Wednesday, May 27, 2020

on not catching cutthroat trout 2014

This started life as a post on The images vanished with time.
2014 is history now, so I remember the past in the hope of repeating it. As Max Beerbohm said, history doesn't repeat itself, historians repeat each other.

If not catching fish, might as well do it somewhere high and handsome..

5 miles hike into Rocky Mountain National Park, up from 8500ft to 10 000ft. On the way up we met an 83-year-old man turning around at the creek where the bridge had been washed out by last years' floods. He said he didn't want to take his old bones hopping across those rocks anymore, but he could still get up and down the trails, so he did. My role model for getting older.

Ken did get two cutts, here is one.

This is what we used to think was the native Colorado greenback cutthroat trout. Following DNA analysis, turns out to be just a subspecies of the Colorado River cutt, finely adapted to its life in the high country. See the article by Erin Block in the TU Trout magazine Fall 2014.

Ten years ago this lake and drainage was full of these beautiful cutts, 8-12" long on average, with the occasional 15" monster. We had not been up here in years and found the cutts have been outcompeted by the brook trout, which tend to overpopulate and get stunted in this environment. So we caught about 60 fish between us, 58 of them small brook trout 4-6", pretty little fish but not the outrageous beauty of the natives. I did not take any pictures of them, being haunted by the ghosts of the vanished cutthroat and too sad to photograph the meager brookies.

We spent a couple of hours bushwhacking down along the stream, in case the cutts were holding out in some remote pool or riffle. Here I am trying to look as inconspicuous as a tree.

Shortly after this I fell backwards into another tree and ripped my ancient Red Ball waders apart. That began a five year quest to find a pair of waders as good, detouring through a lot of cheap wet waders and damp feet, before culminating in $400 Simms. The Red Balls cost $20 and lasted over twenty years. I'm suspending judgement on the Simms until then, I should live so long. So far they've outperformed. That means staying dry - waders have one job. Apparently it's no longer possible to make dry waders at the sub-$400 price point.

All down the stream, nothing but shoals of desperate brook trout. 

Here's my Fibatube (Hardy) 3 1/2 weight, dragged off the dusty back shelf. This doesn't get much exercise in the mountain West, as I prefer a longer rod for the open streams and lakes and winds we usually encounter. However it's perfectly suited to the tree tunnels of the small high streams, had forgotten how it will happily cast nothing more than a tapered leader accurately and easily.

The original 6'1" was too short for me, so added a butt extension and built the handle over that, to make a 6'10" rod. The first time I took it out on a backpack trip in the Drakensberg, it ran into a big rainbow on one of the low lakes, a shock for all concerned. Next trip found a 19" brown in a tiny stream at dusk, after catching little rainbows all day - nearly fell flat on my back as the fish rushed off three pools upstream. The luck tapered off after that unfortunately. Still it catches fish to the full extent of its powers, hindered only by the fisherman.

Here's the brown, dead. Catch and kill in those days. Them's good eating. 

The reel is an Argus 56LT. At first thought it was a copy of the Orvis CFO, but after looking at the Abel in Ken's picture, maybe it's copying that ?  Either way it's a nice little reel, a good copy and well sized for a DT 4wt and some backing. It has a devilish small elbow spring in the retaining clip, which I lost twice and found once. Now it has an artisanal spring handmade from safety pin wire.

Five miles back out and down in the gloaming, to a fine burger and beer at Oskar Blues Brewery in Lyons - highly recommended.

Next day we tried a big Wyoming river. On the drive in a big old moose crossed the road, stopped in the middle to glare at us, and took his time shambling across. This was supposed to be an easier hike, into the canyon from the plains,

Unfortunately we got a mite confused (as Dan'l Boone used to call getting lost) and wound up going up and down the canyon sides a couple of times, without benefit of trails. It was real pretty though, and we walked up on another moose resting in the shade on top. He was a young fellow, a fine glossy black beast, who looked at us in horror and ran off, all elbows and knees. Here we are about to clamber down the 500ft back to the river again.

The fishing was awful slow, so we slogged out and hiked in to a different creek further down the drainage. This is the first time in 15 years of fishing together that Ken and I didn't have good catching. Ken was grumbling that his good-luck charm (me) had stopped working, I grumbled right back that my WY guide (him) wasn't up to snuff anymore.. 

One nice brown in the new creek as consolation, and a smattering of smaller ones. Pretty anyway.

On the drive out there was a family group of moose (meeses ? mice ?), papa, mama, and baby, browsing next to the road. These were quite unperturbed by us but the light was low, so no good pictures. Here's a fuzzy pic of papa.