In my world, there are few breakfast treats better than a stack of huckleberry pancakes with pan-fried trout “on the side.” Consequently, the first thing that comes to mind when the thermometer hits triple digits is whether it will be a good year for huckleberries. The second consideration is choosing a nearby cool stream or lake to cast for rainbow trout. The ideal situation involves combining both activities.
At least once during the next few weeks, I’ll grab a quart-size container and drive south and east on Highway 12 and its byways (past Dayton or Milton-Freewater) until I reach the crest of the Blue Mountains. I’ll find a promising patch of berries and pick in the cool of the morning, Once I’ve picked my fill (no more than a gallon), I’ll string up a fly rod and head for the closest lake or stream to wet a line.
A Secret Patch of Huckleberries
My family has a long history of fruit harvest. As a youngster, I knelt on wheat straw to pick strawberries for spending money. I later joined migrant workers in local orchards to harvest apples, cherries, and Italian plums that my mother turned into fruit pies. I often tell friends I was raised on pie. Huckleberry picking came later in life – when I had more patience. As a point of reference, 100 berries might cover the bottom of a 32-ounce coffee can and filling the can in one hour is a reasonable goal. Huckleberries are well worth the time and effort. I can think of no finer slice of pie to top off with a big scoop of vanilla bean ice cream.
My favorite huckleberry patch is near Tollgate, Oregon at 4,500-foot elevation. I thought the location was a secret until a woman called out to Nancy, “Can I help you,” when we started down a worn path, berry buckets in hand. Years later we found the same area served as traditional gathering ground for the Umatilla Indian tribe. A reliable backup patch of huckleberries has since been located.
Blue Mountain huckleberries are available for the picking in early August. Their delicate purple and red fruit ripens first in southwest-facing slopes at about 4,000-foot elevation. Shaded locations at higher elevation ridge tops, from Emigrant Springs, Oregon to Godman Spring, Washington, yield abundant fruit until late in the season. Turn onto a spur road to find your own secret patch or look for people pretending they aren’t picking huckleberries and park a polite distance away.
Where to Fish for Blue Mountain Trout
Mile-high Jubilee Lake is a great choice for still water anglers in late summer. This 92-acre jewel of a drive-to lake was created in the late 1960s by damming tiny Mottet Creek. To get to the fee-based campground, take Forest Service Road #64 at Tollgate, Oregon and drive 12 miles on a good gravel road that provides access to several patches of huckleberries. The lake has a 2-mile long perimeter trail shaded by old growth fir, wheelchair access, and allows non-motorized boating. It is stocked with a few thousand catchable-size rainbow trout each summer. Shallow weed beds and open shorelines can be worked from the bank with a fly rod or spinning gear. Boat anglers troll lures in deeper water found along the earthen dam face.
Several close-by day trips to shaded headwater streams are available for the adventuresome hiker-angler who seeks wild rainbows or bull trout in a solitary setting. Head for Luger Springs and the breaks of Lookingglass Creek on FS #6306. Another option is to drop down to the South Fork Walla Walla River on Burnt Cabin or Mottet Meadow trails off FS #6401 and #6403, respectively.
Blue Mountain streams allow for harvest of two rainbow trout over 8 inches long. I occasionally keep two small fish: one for my mother (to repay her for all those pies) and one for myself that I douse in flour and fry in bacon grease until its sweet meat can be peeled off the backbone. A one-day Oregon license for out-of –state anglers goes for $23 and can be purchased online. Fly casters might check out BlueMountainanglers.com for information on how to match the hatch.
Other than Big Foot, biting insects, and the occasional black bear, there are few liabilities to a day spent harvesting huckleberries and trout. I suggest you keep a hard copy map of the Umatilla National Forest Map handy though. Map Quest and Google Earth don’t always indicate how to safely navigate back roads and cell service in the Blues can be spotty.