Wednesday, May 16, 2018

first fish

Here we are forty miles from the nearest navigable water, out at the edge of the Great American Desert, with a canoe in case of emergencies. We weren't the only ones confused - well away from Cheyenne in the bare green country, there sat a bald eagle perched on the telegraph pole. All the pronghorn were loafing contentedly in the fields, surrounded by forage. Usually they are either not visible at all, or wandering around looking for grazing. There will be lots of twins this wet spring. The pronghorn are like bears, fertilize the eggs in the winter then re-absorb them in case of a lean hard spring, or carry multiples to term in a good year.

And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there

The wild plums are first to riot in flowers. The other fruit trees up here are just beginning. Fortunately the wild plum can pollinate the tame ones that will bear fruit. There were mostly honey bees but numbers of other small black wild bees busy at the harvest.

All the serious tractoring had been done last week, twenty some acres of barley and five of the health-giving legume sainfoin, for the blooms and for the deer. It's possible next year we may invest in some WY deer licenses, if they like it well enough. We just cleaned out the tractor and the barley seed bags, then toured the trees to see how they were getting along. The sandhill cranes are nesting again. They don't care for us on the farm and lift out to the neighboring cattle grazing, watching carefully in case we try to pull something.

Last week up on the hill there was a mixed flock of mallards and pheasants. This is unprecedented. Mallards belong on water and pheasants in the fields. Ken drove by and reported they all had the furtive slightly frantic teenagers-hiding-a-joint look, definitely up to something.

Storms gathered around the pond but never quite got there. I was all armoured up in full waders, rainjacket and hat, then quickly grew hot. Fish rising all over. Ken caught a few swiftly then opted for a nap. It took me a while to get rigged then the usual Adams #18 was not performing for me. This year so far has produced a long streak of fishless outings. I started to believe yet again I'd become obsolete.

Ken is napping on a rock somewhere over there. At one point there were three turkey buzzards wheeling in a spiral above him. Before I could get the pic, he twitched, and they spun off on long glides to look for something deader.

First fish of the year and most welcome. Caught a smattering of similar 10-12" holdovers, fat and happy, but never quite figured out what they wanted. On days like this it seems the fish are taking pity on my fumblings, or perhaps the fishing gods that live past all imploring grant a moment of unaccountable grace.

This was all very well and entirely satisfactory, but there was a possibility of truly enormous trout cruising the wall of an immense irrigation reservoir out on the plains. We went to check.

Wind, big skies, and several hundred coots. Occasionally a couple of Lesser Scaup would whistle overhead coming down the wind like a low-level strafing run. I ducked reflexively every time.

This is more like ocean fishing than anything else, hopefully plunking the fly into a giant mostly featureless puddle with the fish scattered through it like plums in a Christmas pudding. In the spring it's possible to cheat by fishing along the wall, where the trout cruise looking for spawning spots. This seems a little unfair but I have big-fish lust pounding in the brain, here in the spring after the long and unfished winter.

Ken observed, "sometimes they will roll along here", one rolled on cue, he cast to it and promptly landed a solid 22" rainbow. So far so good. In the dusky green water as the light came and went, dim submarine shapes passed quickly by on the edge of the dropoff. A big white streamer did nothing for me. Chironomids or egg patterns fished below a strike indicator (bobber) will often work but you might as well drown a worm under a bobber as flyfish that way. Next up, a substantial black nymph with an orange abdomen and some legs to wiggle at the passersby, five casts across 180 degrees to cover the water, changing up retrieves for each repeat of the cast pattern. Repeat until the zen kicks in, or a fish takes. A large solid presence made itself felt on a slow short strip retrieve.

The bow of that net is 15". Today I learned a 25" fish will fit into it in a pinch, though it do stick out a bit. That's the biggest trout I've caught in a decade or more and one of the fattest. Returned with thanks, to grow even more.

Some time later a slow hand-twist retrieve persuaded this handsome lad of 22" or so.

Ken was prowling the wall and saw three fish disporting themselves on a small flat just north of me. He guided my casts as I couldn't see them through the flat glare of late afternoon cloud light. 'Too far out' 'still too far out' 'Geez you bum did you forget how to cast over the winter ?' but finally got close enough and this deep coloured spawning male slammed the fly.

The night in Medicine Bow at the Virginian Hotel, as in the fall trip. Next morning out to the lake as on that trip too, a lake that wasn't there in the early 2000s. Somehow Game&Fish worked out a deal with the irrigation district to get water in the lake, much to our delight. The fish had grown an inch or two over the winter though the brook trout had vanished tracelessly. Again I fuddled and futzed my way through the day, picking up a fish here and there, never quite figuring it out. Chironomids below a bobber would have worked. The day was glorious.

This is a pure put-and-take fishery with no natural reproduction. The way to dusty death for these fish is me, pelicans, or old age. Today I decided it might as well be me and kept a handsome brace.

One fillet I fried up for myself on Monday night while the family was out at their Swallow Hill music classes - fry the skin side first in a little butter to brown it up, then flip and add some white wine, more butter, and lemon juice, simmer briefly. Delicious. The other three fillets got smoked in my Abu Roken box, one taken to a party with more lemon, the last two baked into a quiche for Mother's Day, since I'm just that kind of beta male. Perhaps actually catching the fish out there in the wailing Wyoming wilderness makes up for baking the quiche ?