By the time breakfast was over I scanned the hill behind camp carefully where the bears were last seen. Then I panned out a route that seemed it would keep me far from the bears we saw. My only fear-were there more? As I packed up my camera gear and holstered my bear spray I decided to ask Ian, the 16 year old along helping with camp if he wanted to go for a hike. “Sure”, he said.
When in bear country it’s highly advised not to hike alone. Even hiking in a group doesn’t guarantee you won’t run into a bear. Always make lots of noise and its good to have the bear spray handy at all times. And you always want to avoid a mother with cubs, exactly what we saw an hour earlier. But I knew where the bears went. I knew they were deep in the ravine avoiding the heat of day so off we went.
The foothill we intended to summit looked to be about an hour hike. That’s all I wanted to take out of my fishing day. It was tall and steep and was sure to offer a great lake view. Ian and I eased our way up. We were careful not to slip on the loose rock and much more careful to watch the climb ahead for our friends. As expected it took only an hour. The view was fantastic and the bears remained out of sight.
Once we got back, I loaded up my pontoon and headed for the beach end of the lake on hot pursuit of some huge gulping cutthroats. The lake was glass and I could see the occasional rises scattered inconsistently all over. On my way to the beach a particular fish caught my attention. He was in the middle of the lake. A place where only an enormous cutthroat would dare swim because cuttys are a favorite food of the lake trout of Heart Lake. As I rowed my way closer his true size became apparent. When his head broke the surface to munch the callibaetis it appeared to be about three inches long! This fish was gargantuan!
He wasn’t stupid either. Every time I got within 100 feet or so he’d stop. Thinking I was stealthy, I would lift my feet from the water and remain still. I was ready to uncork my next cast hoping he’d rise about 20 feet away. Fat chance, he’d come up again but always another 200 feet away. Off I went again. The chase lasted more than an hour. I soon found myself so far from the beach and on the opposite side of the lake that I couldn’t believe it. Then the wind started and the lake went from calm to whitecaps in less than ten minutes. I was screwed!
Mr. Monster cutty won that battle and left me working my oars like a crazy man. I bet I looked like an eggbeater trying to cross that lake. To make a long story short, I rowed and kicked as hard as I could for more than two hours to get to the sheltered side of the lake where Joe, Jim, Peter, Stan and Jack were all fishing. Without even noticing my exhaustion Joe shouted to me when I was in ear range, “Jeff, this has been our best morning. I already caught 9 lakers. Where the heck were you?” Man, I was bummed. I loved my hike and all but I missed out on some great fishing on this end of the lake all because of one giant brilliant cutthroat trout.
I was so beat that I rowed up on the bank and popped a beer. I brought six good beers with me this trip for special occasions. This was one of them. Soon Joe came over smoked a cigar. This side of the lake was calm enough one could expect to see a rise at anytime. After my beer and his smoke, we rowed slowly along the shore looking for a riser. There were plenty of bugs on the water all we needed was fish. Then to my disbelief I spotted a nice fish rising in the shade only a foot from the bank. Joe and I nearly ran him over. We put on the brakes and I reached for my 5-weight RX Ross and stripped out some line.
By now it was evident this was a big fish. Better yet, he wasn’t wandering all over. He had a beat of about 50 feet. He’d reach the end of his beat and turn around and come back. After watching him a bit I simply waited for his return. And don’t you know it; I had a surprise waiting for him. He engulfed my fly and it was game on.
The cuttys of Heart Lake are not your normal cuttys, these fish take off. I mean they fight harder than any cutt I’ve ever met. And this big fellow was no slacker. Luckily I don’t feel that heavy tippet within reason scares the fish from eating a fly and my 3X Scientific Angler tippet allowed me to horse the nice fish in. Soon Joe was flicking some pics of my first fish of the day. Man, it was already 1 PM and this was my first!
Joe and I were pretty excited about that catch. I must say it will likely be my favorite catch of the trip just because of the way we found the gorgeous cutty and the beautiful rise he made to my fly. But despite finding him so fast on our search we never found another riser. That was okay because the laker fishing was on. Joe and I rowed out to some deeper water and broke out the big sticks to dredge down deep. Within minutes we each hooked up. We sat out in the deep for several hours through sun and rain and wind and calm and soon I too had ten fish to my day.
The lake calmed down to glass again by 5 PM. There were storms all around us and we just kept lucking out in that they all went around us. Occasionally we’d get a sprinkle but not enough to drive us in. Today was our last full day and I must say I’m tired. At 7 PM I reeled in and headed for camp. That was a good idea because we had some special foods waiting and plenty of good wine. The crew fed us a pork loin to die for followed by a cobbler pie that one of our cooks Rebecca made in camp – very impressive to say the least.
Tomorrow we pack out. We don’t need to start hiking till about noon so my plan is to dredge for lakers right at sunrise then pack up and walk to the infamous beach we arrived on four days ago. I’m bringing my 5-weight to the beach and dry flies only and I plan to nail some more of these beautiful cutthroats to end what has already been a fantastic trip!