The Quest For High Mountain Cutthroat @backwaterflyfishing
It is a widely accepted truth that the good things in life aren’t free. From my experience, this concept is especially true when it comes to searching for trophy cutthroat trout in the vast alpine lakes throughout the rockies. Sure, there are always those few areas you can virtually drive to, but that is definitely the exception and not the rule. It takes a lot of hard work to locate these deep water havens that consistently produce 18-24 inch cutthroat.
On my recent trip to the high country I had the pleasure of bringing along two friends of mine—long time outdoorsman Mark Evans, and donut making master, Aaron Gates. Mark is a good ol’e boy from Alabama that hopped around the states a bit before setting down in the central valley of Costa Rica where he opened his own specialty outfitter, Stone Mountain Outdoors. Conversely, Aaron is a gnarly fly fishing junkie from Texas that currently runs Gates Donut Shop and has long been looking for an excuse to get altitude sickness…I mean get lost in the mountains. Yeah, thats what I meant to say…get lost in the mountain. hahaha.
Thankfully, we were all able to free up a few weeks this August and go chase what most fly anglers would consider the fish of a lifetime.
Our goal was simple and direct. We would hike far and high through a particular set of ridge lines and search each alpine lake until we located the monster cutties that were thought to inhabit the area. After a quick prayer in the parking lot for safety and plenty of big fish at the end of our lines, we took our first steps into the backcountry.
With 20 miles of rocky peaks and ridge lines to cover before dark, day one was mainly spent on the trail; with a slight exception of course. By lunchtime we had somehow found ourselves slinging furry little dries to hungry fish via Mark’s faithful tenkara rod. These fish were stacked up in a tiny creek that winded its way down through the small valley we had stopped in. It is important to note how such a tiny little fish can make three grown men smile, high-five each other, and laugh like little kids in the middle of nowhere. Times like these are what backcountry trips are all about!
After getting our trout fix during our lunch break, we slowly made our way through the deep forests, over the many ridge lines, and up another 3,000 feet in elevation to our final “base camp” destination. By night fall we were all a bit wore out and in need of a good nights sleep. Crawling into our Sweet Suite 2 felt more like home than one could imagine.
With temps dropping down to the mid 20’s at night, we awoke the next morning to find plenty of snow and ice on the edges of the lakes, as well as scattered throughout the forest floor. With our big day of hiking behind us, we were all itching to start checking out the nearby lakes for the big spotted trout we had hiked all this way for. The only problem was that the steep part of the hike had just begun. The alpine lakes we had picked out were all guarded by big ridge lines and saddles that made accessing them extremely difficult. When you are about 25 miles from your car and you leave the trail to start bushwhacking into uncharted territory, anything can happen. Thankfully, our parking lot prayer for safety continued to prove itself useful. Sadly, one part of that prayer, the fishy part, had yet to take place.
After fishing for multiple days, and landing plenty of average sized fish, we began to doubt whether or not we would encounter the giants we had all seen in our dreams. This uncanny pinch of doubt lead us to re-evaluate our plans and we decided to push even farther into the backcountry towards a lake hidden in the upper section of the basin. This lake would be our last chance at redemption and would take us at least half a day to reach if we were lucky. With bags packed and our high hopes starting to crumble, we pushed forward towards the lake.
To say it plainly, words like beautiful, surreal, placid, and majestic, all fall short of describing the view as we looked down into the clear waters of the lake and saw our dreams manifest themselves in schools of big hungry cutthroat trout.
With more anticipation than a few kids before their first day of school, we rigged up our rods and began searching for clues as to just what these fish would be interested in eating. After seeing most of the fish were staying down deep we decided that big heavy streamer patterns would do the trick! This proved to be true as we all began to hook into one trophy cutthroat after another. After it was all said and done, Aaron ended up with two fish that were bonafide, high alpine giants!
Like I said in the beginning, the good things in life aren’t free. Never have been, and never will be. After, over 70 miles of hiking—plenty of which was off the trail—we had succeeded in landing the fish that we deemed worth the struggle to reach. Moments like these remind me just how important it is that we continue to keep wild areas wild, and do what we can to preserve the populations of these fish for generations to come. Moments like these also remind me that good gear is a lot like trip insurance. The Cloud and Nitro 20 degree sleeping bags ensured that we were able to stay warm while the outside of our Sweet Suite 2 man tent froze over. The Sweet Suite 2 provided the perfect amount of shelter and gear room to ride out the storms with confidence. All in all, when nature is against you, good gear is the only thing that can stand in the gap!