Heart Lake Day 2 Solo in the Backcountry

August 25, 2011

I’m never surprised to wake up to rain when on a big fishing trip. I see wet weather all the time thus my nickname, Monsoon Currier. So when I awoke to the pitter patter of rain on the tent, a few blasts of thunder and bolts of lightening I just tossed on the rain jacket and poured myself a stiff cup of cowboy coffee from the fire. Soon after our entire group was up and huddled under a tarp gorging on a huge breakfast.

By the time breakfast was done the rain stopped and although most the sky was buried in cloud cover with threats of more, some amazing beams of sun peaked through. We all grabbed our bear spray and walked through the nerve-racking willows for the lake to start the day of fishing. When we got to the beach the lake was like glass and callibaetis were starting to hatch. I was first to push off and had gulpers on my mind so I tied on a callibaetis cripple and rowed towards a distant rising fish.

When I got to the fish my heart was pumping like mad. Risers on lakes are not easy to catch because they are always moving. They are much more challenging than river fish and to add to the excitement, this appeared to be another of those monster Heart Lake cutthroats I met last night. Sure enough by the time I had my line out and launched about a 60 foot cast, the cutty was a 100 feet away. I made few strokes with my oars then spun around and kicked. The fish was in range but this time when my fly landed in his vicinity he stopped rising. I waited and waited then he appeared, naturally about 200 feet away. Again I rowed his direction (You should understand the challenge I faced by now). On and on my pursuit of this huge cutty continued, and at last persistence paid off. I got a cast when he was in range and feeding aggressively. I hooked and landed the first monster cutty of the day.

When you include the time of the chase, that particular fish took me more than 45 minutes to subdue. Meanwhile, weather in Yellowstone changes by the minute and the clouds had cleared and now a sturdy wind was starting. It was plenty enough wind to stop the rising fish so it was time to row for the far side of the lake which was protected. By now the entire group was on the lake and we all headed off on a long row of at least two miles.

The wind and waves grew as we travelled. It wasn’t long before we faced full blown whitecaps. On every oar stroke water would explode over our pontoons often times completely dousing us. The only good news was that we all had our rain jackets on. The bad news was that slowly we separated as we each sought after what we hoped would be an easier route to safety. As I got closer to the wind protected bank my rowing eased. Soon I was coasting along with a smile. But when I looked back at the rest, they were clearly headed to the opposite corner of the lake, equally sheltered but far from me. I thought about heading towards the same place but there was no way, I was beat from my struggle that took more than an hour and there had to be fish where I was anyway.

On this side of the lake there was too much breeze for risers but perfect chop for stripping leeches. I secured my dry fly set up and grabbed my leech rod. Two hours later I’d landed four more huge cuttys and a spectacularly colored 23” lake trout.

Heart Lake truly is shaped like a heart and I’d kicked my way into the far side of it. I was easily three miles from any of the other guys. I couldn’t even see them because I was behind the peninsula that divides the heart shaped lake. I really wanted to fish with them but I’d waste at least two hours getting too them and heck, soon after I reached them I’d have to start a two mile row back to camp. There was no way; today was going to be a solo, something that often does the soul good anyhow.

I pulled up on a nice beach to take a break. The break turned into a nice swim and then catching two more cuttys. I was really enjoying being by myself in a true wilderness environment. Then as fast as the sun came out earlier, a major thunderstorm came in and brought substantial thunder, lightening, wind and rain, enough that I pulled my boat ten feet up the beach and retreated to the woods for cover.

My love for the solo day went down the tubes fast. I didn’t exactly feel too safe ducking the storm in the woods. I’d forgotten my bear spray at the launch beach and there were grizzly tracks and poop everywhere. With the clamoring of thunder and rain dripping off my hat I basically spun in circles watching carefully for any approaching movement. I got that feeling of being watched so badly I nearly launched my pontoon boat in the heat of the storm just to avoid the chance of being face to face with a hungry griz. I couldn’t wait for that storm to end!

Luckily the storm ended as fast as it began and the rest of the day was nice with little wind. I changed gears and started flippering my way back to camp with my 9-weight in hand. I put on a giant Brent Dawson Nile perch fly and sank it in deep water with my 300 grain Streamer Express fly line. Slowly I kicked along keeping my fly deep then every few minutes I’d strip it all the way back as fast as I could. At first not much happened but then I got into a school of lake trout and I landed more than fifteen of them up to 25 inches. Those are small by lake trout standards but plenty of fun on the fly.

Today was a great day. I loved my solo and am very impressed with the fishing on Heart Lake. As of now the skies have cleared. So much that I’m going to sleep under the stars because they are absolutely incredible tonight. Tomorrow I’ll stay with the guys and concentrate on getting some photos of everyone. I hope it doesn’t rain tonight!

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