“TROUT” WITH AN ALTITUDE

hosmer lake sunset

Our friend Rick Bocko sends along this report about Hosmer Lake. Rick Thanks for some great insights and techniques about one of Oregon’s most beautiful spots. There is still time to head up to Hosmer this Fall!

At an elevation of 4966 feet, Hosmer Lake is high up on my list of places to fish. The Atlantic “Salmon” are really trout, and the Brook “Trout” are really from the Char family. Add to the suspicious names the fact that the fish are not from this area and are extremely wary of any fly offerings… I suspect them to be part of a fish witness protection program. Just a random thought, perhaps too many hours on the lake.

I see many fly fishers trying their luck at Hosmer, with limited success. I come back to Eugene to see the white board at The Caddis Fly reporting poor fishing at Hosmer, after I have had a very successful trip. A fellow fisherman suggested I share the techniques that have been working for me with others, so here I go. No doubt there are many ways to catch fish at Hosmer. If you are having success with your methods, great! If you are not, here is what has been working for me for the last several years during trips to the lake in August and September. I tend to fish in the narrow channel between the two main bodies of the lake.

This is small water, with an average depth of between 3 and 4 feet. The lake seems made for pontoon boats. You can row where you need to go (always where you see big concentrations of fish) and can control your craft with your fins while fishing.

hosmer lake atlantic salmon

I break the day up into three time units (mornings, daytime, evening) that each fish somewhat differently:

Mornings tend to find the water glassy smooth with excellent visibility. Sight fishing from dawn until the wind hits the lake around 11:00 to noon is some of the most fun you can have with a fly rod. Use a 4x or 5x tippet (6x breaks too easily and fish don’t seem to take any better on it) and have a total leader and tippet length of only 8-10 feet. The best flies I have found are green scuds in size 16, nickel bead head zebra midges in brown or green in size 18 to 20 (black, red and orange have also caught some big fish), and damsel fly nymphs (fish seem to prefer a more olive rather than bright green color). The fish tend to dislike brass bead heads, but small brass beads tied into scud and damsel nymph bodies are well accepted. The fish like black bead heads but I can’t see the fly well, maybe your eyes are better.

Do not make long casts. If you have more than a few feet of fly line out of your rod guides you will spook fish and will have cast too far to see the small flies as they sink down to the fish’s level (often near bottom). Seeing the fly is vital (wear your polarized sunglasses) as the fish often rush to the fly only to refuse it, then turn back and take the fly. And these fish refuse often and can suck in and spit out a fly faster than you can set a hook: get ready for much frustration to go along with your success. If you can’t see the take, the opportunity is usually gone by the time you feel the tug or see the line or strike indicator move.

cascade lakes fly fishing

There is a slight current in the channel heading from the north lake toward the south part of the lake. So, plunk your fly upstream of your target fish (I try to find groups of fish that are actively feeding or at least are not hunkered down in the silt) so that it will sink to just below fish level a few feet upstream of your target. These fish tend to run from any quick motions, so maneuver your fly with small, slow motions. A slowly rising fly or jigging motion, starting from just below fish level, often triggers a take.

Try to position your craft along side of the fish you are targeting. If you position yourself above the fish, they often flee. If they do, follow them to their new location, or find another pod of active fish. Don’t be afraid to move, and move again. Often, moving only 10-15 feet places you on a new great set of targets. I cannot recall ever wanting to anchor in the channel. If moving is difficult for your craft, the fish do tend to regather, but they tend to get spookier the more often you fish over and scare the same group.

A word about canoes, kayaks and paddle boards. Folks with these boats outnumber fishermen (and fisherwomen) by more than 10 to 1. Not many show up between dawn and 9 AM. When they do show up as the day progresses, greet them happily. You can catch a lot of fish as their wakes start to smooth out. I suspect that their paddling stirs up the food and gets the fish feeding.

Daytime fishing at Hosmer starts when the wind makes the water too rippled to see through easily or makes your craft too difficult to hover near pods of fish without being blown away. When there are damsels in the air I tend to tie on a sparsely tied dry blue damsel fly. Now is the time to use your cast (be ware of the bull rushes behind you: a steeple cast is a good idea) to place that dry fly as close as possible to the edge of the leaves of the floating aquatic plants that line the channel. And you wait, and wait, and just as you turn your head to greet yet another kayaker, the 18 inch Atlantic Salmon bursts through the surface of the water and takes your fly, then spits it out before you can set the hook. This is fly fishing only water with barbless hooks. Keep your eye on the fly.

Sometimes the fish just won’t rise to your fly sitting in the surface, but you see them leaping clear out of the water to catch damsels in flight. This is the only place I have fished where I have caught trout without having the fly on or in the water. Try dangling your dry damsel fly about 6 inches above the water by reaching your rod away from your craft over the edge of weed beds where you see leaping fish. The wind will swing your fly, just as it does the naturals in the air and it is quite exciting to have a fish leap up to catch your fly in mid air.

hosmer lake brookie

During daytime, if you can’t get the fish to rise to your fly, a clear slow sinking fly line is often the answer. Very slow trolling a damsel nymph, or emerging mayfly pattern in tan or green (there is often an afternoon Callibaetis hatch) can net you fish. Keep your fly rod tip close to or in the water surface as you troll in order to minimize slack in the line.

Evening fishing at Hosmer is when the big fish (especially the brookies) tend to get very active and much less wary. The water usually calms back down to a glassy surface but the lighting is wrong for sight fishing. Fish usually start to rise much more frequently than earlier in the day. Casting and stripping line in 2-4 inch strips (either floating or slow sink line can work well) with those same mayfly emergers (tan size 14 march brown emerger and size 14-16 green timberline emergers work well) or with emerging caddis fly patterns (size 14-16), or (especially as darkness falls) small black or green wooly buggers and carey specials (size 10-12) can generate some tremendous strikes. Look for regular or multiple rise areas and cast close to those parts of the channel. Not surprisingly, these tend to be the same areas you saw concentrations of fish in the morning. As mentioned with morning fishing, the fish will often free themselves if they take on a slack line, as sometimes occurs between stripping motions. In order to ensure a tight line at all times, you might try: as you strip line, fin your craft backward in a very slow troll (stripping and trolling = “strolling”= more hook ups). Fishing is legal until an hour after sunset. Do not go home early!

Hope these thoughts help you have success fishing Hosmer. In addition to the fishing, the lake offers breathtaking mountain scenary and wildlife watching (including osprey, eagles, sand hill cranes, otters, deer, beaver, ducks and geese), and the night skies often put on a show of meteor showers. Enjoy.

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