I wrote this essay about the one good day of fishing we had in Glacier National Park last summer.
I was hiking to fish a high cutthroat lake inside Glacier National Park with my father and my wife. Not the most orthodox of fly fishing parties, but then again I’m not the most orthodox of fishermen and fly fishing’s not the most orthodox of subcultures, so it all seemed natural enough.
When we finally scrambled off the steep hillside and down to the lakeshore, we brushed the limbs to the side for our first close-up look. At least half a dozen cutthroat trout were scattered around lazily sipping something from the surface. Unfortunately for us, a gentleman was already there casting to them. He appeared to be the only other fisherman on the lake, so we worked our way around the west shore, the eastern side being a shear slope of loose talus that we didn’t feel like tackling. Besides, the west side appeared to hold most of the shallow water when we took our first look from high above.
I found it tough to contain the jitters. Every fisherman must know something like this when there are big fish right there, and you don’t know if you can catch them. And I was far from certain. I don’t know why I have so much trouble catching trout from a lake. I mean, my whole life I’ve been catching bass and bluegills from ponds and lakes, and from streams so sluggish they might as well have been lakes. What’s so different about trout?
I suppose a lot of it boils down to me still being a swamp water bass fisherman in fact if not at heart. I just can’t get it out of my head that catching a fish from water that still, shallow and clear is impossible or at least highly unlikely. Most friends would call me an experienced fisherman, but the majority of that experience has taken place on the aforementioned ponds, lakes and muddy streams, and with conventional bass tackle instead of a fly rod. Trout are still a beautiful, exotic species. A handful of trips for trout every year just doesn’t saturate you with the confidence that comes from living and breathing fishing like I did for bass back during my early college years.
And it’s not just the lakes that continue to bother me. What is it about the bugs? I mean, with bass, you just toss something big, gaudy and meaty out there and wind it back any way you want. Eventually you’ll find a bass hungry and mean enough to eat just about anything. I’m beginning to think all that crap about the confident fly fisherman calmly identifying the correct insect, tying on an imitation and catching trout is just that. Crap. Here’s how it happens this time, which is fairly typical of my experience:
I climb out on a rock and look over the lake. There are several fish rising. What are they eating? I don’t see a thing on the water. If I didn’t know better, I’d say these fish had gone mad from hunger and were sipping at nothing, convinced they were dining on fat green drakes. Nothing’s flying in the air either. I try an old trick, that did actually work one magical day on the Lamar River, and brush the grass trying to stir any clinging insects to flight. Nothing other than a few scrawny grasshoppers, and I’m certain the fish aren’t feeding on those. I take my hat and use it like an aquarium net to seine the surface of the water. Nothing shows up in there either. So, I tie on an Adams. Continue reading High Mountain Cutthroat