Ominous gray streaks swept over the surrounding snow-covered mountains as we began fishing from the boat on Cultus Lake.
I looked toward the imminent rain shower and cringed.
"Why are you looking at that?" demanded John Garrison.
A fishing guide in Central Oregon for more than 20 years, Garrison knew what was coming.
But before we got drenched, my rod wiggled, I set the hook and within seconds reeled in a 17-inch lake trout. Then another.
We hastily put on rain gear, and then sat in a driving rain for about 20 minutes as Garrison scolded Gary for forgetting his rain pants. But the rain finally stopped, and the fishing was back on.
"Man, it's hot!" joked Garrison, as the sun came out and we sat there shivering.
Before long, I hooked a 19-incher, and I noticed it's well-developed teeth and torpedo-shaped, gray-green body with white spots.
Cultus Lake might be more well known to summertime water-skiers and wakeboarders, but it's an underrated fishing locale in Central Oregon. The lake offers ample opportunity for lake trout (also called mackinaw) and decent chances for mountain whitefish and wild and hatchery rainbow trout.
"It seems to have a tightknit following," said Steve Marx, a Bend-based fisheries biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
We were after lake trout this late May morning, and the fish were hungry.
Garrison (www.garrisonguide .com) has been compared to a pirate with the way he operates his guided outings, emphatically offering instruction and demanding the most of his clients. But his fishing knowledge is undeniable.
He anchored us at his favorite spot on Cultus Lake, close to the north shore. The Fishfinder showed the lake trout near the bottom, about 70 feet below.
We tied on pieces of herring and cast out.
"These guys are scavengers," Garrison said of lake trout. "They've never seen herring before in their life, but it's food. They usually feed on whitefish, but there's not that many in here."
We were still-fishing, which Garrison prefers to trolling because the likelihood of getting hooked on the bottom is decreased.
"When you troll, you either hook a mackinaw or you hook Oregon," he said.
The technique was working as we caught and released fish after fish, all lake trout, the biggest about 20 inches long and 2> pounds.
The mackinaw in Cultus Lake range from about 16 to 23 inches long. Garrison said a client caught an 8-pounder there this year, and the largest lake trout he's ever seen out of the lake is 15 pounds.
Lake trout are large, fast-swimming freshwater fish native to Alaska, Canada and the Great Lakes area, but they have been introduced into deep-water lakes throughout North America. The slow-growing carnivores have a life span of about 20 years.
The lake trout in Cultus are not as big as the lake trout in Odell Lake and Crescent Lake, where they feed on kokanee and can grow to more than 20 pounds. There are no kokanee in Cultus Lake.
"I believe they should put kokanee in here to increase fishing," Garrison said. "It's not really noted as that good of a fishing lake, because all it really has is rainbow and mackinaw. Let's create another fishery. More people would fish here if the lake trout were larger."
Marx said that kokanee were stocked in Cultus Lake from the mid-1950s through the mid-1960s but they were unable to spawn successfully and the stocking program was discontinued. (Cultus Lake has a limited amount of zooplankton on which kokanee rely to grow, according to Marx.)
While Marx added that it is unlikely that the ODFW will stock Cultus Lake with kokanee in the near future, he did say that the department has taken measures to allow the lake trout to grow larger.
For example, two years ago, the ODFW changed the 24-inch minimum length for the harvest of a lake trout to one fish longer than 8 inches. Marx explained that this should reduce the population, thereby diminishing the competition for food and allowing the big fish to grow even bigger.
Marx said that two years ago an angler caught a 26-pound lake trout out of Cultus.
We did not hook any such trophies on this day. But the fish were definitely biting, and we caught our fair share.
Before we knew it, in less than three hours, Gary and I had boated 17 fish between the two of us.
Each time we released a fish, Garrison would shout, "Thank you for shopping!" as the fish swam back to the bottom.
As we were nearing the end of the day, I again had some movement on my rod tip, but no definite bite. The movement continued for nearly a minute.
"Mark, that's a huge fish, don't make a mistake," Garrison said. "He's showing his kids what not to do."
I finally got a clear strike, set the hook, and began reeling. It was big. But seconds later, nothing was there.
"I think I lost him," I said.
"Don't ever tell me you lost a fish!" Garrison responded, and he grabbed the rod from my hands.
"You lost it!" he said. "That was a 16-pounder! A huge fish!"
That's the sign of a good guide - when he's more upset than his client about losing a big fish.