Being from Cape Cod, which is essentially a giant sandbar, the idea of mountains, and just high elevation in general, was pretty foreign to me. I have spent some time in Colorado, so it wasn’t like I’d never seen mountains before, or experienced what life is like thousands of feet above my house in Massachusetts, but I still hadn’t really journeyed much deeper than the typical trout streams, and the occasional small creek. Looking at these mountains high above me, I always used to think, “I wonder what’s up there”, and my imagination would run wild. So, this summer when the opportunity arose to finally get up around treeline, and chase some beautiful, native Cutthroat Trout around for a day, I jumped on it as quickly as I could.
Our story starts on the evening of July 24 when I was coming home from a late-afternoon scouting mission. We were bouncing in and out of cell reception, which seems to be a given when I’m anywhere other than Massachusetts when a message pops up from Brooke Duncan, a fellow Flylords content team member and a good friend of mine. It said something along the lines of, “Do you want to hit up an alpine Cutthroat lake tomorrow morning?” I like it, straight to the point, no messing around. This was the type of message that you don’t say, “no, I’m busy” to, even if you are busy, you somehow have to find a way to figure it out; and by some miracle at 7 o’clock the next morning my family and I were following the Duncans up some steep, rocky switchbacks in our dusty rental Nissan Pathfinder.
While not all four wheels were touching the dirt at a given time, the Pathfinder stayed on the path, and we made it to the pull-off seemingly unscathed. As it turns out when you are chasing fish that live high up in the mountains, a car can only get you so far, so I guess this is where the “fun” part started. Before I could realize that I might have been sandbagged just a little, we were leaping over a creek and jumping headfirst into the steepest trail I’ve ever seen. In just over a mile, we gained around 1600 vertical feet, and my legs felt every single one. I consider myself to be fairly athletic, and in solid shape, but I will admit that the combination of the steep trail and thin, rocky mountain air got to me, and I was definitely huffing and puffing my way up.
Once we got through the steep, brushy, rock scramble of misery, the trail started to mellow out and we could see that we were getting close. We soon got to a small meadow that ended in a short, but steep hill. We moved as fast as our burning legs would alow up that hill because we knew our final destination was right on top, just out of view. Believe it or not, the lake indeed was right over that hill and it took about ten seconds to see a beautiful 18” Colorado River Cutthroat Trout cruising gracefully just below the surface. It was quickly apparent why trout bums across the Rockiess spend their days hiking up to these remote lakes. We quickly set up our rods, tied on our flies, and started fishing.
Brooke, my Dad, and I took off for the Northern bank of the lake because it had a nice dropoff and a path up above the shore that made for good spotting. I was up first so I was ready to go, walking as stealthy as I could along the bank, as my Dad and Brooke spotted from above. A few minutes into it, I hear “There’s one!”
“Solid fish cruising on the dropoff right towards you.”
“Alright it’s in range, go”
From where I was standing there was too much glare on the water to see the fish, so I put my fly right on the edge of the dropoff where the alleged fish was cruising.
“Nice cast, you led him too much though. Just leave the fly there, it will see it if it keeps cruising straight. Also, don’t move.”
Luckily, the fish stuck to its pattern and cruised over, heading right to my fly. It gets within a yard and my heart is pounding. By this point, I can see the fish, and I watch as it slowly tilts its head up, and ever so slowly ascends upward toward my fly. It sounds cliche but everything around me did melt away and for just these few seconds the only thing that mattered in the world was this Cutthroat and my fly. As delicate and calculated as we all know trout can be, our little friend sipped my little black ant and my heart dropped. I waited what felt like forever but was probably less than a second, and then I lifted my rod and set the hook. (Yes my salty friends, I trout set, it had to be done) Somehow I didn’t choke the hookset and after a relatively short sequence of small runs and headshakes, my first alpine lake Cutthroat was sliding into my hands.
As the morning wound on, my dad and I each caught a few more of those amazing fish, and both Brooke and John went on to absolutely school us on those incredible waters they call home. Before I knew it, we were packing up our rods and heading off down the trail, back to civilization where there are other people and cars and opinions and problems. The thing about the high country is that those four things (along with a whole list of other bummers) don’t really exist, and I think that’s why there’s so much of a draw to come up to those lakes. That beautiful, alpine country really does leave you with a little something extra to take home. Hell, I’m back on the Cape right now, and as I’m finishing up this article after just having a day of Albie fishing that I dream about all year long, all I can think about are those big Cutthroat, sipping little ants up in the mountains of Colorado.