By Spencer Durrant
The stream was completely new to me. I’d never even seen it on a map before. That I even stopped was a bit of a surprise, because I had a destination in mind, too. It was early spring and snow still blanketed much of the landscape. I was on my way from a small tailwater to a reservoir, crossing through some high mountain passes to shorten the drivetime.
That’s when I saw the little creek for the first time. It tumbled down the canyon, cascading from one gorgeous run to the next. The sun hit the water at just the right angle to illuminate the bugs buzzing over its surface.
If I see a fish rise, I’ll fish, I thought.
I’d been out of the truck for maybe two minutes before the telltale ring of a rising trout rippled through a run.
Grinning, I grabbed my fly rod and started fishing. I didn’t know what to expect from the creek – brown or rainbow trout, maybe? That high up in the mountains, brook trout were a possibility, too, but I’d never caught many brookies from those mountains before.
A fish slurped my dry fly and I set the hook, bringing a small cutthroat to hand. It was vibrantly colored, all gold and red. It wasn’t what I expected, but it was certainly a pleasant surprise.
For the next few hours I fished my way up the creek, finding a few trout in every hole. They were all cutthroat, and some even hit 12 or 13 inches, too. Not bad, for a piece of water I’d never seen before, let alone one I almost drove right on by. And the fishing that day wasn’t a fluke, either. I’ve since fished that little creek as often as possible, keeping it a secret from just about all of my fishing buddies.
A few years after I found that creek, I took off into the mountains with a buddy of mine, set to explore a river we both knew of, but hadn’t ever fished. It flows into a big lake, and the river below that lake’s dam is well-known for producing some big brown trout. But all I knew about the river above the lake was that it flowed, uninterrupted, for more than 10 miles into the wilderness.
Parking below the dam, we started the long hike to get around the lake and up to the river. We stopped a few times to catch our breath and dine on the wild raspberries, a welcome treat in the high country. Mostly, though, we walked in silence, marveling at just how quiet and peaceful the landscape was.
Once we got around the lake and saw the river, though, we got down to the business of fishing. The river was all pocket water, into which we dangled a few dry flies. All day, we consistently caught fish behind and in front of every rock or downed log. Anywhere that the water slowed down a bit, the fish were stacked up and eager to eat anything that drifted by.
Just as we were ready to call it a day, we rounded the corner to find one last run. We fished it from the tail up to the head, catching a few fish, until something decent finally ate my dry fly.
Getting it to the net, I was surprised to see an arctic grayling. I knew they were up in those mountains, but not in that river.
Even more surprising was the moment my buddy caught another grayling from the same run – a few inches bigger than what I’d just caught. Taking the two big grayling as a sign to end the day, we started the long walk back to the car, immediately planning a return trip.
For all the successful trips to new water, there’s plenty of times when I strike out, too. But it’s the trips that work out perfectly that force so many of us to scratch that itch to explore and find somewhere new to wet a line. Maybe this next new-to-you fishery will become to you what my little cutthroat creek is to me. Either way, it’s certainly worth the trip.
Did you enjoy this story? Let us know in the comments!