Tips and Tricks for Fly Fishing/Float-Tubing and Kayaking Eagle Lake

By Val Aubrey
© Registered

Fly fishing Eagle Lake does not take a rocket scientist however; being able to throw a line like a rocket can be beneficial. Fly fishing a lake is a lot different than fly fishing a stream or river. I always advise that when wading, tubing or kayaking to be sure to have a set of dry clothes, jacket and gloves packed in your vehicle. I have needed mine 3 times and having them saved my life. Note that stripping buck naked outside and getting out of wet clothes or waders when it is barely 20F or colder is tough enough, but the minute those dry clothes hit your skin you will be thankful… but also hypothermic so pack it in, head back to a campfire or cabin and warm up. I can tell you that your core temp has dropped and if you feel warm after putting on dry clothes at 20F, that’s the first sign you are going to be in serious trouble very soon. Been there, done that several times. Before I lost my ability to think, I knew what I had to do. One of the first things I do, get my blood pumping by a fast walk, that buys me some time to fish a little longer especially in neoprene waders, LoL.  When I get home from tubing or wading in December after being in my waders in water temps 40F to 47F degrees is take a hot bath….and my body can cool that water down to tepid in about 5 minutes. I don’t feel that cold, but having nerve damage and very little sensation in my legs of being cold, I can feel with my hands that my legs are like an ice cube. So be smart, not dead and fishing in winter can be a lot of fun.

One thing that you do need to be able to do is cast a long line. To do that, concentrate on stopping your rod at 11 and 1…rather than 10 and 2. If you watch your rod carefully you will see that your rod is stopped at 11 and 1 but your rod tip is already at 10 and 2. If you’re stopping your rod at 10 and 2 your rod tip is at 9 and 3…which means you are slapping the crap out of the water. This is a very common mistake I see people make when trying to cast long. Your rod is loaded at that point (11 and 1) and once you shoot for the moon and break your wrist I’ll guarantee you will be casting a tight loop farther than you ever have in the past. Heavier rods are more like throwing a stick and lighter rods feel like a wet noodle. But, use what you have. If you are in the market for a new fly-rod but are strapped for cash you really can’t go wrong with a little Cortland combo eight-and-a-half foot 5/6wt rod with a floating line. You can get out the door for about $100 bucks for rod, single action reel and a floating line (generally fly combos come with floating line anyway). I have thrown a lot of cortland rods from these inexpensive packages and I have been impressed with the quality and feel. If you need to make it a sink tip in a pinch and don’t have a spare reel, use a 10″ section of 18lb leadcore. I use loops. I tie in a fine loop at the end of my fly line for speedy tippet replacements. When using the short section of leadcore, I loop both ends of it and in less than a few minutes of loop to loop threading, I have a sink tip that actually casts well, is tough and does the job without the expense of an additional reel or additional specialized line. Note that it sinks fast. I have several sections in my fly gear. 8″, 10″ 12″, 15″, 18″, 24″ and 30″. 8-10″ is what I use the most of in fall. I can cast to 2 ft of water and start stripping fast or I can get out on a ledge and let it drop. For depth, 8-10″ will sink 8-10ft easily. If I need to get deeper, I use longer lengths.

I use a Martin MM11 three to one ratio fly reel, the fastest retrieve ever made for a fly reel. Old reel but I have plenty for myself I bough years ago.  Scientific Anglers has a 2.5:1 but it’s very costly. Zebco bought Martin many years ago and you don’t see these reels in a 5wt much any more but I paid about $100 bucks for each of them back in the 1990’s and they will probably last for the rest of my life as well as the rest of my niece’s life.  You can find 8wt 3:1 Martins, they work fine just a little heavy for a 5-6wt rod. Once you hook an Eagle Lake trout after his first run, it will turn and charge you. A single action reel simply cannot keep up with these fish and the bigger the fish, the faster it charges. A 3:1 is the fastest fly reel made and it still isn’t fast enough sometimes. But it can sure suck up the slack a lot quicker and I want to get the fish on the reel just as soon as I can.  Yes, you can strip em in, but make sure you don’t have a bunch of twists or loops in your line when they want to run.

Fly fishing is generally great from opening weekend to about late June on nymphs (8, 10, 12), midges (12, 14, 16’s and as small as 20’s)/chironomides (#16,18 and as small as 20’s on occasion, it depends on the specific hatch at the time) under indicators and small leech patterns.  Once water temps rise for summer it isn’t as good as the fish lay deeper.  It picks up again around the end of September. But it all depends on the water temperatures and what basin of the lake you are fishing. You can waist a lot of time fishing the shallow north and middle basins when water temperatures have already driven the trout south to deeper water. For example: In 2008 the water temperature in the north and middle basin had already reached 70 F degrees several weeks before opening weekend. Just about 5 days before the fishing season opened we had a cold spell and snow that dropped the water temperatures back down to the high 50’s. Well, when a trout fisherman sees high 50’s for water temp you can’t drag him or her away too quickly. Many people wasted the entire day (some even two days) fishing in water that didn’t have any fish left in it. I know, I talked to several of them but once I got those folks down to the Youth Camp/Biology station they caught plenty of fish. My viewers all knew that the water temps had risen and drove the fish south despite seeing temps in the 50’s; they did what I told them and caught nice fish. Others had to learn the hard way.  During the last drought and low water levels, any trout haven’t stayed long in the north basins.  The far north basin was dry up to 2 years ago and still struggling with 3 to 4 ft of water, no cover and water temps that rise and fall within hours.

You see, once the water temperatures in the shallow basins reach 68 F degrees and higher, the trout will head to deeper water below Miners Pt. You can still catch trout fly-fishing but you may have to use a sink tip line or a leaded fly to get down to them. Once the water temperatures hit 70 F on the surface the majority of trout are hovering between 20 and 35 ft deep in 40 to 65 feet of water. However, they do come up for the early and late caddis (black) hatch every day but they shoot up like a rocket and back down just as fast. We generally throw out a caddis emerger below a strike indicator but be careful, the trout can and do get line shy so a bad cast can bust them out of range. Other surface bugs our trout fancy are black carpenter ants that blow out of the trees (generally late June early July). So if you see fish rising and slapping the surface but don’t see what they are eating….try that black carpenter ant fly grandpa gave you way back when. There was a reason he had it.  We don’t have the hex’s that they see at Almanor.  I have only seen two big yellows in the last 15 years that probably blew in from the big wind the days before. 

But, in general our trout are not fancy eaters. We use a lot of various small wooly buggers and J Fair wiggle tails in sizes ranging from 10 to 12. Brown, amber, olive (all ranges), gold and orange from burnt orange to florescent orange are the best colors but we like to have some black and or black/peacock wooly buggers on hand too. Orange works best for me in fall when the water temperatures drop into the 50’s many of the shrimp and scuds turn bright orange just like they were put in boiling water. But, not all the shrimp turn color with the water temperature. The best colors for imitating our shrimp are various olives (brassy) and orange. I have also found bright orange baby leeches a quarter to a half inch long attached to my boat and a few have been puked up by fish once landed. But, for the leeches, you don’t see them in orange. All in all, we nymph just about everything for these trout.  We have may different things from toe biters, various beetles in all stages as well as flatworms (flat worms have been location specific for the most part).

Brown imitates one of the trout’s most predominate food sources and one that they simply can not resist when the opportunity to take one comes along. We have several different leeches that are native to the lake. The “cinnamon leech” is a generic term and the color of choice can vary depending on several factors. Color can also depend on location. I personally have at least 8 variations of brown/amber flies (my cinnamon’s), and one will out fish the others on any given day…and, not necessarily day after day. We also have larger leeches that are olive mottled with black on top with a light beige underbelly.

But, that isn’t all, we also have a white leech (called a snail leech) that is not a blood sucker, but eats snails instead and we have at least two species of snails in this lake as well as some small clams. I have found them to be location specific and not spread out around the lake. White or off-white leech patterns can work well if you are in the right place but don’t make them to flashy. But, without telling you ALL my secrets the white works best in fall when there is a lot of color in the water from the fall turn of the lake. It also works in specific locations where the snail leeches are, jeeze I gotta keep at least one secret to myself!

I consider the browns, black and olives my “passive” flies lollygagging without a care in the world. But my oranges and gold’s I consider “aggressive” flies that are screaming “bite me” and show up in cloudy water conditions or overcast skies (black does too).

No matter what you throw at these trout it is important to strip your line in slow. I see so many “guys” out there stripping line in like a son of a gun. STOP THAT! You will catch a heck of a lot more fish by stripping in a couple inches at a time and let it drop back for a second before proceeding. I also believe in stripping ALL the line back in rather than recasting when I still have twenty feet of line out. I have caught hundreds of fish by taking that “last strip” and gently lifting my tippet and fly off the water once I reach the splice. Basically, I am catching them right between my legs…which is the first place that they head when you set the hook that close. I don’t know how many dances I have had to do to unwrap myself from a fish, but I can tell you it is possible and it does work (even though I have gone for an occasional and unintentional swim in December tripping myself up…and yes, polarized glasses DO work underwater. I can tell you that for a fact!! But, too many people pull the line up too early. But, go ahead and laugh at me now, because I will be laughing at you later.

Our trout are very light on the bite. If you get hammered on a fly, generally it’s too late to set the hook. First, get your line out and let it sink for several seconds before you start stripping in line. Watch your line on the water for as far as you can see it. Notice the wake it leaves when you begin to strip. It is when that line wake changes slightly that you need to set your hook. If you have waited to feel the strike on your rod tip, generally these fish are long gone. Just trust me on the line wake watching….it will make you a lot better fly-fisherman. Midges under indicators has become a great tactic in spring, but it doesn’t always translate to fall when the food chain changes. I use my line as an indicator as I was taught by Jay Fair back in the 80’s.

Floating fly line is generally what I use when I am wading from shore or casting into shallow rock piles, but be sure to saturate your fly before casting. But when the fish move out to just a little bit deeper water I use my float tube and a medium sink tip line is my line of choice. (You can only get so deep when using a weighted fly on a floating line, so a sinking line is a better choice later in the morning). When wading, always fish the water before you walk in it. I stand back about 30 ft, throw out a few double hauls and drop my fly three feet from the shoreline in 6 inches of water and gradually drop it farther and farther as you slowly walk out. My largest fish have always come from that first cast in the shallowest water in November and December. I don’t care for my uniform sinking line. It gets too much belly in it too quickly and by the time you see the strike on the line, it’s too late to set the hook. If I need to go deeper than my sink tip and 10 ft tippet will take my fly, I tie on a lead wrapped fly for a little extra take down. It still feels positive that way. Jay Fair Wiggle Tails or tubing flies are slightly weighted, good for windy conditions from wading but you’ll have to strip a little faster.

Float Tubing Eagle Lake

There are several places one can launch a float tube but some of the best fly fishing in late fall and winter is generally accessible by walking in only. In some areas the walk is about a half mile from where you can legally park a vehicle, in others in can be closer to three quarters of a mile. The easy launching areas where you don’t have to walk a long way are; off the airstrip in Spalding, Cinder Pit, Highway 139, Rocky Point Campground, the Youth Camp/Biology station, Eagles Nest, Wildcat Pt, Christie Day Use, Aspen ramp and Eagle Lake Marina.  With lower water levels, 139 is soft, muddy and you have a long way to go before reaching deep enough water to even think about kicking.  Besides, there hasn’t been enough fish up there to even bother.  Rocky Pt out of Bucks Bay has been ok early but by fall, there’s a lot of weeds to contend with.  Until water levels reach our normal peak again (another 9-10ft higher) I’ve just concentrated more on the south end.

Generally the trout begin to leave the shallow north and middle basin in spring when the water temperatures rise to 65 F. By 68 degrees most are already beginning to head towards the Youth Camp where the first 30 ft deep water starts. When the water temperatures hit 70 F plus, the fish are generally 20 to 35 ft deep in 40 to 65 ft of water. Since the low water levels and early onset of blue green algae, the fish have been holding in warmer water temps at higher levels than normal. For me, that’s been 17 to 22 ft rather than the normal 30 to 35ft deep.   So, it just depends on where the fish are as to where you could launch. If you plan on being out on the water during the first legal hour of fishing be sure to have a light. There can be quite a few idiots out that early and it is not unusual for boats not to see a float tube that early in the morning. I added a small air horn to my float tube gear…out of necessity.

TUBES AND U-BOATS: I know a lot of you out there have these nice pontoon float tubes/boats but if you don’t have one yet there are a few things to consider. First is weight. The lightest pontoon style float tube is around 45 pounds. The larger more accommodating ones run from 50 to 70 plus pounds (single person size). Packing that much weight isn’t what most people want to do but don’t realize how heavy they are until they have to pack them a couple hundred feet.

Being mobility impaired I know the importance of packing light and staying within my weight limit. Getting there isn’t always the hard part but getting back can be a killer. I had to consider several things when purchasing a float-tube/U-boat; size, comfort and weight. I have a nice “Cadillac” Trout Unlimited U-boat that is large, comfortable and only weighs 6 pounds. It is easily to pack and I only take a few things along with me for the day. All I take is my fly box and a couple extra tippets and my double rod case that I can strap on my tube (that way I have both a floating and a sinking line with me at all times).

I use my Humminbird “fishing buddy” depth finder on my float tube as even tubing knowing the depth, seeing the ledges and knowing when the fish are moving out or down is critical to having double digit days. The mount is available and easy to use. It stays on my Cumberland U boat at all times.

I have also made my own mount for a propane heater for my float tube out of a piece of drainage pipe that fits a 1lb propane bottle. This has been my best invention for Nov and December fishing when temps drop into the single digits or below. I did have to put a thru-bolt to stop the drop of the canister and used a hacksaw to create strap holders for quick connect straps as well as a strap to a D ring to keep it from sagging under the weight of the tank and heater. But it’s sweet out there on a cold morning. I don’t always have it “on” but when your hands are so cold or wet that you can’t move your fingers, it’s a great comfort to have. Plus if anyone is ever in a position of being Hypothermic, it can be a life saver to have. I haven’t quite invented a mount for my kayak yet, but I am working on it. I have not been nearly as cold in my yak as I have in my tube and have geared it to cold water fishing by other means for keeping my hands warm in subfreezing temperatures. See below.

Fins are also a consideration. I don’t mind using my old caddis fins that I have had for nearly 20 years, that have and continue to serve me well. But, when the wind comes up on this lake and you have to paddle against the waves, “force fins” have no match. The force fins use half the effort to go twice as fast and are very capable of going against the wind. Their only downfall is their weight (besides their cost at $150 a pair). They are much heavier to pack than the caddis fins (the company is working on reducing the weight) but worth it in the long run. I prefer to wear fins that are made for boots. Stocking foot waders are great for spring and early fall but once late fall and winter roll around and water temperatures are in the mid to high 30’s with ambient temps in the 20’s stocking foot waders don’t provide enough insulation to keep your feet from getting cold. I will discuss this more in Tips and Tricks “Gearing Up”.

Lines: I prefer the sink tip when float tubing for these fish once they move out of range from wading. If I see fish rolling, I can pick it up and throw it a few feet from them, or I can let it sink down the ledge (with a 9 ft tippet you can sink that section including the tippet to around 15 ft deep). It is easier to pull out a rod than to try to change reels in the middle of the lake…been there, done that. Again, I don’t care for my uniform sinking line from my tube or shore. It has a tendency to get a long belly in it and that makes it hard to feel the strike and by then it’s too late to set your hook.

Rods: We generally use a 5 to 6 wt rod (matching weight line no matter what type) for everything on this lake but I have found that quite a few folks only have heavier rods. You don’t have to go out and buy a new fly rod for your float tube; you can certainly use a 7 to 9 wt if that is what you have. The fish can’t see it and as long as your line either floats or sinks, you will be just fine.

If this brings any questions to your mind, please feel free to email me or call me if you have any questions that this does not answer. We don’t want your money for information so take advantage of this service, others certainly do.

Kayak Fishing: Now, that all depends on paddling or peddling a kayak. First, launching is difficult with no kayak dedicated ramps. Be prepared to haul your craft or have wheels attached with ratchet straps not bungees.  I also rigged up a shoulder harness that helps getting it up hill with less effort that dragging it up by hand.  I paddle because I can’t peddle comfortably. I fish from my kayak differently than I fish from my float tube. I still troll flies and lures, leadcore, spinning and fly rods. It is easier to just get a cast out and start paddling. I haven’t had the need to get 100ft behind the kayak to catch fish trolling lines from it as it’s very quiet and the fish don’t move too far from it like they do a motor. I can cover a lot of water faster in my kayak than in my tube so when the fish move several hundred yards, it doesn’t take me long to get there. I haven’t had too much trouble with wind and waves although I always check the wind direction and speed for the late morning and afternoon before heading out on the pond. I would rather get blown back to the truck or launch than to have to fight the water to get back. It makes a difference as to where I launch. We can get away with winds up to 10mph, but any higher than that can become very dangerous for a kayak, any kayak. It takes a 5mph wind before we see a ripple disturb the surface, at 10mph the whitecaps begin to break, at 11-12 mph the white caps are coming over the bow of my Old Town.  At 15mph we see 1 1/2ft swells and waves, at 20mph 2ft, 25mph 3ft and at 30mph plus 4-5ft which come over the bow on 19 to 22+ft boats.

Accesses we use are Christie Day Use, Wildcat Pt, the old Aspen high water ramp or Eagles Nest for the south end. After a summer rain or during a warm wet winter, getting into Wildcat Pt is dangerous. Once the ground freezes it’s not as bad but over the years 4×4’s have really torn up the road. Getting in when the surface is frozen early on a winter morning is easy, getting out once it thaws is the hard part.  In summer, a thunderstorm can fill up the tire ruts with water and a few days of sun dry out the top but it remains wet and muddy below that surface.  Note that most Towing outfits won’t come in to get you out of a jam either. Some vehicles have remained out there stuck in the mud for weeks before a local might attempt popping them out without getting stuck themselves. It won’t matter what towing service you have out in the lava beds…..the tow drivers know what it is like, been there, done that and won’t sacrifice their rigs for a few hundred bucks. They know what they are getting into, most of the locals know the roads, could easily find you but know that their trucks are too heavy for the muddy conditions. For Spalding area, we have a little road just north of the Airstrip that gets you close to the water and a gravel bar, south of the airstrip is very muddy and just walking near the water will sink you up to your knees in mud just about any time of the year. Rocky Pt, both sides, Spalding side is pretty easy, the road is firm under most conditions as is driving in to Rocky Pt Campground through Bucks Bay. Once we get more water up by Stones and highway 139, launching for the north basin will be very good. Until then, it’s soft and no advisable and a long way to any water. We need more water up north before any numbers of trout return.

For cold weather kayaking you can’t beat having a pair of Glommits or Pogies on your paddle. I have wrapped neoprene tape over my paddle handle at my hand grab so it isn’t cold. I bought the 3mm neoprene Glommits or Pogies online..$40 (just plug the term into your browser, lots of places sell them). I can stick “toasty toes” on my paddle handle or inside my finger-less sun-gloves inside the glommits and Pogies and keep my hands and fingers very warm. The opening is large so I don’t have trouble getting my hands in and out of the glommits at all, even with my fleece fingerless gloves. Fished all winter using them and was never cold. The second best invention for cold climate kayaking. I fished all winter at Almanor and other lakes without worry about cold hands….even in snowy conditions.  Feather River Outdoors in Quincy is about the only place I know that carries them close to us.  But you could check around Chester/Almanor area but it is a pretty specialized item up here.

To me, having a depth finder on my kayak (and float tube) is my best tool. Fish Hawk (Norcross Marine) has a nice little, light weight portable depth finder, a slide mount for transducer, rod holder camera mount that holds the unit). I simply love the system. The screen is small at 2X3″ but it doesn’t matter when it’s within a couple feet from your face. I can see it well. I have a color screen unit that also can be set for greyscale to conserve the 4 AAA lithium batteries (of which I always have back up). I get around 20 to 24 hours of service out of a set of batteries. There is no wobble or much drag to the transducer mount (made by Scotty) and it’s easy to set up, lift up when heading in or over shallow rocks. To me, it’s critical to know the depth of water and the surface temps over seeing fish on the scope, although the Fish Hawk shows the depth of the fish too. Just an FYI. My entire set up including a case to keep the unit in cost close to $300 but worth every penny to me. Bass Pro, Cabela’s have them. Autstin Kayak had the slide mount included with the transducer mounting bracket and Scotty camera mount when others were sold out. I had it in two days. Check out the units online, just plug in Fish Hawk in your browser, you’ll find them right there. Great product.

For rods and having or using the CA two rod stamp I have found that the longer the rods are the better. On a turn or unexpected side drift the longer rods don’t hang up or cross over the back of the craft. Also, that extra distance out the side keeps the lines separated by an additional couple of feet or more. I know use only 7 1/2 to 8ft spinning rods if running mono or leadcore. It has made it much easier to turn, drift as well as longer casting. My fly rods are already at 9 1/2ft so no changes on them. But spinning rods or trolling it has made a big difference having the separation when fishing from a kayak 30″ wide. Especially when a big fish takes one rod and spins your kayak around, the longer rods give you a little more distance for keeping the line out of your hat or glasses from the other rod.  I do have rod holders set up for some instances, they are best with a 4″ extensions above the kayak mount which also keep the line from wrapping around your neck when spun around by a big fish.  Giving you time to get that line out of the water before reeling in the line with the fish on it.  LoL  I also have made elastic rod grips using elastic cord and hooks permanently attached to the craft which don’t add weight when rolling the craft to the water on longer distance treks.