Alpine Prospecting

Alpine Prospecting

Article contributed by Field Staff Writer H. Jefferson.

At first my roommate thought it was odd: flytying. I would sit in the bathroom with my headlamp muttering and cursing at what appeared to be depression-era watchmaker’s tools next to piles of furs, feathers, flash, and fuzz. He grew up spin casting in Michigan, and was quite startled when I showed him a 22 zebra midge. He has seen some of the tiger trout that live in our creek, and one night I pan-seared us a good rainbow. He expressed interest, so I outfitted him with a Wal-Mart special and a small handful of wooly buggers.

We live on a creek tanked with beaver dams and choked with willow, rose, sage, watercress, killdeer, snipe, mallard, teal, poor-will, and an adult Swainson’s Hawk to look over the place. Of course there are trout. In one of the hidden beaver tanks I have met some porky rainbows, but she’s mostly angsty of tiger trout. Of course this is where he wants to learn. The thick cover doesn’t give much backcast and can be unforgiving on tight roll casts. I advise we start somewhere more open, with more room to cast and more room to spot fish. Ideally a place where I can watch and correct his casting well enough but not catch his mistakes in my face. Also a place where we can both catch fish.

I have read all about the western alpine lakes, with gin clear water, enough elevation change to keep away flatlanders, and pure local cutthroats as wild as the wind herself. Speaking with the barbers, biologists, bartenders, mechanics, and diner patrons I came up with a particular lake that sat in my mind for a few days. My tire guy told me,

“With the easy winter we’ve had you should be able to get up the mountain fine. Besides, it fishes best when there’s still a little ice around the edges.”

So, on our next day off we decide to try it. It was a bluebird morning when we left the diner, and we had a blast identifying plants as the desert slowly turned to alpine. Once above the pinion-juniper we passed a few snow drifts, but nothing my four-wheel-drive couldn’t handle. At least it seemed that way until I got us stuck a quarter of a mile away from the lake. We were high-centered on the spare tire that sits under the bed with none of the tires touching pavement.

“Did you bring the shovel?” He asked.

“Nope.”

“Tow Rope?”

“Nope.”

“Come-along?”

“Nope.”

“High Lift?”

“Nope.”

“Salt or kitty litter?”

“Nada.”

“Hmmmmmm…” He replied.

Stuck in the Snow

We grabbed some aspen branches and started digging. After about 20 minutes we saw we were going nowhere, so we hiked the half mile back to the mountain saddle for cell service to call in the reinforcements. Our buddies were a grumpy two hours away, but after a few promises involving the tavern at the bottom of the mountain they were more than happy to lend a hand. Since we had a little wait we decided to walk out to the lake and see what we could muster up. Of course the lake was frozen. Completely frozen over other than a 15ft patch of water so we could see just how clear it was and how rocky and pebbly and beautiful the bottom was. We just stared at each other for a few moments and I said,

“So, how do you like fly fishing so far? This is pretty typical of the fishing trops where I disappear for a weekend. I hope you learned something about fishing today.”

Frozen Alpine Lake

I ended up taking him out to a big clear, snowy patch of ground and taught him the basics of casting for a few hours until our help arrived. Since then we have gone out a few times, but he has yet to connect to a fish. Every few days or so I point up at the mountain and ask him,

“I wonder if that lake is unfrozen yet. You know, there’s only one way to find out…”

So far he has been smarter than to bite that bait, but I think one more warm front and it will be worth checking out again…

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