It‘s a good lake, said Doug, a really good lake.
Doug never exaggerates. When Doug says the fishing is good , it’s really good. When he says it’s really good, you can bet with some confidence that it’s really, really good. In fact, you can bet the farm that it’s downright spectacular.
Let’s go, I said.
When we got there the mosquitoes were legion: they were up our nostrils, in our ears, in our eyes, and in every crevice our bodies afforded them. It was agony. But, it was agony short-lived, because once we were on the lake, nestled among the many lake bred breezes all lakes afford, there were so few ravenous insects we dispatched them with a few swats.
After that we began to catch fish on halfbacks, a simple tie that bears a faint resemblance to the nymphal stage of a big mayfly. Then one of us – I can’t recall if it was me or Doug, but I’m almost certain it was Doug because he’s usually the first to start improvising when the hook-ups become frequent, switched to a leech pattern. It wasn’t one of those gargantuan black wigglers that are all the rage with steelheaders these days, but a black wool bodied pattern with a wiggly tail dressed on a size 6 hook.
Suddenly, Doug had a fish on with every cast. Often he would be playing a fish, that fish would shake free, and before he could get his leech to the boat in order to make another cast, another rainbow would hammer his fly.
A leech? I inquired.
A leech, confirmed Doug.
In moments the two of us were fishing leeches, and catching rainbow trout at a rate neither of us could have imagined in our wildest imaginings.
By noon we’d released over a hundred fish between us. We’d lost all sense of reality and common sense. We’d caught more trout than most avid, skilled anglers could have hoped to have caught in a decade.
This, I said, is what fishing used to be. This is the kind of fishing men had a hundred, maybe two hundred years ago.
Doug thought that a reasonable proposition.
We ate our sandwiches and drank tea from thermoses. A man and a boy came by in a tin boat.
How’s fishin’?, I called out.
Good, said the man. We caught 12 trout.
Right on, I called back.
I looked at Doug. They must be using the wrong stuff, I observed.
Lunch over, we got back to fishing, catching more fish than before. The next day we did the same thing. After two days, we’d released 300 trout. As we prepared to pack the canoe in for day three, I sensed Doug’s heart wasn’t in it.
I’ve had enough, I said.
Me too, said Doug.
We packed up and headed north. On the way we pulled into a rest stop where we met a fisherman headed in the opposite direction. He told us he’d fished a pair of sub alpine lakes high in the pass, just off the highway.
Hard fishing, he told us. Didn’t get much, but saw some decent fish rising.
What do you think” I asked Doug when the guy had left.
Let’s give those lakes a try, he said.
We did, and the fishing was past tough. It was fussy. We needed small stuff – little flies no bigger than 14, and they had to be laid down on the water with the smallest of disturbances, and even then, a take was not guaranteed.
Well into the morning (and we started early) Doug rose a fish, brought it alongside, netted it, and set it free. That act, small though it was, felt monumental.
Nicely done, I said.
We steeled ourselves to the task. We bore down. We fished hard and carefully. Doug hooked two more trout. The largest was this side of 14 inches.
I hooked a fish. It was a foot long. Dark and heavily spotted, and memorable. It took a midge, a Syl’s midge, tied on a hook I would have trouble seeing, let alone dressing, these days.
We pulled the boats ashore late in the afternoon and headed for Mortua Lake where we set up camp in the dying light, then cooked hamburger and beans on the Coleman stove.
We talked about the fishing. Tallied the trout, six in all.
That was good fishing, said Doug.
It was, I agreed.
We crawled into our bags and slept well.