"Sleeping" with one rock jutting into my back and one against my hip, waking up in fits gasping for oxygen in the thin, crisp air, and loving every second of it. This is the way of the high mountain lake.
We set out on the pure vertical, scree riddled hike up to the continental divide.
The destination rests delicately along the sinuous ridge of the divide and harbors a population of cutthroat trout who are used to seeing, and avoiding, the human visitors.
The 3.5 mile hike flew by surprisingly fast and reluctantly revealed the vast sanctuary of the mountains to the West of the divide.
We scoped out the lake and broke camp. We all sat down and relaxed under the clouds that whirled around us in a spherical bend... clouds that know no tyranny of weatherman... clouds that will either permit to be admired, or strike down a wrath that is not bound by our seasons.
After a restful meditation, it's time to get down to business.
The cutts are hard to spot at first but after some determined attention they reveal themselves. They're in there all right. They're still doing their spawning dance; cruising the banks in pairs and podding up in groups in the shallows.
Someone shouts to look up in the mountains above the lake and precariously perched at the top is a mountain goat casually grazing on the snow pack.
I took this as a good omen because I've been patiently searching for one of these guys every time I'm in the back country. Sure enough, the omen makes good and I catch and release a brilliantly red cutthroat. I didn't have my camera so there is no photo.
We spend the rest of the evening watching the mountains and clouds get splashed with the ever changing pastels of the setting sun.
The sunset was only half of the show for the night. We were due for a full moon as well. It took about an hour and a half of total darkness for the moon to meander its way above the opposite mountain line, and we were there waiting for it.
A rising, full moon at altitude is something wondrous to behold. It looked as though a searchlight had flooded the mountain tops. It defiantly cast black hole shadows in the middle of the night and reflected it's pale, lonely blue off of the snow. Somewhere a mountain goat thought it was daytime again.
We awoke to find the Earth in utter stillness and repose. The mountain gazed sleepily at it's own reflection in the lake. Throughout the morning we cheered up to the couple of hikers and dogs summiting the peak.
Suddenly a ripple expanded outward on the surface of the lake in the shallows. Shortly thereafter a "V" violently raced a few feet and then fizzled out on the surface. A trout was working the area.
I grabbed my fly rod which was already strung up from the prior day and headed over to the spot. Once I was near the area I sat on my butt and slowly picked my way over the rocks like a crab to stay low and get within casting range. Now it's time to select the fly.
Black midges were the only bugs in the air the day before. Since the trout was racing just under the surface it was apparent that it was ambushing emerging nymphs on their way to the top. I tied on a tiny black nymph and on the first cast the feeding cutty swooped in and grabbed the fly in full stride.
Pull out the hook, a quick photo, and then right back to the water it goes.
Later I put on 12 feet of sinking tip line with a woolly bugger. As a cruiser comes by I draw the fly up from beneath and it gets his attention. He dives deeper and I set the hook on the turn of his head. Bingo. Another beautiful male cutty is caught, admired, and then released to swim another day.
The mountain said enough and showed us some threatening clouds so we packed up and moved out. The trip was beyond anything I could ask for, and I even got to catch a few of Colorado's cutthroats. We made our way back down the trail with smiles across our faces and enough memories to last through most of the next week at work.
**I've caught my personal best brown, rainbow and cutty this year. All three were caught with a sinking tip / woolly bugger in lakes.