Trout, Kokes Biting On Orcas

There are still plenty of trout to be had at Cascade Lake, as well as fat kokanee from 16 to 18 inches.

So I discovered during our second annual Fourth of July campout at Moran State Park on Orcas Island.

There’s also plenty of other things for families to do on the largest island in the archipelago that makes up Northwest Washington’s San Juans — swim, rent boats or kayaks, go on whale watching trips, hike, drive up to the top of Mt. Constitution, get ice cream cones in town, tour art galleries, explore the new Turtleback Mountain Preserve, view wildlife, or just hang out in camp.

But I wasn’t one for sitting around when there were fish to be caught.

I headed onto the lake three mornings in a row at literally the asscrack of daylight, stumbling out of the tent when Kiran woke for his 4:30 a.m. feeding/soothing and launching my pontoon boat from The Creek Company as the last bat of the night flitted low over the swimming beach.

It was just me and my fishing partner, an early-rising osprey, for the next few hours — quite relaxing, though I think I’m still tired from the early rises two days later.

For the most part I drug around an olive Woolly Bugger about 5 feet behind a 1/4-ounce weight and landed sassy rainbows from 11 to 14 inches or so, but ol’ reliables such as a green Rooster Tail and Dick Nites also corralled a few trout.

Actually, Dick Nite’s new Kokanee lure in chartreuse body and pink hothead provided the catch of the trip, a 16-plus-inch kokanee. It fought very hard, putting my ultralight rod to the test.

I knew that Cascade as well as Mountain Lake above had landlocked sockeye, but the size was surprising. Local guide, former park ranger and rental boat concessionaire David Castor (360-376-3411; 3711), who has been fishing Cascade for 50 years, says they’ve been running 16 to 18 inches this year. He credits a warm January and February and smaller numbers of fish.

In Cascade’s early season — the lake opens on the last Saturday in April — Castor says kokes were biting right off of the fishing dock where there are some freshwater springs, but I caught mine out in the middle of the lake.

In fact, almost all of my fish came around the yellow buoy closest to the fishing dock and swim beach. That water runs 30 to 40 feet deep, but 70-foot water can be found under the cliffs on the northwestern side of the main lake.

The depths also held an unexpected species. Anglers filing fishing reports on Washingtonlakes.com reported catching largemouth, which Castor says had been recently and illegally transplanted into the lake. I caught two, but not where you would expect. They bit halfway between the western shore and the yellow buoy — out in open water. Neither were very big; Castor reported seeing a school of 50 or so 15 feet down towards the cliffs.

All totaled I released a dozen and a half fish, lost another dozen-plus at the boat and had many more bites fishing up till around 7 a.m. before my body’s call for caffeine and hotcakes pulled me off the water. Fishing seemed best on the first two mornings under cloudy skies.

The plunkers working the fishing dock were definitely not early risers; they tended to show up for the midday bite, along about the time a weak bikini hatch began to come off in the cool weather, and some did all right. Judging by the number of individual dough bait smushings on the railing and floor boards, pink sparkle and chartreuse were favorite colors.

One trio of anglers who’d left their rods in the garage at home still gave it a go, dangling big worms off the dock in hopes that bass would bite, but they couldn’t quite set the hook in time after largies sucked the oversize offerings in.

When I wasn’t fishing, the family and I went for hikes over to Cascade, Rustic and Cavern Falls — if you find a binky along that trail, please return mail it to me, c/o Northwest Sportsman, POB 24365, SeaWA, 98124 — splashed in the lake or rented row and paddle boats. River especially liked the paddle boat ride I took him out on. Somehow he also managed to stay out of all the nettles growing around the island.

Saturday we hit Eastsound, and hard. When my German father-in-law and I got off the ferry the day before, our first goal had been to determine where we could watch die Mannschaft take on Argentina. The Bayside was right out, but after Enzo’s coffee shop confirmed they’d be open before 7 a.m., we returned to the car to find a note from the good folks at The Lower Tavern declaring the World Cup would be showing at the bar.

That settled that, and we arrived just in time to see Mueller’s header in the third minute. But coffee was no good for our nerves, so we joined a couple who hailed from Freiburg, in the southern Black Forest, in ordering pints before breakfast.

Meine Deutsche frau showed up too late to see any of the rout, but afterwards we headed over to a park where vendors featuring island art, carvings, organic greens as well as cooked meats had gathered ahead of Eastsound’s fun Fourth of July parade (no fewer than four men running for San Juan County Sheriff marched in it, plus one giant freakin’ great Dane).

We also visited Orcas Island Artworks in Olga, home to some Japanese-inspired paintings of island scenes by James Hardman, hiked around Obstruction Pass State Park, did a little beachcombing — Juergen discovered a chunk of driftwood that had the shape of a whale, and had our vehicles not been absolutely stuffed, would have seized — had some nice fires and roasted a mess of Smores.

All in all a really great time!

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