Photos and essay by Roger Harding.
This essay is part of an ongoing blog series on the Tongass National Forest, featuring the healthy & productive waters of the "Tongass 77."
Lake Eva is the "Gold Standard" for fish habitat. I know the term is way over used but the Lake Eva watershed is truly one of those areas in Southeast Alaska that can only be described as a “gem.” In so many ways Lake Eva serves as the benchmark of what quality fish habitat should be and can continue to be. Lake Eva is prime habitat especially for overwintering cutthroat trout and char. Perhaps some history, background, and number comparison systems will help tell the story.
Research on Dolly Varden conducted at Lake Eva in the early to mid-1960s was ground breaking as new information about age, growth, migration habits, and food and feeding habits were revealed along with information on the number or Dolly Varden that spent their winters in Lake Eva before emigrating to saltwater during the spring. A major result from this early research also concluded that Dolly Varden are not a serious threat as a predator to young salmon and salmon eggs. This finding was very important to bolstering the image and perception of Dolly Varden as it evolved from a once thought of vicious predator of salmon (blamed for declining salmon runs) to a much sought after sport fish.
During the early 1990’s the stock status of cutthroat trout and Dolly Varden throughout Southeast Alaska was brought into question as new sport fishing regulations were being implemented. In an effort to address some of these concerns, a “repeat” research project was conducted on Lake Eva in 1995 so that the number of overwintering Dolly Varden and cutthroat trout emigrating from Lake Eva could be compared to the historical counts made in the 1960’s. To everyone’s relief a total of 2,562 cutthroattrout and 117,821 Dolly Varden emigrated from Lake Eva in the spring of 1995, this greatly exceeded the historic counts made in the 1960’s! To help put these Dolly Varden emigrant counts into perspective, these numbers are more than 2 to 3 times higher than other system in Southeast Alaska where spring emigration counts have been conducted. The Lake Eva numbers for both Dolly Varden and cutthroat trout are approximately 10 times the average counts from Auke Lake near Juneau; Auke Lake is approximately ¾ the size of Lake Eva.
One of my most memorable nights as a Fisheries Biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game was when I worked at the Lake Eva weir in 1995 and handled over 10,000 fish in a 6 hour shift that began at about midnight! Just when you thought you were about to clean out the trap, here came another 1,000 fish but what an opportunity to see and sample this many fish!
I probably don’t need to say anything about the exceptional fishing in the Lake Eva Creek, which runs approximately 1 mile from the outlet of the lake to saltwater, especially during April through early June. Suffice it to say that literally tens of thousands of hungry Dolly Varden and several thousand cutthroat trout are migrating through this area. I dare you to try and find a fly that doesn’t work well.
I think one of the greatest things about Lake Eva is that it is easily accessible to just about anyone. The USFS maintains a recreational cabin at Lake Eve that can be reserved for public use via the USFS reservation web page. Lake Eva is one of only a handful of USFS cabins that are “barrier free”. In other words access to the cabin from the dock, where the float plane drops you off, is wheelchair accessible. The cabin also has a spacious deck space complete with a great fire pit. The cabin itself is a standard 12’X14’ Pan Abode style which can sleep up to 6 people. The trail from the cabin to saltwater is also an easy hike and generally is well maintained (But I haven’t been there in a few years).
While Lake Eva is a major site for overwintering Dolly Varden and cutthroat trout, it is also a place of great beauty, abundant wildlife (including lots of brown bears), and is simply a wonderful and serene place.