"Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm." -Winston Churchill
The size eighteen renegade landed harder than I had hoped, spooking the cruising greenback. Reloading, I laid the line out thirty feet or so in front of me. A blind cast, hoping to entice one of these brightly colored natives. And as the fly drifted languidly back towards its controller, the brilliant red side of a different cutthroat turned upward in pursuit of my unsuspecting bug. When the fish turned on the fly, the white of his mouth could be seen, showing both innocence and desperation. A trait that these high mountain fish are both known and loved for (I believe a guy named Gierach wrote about this once). And in anticipation of my prize, I lifted my rod with confidence, only to watch a scared fish retreat to the depths unharmed. So turning behind me, I was not surprised to see my fly line and leader resting comfortably in a misplaced pine. Shit.
It was an early start. So early in fact, that McDonalds was still sleeping. It came as relief to know that even the largest of our beloved corporations will at least shut down between the hours of 2am and 5:30am. Probably just need to give the deep fryers a few hours rest. But without my Egg McMuffin, fried potato oval, and orange juice, I was still in search for something to eat. So it came as no surprise that the twenty four hour gas station was well equipped. And once again, I settled for the usual provisions of Gatorade, beef jerky, donuts (Crullers), and Life Savers of the gummy variety.
As we climbed steadily into cutthroat country, the rising sun was a welcome backlight for our rocky trail. “The Loch” is a high mountain lake, situated comfortably in Rocky Mountain National Park. Nestled 10,160 feet above sea level, Loch Vale is one of the many lakes and streams in the park that breathes life into a native fish found nowhere else in the world, the greenback cutthroat trout. Breaking west from Albert Falls, we were pushed hard by the desire to see one of these fish rise to a dry fly, good motivation for any hike you happen to be carrying a fly rod.
The restoration efforts of the greenback cutthroat have been well documented. Once thought to be extinct, these native fish had been nearly wiped out of both the Arkansas and South Platte River drainages. A result of mining and the introduction of exotic trout species not normally found in these watersheds. But the effort to restore these fish to their native habitat has not been easy, and could currently be described as a work in progress. But seeing these cutthroat for the first time, you realize that life is fragile. And anything worth fishing for, is certainly worth fighting for.
I strung up my 4wt, working the outlet side of the lake first. Cast. Rise. Set. Miss? A rhythm that became only seventy five percent enjoyable. But the day was young, and the fish seemed willing. It was only a matter of time before I connected. And after a quick lunch, we decided to head to the other side of the lake, fishing both the inlet and the small feeder creek. It was a welcome change, as I had yet to bring a greenback to hand. It had been a frustratingly beautiful morning.
Upon arriving at the feeder creek, I was met with both pressure and anticipation as I was still the only member of this party that had yet to catch a fish. So a quick retie, led to an errant cast. A cast so poor that it found its way into not one, but two trees. Now, I have never claimed to be a good fly fisherman or caster, but this was an embarrassing experience none-the-less. Retying, I moved down stream about twenty yards, away from the villainous trees that had just gave the three of us a good laugh. Two casts later, an eager trout showed pity, and my first greenback was securely in the net.
We fished the creek and west side of the lake for the rest of the afternoon. Both John and Dave were able to hook and land a handful of eager cutthroats. I on the other hand, was left working hard to keep my flies in the water and out of the pine trees that seemed to have an appetite for size 18 flies. And as the sky started to grumble, the clouds rolled over the mountain. It was time to leave. This day, won’t be remembered for the many fish I missed, but rather the one fish caught. A truly "native" experience, something authentic in every respect. It was quite simply, just one of those days.