Thursday, June 2, 2005

A Big Fish Story

A day after climbing Mount Hooker, we had picked up base camp and hiked out of the Baptiste lake valley up to another valley hidden in a small cirque near the base of Robert's Mountain. The next morning, we climbed an unnamed peak right north of camp a couple thousand feet lower than Mount Hooker just to get a view of the terrain. While sitting on that peak enjoying the sun, I was looking down towards our tents a half-mile (mostly vertical) away along a lakeshore when I noticed some strange shadows playing across the water. After about ten minutes of pondering, a light bulb went off inside my head and I suddenly realized what I was seeing. Fish. Big fish! Big cutthroat trout kind of fish!

A couple hours later, now back in camp, I grabbed my fly rod and headed towards the spot where I had seen the fish from a half mile away. There I found a little feeder stream about a yard across trickling into the lake. I could see the huge trout but they could also see me and stayed out further than I could reach with even my longest roll cast of my fly. There was no cover to hide behind and for once I wished the crystal clear waters weren't quite so clear. I needed to change my tactics.

I reeled in my fly and started creeping back from the lake into the high mountain grasses, peppered with flowers of all colors that bordered the feeder stream. Because it was so narrow and the grasses tall, I could easily conceal myself from the lunkers that I knew were probably lurking in it. I found a likely spot where the water was probably a couple feet deep and the grass grew this out over the bank creating a nice hole for a large cutthroat trout to hang out and chill while waiting for dinner to come floating along.

No room to cast, I just let out a length of my line and with a flick of my wrist, tossed my fly into the water six feet upstream of the hole. One... Two... Three... Splash! A silver tail slapped the water, the fly disappeared and my line started racing downstream. Paying out line, I stood up keeping tension on the line while feeding it out so that my super light test wouldn't snap. The cutthroat trout made it to a short pool where the stream widened out to about thirty feet and there we remained battling, me for the catch of a lifetime, him to prevent becoming dinner.

Back and forth we went in a give and take battle, both of us doing more than our fair share. Ten minutes passed, twenty, a half hour. Finally after almost an hour, the mighty cutthroat trout surrendered and I waded into the pool to retrieve my price. I grabbed him by the lower jaw and hoisted him out of the water admiring the bloody line along the gills that give him his name and removed the hook which I had debarbed earlier so not to harm the trout anymore than I had too. My stomach rumbled at the top of fresh trout fried in some butter but my heart suddenly wasn't in it. This huge guy had made one mistake and here I was about to penalize him for it instead of giving him another chance. I started to rationalize that a trout that big would be too hard to cook in my little fry pan and wasn't worth the hassle. I decided to let him go and look for smaller fish to fry.

Cradling him in my hand, I lowered him into the water and held him there upright while he regained his strength. Grabbing the tail, I pushed him back and forth to keep the water moving past those bloody red gills so that he could get some oxygen. Two minutes pass, four and finally with a tired swish of his tail, he cruised out into the pool, heading for the outlet and the lake some forty feet beyond as if he had meant to do this entire ordeal all along. Satisfied, I retrieved my pole and started working the lakeshore back towards camp, trying to find some smaller game.

I had walked probably a hundred yards away from the feeder stream when I saw a mountain climber who had been over by Mount Hooker the day before walking along the far shore of the lake. When he got to the feeder stream he walked up to about where I had hooked my lunker and laid down along the bank, draping one arm up to his elbow into the water. Within about two minutes, he yanked backwards hauling another large cutthroat trout out of the water by his gills and throwing it into the grass. There he pulled out a sheathed knife and with three quick cuts and a swipe of his hand, gutted and beheaded the fish. He rinsed the fish off in the lake and started walking back the way he had come and disappeared up over a notch in the mountain cirque.

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