The End of a Season
Tis the end of the hiking season. Ok, the end of my hiking season. The snow is making its way to the high country. I wanted to get one last hike in before it was too cold and the high mountain lakes started to freeze. This time I went solo.
I had the morning free so I was up early and at the trailhead at 5:45 am. I put my headlamp on, got out of the jeep and was struck by the 28 degree air. I was prepared for the cold, so it wasn’t an issue as I hauled my Futura Pro onto my back. Have I mentioned how much I love this pack? Anyways, the 28 degrees wasn’t bad in part because there was no wind to speak of.
This was actually the first time I have ever hiked in the dark and I would definitely do it again. It was such a different experience, only being able to see the trail for as far as my headlamp would shine. I have been on this trail multiple times, but seeing it only eight feet at a time was a very strange sensation. Halfway through the hike the sky was turning from black to the darkest purple I had ever seen. I have always gotten up early but I have never been hiking on the side of a mountain at this time of day and I was glad I had. I’m positive that those of you who hike 14’ers have seen this many times, but for me it was inspiring.
As I approached the lake, the ground was frozen and the trickles of water running over the rocks were not fully thawed. For a split second I thought that the lake might already have started to freeze, but as I approached I was relieved to see that it hadn’t. As I was getting my gear together and threading the fly line through the eyelits, the sun was just starting to hit the peaks that stood 1,000 feet above me.
To give you a little background on the lake I was fishing, it is part of a group of lakes that my friends and I refer to as the Lockjaw Lakes – meaning the fish have “lockjaw” and hardly ever take a fly. You can see them swimming all over the place, but when your fly hits the water they either scatter or come over to have a look and then slowly swim away. This day would be no different.
The first hour of fishing brought no signs of cutthroat trout, but I did stumble upon a family of ptarmigan. I hear them all the time when I am at these high altitude lakes, but I have never seen them close up before. This time it seemed they couldn’t care less that I was in their area and were just slowly walking around. It was hard to spot them because their colors blend in to their surroundings so well and it was nice to just stand an watch them for a few minutes.
As my feathered friends moved on it was time to get serious about catching a fish. I started to see signs of life as one by one I noticed trout cruising the shore. But, once again, the flies I was using were of no interest to the fish. All I could think was “Not again!” I have fished this lake about a half dozen times and have only caught one trout. I was hoping that today would bring at least my second but the morning was slowly slipping away without a tug on my line.
Then it finally happened. I double hauled my line out as far as I could and let my wooly bugger sink. As I was letting the line meander under the water, I was fidgeting with my waders or my line or something on my lanyard when I felt the tug. “Yahtzee!” As I got the slack out of the line and put some pressure on the fish, it felt like a decent sized trout. I was being extremely careful because I did not want this fish to get off the hook, but I also did not want to tire him out. A good 45 seconds went by and then I was finally able to get him in the net. And boy was he a pig! Not the biggest I have seen come out of these lakes but a nice fat one nonetheless. The fish must have known that the snow is coming and were gorging themselves on food to get fat for the winter freeze.
I fished for another couple of hours, saw a lot more fish swimming all over the place, but nothing else would be in my net on this day. I packed up and started to head down the trail. I passed a handful of hikers on their way up and each one of them commented on the fact that I was already heading back and it was only noon. I told them that the early fisherman gets his fish, then heads back for a nice afternoon nap. And that is exactly what I did.