MADRAS — Sorry fam, but nothing in my life is more precious than my days off.
On a good month, I’ll have three weekends off, but on an average month, I only have two.
October — the best month of the year for trout fishing opportunities across the Pacific Northwest and my personal favorite month — happens to be an average month this year.
I had the first weekend and last weekend to fish, so I went big last weekend.
Recently, two friends had gone to Lake Billy Chinook (LBC), the deep canyon lake formed by the confluence of the Deschutes, Metolius and Crooked rivers.
LBC is home to the only population of bull trout in the Lower 48 healthy enough to allow harvest, though serious conservationist-anglers should never think about keeping a Federally Threatened fish.
But this story is about a fishing trip, not a guilt trip, so I digress.
My friends Ben Fry and Dean Limb went to LBC a few weeks ago and absolutely cleaned up. Between them, they landed more than 100 bull trout and at least that many kokanee in a weekend of hard fishing.
That was hard to pass up, so I eschewed my typical Klamath Basin redband fishing in October for bull trout and made the four-plus-hour-drive with my boat up to the the Metolius Arm of LBC last Saturday.
Through Couchsurfing (think Airbnb, but free), I’d arranged to stay with someone nearby Saturday night, fish hard again Sunday morning and then make the long trek home.
I brought all of my trout gear except the jigging rods I use for lake trout and lingcod, loaded up the boat and even though the lake hadn’t put me dinner yet, put out.
Three times in my adult life, I’d fished for bull trout. In every dalliance, I’d found some success. Every bull I’d caught up until that point had been in rivers, and every one ranged from 22 inches to my personal-best bullhemoth that went an eighth of an inch over the sacred 30-inch mark.
Numbers hadn’t always been great, but I’d never been skunked for bull trout, so I had that going for me.
Likewise, I was fully stocked with everything an enterprising bullfighter needed, and though I didn’t have a red cape, I wore a red scarf and matching beanie to stave off the cold that, as it turned out, wasn’t there when I arrived.
I did everything that would’ve worked for trophy trout: trolling shallow, trolling deep, jigging, casting to shore, suspending weighted spoons through arcs in the water column and even sitting on cut bait. Though I got one single hit on the cut bait, I messed with the bull but never found the horns.
Kokanee kept the skunk off, and they were very cooperative. I caught them jigging, casting spoons and Rapalas and had I brought a cooler, I would’ve kept a few.
Water temps sat at 55 degrees on the surface, and as I sat there in my boat, crying softly after repeatedly striking out. It was like dating in high school but even less productive.
As I digested more and more information, I came to the conclusion that the bulls had headed upriver to spawn. They spawn in early fall, with spawning activity spanning September, October and early November.
Having marked less than 50 fish — most of which were in two massive groups — I knew the majority of fish just weren’t where they’d been the week before.
The reality that I’d just missed an insane bite by a few days was tough.
I’d avoided being gored by a bull, but I live for the thrill of the fight. No bullfighter wants to fall on his sword, but after darkness filled the canyon without a single bull to show for my efforts, I pulled out the boat and started the long drive home. Sometimes fishing is just a bunch of bull.