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Merrill Lake near Cougar, WA

Posted by Phil Hager on June 27, 2014 at 7:30 PM

     Spent the last 2 days up on Merrill Lake because I had heard a number of statements saying it was good fishing. Have to admit that the fishing is productive with some nice Rainbows in the 18" size.

     Merrill is a long lake shaped kind of like a pear. The south end is the inlet end and that's the narrowest part. Spent some time looking around there today and, I might be wrong, but it appears that the inflow is more seasonal than full time. There are a couple of areas that could be inflow but I didn't find any flow that was notable in that zone. Did find some Rainbows but no contact with the Browns that are supposed to be there.

     As you travel thru the "channel" from the inlet zone to the rest of the lake it slowly widens until you reach the widest zone just north of the single ramp on the lake. From there is slowly begins to narrow down to the wide sweeping curve that is the outlet end of the lake. Watching the shoreline around the entire lake about the only access point is the ramp area. The rest of the lake has heavy brush and tree growth right down into the water, when the lake is full, but there may be some walking strips as it drains down in the summer.

     I remembered to grab my thermometer today to check the temp after noticing it felt pretty warm yesterday and noting that the fish were pretty lethargic when one took the fly. From the ramp to the inlet zone I got readings from 63 to 65 degrees at 10 feet deep. (One of those thermo units that show the depth on 1 side and temp on the other. Found that at Bi-Mart a few years ago and testing showed it's pretty accurate.) Don't plan on returning to try it again until later in September when it's had a chance to cool down some. It's a C&R lake and the survival rate drops dramatically when the temp is over 63.

     Tried several sizes and colors of nymphs and emergers, some dry flies and some leeches. Most productive was a size 10 3X long medium grey leech tied with a thread weave with Cashmere mixed into it. (You can find it at Sportsman's Warehouse) Had a few hits using a Type 3 line, a couple sub-surface on floating line, but the majority was done on an intermediate about 18" to 30" deep. Part of that could be because of the clouds and rain. Fish tend to travel much closer to the surface under those conditions because they don't see any airborn predators and they don't have to contend with the bright sunshine. Now for a "fishing story".

     If you live in the area, or pay much attention to weather around the country, you probably saw some reports on the NW having some heavy rains. Not like the midwest, and all of the flooding there, but some monsoon like dumps from time to time. A couple of those hit while I was out on the lake today and made for some interesting experiences.

     The first "bang" I got on a false cast really surprised me. My line was about 15 feet above the water and it was raining hard enough I couldn't see the end of my line. Just about the time I started the backcast, after feeding out some line, I felt a solid, sudden, bang on my line. FIrst thought? Is there a kink now in my line that just hit an eye, or is it something else? Looked at the line, no kinks or knots, no trees or brush closer than a couple hundred feet so it's not that. No idea what happened.

     A couple casts later, still raining so hard you can't see 50 feet, and another bang on my line. This time though it happened about half way into the back cast so the fly was traveling towards me. I could barely see the line as it went by but everything appeared to be fine. About the time the fly went past me there was a splash just in front of my pontoon but I didn't see what had caused it. Still no answer on what was causing my line to bang that way but it had me thinking. Real quick I pulled out the thermometer and laid it on top of the pocket on the left side of the pontoon.

     A couple more casts and this time the bang happened just as the fly came into view in the heavy rain. As the fly went past me, nearly dragging the water it was so low, I saw a fish let go of the fly and splash into the water. A little recovery effort and I got the cast back out in front of me on the water. As soon as the line hit the surface I set the rod down and grabbed the thermometer to check it out. It answered my question about what was happening.

     The lake was setting there about 64 degrees. That a little on the warm side for the cold water fish. In fact their preferred water temp, at least in lakes, is between 52-62 degrees. The O2 level is still acceptable, lots of hatches take place in that range and there is less demand on the fishes body for food because it's warm enough they don't need as much food. The interesting side though was the rain temperature showing on the thermometer. It was showing 51 degrees setting there on the pocket in a small puddle of rainwater.

    Apparently what was happening was it was raining cooler water than the lake had and it was raining hard enough that some of the healthier fish were jumping up and swimming in the rain to cool off. I just happened to get the fly to the right place, at the right time, to have them hit the fly that was passing in front of them. Actually did it 3 times before I decided it was time to quit and get off the water before things got worse.

NOTE: Everything up to the fishing story is true. Just thought you might enjoy what can happen when you let your mind wander while kicking around a lake in heavy rain.

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