Revisiting Lake Margaret after 30 years…

Memorial Day Weekend 2024 – It’s trout season, comrades! Time to swap those massive stripers for some wild-eyed trout for a couple of months. Memorial Day weekend was supposed to be a pilgrimage to Wildhorse Reservoir in Nevada with Wayne and Michael. But the universe, in its infinite wisdom, had other plans. When we called the state park, the rangers painted a picture of apocalyptic crowds and a lake swarming with holiday warriors. A reminder, once again, of why I loathe holidays.

With the weekend wide open, I roped Gina into a spontaneous camping escapade before she jets off to Charleston for another round of Grandma duty. Nostalgia hit like a ton of bricks, and we found ourselves reminiscing about the first place we ever camped with the kids—Bidwell or Lake Margaret with Wilderness Unlimited. Bidwell was off the table—packed with eager novices at a fly-fishing clinic. Lake Margaret it was.

Lake Margaret, a 240-acre gem, lies about seven miles south of Burney. It was our first camping and fishing haven with the kids 30 years ago when Mia was 3 and Mark was just a squirming 7-month-old. That trip in 1994 was a desperate attempt to reclaim our pre-kid lifestyle. We crammed our 24-foot Jamboree Motorhome with breast milk, jumper seats, and enough toys to keep a circus entertained.

Mia, bless her little heart, broke out in chickenpox mid-trip. Mark earned the nickname Teriyaki Boy after a bottle of sauce tipped over and marinated his head for two hours before we noticed. He also became a mosquito-bouncing champion, strapped into a jumper swing under the awning. We rented a rowboat, plopped the kids in, and fished with spinning gear. The trout were small, but we ate them like kings, introducing the kids to my obsession with fly-fishing.

Fast forward to now. The Fountain Fire of ’92 had scorched the land.  Cal fire saved the town of Burney by airlifting all the water out of Lake Margaret and dumping it on the fire line saving the town in a hail mary.  But thirty years later, the forest had returned with a vengeance. The lake was full, the trees stood tall, and cell service was a godsend. Wilderness Unlimited provided rowboats for free. The fish were feasting on Chironomids and Calibaetis nymphs. We were witnessing the Rebirth of a lake that was decimated last time we were here.

We arrived Friday afternoon, setting up camp next to a brook fed by melting snowpack. Our cooler chilled in the water, keeping drinks ice-cold. Open fires were banned, but a propane fire pit sufficed. The north wind howled, turning the lake into a churning beast. Rowing our boat against whitecaps was a Herculean task. Next time, I’m bringing a trolling motor.

Saturday morning, the lake was serene. I slipped out early, aiming to catch trout for breakfast before Gina woke. Anchored on the shallow flats, I threw Chironomids under Squirmy Wormies and the game was on. Fifteen fish later, I kept two for breakfast. We feasted on fried trout, then hit the lake again, Gina as my trusty gillie. By 1:00, the wind was back with a vengeance. We caught another 15 fish before seeking refuge in Burney, where we stumbled upon the Pit River Casino and the best gas and propane prices in town.  We treated our selves to soft serve ice cream cones in Burney and headed back to rough it in the Synabeggo at the lake.

Back at Lake Margaret, we enjoyed dinner by the brook, warmed by the propane fire pit, and texted the kids via Starlink. The connection was miraculously good, despite a tiny hole in the trees.  Last month my good friend Jake sold me a spectacular travel  guitar that I have always envied.  It is a Blackbird Rider carbon fiber travel guitar and it has inspired me to practice again.  I will never camp without it again.

Sunday morning, I rose early for another round. The lake was still, but the fish were frenzied, even hitting my indicator. By noon, I’d caught a dozen more and kept one for lunch. The trout averaged 18-20 inches—plenty for a month of dinners. The afternoon brought a hatch of Calibaetis, and the fish rose along the shoreline. It was almost as steady as Henderson Springs a few weeks back. I’m heading there soon to catch the Hexagenia hatch.

Gina and I decided to cut the trip short to dodge Memorial Day traffic. Packed up in an hour and hit the road by 6:00. Stopped at the Black Bear Diner in Redding for a final feast and rolled home by midnight. A damn fine weekend of camping and fishing.

Lake Margaret 1994

Lake Margaret 2024

While we were playing with trout,  Mark organized a foursome to play in the first ever SHTSHW INVITATIONAL  premier 4 man scramble golf tournament at Lake Chabot GC in Oakland.  The Hittin Links Golf Tour (formally SS Tour) is a Co-Ed Amateur golf tour that offers players monthly competitions at great courses across NorCal, great networking with good people, and a place to let loose and have some weekend fun and competition.

Champions!Weekend Approved by Grandson River

Party on Dudes!

One thought on “Revisiting Lake Margaret after 30 years…

  1. Wow, great photos of a great time camping, fishing and hiking in the High country. They sure reminded me of the many annual trips I made up to Levett Meadows, just this side of Bridgeport, NV to fish both the West and East Walker Rivers and also hike into Secrete and Poor Lakes for gorgeous brookies. I did that every year from my early 20s until my late 40s. I loved that country. I was introduced to it by my neighbor buddy’s dad, who loved to trout fish in that area. He took us teeners up there with him. Later as an adult I went on my own. Good times. I miss trout fishing.

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