Date- August 15, 2019
Location- Above trail near lake
Elevation- 9,974 ft
Distance Traveled Today- 20.8 miles
Distance Traveled Total- 1,066.6 miles
Weather/Temp- scattered clouds, high 70s
Injuries- cuts and scrapes
Pain level- zero
Spirits/Morale- formerly frustrated
Wildlife encounters- trout, swan, marmot
Days without shower- 3
Days without laundry- 3
I was in the zone today, but not the right one. I was in the fishing zone – not the hiking zone, and as a consequence I fell very short on miles today.
I had a decently warm night in front of the fire. It was a bit chilly this morning, but nothing that could keep me up. In fact, I slept in and wasn’t hiking until after 8 am.
From the get go, I was dragging my feet a bit. I don’t know why, because my body felt great – but my mind was just not with it. I was thinking about fishing. Today I would pass more fishing holes than any other day on this trail, and I knew it. I didn’t have any dinners packed out, so my evening meals depended on my luck catching fish. I kinda liked this idea, but it certainly put a lot of pressure on me to get them. Also, I did not have the ideal tackle I would have preferred. Oh well.
We were supposed to do about 31 miles today, but I fell 10 miles short. I never even saw another south-bounder today – not Leap Frog, not Shark Bait, and not even Jetpack after she left camp. I was left in the dust, but I didn’t care.
I ambled along the trail at a fairly lazy pace (maybe 2.5 mph), eyeing every lake and large stream I passed. Early on, at one fairly large stream crossing, I caught more than a dozen small brook trout (not a keeper in the bunch). I could have kept catching them, but I was looking for bigger fish to fry – literally.
More ambling and eyeballing brought me to a familiar lake where I’ve had excellent luck over the past couple years with fly fishing. On my third cast I connected with a big trout! It pulled a tiny bit of drag before thrashing the surface and throwing the hook. I was annoyed.
I continued to work my way around the lake making casts with my gold Panther Martin. I caught a couple small ones and threw them back. Then on a long cast that I brought in deep and slow, a big brookie followed it back in. The lure was almost to the shore and I thought the trout was gonna turn off, but instead it lunged at the last second before I ran out of water, and I set the hook! It was close enough to shore that I simply ripped the trout out of the water, not giving it a chance to dig and go back out. It was about all my cheap little telescopic rod could handle.
It was a nice brookie indeed – over 12 inches for sure! I bagged it up and threw it in my pack. At least I wouldn’t go hungry tonight.
I fished for 30 more minutes around the lake but couldn’t score another keeper. Only little ones, so I moved on.
It was about this time I realized I was terribly behind on my pace. It was almost 2 pm and I didn’t have ten miles accrued yet. I shrugged it off and promised myself I’d make up the distance and time. My mind was still on fishing.
A short while later I found myself on the banks of a larger lake. I left the trail and blazed down to the water’s edge for a look-see. WHOA! Right away there was a 20+ inch brook trout skimming its way along in 6 inches of water. I threw the lure way ahead and across the fish. It heard the splash of the lure landing and turned to investigate immediately. It locked onto the lure and followed it… but did not strike. My adrenaline was soaring!
As it were, this lake was chock-full of massive brook trout. I didn’t see a fish under 18 inches, and saw several that were probably pushing 4 to 5 pounds. At most, I could get them to follow the lure, but never strike. I tried every type of retrieval I could think of… no dice.
Eventually I found myself at a sort of narrow channel between the mainland and a small island. One side of the channel was sandy and shallow. The other side dropped off to rocks more than 12 feet deep. This was the trout super highway. They were going through the channel almost nonstop. I don’t think 2 minutes went by without seeing one or more huge fish. Again, I couldn’t get them to strike the lure.
Out of desperation, I tied on the biggest fly I had – a brown grasshopper. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to fly fish or cast a fly with a really cheap and really inadequate spinning rod, but the frustrations are endless. To make things worse, it was ridiculously windy.
Once again, I could get the grasshopper exactly where I wanted it, but only to the fish that were passing within 10 feet of me. They almost always rose to the surface to look, but never committed to a strike. This was torture!
Finally, a BIG fish pushing close to 5 pounds and probably 25 inches came cruising by. The wind was dead for a moment, so I managed to whip-cast the grasshopper with violent finesse and landed it 4 feet ahead of the monster. It charged the surface where the grasshopper floated but turned off with millimeters to spare. As it turned away, I gave the grasshopper a tiny twitch, and the trout immediately did a 180 degree turn and sucked it down. My heart was pounding out of my chest as I set the hook and felt it connect! The trout felt the pressure and took off, stripping the drag as it shot through the crystal clear water on the shallow side of the channel.
I could see every move the fish made as I fought it. I’m not much of a trout fisherman, and have never hooked a freshwater trout this big – on trail or anywhere. I only had a 4 pound line, but I wasn’t worried about it. I had the drag set perfectly and I knew how to angle a fish. I’ve caught 30 and 40+ pound mackerel on 10 pound test, plus many other large saltwater species on ridiculously light line relative to the fish’s size, weight, and power. I could tell you a thousand stories…
I will admit, however, that this trout fought harder for its size than any saltwater fish of the same size has ever fought. Again, and again…and again, the fish stripped more line off the reel! I would get it almost to the rock (where I was standing), and then it turned and stripped off everything I’d gained! My anxiety and adrenaline were through the roof!
For nearly 5 minutes I battled this trout, utterly perplexed at how it just continued to fight. I knew if it kept going, the chance for it to get free would only increase with every second. Other large trout shot in to investigate, swimming by or around my fish before darting off. Saltwater fish do this as well, so it didn’t seem strange or new to me.
I wish I could say it was a close fight, but I never had the upper hand. I never had it completely controlled – never had it whooped, or on its side, or halfway on shore, or anything. I would only get it close to the rock I stood on, and the fish would head back out. Collectively, I think it stripped more than 50 yards of my 4 pound line before throwing the hook about 15 feet from my rock. I think my heart broke, but I wasn’t all too surprised. The fight had just lasted too long, and there was nothing I could do about it.
I’ve never fought a freshwater fish this long, but have heard stories. Schweppes’ dad, Doug, had caught an 8 pound brown trout out of the river behind their house a couple years ago. I believe he was using a 2 or 4 pound test, and said the fight lasted nearly 40 minutes. My mind would have melted if this fight lasted even half that long. Alas, it went on for an easy 5 minutes and the fish never showed any sign of tiring or giving up. I wish I could say I’m exaggerating, but not today.
I fished for another half hour, but had no other hookups. Finally I had to pull myself away and go back to trail. To say I was irritated and frustrated was an understatement – but I got over it.
It was 3:30 pm and I only had 11 miles completed. Not only had I blown my day, but also missed the freshwater trout catch of my life – so far. I vowed to come back to this lake… soon. And I’d bring friends or family. This place was a gem and a honey hole.
I didn’t fish anymore and hiked as fast as I could manage. My head was still not in the game. All I could think about was the fish I’d lost, and returning to that lake some day. Torture.
My mood didn’t improve until later that evening when I spotted a huge, lone swan in a lake called “Dream.” I thought this graceful majestic swan to be the closest thing to a living expression of a poem, somehow. I don’t know why, and I don’t know what the poem would be, but the sight raised my spirits like Lazarus.
By slightly after 7 pm I’d gone nearly 21 miles and I was done. No late night hiking for me today. I still had a trout to cook, and I’d have to make a fire if I was going to do so.
I climbed about a hundred feet up a steep wall of rock and dirt above the trail and the lake that skirted next to it. I found a dense grove of trees that tickled my fancy and called it home. I built up another furnace, put a fire in it, went back down to the lake and cleaned my trout and then cooked it. I can’t even tell you all the good that trout did for my soul. It was exactly what I needed. Any last trace of frustration or annoyance was consumed with the trout.
It’s nearly midnight as I write this and I can hear coyotes in the distance. I fell short today, but that’s not happening tomorrow. I’m putting fishing on the back burner and crushing out a decent day. I’m getting low on my snacks and can only barely afford to be out another 2 days. Subsisting off of trout just won’t be (hasn’t been) practical.
Tomorrow should be interesting.
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