As the sun started to set behind the mountain peaks it painted a mural of purple, orange and yellow on the surrounding landscape.
I caught the spectacle out of the corner of my eye as I sat hunched over my fly box on the streams edge, prodding its contents for a large gray mayfly imitation. It was a hopeless attempt however, for the native cutthroats have already mangled many of the large mayflies in my box, leaving only the tattered reminders of previous struggles. I would have to settle for a size 18 Parachute Adams I thought to myself, it was always a good bet on the White and it had served me well in the past.
I tied on the small mayfly taking extra care to secure the knot onto the 5x tippet, knowing it could mean the difference between breaking off or landing the large trout that lie against the opposite bank. The big cutthroat had been routinely dimpling the waters film, inhaling the fat mayflies that floated over. It is one of the only ways to detect these fish in their natural habitat, through evolution these native cutthroats have become everything but invisible in the rocky mountain stream. Their dorsal colors matching the pattern of the rocky bottom to flawless precision.
I had been fishing all day with this in mind, stalking the holes, runs and deep cuts, trying to conceal my movements to the potential holding water where they might lay. My early attempts had paid off, leading to the catch and release of twenty or more cutthroat trout all in the 13-18 inch range. All beautifully rich fish whose feisty demeanor and orange blaze depict the native trout, these cutthroats are true wonders of evolution. The fish I was now focused on would hopefully best the previous natives, which had fought so honorably earlier in the day. The trout rose again making my hands tremble with excitement. He was big. I had only seen part of him on previous rises, but he revealed his massive body on his late rise. If only I could entice him to take the fly I had promised myself I would make it back to camp in the time to sit down for a White River base camp hearty meal in good company; a winning combination of standards.
I drew my rod tip back sending the line in a fluid arc behind me, as the line straightened I brought the tip forward firing the line in a tight loop toward the opposite bank. The fly-line straightened a few feet from the shore a delicately dropped the fly in the upper riffles of the pocket-water. I bent down and pointed the rod tip at the drifting fly anticipating the take. It fluttered over the riffles drifting naturally towards the deep cut. A shadow slowly emerged from the bottom rising to the surface and taking the fly in one effortless motion. I reared back setting the hook and sending the native fish into an intense struggle for freedom.
The 20” native cutthroat would end up ripping the line off my reel four times before I finally hoisted him over to the stream’s edge. He was over two and half pounds of iridescent orange, another trophy cutthroat from a pristine trout fishery I thought to myself as I bent down and held him loosely in the swift oxygen rich waters. It didn’t take him long; soon he had caught his breath and was easing his way back to the solitude of his humble limestone abode.
I watched the trout glide through the current back into its aqua green pool, pleased to know it would be there to fight another day. Its respect I have for fish not stocked or altered in any way they are a triumph of God’s creation, perfectly adapted to live in the solitude of these rocky mountain streams.
I lifted my head from the river just in time to catch the last glimpse of the setting suns artwork dancing off the mountain peaks, making a fitting ending to fun filled day. As I headed back to camp taking in the crisp wilderness air I couldn’t think of another place I would rather be.