Spring-time in the Montana high country means no tourists, no bugs, and eager fish. This beautiful mountain lake cutthroat was caught using a damsel pattern and was released to swim another day.
(And a Canadian beer for one pike Deceiver and three grayling dries…)
My dad was an adventurer – not the adrenaline junkie type – but the type who yearned to see what was around the next bend of the river. I think that might be a pretty common characteristic of fly fishermen. Although Dad preferred his casting rod to a fly rod, he certainly had a bad case of “next bend” syndrome - a condition that forces you out of your car and into your boat and even out of your boat onto your feet.
I don’t think it got worse as he got he got older, just more obvious. When he maybe should have been out with the local mall-walking group, he was trekking through all kinds of wilderness, fishing rod in hand.
He didn’t care much if he caught a fish; he was mostly interested in seeing a new piece of the planet. The beauty of it was that I could talk him into going to all kinds of places. (Peer pressure isn’t necessarily a bad thing.)
One August, we flew into Munroe Lake Lodge, just a bit south of the tree line in northern Manitoba. It was August and the pike were out of the shallow back bays and into the deeper cabbage beds. If we found some cabbage, we found pike – solid fish from 6 to 8 pounds. With enough bigger ones to ones to keep the anticipation levels high.
However, lakes at that latitude are not incredibly fertile. Being unguided, we roamed all over Munroe Lake’s 12 mile length to find cabbage beds. We saw a lot of beautiful things– sand eskers, shed caribou antlers, stunted black spruce, and cabbage beds, too! The cabbage bed residents loved to slam our offerings. But not always… As pike are prone to do, they would often merely follow. And then watch, and maybe even grin, as we figure-eighted and frothed the water.
Surprisingly, the most effective flies were on the smaller side. Bunny leeches, tan Whistlers, and white Deceivers from 4 to 5 inches long were deadly. An intermediate line seemed to get just the right amount of depth.
As a change of pace, we fished for grayling at the mouths of inlet streams. None were bigger than 10 inches but they were great fun on dry flies and a 3 weight.
One evening, the lodge owner mentioned that trophy grayling could be found down the outlet at the far end of the lake. “Just float down through the riffles until you get to the first good pool,” he said. He had me convinced as soon as he mentioned trophy grayling. And it didn’t take much to get my Dad on board. (Remember what I said earlier about peer pressure.)
The next morning, after a long boat ride down the lake, we eased our 16 foot Lund and 20 horsepower motor into the current of Munroe Lake’s riffled outlet. That particular boat and motor combo is typical issue at northern lodges. A lot of people use boats like that for chasing walleye in Minnesota. They are not exactly drift boats.
We had on chest waders and it was kind of fun – hanging on to the gunwhales, half-walking and half-riding the boat down the river. We went about 100 yards and then I looked at my Dad, who was 71 years old at the time, and said, “We’re gonna have to DRAG the boat on the way back. Are you sure we should do this?”
He muttered something about him riding and me dragging and off we went. We probably covered a half mile of river before we found the spot the lodge owner was talking about. It was a beautiful deep glide with large boulders on the bottom. We fished it hard but only managed one sixteen inch grayling.
Our exit from the outlet didn’t involve the same exhilaration as our arrival. It was hard, exhausting work. Instead of riding on the gunwhale, I grabbed it and pulled. Dad was at the back of the boat and, despite his earlier threats, pushing like crazy.
It took us over an hour to get back up the outlet and onto the lake. We were panting and sweating and beat. Our excursion had netted us only fish. Was it worth it?
When I was about 9 years old, my family moved to the outer edge of Alexandria, Louisiana. The area was unique in that it was built just before the sub-division era, yet the area was not a part of the old town either. Luckily, for me and my older brother Chuck, there was a nice sized lake just behind our house. All we had to do was cut through the neighbor’s backyard, cross one street, go through another neighbor’s yard and bingo, we were at the lake.
When we moved into our new home, dad forbid us to go to the lake. We were sternly told, if we were caught at the lake, we would be dealt a serious whipping. Keep in mind, this was in the day of liberal use of a belt or other disciplinarian instruments. Being typical boys, we couldn’t wait for Dad to go to work so we could check out our new digs at the lake.
From the moment we laid eyes on her clear water and huge bass cruising the shorelines, we were hooked. I lost count of the “ass-whippings” we received as a result of our hard headed defiance. Our love for the lake and fishing was so powerful we could not pull ourselves away, even knowing a serious whipping was a certainty.
Most days, we would fish with the best intentions of being home before dooms hour, that being Dad’s punctual arrival home at 5:30. By 5:00 our casting became frantic….”gotta catch one more bass.” At 5:30 sharp, Dads whistle rang through the air with the dread of an air-raid siren. I would look at Chuck, he would look at me, and we both would say, “Oh crap.” We quickly gathered our gear and headed home with much trepidation.
Each time, we took our licks like men, knowing full well, tomorrow we would go back. Dad should have seen the light. Hell, there was a clear path beaten through the yards heading off toward the lake.
I can’t remember exactly when dad surrendered. I think we were about thirteen or fourteen. After one particularly serious “ass-whooping,” I stood tall before my dad and said, “You might as well give us permission to go because we are going anyway.” By then it was obvious I could take the best of what he could dish out and would gladly do so for a good fishing trip….He finally saw the light. He had two incurable anglers for sons ….he relented.
From that day on we fished without worry. We even managed to persuade him to let us night fish and frog hunt on the lake. He quickly became keen on the frog legs as well as an abundant supply of large bream and bass fillets.
We “generally” respected his request to be home before dark. We weren’t disobedient children, we simply could not help ourselves. We had to fish….it was in our blood and some sixty some odd years later, it still is.
I’ll see you on the water Chuck….I love you brother!
We drove the truck onto the beach of Pyramid Lake while it was still dark. Several campers were already parked on the beach, but there were no signs of movement from the dark interior of the trailers. The four of us quietly exited the truck with our waders and Goretex jackets swishing as we gathered our gear. We donned headlamps and secured stripping baskets, gloves, and our fly rods before we finally pulled our ladders out of the back of the truck. Pyramid Lake is a lake in western Nevada known for big Lahontan cutthroats where fishermen perch on top of a ladder and fish the lake’s large drop off.
With headlamps bobbing in the darkness, we waddled our ladder out into the dark lake, feeling the water rise from our boots, past our knees and then to our mid section. Knowing the lake floor makes a sudden drop, we positioned our ladders and waited patiently for the earth to spin a bit more so that the sun could fight off the darkness of night. Waiting with fly rods in hand, other headlights started to appear on the beach, and within moments, more fishermen were walking ladders into the dark water.
The dark sky turned gray and fly rods were put to use, heaving heavy shooting heads and flies into the choppy water. Within moments the first of our group raised a bent fly rod high into the air. We all admired the pulsing line and the eruption on the water’s surface as a heavy Lahontan cutthroat thrashed its way into the net.
In truth we are all there looking for a big fish, and although we never laid a hand on any of the big 10 pounders, we each held very respectable fish. But as much as Pyramid Lake is about the lake, there is also something socially binding about the ladder line. We stand like soldiers in a formation. Your comrades to the right and left hold the line and continue to throw flies in to the biting wind and all pray for the tug of a fish and the glory that comes with it. Fishing at Pyramid Lake is truly an experience, not only for the shot at a big fish, but for the friendships built on the ladders