Little did I know that the first, second, third, and fourth cast would all redeem worthy fish. At one point shortly after, I remember thinking that this was so unreal, it couldn't be possible. During the fun of one of the fights I noticed something was strange about the fish on the end of my line. He didn't hardly put up a fight but had considerable weight. To my surprise I had hooked into a gorgeous sixteen inch arctic grayling. I could go on and on about how grayling are the representation of superb water quality, and how catching them in the lower forty-eight feels like a true privilege, but Ill save that for a later article. I will share however, the beauty of these rare gems. Of the few I caught, one stood out the most. It was the largest of the four I caught that day, maybe seventeen inches long (a very respectable catch for a grayling). It's skull felt thick upon hook removal and it had the colors of a marble with multiple blues and greens swirling together. I felt what I imagined shark skin to feel like when I picked it up, rough like thick sandpaper, nothing like a trout. The last thing I noticed was the massive dorsal fin. When held right, the fin stands a full body width in height, almost doubling the size of the fish. Grayling truly are a special fish, just as special as the places you will find them.
So about a dozen casts later I had caught my forth grayling, I was also catching plenty of big cutthroat. I came to the realization that all of the fish I was catching that day were exceptionally beautiful. These cuttys were on their way to spawn so their colors were at their brightest. Deep oranges to bright reds, iridescent greens with hints of purples and chrome, every fish was unique. The bright orange on their gills that stands out so much any other time of the year was now hidden in a jungle of colors and hues. I took a moment to appreciate each and everyone of these great creatures before releasing them. I even took time to snap a few quick shots. Among them, my personal best cutthroat trout with a length of about nineteen to twenty inches.
By now, the fisherman that were so far away from me when I arrived, were now making a pilgrimage towards me. Every successful haul, I could feel their energy getting closer. There's nothing that bothers me more in the sport of fishing than other people encroaching on my success. Back home, in Iowa, this bothered me almost everywhere I went. The populations in other states are expressed on the side of the bank, many many fisherman. Out here, in almost a wilderness type setting you'd think we could all find our own little space, and leave others to theirs. After a steady twenty minutes of me reeling in the big cuts, I had plenty of company. "What are you throwing at them?" one replied as he stood on top of the water I was fishing. I told him, straight up, everything I was using to catch the fish. Thirty minutes went by before they got as close as they could, believing I was where the fish were, and it certainly seemed true.
I'm a fairly humble person when it comes to things I'm good at. But this day in the mountains I was catching so many fish, I almost felt like someone else should have at it. The other guys out there were watching me but I too was watching them. The only interruption would be a trout breaking the surface in front of me, and a look on my face expressing something like "Sorry, I didn't mean to catch this guy". Maybe it was because I was fishing so close to the sign prohibiting fishing upstream out of season. Or it could have been that I made it look easy and I happened to have the correct gear. Whatever it was it ended up getting the best of me by the end of the day. After hooking up nearly every other cast, I was worn out. "It couldn't hurt to leave these fish for another day", I told myself before heading to the Jeep. It wasn't until the next day that I realized I stumbled into that short window that only comes maybe a few days a year up at the reservoir. The long drive up the mountain the next day revealed disappointment. Only twelve hours after I had walked the treacherous journey into a flawless honey hole, the reservoir flooded its banks.
|cutthroat with spawning colors|
Maybe I won't make it back to the outlet of the upper creek ever again. Timing is key and with that is the risk of making several drives next year only to find out that I'm too early or too late. Mother nature cannot be predicted on the level it takes to foresee when the reservoir opens without swelling beyond its banks. The window for opportunity is very slim and anyone who finds themselves up there during the spring melt, keep your eyes on the upper creek outlet for ideal conditions. You'll know it when you see it!