Dateline: September 13, 2014 – South Lake Tahoe, California
I rarely open my spam folder. All it ever contains is correspondence from Nigerian princes, requests for companionship by curiously airbrushed Russian women – which will only lead to divorce, trust me – and solicitations for the kind of medications that I am sure every other man over 50 needs but I of course do not.
So I can’t explain why I opened my spam on that particular Sunday. Maybe I was bored. Maybe I wanted to meet a Montenegran beauty – oh wait, I already have – or help the manager of the National Bank of Llasa Apso embezzle a few million dollars.
But what I found instead was a simple cry for help. It was from one Seth McNaught, and it was titled “Fish ID question from one of your readers.”
Young Seth McNaught, the hero of this blog. Note that he was not asking for help on the ID of this particular fish, which we all know is a rainbow trout.
Now if this was a spam, it was a good one. I braced myself for a laptop-crashing virus, but instead, I got something wonderful. There was a photo enclosed, of a fish caught in the Sierras near Lake Tahoe. I like fish photos. And there was the same cry for help that I have made so many times – “What the heck is this?”
To tell the truth, I had no idea. But I knew who would – Dr. Peter Moyle of my alma mater, UC Davis. So I wrote Dr. Moyle, and he immediately pegged the beast as a Tui chub. I was thrilled for young Seth, but I was also intrigued, because this was a species I had never gotten. Indeed, it was a fish that brought a slight bitter taste to my mouth, because I had become aware of its existence through a friend – Kevin Fried – who had caught one. Kevin is a nice guy and a tremendous financial mind, but he’s just this side of Guido on fishing skills.
Kevin Fried. (Pronounced “Freed” as in “Freed the fish before he ever saw it.”)
If he had caught one of these, surely I could? And yet, despite my dedicating a trip to this species, (details HERE,) Kevin had one and I didn’t.
I wrote back to Seth with my congratulations. I then asked him about where he caught it, and he generously filled me in on every exact detail, down to standing on the right of the big rock rather than the left. The locale was Upper Angora Lake, near Lake Tahoe. There was a new species just waiting there only four hours away, and, in the words of Seth, only a “short hike” from the parking lot. (Of course, if he was related to “Sexy Rexy” Johnson, this could be a disaster.)
I needed a co-conspirator for this adventure, and Mark Spellman has been a trusted co-conspirator for more than 20 years.
Mark Spellman, lifetime fishing buddy, right before our Cottonwood disaster.
The idea was to get up to the lake mid-morning, get whatever hike was needed out of the way, and stick it out as long as it would take us to catch the fish in question. Of course, the last time Mark and I planned on getting a short Sierra hike done in a morning, it turned out to be an epic disaster – The Cottonwood Death March – which ranks as the worst example of advance planning EVER. (Details HERE – warning: If a lack of common sense offends you, please do not click on this post.)
The drive to South Lake up highway 50 is a beautiful one. I’m not much of a skier, but the route still brought back memories – driving up to meet Mike Rapoport so we could fly his plane down to Mexico, and trying a number of trips, which always seemed to have bad weather, before I finally got my lake trout in Tahoe. My father owns a place up on the north shore, and we spent a lot of weekends up here in the 70s and 80s – I remember that we were there on the Bicentennial and my father botched some homemade fireworks, but his eyebrows did grow back. It was a sacred place because I could use my bb gun out in the woods, and no, I never put an eye out. Well, not mine.
We got up to South Lake around ten, ate something fried, and headed for Upper Angora, supposed to be another 20 miles or so on back roads. I remembered the name of the main turnoff, and from there, I had asked Mark to map it out. He forgot. I had given him one task and … sigh. We were out of cell range, so we were just going to have to rely on good old-fashioned map reading. A quick check of the 15 year-old road atlas that lives in my back seat along with a half-eaten bag of Fritos gave us some idea, and after a few fits and starts, during which I roundly abused Mark and finished the Fritos, we found Upper Angora Lake.
We parked in a lot lined with tall pines. As my nephew Charlie might say, the whole area smells like a candle that smells like pine trees. Then there was the indeterminate hike to Upper Angora lake. We had packed good shoes, spare socks, proper underwear, spare provisions, an EPIRB, and a coin to toss just in case we were trapped and starving and one of us had to eat the other to survive.
Like Cousin Chuck’s honeymoon, it was something of an anticlimax. The total hike was less than a mile, and had no elevation gain to speak of. We were there in 20 minutes, and there was the lake, a classic, high Sierras crater, sapphire-blue clear water, rocky shoreline.
The Sierras are full of lakes like this, but this one apparently held Tui chubs, which made it special.
It had actual civilization – a small cafe, canoe rentals, even a beach with chairs.
Yes, the lemonade was good.
Following Seth’s detailed directions, we worked around to the right for about 200 yards, following a shoreline path, and came to the big boulder in the corner of the lake.
That’s the big boulder on the right.
We set up two light rods with small hooks and bits of night crawler and began casting, pretty much how I did when I was seven. The action was instant. First I got a Lahontan redside, then Mark did. (I had caught this beast previously.)
The majestic Lahontan – I had mistakenly ID’d this one as a redside shiner, thanks to sharp-eyed reader Bryan for spotting this.
My second cast produced a Tui chub, causing whooping and celebration that echoed out onto the lake and likely frightened the canoeists. Then Mark got one, and we re-whooped. We stayed at this for about an hour, catching a couple of dozen fish and whooping frequently. The day was a success.
The Tui chub. For the record, Kevin’s was bigger.
And that was it. We both had the species, it was still early, and Burger King in Truckee called us. This means we got to drive all the way up highway 89, the ridiculously scenic west side of Lake Tahoe. I don’t make it up here very often, but if someone could tell me how the heck to catch a Tahoe sucker, I would come more often.
Emerald Bay, on the west side of Lake Tahoe. There are Tahoe suckers in this water, which makes it even more beautiful.
We decided to head for Putah. All early days in Northern California seem to end up rerouted to Putah Creek in Davis, taking another shot at the Sacramento sucker record, which Martini had ingraciously snatched from me earlier in the year. (With me in attendance and cheering him on – he had worked hard to catch this species.)
Martini and the current record Sacramento sucker, which he caught in broad daylight. I never catch them in broad daylight.
Spellman and I wandered down to the appropriate pool as evening was setting in on a glorious late summer day. I went to college in this town, and I regaled Mark with tales of late-night dormitory misbehavior and fraternity softball heroism, all of which he seemed to know by heart, meaning he is either clairvoyant or has heard these stories 97 times, take your pick.
There are photos of me in this same creek from 30 years ago, which I will not publish for artistic or editorial reasons, I forget which. I had a lot more hair back then, but I did not have that totally cool Akubra hat.
As is generally the case, the suckers were not cooperating, even though we saw them everywhere. We did get a couple of big Sacramento pikeminnows, so it wasn’t fruitless, and we did get to spend a late summer afternoon splashing around a creek, which is still just as much fun as it was when I was seven.