KLAMATH FALLS — My advisor and one of my favorite professors in college, Pat Schaeffer, used to say “If you haven’t (enter name here), you haven’t lived.”
Well, if you’ve haven’t fished Upper Klamath Lake in late May, you haven’t lived.
Don’t let the opening of the more popular Williamson River fool you — the most can’t-miss fishing of the year in the Klamath Basin is to be had from Memorial Day to the last day of school in Upper Klamath Lake.
I’m on a boat
Perhaps the most tragic reality of my existence is that I lived more than 25 shore-bound years before I got a boat.
My first trip out on a boat on the main lake took place in the spring of 2017 when I was paired with Mark Doolittle for an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife tagging event.
We hooked into 19 fish and landed 17 of them. Personally, I went 8-of-9, which outpaced my best day from shore (7-of-8 at the time) but did so with markedly less physical exertion and in about two less hours.
That day I realized that a boat, and not the love of a good woman, was what I’d been longing for all my life.
Since I first fished from a boat that fateful day in 2017, I kept track of my efforts. Some trips were most of the day, others just an hour or two after work, but trips averaged four hours or so.
Brace for math.
That first year (2017), I averaged eight fish from the boat every trip and 1.92 from shore.
In 2018, I averaged five from the boat and 0.94 from shore.
So far this year, I’m averaging six from the boat and 2.42 from shore, per trip.
As I’ve started exploring, veering away from what I know works, and taking more people fishing, my catch rates have dropped, but I’ve taken my game onto the water, and those with a boat should consider doing the same.
There are four main strategies to employ in the lake during May from your boat. They are, in order of effectiveness: trolling, casting large lures to shore, flyfishing, bait fishing.
All four of these strategies work, but the latter two strategies are notably less effective.
Regardless of your methodology, the key to successfully fishing the lake is knowing two things: (1) Trout are primarily feeding on schools of baitfish this time of year — not winged insects, not leeches. Baitfish. Primarily blue chub, but as the water warms, you’ll see trout crush more fathead minnow and tui chub and lamprey. (2) Conditions are everything. For the best days on the water, you want cloud cover, a slight wind, and recent rain or snow to have dropped the water temperature just a little. The cold water will inhibit algae growth, knock back parasite activity and, if the particular storm included high winds, push the baitfish closer to shore. Too much precipitation will destroy water clarity, though, so pray very specifically. Those “bluebird days,” while pleasant to fish, are not ideal unless they precede a significant storm.
These days, I find myself trolling a lot.
If you’re really proficient at steering and possess a two-rod angling license, you can cast one rod to shore while driving the boat and trolling another rod behind you. It repels the boredom that can creep into a day of trolling, but this multi-tasking strategy can end badly.
Traditional trolling with rods in holders is less active, but nearly as effective and markedly less dangerous for your boat.
When I troll, I’m trolling two rods in the best rod holders on the market: Stealth Products QR-1 or QR-2 quick release rod holders. The simplicity and consistency of these rod holders trumps anything you grew up fishing with, yet they’re surprisingly affordable at $40-60 depending on the mounts you pair with them.
They work on canoes and kayaks as well as boats, and there are few products I’m so completely sold on as Stealth Products rod holders (www.stealthrodholders.com).
In my rod holders are everyman’s spinning rods with 20-pound braid minimum (I prefer 30-pound) and I attach a fluorocarbon leader of comparable strength (I prefer 20-pound).
I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: color doesn’t really matter to our redband trout. To prove this point, I’ve used every color pattern made by Rapala and used it to catch a trophy fish.
It’s about shape, motion and size.
Anything from 2 to 6 inches in length that looks and moves like a blue chub is prime.
I typically troll 4-inch Rapalas or similar minnowbaits. I prefer the floating variety because if I have to stop the boat, I don’t want my lure sinking down and snagging a rock or log as I try to land a fish.
As always, I advocate catch and release.
If you think redband trout taste good, you haven’t lived.
Instead, let me turn you on to salmon, halibut, sturgeon, thresher shark or striped bass. All of these species have meat with the dense texture of a trout but aren’t soft, wet and laced with off-putting flavors.
That said, should you decide to keep a fish, the limit is one fish at least 15 inches long. Also, keeping a fish means your fishing day is over. It is illegal to continue fishing after you’ve retained a fish — yet another reason to catch and release.
Get out and fish, so you can know what it’s like to truly live.