, beckoned from the dark. Mike had arrived and from the excited sounds, he had fish. As proud as a mother of twins, Mike held up his stringer with two fairly large bass in the 4 plus pound range. Between grins he quickly pointed out that his two fish now beat my one. Like we were counting. This lake offers some fairly deep channels brought on by the higher than normal water levels between the shore and the weed beds. It was here during that late fading light that the fish became active. So for those of us who were not counting, the score was Mike two, I had one and Al, zero. But then again what true fisherman keeps score or even takes photographs to show off their catch?

Here's Mike with 2 plus 1 equals 3 total Bass for camp.  But who's counting?
Day three and I was on the water under a night sky that was just gathering light. My thinking was that this little slice of time could be another window of fish activity. Two hours later and no fish proved once again I should leave my thinking to hot coffee and breakfast. Our first plan was to leave after lunch but after Mike’s luck at sundown, we decided to stay and give the bass one more chance to come home with us. Just before lunch Al said he was going out to a hole he had discovered the day before. He asked Mike; “Hey if I catch any, do you want them?” “Oh yeah,” Mike replied “Bass are my favorite eating fish. I would love a cooler full.”

With a lazy smoke drifting through the trees the two of us broke camp leaving out what gear we would need for our evening expedition. Al pulled his boat up on the beach and told us about the five pound bass he had caught. In great detail we heard that it was bigger than Mikes but not as big as mine… How it had jumped several times and was almost lost in the weeds. Annnnd, we asked ever so politely, Where is this magnificent fish, the one you agreed to return to Mike's cooler? Come on, produce the fish. Thinking he was hiding it until his whole story was told we peered into his boat spying an empty blue stringer lying on the floor. Mike stuttered as he repeated Al's words, You let it go? You promised to bring fish back. Ahhhh I forgot, came quickly out of Al's mouth as he turned away announcing that he wasn't going to wait with us for the evening bite but heading out as soon as he could get his boat loaded. As all good fishermen are supposed to do, we razed him about his imaginary fish, his imaginary girlfriend and other imaginary items until all three of us were laughing.

We waved goodbye to Al and waited for the sun to slowly creep its way into evening. Mike was soon on the water rowing his pontoon boat the half mile towards the magic spot he had claimed was once again going to fulfill our Largemouth bass fantasies. I followed about a hundred yards back working a channel closer to the shore. As the heavy weeds parted, I started casting into the 15 foot wide clear channel that was the start of this slice of open water. To the right was a thicket of five foot high reeds that reached out towards the open water, forty or so yards away. Little patches of clear open water could be found in there and, although it was a struggle, it was entirely possible to get the boat in to fish those open spots. To the left were patches of weeds and a sharp, shallowing mud bank. Mike was now in the deep thicket on the right some forty yards ahead.

With my Redington switch rod and a green foam frog plug I made the first cast of the evening. On the second twitch of the frog, a mouth opened and sucked down the plug so fast that I was initially thinking, That didn't just happen. But the bend in my rod was real and the fight was on. For some unknown reason this bass had decided to stay in the open water so it just became a matter of reeling him in to the net and the count was tied. But who is counting?

I had drifted into the weed thicket and made a cast out into the open channel before dislodging myself from the reeds. The push back from the reeds was enough action to summon another bass who, unlike his cousin, felt that running into the weed bed was the proper play. I had earlier switched from a lighter leader to 12 feet of 30# mono whose cutting power was a welcome advantage. Now my stringer held two fat bass. I yelled to Mike, "How are you doing?" he replied it’s still too early for the fish to be biting." I yelled “Then I should throw these two back?” If I repeated his answer it would quickly take this report from PG to R, so I’ll refrain. We worked the open areas for another twenty minutes until it became too dark to see anything but violet black water, forcing us to call it quits.

Under the glow of our headlamps we loaded up our pontoon boats for the trek over the mountains home, already planning our comeback.

End of part 1

Story by: Christian Ellison.
You'll have to stay tuned to find out why he's calling it a "Sports Injury!" Christian is a Hood River local, an avid fly fisher and manager of our favorite pizza joint in town, Andrews Pizza.


  1. Davis Lake used to be one of the best trout lakes in Oregon. Years ago I fished it with Jerry Cate (who developed Cate's Turkey-Quill Nymph), Dave Spence, the Deschutes County Medical Examiner, Cal Jordan, and a group of other dedicated Davis Lake regulars. In those days, the '60s and '70s, we never caught trout in Davis smaller than 18 inches. Every year rainbows in excess of 10 lbs. were taken, and one day ODFW researchers, engaged in a shock survey of the lake, recorded a 22 lb. rainbow. The illegal introduction of bass to Davis Lake has helped to ruin a blue ribbon trout fishery. ODFW should rotenone the lake and restock it with rainbows. Those fish were bright silvery football-shaped rockets that could outfight and outjump any bass on this planet.

    1. Davis Lake outside of LAPINE is a 3000 acre fly fishing only shallow lake that has been for the last 15 years a large mouth bass Mecca for fly fisherman. You want to kill all of these off so the lake can be a trophy trout lake as it once was 50 years ago. I look around Oregon and see hundreds and hundreds of beautiful lakes full of trophy trout and for some reason you think that we need another? This lake grows monster bass, ten pounders are not uncommon in the shallow weed filled waters. The joy of catching one on a fly rod makes tons of us fly fishermen drive hours just to toss a fly in those waters. The lake has no outlets to other lakes or streams so the bass in this lake are not able to leave these waters to cause problems in any of the surrounding lakes.
      Another point is that the trout in this lake have been mostly killed off twice in the past twenty years by low water levels during hot summers that followed a low snow winter. In my research it turns out the neither rainbows or the bass are native to this lake.

  2. I can't wait to see why you are calling it a sports injury. I have been an avid fisherman for years and will never forget the day my friend's son was learning how to cast. We were on a small Boston Whaler and he wound up hooking his dad. There was blood but he got over it. The kid was so embarrassed but I told him he hooked the biggest catch of the day. I guess dad could have called it a sports injury...


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