Base Camp: Moon Lake – Fishing the High Uintas and the Bar R Ranch
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I cast the hare's ear toward the middle of the pond and watched as it settled gently on the water and then slowly began to sink.
I waited several seconds and then began to strip line, one foot at a time.
The line paused and I felt the weight of a large trout. My hands started to shake, the adrenelin kicked in and I set the hook with a might jerk.
The five pound leader snapped under the weight of the fish. I couldn't believe I had over-reacted so badly. I knew better.
As I tied a new fly onto my tippet I worked to gain control of my emotions. If I was going to catch any of these trout I would have to use all the skill I had.
Several casts later the leader paused again. I gently raised the rod tip and felt the surge of a powerful fish. The fight was on! I stripped line. It took line. I worked it toward the bank. It headed toward a sunken log near the middle of the pond.
Now the fish was beginning to tire. One last run and I brought it to the bank. It was huge. As I held it and tried to gain control so I could remove the hook, I marveled at its power and size. That rainbow was a good eight pounds of fighting fury.
I quickly removed the hook and started to revive the fish. It bad been a hard fight and I didn't want the fish to die of exhaustion. I slowly rocked the fish back and forth in the clear water. It didn't resist.
After about a minute I felt a serge of strength and with one mighty thrust of its tail, the rainbow broke free of my grip and glided into the depths of the pond. I smiled and watched it go. It was the perfect ending to a perfect week.
It had all started Monday evening when my wife, Drew, and I pulled in to the Moon Lake Lodge.
When we left Salt Lake it was 104 degrees and we were ready for a break from the oppressive heat. The temperature at the lodge was in the mid seventies.
Ed Clark greeted us with a smile and a question: "How would you like to boat up to the western end of the lake and fish for a few kokanee?"
How could we refuse. We stowed our gear in our cabin, grabbed our rods and we were off. The sun, just about to set cast its last rays across the water causing the miffor-like surface to reflect the hills and trees surrounding the lake. It was a magical effect. I marveled at the indescribable beauty as we skimmed across the water.
Soon we were anchored near the mouth of the Lake Fork River. In the growing darkness we baited our hooks with salmon eggs and started to fish.
The stillness of the High Uinta Primitive Area settled around us as we awaited that first bite. I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye and then watched as a troop of Boy Scouts glided, ghost-like, past us in their kayaks – on their way to a high adventure activity.
We didn't catch any kokanee – not because they weren't biting – because we couldn't seem to hook them. Each of us had several opportunities and each time we came up empty.
Almost before we knew it, it was 10:30 and darkness was settling in rapidly. Time to head back to the cabins. Ed steered the boat by the pale light of the quarter moon, freshly risen over the distant peaks. It was nice to relax in the cool air. Tomorrow would be a busy day.
Normally I wouldn't admit it, but we slept in. It was so cool and comfortable in the cabin I had a hard time getting up. After a late breakfast at the lodge we threw our gear into Ed's Bronco. We were to meet Gary Stringham (wrangler and guide for the Moon Lake Lodge) at the Lake Fork Trail head and pack into the high country for a couple of days. We were excited.
Stringham was busy with the horses when we arrived. The saddle horses were patiently standing in a small grove of aspin. The pack horses were being readied for their loads.
I quickly learned that the success or failure of a pack trip is largely due to how well trained the horses you will be using are. As we loaded our horses we watched as another group of riders fought with theirs. One of their pack horses broke free and, kicking and bucking, galloped around the loading area, tossing camping gear every direction.
It made me appreciate Gary Stringham and his well trained horses. We didn't have any horse trouble at all.
It took about a half hour to pack all the gear and then we headed up the trail toward Clements Lake – about a 14 mile ride.
An hour or so later, Stringham informed us that we would be taking a short cut (it would cut off about seven miles) – an old trail used years ago when a dam was built and Clements Lake was enlarged.
Before we knew it, we were wading across Brown Duck Creek and climbing a steep, rock-covered slope. It was rugged – so rugged that I just hung on and let the horse pick its own way up the hill.
The horses worked their way around massive piles of deadfall, climbed steep banks and stepped over fallen logs all while carrying heavy packs or riders. I was impressed. Even though we were above 10,000 feet in elevation the horses didn't tire and didn't cause any problems. They knew their jobs and they did them well.
Soon we were passing Lake Atwine and were on the last stretch toward Clements.
We set up camp near the edge of a large grassy meadow and next to a small stream. The stream was full of hundreds of cutthroat trout battling for space and spawning rights. The fish were fun to watch as they chased each other about in the crystal clear water.
The Clements Lake area is intensely beautiful. The air was clean and cool and the sun was warm. I could tell that I was going to like this place.
We quickly took care of the horses, set up the tents and then it was time for some fishing. Drew took the spinning rod and tied on a red and black Rooster Tail lure. Almost immediately she had a fish on. It was a highly colored cutthroat trout about 10 inches long. Drew bent the barbs down on the hooks so it would be easier to release the fish and went back to work. The cutthroat were hungry and she caught a fish about every third cast.
I rigged up my fly rod and begin experimenting to see which flies were the most effective. There wasn't much surface activity but just about any black or brown nymph (size 14 to 16) attracted fish. We kept seven of the cutthroat for our breakfast.
Drew and I wandered back into camp to find Gary and his wife Sherry busy preparing dinner.
A few minutes later we were eating New York steak, dutch oven potatos, garlic bread and vegetables. The high mountain air, horseback ride and several hours of fishing had made me more than a little hungry – best meal I have had in a long time. Oh, we had fresh strawberry shortcake for dessert.
After dinner we sat around the campfire and told (made up) stories about camping, fishing and fishermen – and then it was time for bed.
The sun was just beginning to throw its early morning rays through the pines along the shore of Clements Lake when I finally awoke. The light reflecting off each needle produced a dazzling effect, as if the trees were adorned with thousands of small diamonds.
The small stream running a few feet from our tent and the chatter of a distant jay were the only sounds that broke the silence of the new day. The chorus of frogs that sung me to sleep last night had put away their instruments and gone about their early morning activities.
I heard a splash and looked up just in time to see rings of ripples spread across the small strewn. What a magnificant morning!
Now the camp is beginning to stir. Ed Clark is working over the fire. Soon there will be a bed of coals ready for the fire-blackened coffee pot.
Gary Stringham is tending to the horses. Time to get up and welcome the new day.
Breakfast consisted of fresh trout, juice, bacon, eggs and pancakes. Another couple days of eating like this and they will have to roll me down the mountain. Time for some more fishing.
I worked my way around the lake to where a ridge of rock ran out into the water. I climbed out on the rock as far as I could go and sat down, letting the beauty and the serenity of the lake surround me. It was time to head back to civilization but I didn't want to go.
Three hours later we were back at our cabin – tired, but excited to begin the final chapter of our trip. We had been invited to fish some trout ponds on the Bar S Ranch, owned by Stringham.
Last summer Stringharn had bought the ranch and the ponds. He had spent the fall and spring working them over, enlarging several of them, repairing dams and cleaning up the canyon where the ponds were located.
The oldest pond has been around for 98 years and at one time had been considered one of the best fishing holes in the entire Uinta Basin. Stringham had been working hard to restore that reputation. Now the ponds were ready and they still contained big, thick bodied rainbow trout – some over 12 pounds. What an evening. We all caught trout, big trout. This was much more than a vacation, it was excitment, peace, serenity, beauty, good company and excellent fishing all rolled up in one. Thanks, Ed and Gary for a tremendous experience!
Stringham will be taking pack trips into the Uinta Primitive Area all summer long. If you are interested in a pack trip, give Gary a call at 454-3153 or call the Moon Lake Lodge at 454-3142. The catered trips are by far the best way to go but if you want to rough it on your own, Stringham will pack you in and then come back at an appointed time and pack you back out.
The ponds on the Bar S Ranch are open to fishing by appointment only and there is a fee.
I suggest that you stay in one of the cabins at Moon Lake. Use it for your base and then you can fish the private ponds, the lake or the river at your leisure.