Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Mountain Trout

My brother Mark and I went up the mountain to fish.

The creek was high and fast--and beautiful. The sky was overcast most of the time, and showers sifted through the pines now and again; but then, without warning, the sun would break through the clouds and dazzle the world.

The fishing was short-lining seams and soft water. Most hits were on flies or lures hanging in the current, or rolling in the upwells, or slowly drawn back upstream. I seldom had more than six feet of my long lake leader out of the guides, but I did catch a nice fish by spot casting across the creek, and mending--that's a quick mend--to allow the fly to hang just long enough.

I tried many flies--that's half the fun--but found that small, drab flies were ignored. Big, bright flies, easily seen, worked best. This foam-bodied whatsit, fished wet (even foam like this was easily sucked under by the tumbling current) was the fly that got most of the attention. We also used lures--Rooster Tails for Mark and a little Colorado spinner for me, and caught some fish on them. But we also gave a few lures up to the creek.

The fish are Columbia River Redband Trout, native and wild. Most are this size; a ten incher is a lunker. I think I lost one of those big boys. I was letting the fly roll around in a boil, and a fish kept coming up and hitting it and missing, his sides flashing. I finally hooked it, and it gave me the strongest pull of the trip straight downstream into a rushing chute between two boulders and was gone.

We camped close to the creek, and it sang us to sleep each night with its roar and rumble of snow water and tumbling rocks.

There's no better alarm clock than the crackle of a fire early in the morning. Mark, for whom camp fires are a religious experience, was usually up first feeding the coals from the day before until he had a roaring fire to match the roaring creek.

So we fished and we caught fish. We caught fifteen between the two of us. In a normal year you can catch fifteen in an hour, but this isn't a normal year. Each fish took persistence and concentration, and was all the sweeter a reward because of it.

I bushwhacked my way downstream away from the campground one afternoon. There were signs still of the even higher water of spring, a second channel now going down.

The fish in that downstream stretch were hungry, but the fishing was more difficult. The stream was narrower, the current faster, and there were more snags and deadfalls in the water.

As I was trying to hook a fish that kept hitting my orange fly way back under that log in the lower left of the photo, I snagged the fly on the end of the log. I broke it off, tied on another fly, and couldn't get a hit. So I studied the log. The end with the fly was inaccessible, but it wasn't very big around even if it was a whole aspen tree, twenty or twenty five feet long. So I was able to lift it and snake it back until I could reach the fly. It wasn't the first time, and it won't be the last, that I do what's required to rescue a good fly.

I found this deer jawbone one morning, washed up onto the rocks in the spring spate, I would guess, and now exposed to view. This is a country of prey and predators. I had already been scanning the banks and peering deep into the forest as I fished, hoping for a lucky glimpse of a cougar. It was along this stretch of creek a few years ago that we saw a cougar as we sat in the campground. It was on our side of the creek, meandering along a mere fifty feet away from us. When it saw us, it slipped behind a tree, peeked around and studied us for a moment, then melted into the forest on the other side of the creek.

For Mark, this was another chance to get to know more about the hidden treasures of his new home, and to polish up his skills as a fisherman. There are plans to hit the Henry's Fork late in August. He'll be ready.

As we packed up on the last afternoon, Mark said how much he hates to break camp. It means the fun is over. I used to feel that intensely when we'd break camp at the Henry's Fork and I'd hit the road back to Chicago knowing that I wouldn't be back for a year.

As I told Mark, we can go back to the creek tomorrow if we want to. He didn't seem so bummed after that.

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