Land of the Giant Brookies
By Jason Stapleton
It was still dark when I heard John rustling around in the tent, getting ready for the day’s fishing adventure. I wasn’t surprised it was still dark, as it was 4:45am, but the darkness didn’t make it any easier to crawl out of my warm sleeping bag. I didn’t want to get up, but I still had some packing to do and we didn’t want to keep Charlie waiting. Besides, we were headed for Kirman Lake, the land of the giant brook trout. So I rolled out of my bag, threw on a jacket and got started.
|Where you can fish and where you can't. Note the special regs for Kirman and its tributaries. |
At 6:00am we met Charlie at the Shell station in Bridgeport and headed north on Hwy 395. It only took about 30 minutes to reach the trailhead off Hwy 108 and in no time we were each loaded down and ready to hike. We knew that reaching Kirman Lake required a 3 mile hike with an elevation gain of about 500ft, and because 95% of the lake is thick with reeds and tules, we were going to need float tubes to fish it effectively. We each had a different method of transporting our tubes; mine was tightly folded and stuffed into a large backpack with my pump, fins and waders. John was wearing his tube as a backpack, fully inflated with his gear strapped to the outside. Charlie had chosen to strap all his equipment to a hand truck and pull it behind him as he walked.
Our first obstacle was two barbed wire fences. John and I crawled over the orange access ladders, helped Charlie pass his hand truck through the fence and then walked towards a large herd of cattle. The cows were kicking up quite a dust storm and mooing insistently, apparently believing we were there to feed them. Maybe Charlie’s hand truck looked like a bale of alfalfa.
Once we left the cows behind we walked briskly, enjoying the cool air and scenery in the early morning light, excited to reach the lake and see if what we had read was true.
|John on left, Charlie on right, cows ahead|
Since the trail is really an access road, the hiking was fairly easy and after an hour and fifteen minutes and one good sized hill we reached Kirman and got our first look at the lake. There were quite a few American Coots paddling around, quacking and diving for food. Each dive and splash caused me to whip my head around, stare at the lake and wonder: Coot or Fish? While gearing up, it became apparent that some of the splashes were fish feeding on the surface, although we couldn’t tell what they were eating.
Just like normal, John was on the water first, looking to cash in on our bet and earn 25 cents for catching the first fish of the day. While Charlie was still getting ready, I hit the water and began working the south shore with a small black wooly bugger, while John made his way along the east shore. Although I was on the water before John could catch a fish, it wasn’t long until I heard the all too familiar “Here we go!” and looked over to see John’s rod bent towards the water. Ten minutes on
the water and one “I’m gonna need a bigger net” from John and we had our first fish, a nice fat 15” Brook Trout. Or at least that’s what John says, he was quite a distance away and I couldn’t really see anything… it could have been a small duck for all I know.
|John: "Here we go!"|
Just before Charlie got on the water, I had a solid take and set the hook on something that felt good sized. The take wasn’t a “bump-bump-bump”; it was “WHAM” and fish on! I’d like to say that hooked the fish with a well-executed strip set, but it happened so quickly I don’t remember anything other than my fly rod going “bendo” and letting out a quiet “Woo Hoo!” under my breath… after all, there was no need to alert John and Charlie until I had the fish safely in my net.
After a solid fight, I got the fish to the surface and discovered two things; these fish really don’t like the sight of a net, and John was correct that a larger net would have indeed been handy. I finally netted my football shaped prize, and thought: “There’s so much food here the fish can’t grow quickly enough to keep up with their food intake… they just get fatter”.
It had only been fifteen minutes and John and I had both caught nice fish and Charlie was hollering from the bank that we should “save some fish for him”. Based on our start, we were looking forward to an amazing day of fishing. I quickly caught another 16” beauty, but as often happens, the fishing slowed considerably and only one other fish was caught by lunchtime.
|"There’s so much food here the fish can’t grow quickly enough to keep up with their food intake… they just get fatter”.|
After lunch, while kicking out from shore I looked over the side of my tube and noticed a school of 10-15 good sized fish, not four feet below me, milling around over a bare patch of lake bottom. They saw me and began to scatter but it was too late, they had given it away and I knew for sure there were more than four fish in the lake. But what were they doing and why wouldn’t they bite? Brook trout spawn in the fall and don’t always need moving water; did they have romance on their mind? Did we catch our first fish just because it was morning and now the fish had run for the depths?
Some fish were still feeding on top, but not consistently, and we never did get a take from the surface. I changed lines several times; floating/intermediate/floating/intermediate, and flies many more times than that. Several more hours passed and I hadn’t had so much as a bump. Nothing for John or Charlie either. Discouraged, but not beaten, we kicked around the lake fishing, hoping for a turn around and enjoying the scenery.
|Clouds, slight breeze and scenery but slow fishing until John yelled, "Here we go!" again.|
Around 2:30 or 3:00, some clouds moved in and a slight breeze kicked up. At the same time, John switched flies and tied on a black “Sparkle Johnny” streamer that he had fished earlier in the day. Once again, I heard “Here we go!” and John was hooked into another fish. After a couple more fish a very short span, I too switched flies to something similar to John’s……….Game On!
By the time we quit fishing at 4:00pm, I had caught a total of six fish, all 15” to 16” long and thick! The bite had definitely picked up, although we’re not exactly sure why. Had the clouds and breeze given the fish enough cover to be confident about coming out and feed? Was it the approach of evening? If I had stayed with the olive Wooly Bugger I was fishing would I have still caught fish, or was it the “Sparkle Johnny”? Maybe it was a combination of everything. I suppose one key to our success was that we continued to try different things. But more importantly, we just kept fishing until things turned around.
The fishing had definitely gotten better and I could have kept at it for a couple more hours, but we still had to pack up and hike 3 miles back to the trailhead, so I reluctantly kicked into shore, casting and fishing the whole way. Once on shore we packed our gear, changed our clothes and hit the trail. The hike out was uneventful except for a juvenile rattlesnake that we saw on the trail. The walk out was a bit easier since it was downhill, but we were tired and seemed longer than it really was. I distracted myself with the scenery and looking at the clouds and rain we could see in the distance and before I knew it, we were back at the car. It had been a sweaty hike in, so after a quick stop at camp we drove down to use the pay showers before coming back to cook dinner by headlamp in the dark. Bacon-Jalapeno-Cheeseburgers never tasted so good! After dinner we regaled our fellow DFF’ers with fantastical tales about “The Land of the Giant Brookies” before flopping into the tent, exhausted but happy.
|John:"Rich, I swear my right elbow is killin' me from hauling in fish. If they had been any bigger they would have pulled me right off my pontoon boat."|
Overall, we had a fantastic trip, despite the slow fishing during the middle of the day. I can neither confirm, nor deny that John caught more fish than I did. I am also unable to confirm exactly how many fish Charlie caught, or that one of John’s fish was 17” long. As I said before, it’s a good sized lake and I couldn’t always see what they were doing. However, I can tell you this much: I’m looking forward to fishing Kirman again next year during the DFF Bridgeport trip, provided I can wait that long. Who’s with me?!?!
"I’m looking forward to fishing Kirman again next year during the DFF Bridgeport trip, provided I can wait that long. Who’s with me?!?!"
Editor's note: Jason joined the Delta Fly Fishers three years ago. Since that time he's turned into an excellent fly fisherman. Even more, he's stepped up and gives up some of his personal time for the DFF, volunteering to serve on the club's Board of Directors. Jason's enthusiasm and efforts are very much appreciated by the club and it's members.