Triumph And Frustration In Pursuit Of French Meadows Trout

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Fish Sniffer editor Cal Kellogg holds up a pair of quality brown trout he caught while fishing at French Meadows Reservoir on June 19.
Fish Sniffer editor Cal Kellogg holds up a pair of quality brown trout he caught while fishing at French Meadows Reservoir on June 19.

It was as if someone had thrown a switch. For over an hour the scene was quiet and there wasn’t much sign of life, but then mayflies began hatching and swirls started to appear here and there. Clearly the fish had become active.

Gene had yet to get his fishing license, but he’d agreed to come along to act as my camera man. At the moment he was cold, bored and sitting on a rock. The video camera that hung around his neck was zipped inside of his jacket.

Grabbing my second rod that was armed with a 1-¾ inch rainbow pattern Yo-Zuri L Minnow I stepped to the edge of the water.

“The next time a fish breaks the surface within casting range, I’m going to show him this minnow plug,” I said.

When I’m fishing and the fish aren’t cooperating I’m always running around saying this and saying that, basically thinking out loud. So I wasn’t too surprised when Gene didn’t respond.

Heck, for all I knew he was in the grips of hypothermia sitting there on a cold slab of granite, but hypothermia was the least of my concerns. After all I knew the sun would be on us soon and I could thaw Gene out before any serious damage occurred…LOL!

I only had to wait a minute or so for a trout to swirl once, twice, three times in a row off to the left side of the point we’d occupied. It would be a longish cast, but doable.

The spinning rod cut the air with a sharp swoosh, a thin cloud of mist momentarily enveloped the reel’s spool and the plug was on its way arching to intercept the surface feeding trout’s suspected line of travel.

Since L Minnows sink about 1 foot per second and I wanted to run the plug just beneath the surface, I engaged the reel a fraction of a second before the plug hit the surface and started working the reel briskly. I’d turned it exactly three times when the strike came.

The first indication was a surface bulge followed by a hard yank and solid weight. Instinct took over, back came the rod and I drilled the bait’s hooks solidly home.

“Fish Gene,” I exclaimed as the trout made a violent slash on the surface followed by a pair of head shaking jumps.

Gene muttered an unintelligible epitaph and I could hear him jostling with something…The hypothermia was worse than I’d feared!

Slowly turning the reel to keep the line taught, I swiveled around to see if Gene was working the camera. No!

Gene was struggling to get the camera out of his jacket. The trout was surging against the rod and with my adrenaline flowing overtime I was saying things such as,” Come on Gene hurry up. Get this on film. You’re killing me.”

My commentary only served to fluster Gene even more and as a result with the camera out of the jacket he struggled to flip open the viewfinder and find the record button.

At this point it was clear that the trout was hooked pretty well, so I trotted up the bank, helped with the camera and Gene captured the end of the fight on video.

I wish I’d had another camera man to film me and camera man No. 1. We would have had a pretty funny video as Gene twisted and turned the camera and I ran my lips in overdrive as I stumbled over the rocks like the big clumsy giant I am.

But alas all is well that ends well and the trout was an absolutely beautiful 15-inch brown with spectacular color and a perfectly squaretail. The scene of the action was French Meadows Reservoir and the date was June 19.

French Meadows is one of my favorite trout fishing destinations and I’d been daydreaming about making at trip there for weeks.

French Meadows sets at 5,200 feet in a heavily timbered valley near the headwaters of the Middle Fork of the American River about 9 miles west of the Sierra Nevada crest. The lake is fairly large boasting 1,900 surface acres and more than 8 miles of shoreline when at full capacity.

In addition to soaking inflated worms at French Meadows Cal tossed Kastmaster spoons, Vibric Rooster Tails and Yo-Zuri L Minnows. The rainbow pattern L Minnow shown here was the only lure that got hit.
In addition to soaking inflated worms at French Meadows Cal tossed Kastmaster spoons, Vibric Rooster Tails and Yo-Zuri L Minnows. The rainbow pattern L Minnow shown here was the only lure that got hit.

To the casual observer, French Meadows provides few obvious clues for the first-time angler. The lake is oblong in shape with no prominent points, peninsulas or other obvious structure. A closer look reveals plentiful habit, big numbers of trout and forage aplenty.

French Meadows has a strong population of wild brown trout that range up to and beyond 6 pounds. The lake is stocked with rainbows almost every spring and summer by the DFW. Most of these fish don’t survive, but those that do often times turn up in the catch one or more years later as handsome 12 to 22 inch square tailed holdovers.

With trout number one on the stringer and Gene thawed out we were ready for more action, but I had some misgivings. Sure there was trout activity popping up all over the surface, but they were feeding on an ever increasing number of mayflies.

Years of fly fishing experience has taught me that trout feeding on a specific kind of insect can become highly selective, shunning all offerings except those that closely imitate the insects they are feeding on. Hence the term, “Matching The Hatch.”

As it turned out that’s exactly the sort of situation we faced. I kept one rod armed with an inflated night crawler in the water, while I continued casting with my second rod. When the L Minnow failed to produce more action, I tried Rooster Tail Spinners, Kastmasters and even a small black woolly bugger teamed with a clear water filled bobber all for nothing. I got a few follows and saw lots of trout cruising, but they clearly weren’t interested in my artificials.

The worms did marginally better. Our second strike of the day came on a worm and as Gene filmed as I hooked and landed a second handsome brown.

The third and final strike of the day started out great but ended in utter frustration. One second the worm rod was sitting quietly, the next second it was bowed and bucking heavily. When I reached down to pick it up line was already flowing off the spool against the drag.

“This is a big one,” I exclaimed as I snatch the rod and started to fight a heavy trout. That’s when the line got snagged. I could feel the fish fighting against the snag. I gave the trout slack hoping it would swim free, without success. Then I tried walking back and forth along the bank pulling against the snag from different angles. That didn’t’ work either.

Finally, with no other options I walked up the bank with the reel’s spool held immobile by my thumb and forefinger. Either the line would part or it would pull free. Of course it snapped, leaving me with nothing but the haunted memory of a big one that got away!

On the plus side, I took home a pair of fresh trout for dinner and I’ve got a good start on a cool trout fishing video. Plus I’ve got a good excuse to get back up to the lake to finish the project. I can’t wait!

Check out some of my fishing videos at Fishing The West TV.