I've been anticipating getting into the high country for quite a while. Some years I manage it faster than others, and for whatever reason it seemed to take forever for me to get up there. I had a few places that I found via OnX Maps that needed looking into and a couple of old favorite spots to revisit. A meeting at work meant that i wouldn't get my typical early start so I packed enough stuff to stay the night, to make the drive worth it. After the meeting I made sure to check in with the wife and I called my Dad so he knew where to look if something kept me from getting back home. The drive was uneventful, just slow because of how anxious I was to get fishing.
The first stop was to try a small stream that usually is running high and off-colored, but with this year's drought and virtually non-existent run-off, the water was in pretty good shape. It's not a stream with a lot of potential for big fish, just hoping that it would be a good option for me and the boys in the future. It didn't take long to find out that there were fish in the stream. Unfortunately the biting gnats found me at about the same time. I surrendered the stream to the bloodthirsty little pests and made a dash for the truck.
The next spot took a little while to get to, over some pretty rough roads, so I wasn't surprised to find myself alone at a nice looking set of beaver ponds. There's always a question of whether or not spots like this hold fish, but this time the question was answered before I even cast when a fish rose across the pond. More fish were lying in wait just feet from my bank and a well placed cast brought the first brookie to hand. Definitely a longer fish than I was expecting, but his lack of girth seemed to fit the norm for this type of water. More casts brought more of these ridiculously beautiful fish to hand without too much effort. I decided to move on and check another wet spot on the map before too much of the day was spent.
This spot was a little harder to get to. Not only was it a little rougher of a road, but there was a lot of optional turns that tried to throw me off the right road. After a short, somewhat swampy walk, the puddle that awaited me was less than fishy. Checked that one off the list, though it might come in handy if I'm ever hunting elk in this area...
The last spot was a small reservoir where I planned on spending the night and the majority of my fishing time. I decided to go all in and even break out my float tube that still hadn't been used, even though I'd owned it for over a year. I've taken it with me a few times with the intention of putting it on the water, but something always keeps me from using it. Either the people I'm with don't have one or I forget some key piece of equipment. That's what happened this time, I started pulling stuff out only to realize that I'd forgotten a pump. Not to be so easily deterred, I blew up the tube by mouth and finally put it to good use. Almost instantly it became evident that the small hole in my waders had gotten worse and instead of keeping me dry, they were acting more like a wetsuit. Too late to change it, so I stayed out on the water and spent the evening trying different flies.
Picking a fly to use is always a bit of a challenge, but even more so on this water. There were giant flying ants (sz 8) on the water, beetles landing on me and my tube intermittently, callibaetis mayfly duns, a sporadic caddis hatch, damselflies zooming around, and lots of scuds and waterboatmen in the water. Smorgasbord. Only a few fish were surfacing though, so I tried out all the usual producing flies, Woolly Buggers, Callibaetis Nymphs, Simi-Seal Leeches, but didn't get anything but a half-hearted strike. Finally, I put on a Baby Damsel Nymph and picked up a rainbow that was missing a chunk of it's tail.
Thinking that maybe I had it figured out, I stuck with the Baby Damsel for as long as I could handle the cold water. As the light faded and a coyote sounded off from a little ways down the canyon I pulled my tube from the water and squished my way back up to the truck. A change of clothes had been a last minute addition to my packing pile, but one that I was really grateful for as I pulled off my soaking wet pants. Granola and Pepsi made for a pretty crappy dinner, but good enough to get me through the night.
The sound of wind woke me up before the sun made its way over the hill. The idea of having to try and cast through a gale kept me from getting back on the water until the sun had warmed the cab of the truck and I realized that fishing in the wind was better than sleeping badly in the truck.
The wind wasn't as bad as it had sounded as I strung up my rod. I decided these fish were probably just waiting for the damsels to start making their way towards shore and that in the meantime they might be interested in a chunk of meat. An olive Simi-Seal Leech with a brass cone-head sounded like a good idea, so I tied it on with a Non-Slip Loop Knot and started casting from shore (decided against the tube since I didn't have another change of clothes). I made my way down to the outlet and decided that this reservoir wasn't going to give anything up today, so I started making my way back to the truck. There were other lakes and reservoirs in the area that I could try before heading home. I had just decided where my next stop would be when a solid hit tied me into a heavy fish.
He didn't like his breakfast! I was glad that the 8 weight was the rod in my hand as he peeled almost all of my line off. The backing had only come off the reel about 6" before he decided to change direction and I could make up some of the difference. Going into the backing is exciting, but once you've been there, done that, you realize that adding more distance between you and the fish (not to mention another knot that has to pass through the guides) and the that potential for slack is too much risk if you can avoid it. The fish brought the fight to the surface for a couple of jumps before I had him close enough to net. I braced myself for another run as I tried to slide him into the net but it never came.
I'm glad that I hadn't realized just how big of a fish he was until I saw him in the bottom of the net. In a moment of weakness I considered taking him home for a good meal, but decided that I could go catch other fish for a meal. Beautiful, large fish like this are too good to be caught only once and I hoped to see him again, wether it was on my line or someone else's. He returned the favor by motoring full blast out of the shallows, completely drenching me. New personal best tiger trout, 24.25" long with a 13.5" girth.
Decided that was a great way to end my time at this reservoir, especially considering how many other places I'd like to visit before heading for home. Dinner fish would have to be caught somewhere else and a perfect spot to try for that wasn't too far away. On the drive out I hit a random spot where I got service and received several text messages from my Wife, Son & Dad. It was quickly made clear to me that I hadn't let my wife know about the plan to stay overnight. Saying, "I'm sorry" can only do so much to make up for a sleepless night filled with worry, but I tried. Visions of horrible accidents were bad enough to make her physically ill and begin to contemplate what this would mean for her and my boys (she's a bit of a worry-er).
Nothing that Del could've said or done hurt me as bad as the thought of her having to consider all the possibilities until in the early morning when she called my Dad to find out that I had just forgotten to let her know the plan. Regret and apologies don't make up for it, but changed behavior will hopefully avoid this ever happening again and that is the best apology I can think of. I'm grateful for a loving wife and family that cares enough to worry about me.
Hope you're as lucky,