By LANCE MASTERSON
Of the Keizertimes
My wife Simone is no stranger to fishing.
As a child growing up in Brazil she remembers her father bringing home fish longer and heavier than she. They were so large they required two men to lift them into the boat and some fancy footwork to avoid injuries caused by the thrashing, not to mention disagreeable, captives.
That said, Simone is still a newcomer when it comes to trout fishing in Oregon. Her introduction to this pursuit comes courtesy of Walter Wirth lake in Salem and the pond at E.E. Wilson State Wildlife Area, which is located about halfway between Monmouth and Corvallis off Highway 99.
Each of these bodies of water is stocked – although we’ve always had better luck at the latter – and neither can be described as a destination location.
E.E. Wilson comes closer to this description, but it loses points due to the constant low-grade hum coming from Highway 99, the stench coming from the local landfill and the weeds that have a choke hold on the pond from early summer on.
These drawbacks don’t dampen Simone’s enthusiasm, however.
“It doesn’t bother me if I don’t catch a fish,” she said to me often,” I just love being out here.”
But this year I wanted to give her a better understanding of what trout fishing should be. Which is why we pointed our little Suzuki east and headed to the vastness that is Lake County.
I’m no stranger to Lakeview or Lake County, having got my start as a writer at the Lake County Examiner. So this was more of a homecoming for me. But this was a new experience for the Brazilian.
Travel plans for the five-day get-away had us visiting friends in Christmas Valley, touring the northeast corner of California, and fishing, fishing and more fishing.
We ended up wetting our lines in several reservoirs – Ana, Cottonwood Meadows and Priday, to be exact – and caught our share of trout along with one brown bullhead thrown into the mix for variety’s sake.
Also on our to-do list was the Chewaucan River – which I consider to be one of Oregon’s best kept secrets – but the water was too high and too fast for a beginner.
This was a shame. A series of improved fishing ladders along the Chewaucan makes its upper reaches accessible to redband that get fat and happy in the lake at River’s End Ranch.
The private ranch is located next to Abert Lake and is where the Chewaucan ends its 60-mile run. It is available to those who don’t mind paying to fish.
As for the reservoirs, they are free and easily reached by Lake County standards. Ana is some two miles west of Summer Lake on Highway 31; Cottonwood is 30 miles northwest of Lakeview (off Highway 140) and Priday is halfway between Adel and Plush in the eastern part of the county.
We caught the bullhead at Priday, which came as a surprise since we weren’t sure there were any fish there. We stopped at the Hart Mountain Store in Plush prior to fishing and one of the locals told us a water rights issue prevented Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife from planting redband, a native species of trout that does well in the high desert. I don’t know if reports of its absence is true, but I do know we didn’t have any luck with trout. That said, we checked web sites upon our return and the reservoir is reportedly home to white crappie, so it may be worth a visit.
The act of fishing was more important to us than actually catching them. Foremost was experiencing the beauty that is Lake County.
Lake County is also vast, to the tune of 8,500 square miles. This fact was underscored by our odometer, which added some 1,300 miles over the course of our five-day vacation.
Lake County is lightly populated, with some 7,500 people, or less than one person per square mile.
Nuisances are another matters. There’s plenty of them. Rattlesnakes almost outnumbered fishermen, it seemed. At Cottonwood Meadows reservoir, a youngster reported hearing one and seeing another, a diamondback with eight rattlers, coiled against a log near a frequently used trail.
The closest we came to a rattler came at Ana Reservoir. Simone was releasing a trout when she spooked a baby rattler, sending it gliding across the water.
Those planning their own excursion to Lake County should also be prepared for mosquitoes.
You know a trip receives a passing grade when your wife asks you, “when are we going back?”