Photo of the Month: Bycatch

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Chasing Cutts

The short season appears to be close to ending already.  A cool storm system has been affecting Colorado since yesterday.  According to the National Weather Service, snow levels may drop enough for some high elevation snow today into tomorrow.  The chances to fish high country lakes are quickly dwindling, but last weekend I explored a new area and saw some nice cutthroat while I was out and about.

The day started a lot later than intended, leaving a little after 11:00 in the morning would normally be a problem due to high country afternoon thunderstorms, but a large area of high pressure was forecast to hold on for one more day, keeping the showers and storms at bay.  The trailhead was crowded and finding parking was definitely not guaranteed.  Thankfully, after a couple of tours of the parking lot and surrounding roadside pullouts, a spot opened up and we were soon on the trail.

For those that fish the area regularly, I'm sure the pictures will give away the location.  For the rest of you, I'll just say that the trail started at around 11,000 feet above sea level and we topped out around 12,000 feet above sea level.  Our destination was a high country lake rumored to hold cutthroat.

I was not too confident since we would be arriving in the middle of the day.  Lake fish are notoriously spooky during periods of bright light, but the chance to explore still made the day worthwhile regardless of how the fishing turned out.  About a mile up the trail, we passed a lake that had several fly fishermen wading the shallows in search of trout.  Just above, the trail steepened noticeably as it climbed towards tree line.  Unaccustomed to the thin air, we finally stopped for a break to catch our breath and drink some water.  Noticing the scenery around us, the cameras came out.  No longer focused on the uphill trek, we could enjoy the incredible views opening up around us.

Continuing uphill, the trees shrank smaller and smaller yet until above us there were no more.  Every rise above us brought hope that we were approaching the end of our climb.  Finally, our final destination seemed obvious and we crested the last rise to a gorgeous alpine lake.

Lunch on the lake shore took up the next 30 minutes but then it was time for two more important tasks: fishing and exploring.  I had brought a 9' 4 weight fast action rod anticipating the possible wind.  The only line in my arsenal for this rod is a floating line, but I yearned for an intermediate or sinking line.  The fish were obviously NOT cruising the banks although one nice cutthroat spooked from the outlet as I walked by.  Finally, without even a tap on the end of my line, I switched to the second activity, exploring.  Climbing high above the lake, the views continued to open up.  The high plains stretched out far below but it was our immediate surroundings that kept us looking around with our cameras for the next interesting picture.

Closer at hand, the wild critters would occasionally make themselves known.  Can you find the marmot in these pictures?

Returning back to the level of the lake, I started casting again.  Changing to a scud and a midge with some weight to get it down, I started casting out and s - l - o - w - l - y retrieving the setup back over the shelf and through the shallows.  After several fruitless casts, I was almost to move on when a sharp tap on the end of my line reinvigorated me.  The fish were there, just not very plentiful and not close to shore.

Moving on around the lake, I started to think more about that fish in the outlet.  With the proper approach and presentation, surely I could catch the nice cutt.  Sneaking closer, I discovered that the fish had indeed returned to its observation point.  Crouching nearby, I raised the rod tip and as the flies sailed towards the fish, it ghosted slowly into the depths, clearly concerned by the movement overhead.

A few more fruitless casts convinced me that I might better spend my time hiking out before darkness came.  Heading back down the trail, I started to realize how tired I was.  Thoughts of fish started to fade as I considered the nice bed waiting for me at home.  Then, as I rounded a corner above a shallow puddle to small to even name, something caught my eye.

Rising trout?!?!?  Sure that the small pond was too shallow for fish to winter in, I had written it off earlier in the day but now, unless my eyes were deceiving me, trout were rising with abandon.  Moving quickly down the slope from the trail to the ring of willows surrounding the water, I found a narrow opening through the vegetation and was soon standing on a rock with only a good cast between me and the rising trout.  Were they brookies?  The rises sure looked like it, but then I kind of hoped that the brookies had not moved this high up the drainage.  Tiredness evaporated and all thoughts of sleep left me as I started to cast.

It only took two casts before I had my first fish on.  "Not brookies, cutthroat," I happily noted.  Small but beautiful, I almost took out the camera.  Instead, I decided to set my sights a bit higher.  "That rise over there looks like a good fish" I thought to myself.  Casting the same set up, I only managed a couple of strips before the fish hammered the fly.  Slowly fighting the fish, I decided that this one would have its picture taken.

A short time later, I released yet another beautiful cutthroat.  What a day it had been!


  1. Wow, David those Cutts are absolutely beautiful. Terrific report and photographs. Outstanding.

    1. Thanks Howard! I was pretty excited to find them especially since they were actively feeding...

  2. Hey David. I'm enjoying the adventure right along with you except I'm not tired. Boooo.


    1. Mark, I guess I need to get out and fish some more...maybe with a few more reports you will be tired also. In the meantime, hopefully the extra fishing will help me get back in the game so these adventures don't wear on me quite as much...

  3. Incredibly beautiful photos, great blog.

    1. Atlas, thanks for the kind words and for stopping by!

  4. Anonymous11:17 PM

    Very, very nice report on your trip in and out, David. Happy to see that you got into some beautiful Cutthroat. Every picture tells a story!

  5. Thanks Mel! I was really happy to finally find some willing fish...

  6. That marmot looks like a stuffed animal in the photo that it is looking at you. Keep on exploring!