For the third consecutive year, I've managed to time it perfectly to hit the cutthroat spawn at my favorite cutthroat lake.
As I walked up to a small beaver pond just upstream, I realized that I was in for a treat. Here's a quick video of what I saw:
I should also add that the cloudy water beneath that gravel bed was also full of cutts, shaking their bacon. There were some really nice fish in the mix too. Up to 24", I would say.
Seeing all that action going on, I couldn't resist dropping some bugs on them. An egg pattern paired with a bead-head prince nymph did the trick at first, then I switched my dropper to a chamois caddis in red. That nymph has always performed well at that pond.
At first, my catches were small but beautiful.
Then the catches started getting bigger with a small change in presentation.
Pretty soon, I chose to ignore the smaller cutts, even evade them with my flies, to focus on the huge fish I kept seeing. Though most fish were caught with flies, a few also came in on jigs, including this big girl.
Eventually, I started getting into some really nice fish, although landing them was another issue. The heavy log cover throughout the inflow area (where most of the fish were staged) hadn't previously given me any trouble, but these fish weren't playing nice this time.
As soon as the fish were hooked, they'd rocket away into the sticks and somehow get me stuck on a log while freeing themselves. That or just break me off right away, which happened several times as well.
I'll surely wake up with cold sweats thinking of those for years to come.
The fish I was targeting were enough to keep me fixed on the same window of open water between the logs for about 5 hours or more. It was a true test of patience watching 4+ pound fish swimming up to my offering, only to shrug it off and slowly drift away.
Some of the big fish actually hung on though, which was nice.
That brute was 22" and 4 lbs, 1 oz. Nice fish, but I broke off a really good one that made it look small. The big one kept coming back to that window to show me its new lip ring (my egg pattern) and raise a fin.
Another small inflow area had a bunch of cutts stacked up on its gravel bed too. Most were between 15 and 18 inches, but a few were a bit bigger, especially the beast I zoomed in on in this video.
That big fish took me for a serious ride when I lucked out and hooked it. Unfortunately, it broke me off and wouldn't play for the rest of the day.
Even though I was having a blast, there were some really nice brookies taunting me the whole time. They seemed to hang out right at the edge of the hole I was fishing, barely visible from the white stripe at the leading edge of their fins.
Occasionally, one would slowly make its way through the window to let me fully understand what I was missing. Serious hogs were in there and it was a little bit painful to end the day with only one smaller brookie with ratty fins to hand.
It was nice to at least catch a brookie though. I had been trying all day, only missing one other bite. I even spent a couple of hours on the tube, only catching a couple of small cutts while floating.
Soon enough, the sun was getting close to the horizon and it was getting harder and harder to see the fish in the hole. Thoughts of leaving crept into my mind, but I found one last egg and one last chamois caddis to tie on and gave them a dip in hopes of at least hooking one more fish.
I'm glad I did.
My line twitched and I lifted the rod to an explosion of red thrashing at my feet. Somehow I kept his nose pointed upward and he never made it under any logs. It was a relatively quick battle and I hoisted him up to revel in the glory of a fantastic catch.
Instantly, I noticed something familiar about its speckle pattern. This was the same big cutthroat that my buddy and I both caught, just last year around the same time. Its spotting gave it away then, when I caught it only an hour after my buddy J did.
The only two people I had seen at the lake all day (arrived only two hours prior) noticed the excitement and made their way over to take a peek. They snapped a couple of pics for me.
What a great fish! How lucky is that? I remember letting it go last year and just hoping it would survive. It took awhile to resuscitate in the cold inflow, so I was nervous.
Looks like it made it! Last year's catch was quite memorable and I've fondly recalled it many times since. In the 51 weeks since I last saw it, it has grown 1/2 inch (23" now) and lost three ounces (4lbs, 10oz now - same scale).
The tail appears to have gotten thicker. His belly just wasn't as full this time to make weight, I presume. Still an incredible fish and it made my day. I left with a big smile and drove home in the dark.
Happy Fishing, Humans.
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