Every year I look forward to the fishing trip that has become an annual ritual with one of my best buddies, Brian Wildish. For the past 10 years, we have gotten our dads together for a 3 to 4 day fishing trip to a number of Central Oregon’s beautiful cascade lakes. Like last year, we chose Paulina Lake as our destination for “Dad’s Weekend X”. We typically plan these trips at least six months in advance in order to book a cabin for the “old” guys. But who am I kidding, they are pretty damn nice when you’re at 6,400 feet elevation in late May! It’s always a crapshoot booking that early, since only God knows when Mother Nature will switch gears from winter to spring. We just hope and pray that the weekend we booked will be ice-free and accessible with not too harsh of conditions to fish in for our fathers.
Normally my dad, Kim, meets me at the Wildish residence in Eugene early on the morning we plan to head up to the lake together since it’s about halfway from Coquille to Newberg. He then leaves his truck at their place and we jump in my truck and head up highway 58. This time, however, he made the trek up to Newberg the night before we left so that he could see his grandson, Wyatt, play some Cal Ripken Minor League baseball. My son is 10 years old and enjoys the game of baseball. “Papa” had yet to watch a game this year, so that figured to be the perfect time to watch Wyatt. The game was close and Wyatt impressed “Papa” with his sliding ability. Fortunately, the boys pulled out a “W” and Dad got to see a good game. Early the next morning, we were on the road to Paulina.
We arrived to the lake around 11 a.m. on the first of four planned days. It didn’t take us long to find Karen and Todd Brown, the owners of the Lodge and Resort. We got a key to the Lark cabin and were soon unpacking the truck. BWild and his Dad, Gary, were already on the water as they had a little closer drive coming from Eugene. After getting settled in, Dad and I went and launched the boat at Paulina Lake Campground and motored across to the shore closest to the Lark cabin. In the shallows were 4 or 5 really nice rainbow trout looking to spawn. One of the males was pushing 20 inches. They were pretty cool to watch. At the time, conditions for brown trout were not the best with little to no wind and blue sunny clear skies, but we grabbed our gear and set out to find the Wildish’s to hear how their morning went. Soon we found BWild and his dad and we got the report that Gary had landed a beautiful 5 pound hookjaw earlier that morning! After some congratulations, we decided to motor out over open water to find some kokanee. It didn’t take long to find some, so we lowered down our pink/white gibbs minnow jigs and started working the rods. The action was steady and within an hour and a half dad and I had limited out! We took the kokes back to shore and cleaned them.
By this time, we were all ready for an early dinner. We warmed up some taco soup that my wife Robyn had made for all of us. It was delicious and hit the spot, thanks babe! Soon thereafter, we were back on the water for the evening brown trout bite………so we hoped. We wished the Wildish’s luck and headed for a favorite area. Dad and I worked it over good and around 6:45 p.m. dad’s lucky craft got popped by a nice 21 inch 4-1/2 pound hookjaw! This fish fought nicely and was a great start to our trip. After a quick photo, dad released him back to his home waters.
We fished the area over some more, but only dinks would come to the boat. So around 8 p.m., we motored off to another favorite area of the lake. Once again we pounded the area with our lures working the shoreline back and forth. Then at around 8:30, Dad hooked another dandy brown with his hot lure. This fish came screaming up out of the water and must have made at least 5 leaps, flips, and tail walks on the water! He really put on an aerial show for us. Somehow, the owner hooks stayed with him, and after a great battle I was able to slide the net under a FAT 22.5 inch, 5-1/2 pound hookjaw! This fish was just a porker and had obviously feed well on the kokanee over the winter.
We fished until legal and called it a night. As we motored back to the cabin that night we were thrilled by catching a brown over the 5 pound mark on our first day on the water! We swapped stories with the Wildish’s that evening and then hit the sack knowing that the early morning brown trout drill would only be a few hours away.
The next morning we decided to hit the area we ended the night on, since that is where dad landed the nice fat hookjaw. Instead of flatlining the shallows at first light, I decided to go deep and work the 35 foot zone of water. We had our lures down a ways in that column just trolling along when I hear dad behind me yell “Ohhh, Fish!” I look back over my shoulder to see the rod penned against my seat in the boat. I holler to dad “Get him! Get the rod!” He struggles like crazy trying to get the rod out of the holder. It has been years since I’ve seen a bite that hard in my boat knowing that whatever is on the other line is BIG! Finally dad is able to get the rod in his hands and he stands up in the boat to fight the beast. I look and sure enough he has got him hooked and the weight of the beast is loading up the rod hard and then begins to headshake. Dad keeps tension just like you should as the fish finishes a headshake and then…………SLACK!!! I’m pretty sure we said it at the same time “Ohhhh SH!T!!!!, NOOOOoooooooo!!!” And just like that, the fish I’ve been trying to get my dad into all these years was GONE! Only one other time have I seen a bite in the holder like that and it ended up being BWild’s first brown over 10 pounds at East Lake to a beautiful 12.5 pound hen brown. Dad said the hit reminded him of a steelhead takedown back in the mid 80’s when he used to take me all the time on the Coquille River! I try not to get too worked up about bites as you never know if the fish is foul hooked or not, but THIS was definitely a HUGE brown trout that was able to give us the slip………….just like the big ones usually do! As luck or fate or whatever you wanna call it would have it, that ended up being our only shot of the day on the browns!
Saturday too was tough, as the conditions were just not ideal for chasing the big ones. Gorgeous weather, which I’m not complaining about, with flat calm winds just didn’t allow for optimal brown fishing. However, dad was able to put a nice 4 pounder in the boat early that morning. We quickly released him hoping for a hot bite, but to no avail. We fished hard until 11 am or so then went out to jig up another limit of kokes. We ran into Allan Cole while we were up there and he told us all about the 9 pound hookjaw he caught on the day before we had arrived. It’s always fun and a pleasure chatting with AC! He also told us the story about his 26 pounder back in 2003 which was a real treat. AC also threw us a couple lures to try while we were there, so that was very nice of him! It truly has been both and honor and privilege to get to know some of the best west coast brown trout fishermen since becoming addicted to trophy trout hunting some 20 years ago!
Our last day once again came super early but I knew this was our last chance at nailing a trophy brown so thru sleepy eyes we suited up for the cold morning and headed down to the boat in the early dawn darkness. This was my second trip of 2016 and I hadn’t landed a brown over 3 pounds yet. Earlier in the year, Dan McAllister and I hit a lake and he had landed one brown just shy of 5 pounds and a dandy 24”, 5.5 pounder for our best fish of that trip. Secretly I was hoping to get on the board in 2016, but would eagerly take a strike out if it meant my old man would hook up with his biggest brown to date! I had a plan to work an area of the lake that I really like the looks of but have actually only had one good strike ever in my times at Paulina. So off we went to try and hit it at first legal light. We flatlined in the shallows early, but with no success. My original plan was to continue to pound this area for the first few hours since I have never spent as much time there as I really wanted to. But instead, I followed my gut as we didn’t get so much as a bump on our first pass through this section of the lake. I looked on up the shoreline to one of our favorite spots and it looked like a Fred Meyer parking lot at 3 a.m. Quiet, calm, and empty! Not a single boat around! Dad and I changed plans and I went with my gut instinct! We stealthily trolled our way into the area that had been virgin waters that morning. I worked the boat over 12’ to 15’ feet of water as we flatlined our best kokanee imitations some 275 feet behind the boat. I was just about that distance past one of our favorite underwater finger ridges that jets out from the shoreline when my rod got SLAMMED in the holder! As I grabbed the rod, I hollered “FISH ON!” and dad quickly got his lure in. Instantly, I could tell this was my best fish of 2016, as he stripped line off my reel and commenced to numerous headshakes and runs! I held on the best I could and countered his every move like a PBR Cowboy does to a rank brahma bull. Like most “good ones” he stayed deep as he neared the boat and I knew we were close as the last 50 feet of 12 pound test mono maxima came onto my spool. Finally, we could see him down in the crystal clear water and sure enough it was a nice thick Paulina hookjaw. Not as huge as I had hoped, but a dandy nonetheless. He bulldogged and steered clear of the net for another 5 minutes but we could see he was hooked good, so I just took it easy and played him until he was ready. At that point, Dad eased the net under him and we celebrated with a high five. The handsome hookjaw taped out at 24 inches and weighed 6 pounds. We got a couple of pics to remember the moment and fish by and then I let him swim free from my hand so he could fight another day.
That ended up being the big fish of our trip and just in time as we had to get back home. Dad and I caught 33 browns and 3 rainbows over the course of our stay. We also got our limits of kokanee which went home to the little chief smoker. They were all 9 to 12 inches in length. Just nice and fat though and excellent meat from the 46 degree water. Dad’s 5.5 pounder was his personal best brown on Paulina, so that was cool as well. But that one that got away will haunt our dreams…………
As always, the amenities were excellent at Paulina Lake, so for that we thank you Todd and Karen Brown! Already looking forward to Dad’s Weekend XI!
“Browns – Coyotes of the Fishing World!”