“Do you see any fish?”
I shook my head. My buddy Blair and I stood in the middle of a river that wound its way through a meadow, in the heart of Wyoming’s high country.
“Haven’t even spooked one,” I said. “Look at the bugs coming off – the fish should be coming up, right?”
Blair nodded, and we continued to walk, cast, and watch, waiting to see a subtle slurp or a splashy rise, signaling that we’d finally found where the fish were hiding.
We’d driven and fished around 30 miles of river, and it was only noon. The morning began with a 33-degree temperature and frost on the willows. We’d turned a few whitefish over on nymphs, but since the sun rose and we’d tied on dry flies, neither of us had seen head nor tail of a trout.
“Let’s just keep going up,” I said, gesturing up the canyon. Towards the notch in the mountains that signaled we were near one of Wyoming’s most prominent landmarks – the Tri-Basin Divide.
An hour later, we stood on top of the Wyoming Range, looking at the three basins all around us – the Colorado River Basin, Great Basin, and Columbia River Basin.
“Kind of amazing, isn’t it?” I said to Blair. “All the water from this point goes into one of the three biggest basins in the country.”
We wordlessly got back in the car and started back down the road, headed towards the Colorado River Basin.
Ten or so miles later, we parked next to a rambling stream. It was 1:30pm, we only had three whitefish to show for our efforts, and we were desperate for some trout – specifically, the cutthroat we’d come to chase.
The usual afternoon Wyoming wind flitted through the willows as Blair took off downstream and I walked upstream. Cast after cast under the willows yielded nothing. Not a bite, not a look, not a rise and refusal.
Nothing. Just one barren stream.
Then I turned a corner and saw something incredible.
The perfect little trout pool. Water rushed over a series of rocks, pounding down and forming a pool only knee-deep with thick current seams and plenty of holding water for fish looking to escape the heat, relax, and wait until the evening hatch.
The trout were doing the same thing Blair and I were doing – heading higher to escape the heat. We knew low-elevation rivers wouldn’t fish as well, since the high country was wide open and begging to be fished. Only a few months of the year are you able to fish above 10,000 feet, and we were there at the prime time.
So where were the fish?
I sighed, and studied the river in front of me. I picked a few spots to cast to first, made sure my fly was able to float, and lobbed a few false casts before my size 10 dry landed softly on the water.
Immediately, a fish smacked the fly and I set the hook, yelling, “Hot dog!” as loud as possible (Hank Patterson would have been proud). The fish wasn’t much to talk about – an 11-inch cutthroat at best – but it represented hours of hard work, 80 miles of travel on a dirt road, and the knowledge that if you’re willing to just go higher, you can beat off fly fishing’s late-summer doldrums and find eager fish.
Blair rounded the corner, alerted by me letting the rest of the river (Blair and about a hundred cows) know I’d hooked up. He saw the fish in my hands, the grin on my face, and I stepped aside to let him cast into the hole. Moments later, he pulled a cutthroat into his net.
The fish were small, the fishing slow, and arguably the most exciting part of the day was seeing a cow moose taking ownership of a large stretch of water, but we’d accomplished what we’d set out to do. Cutthroat ate our dry flies, we fished three basins in one day, and by nightfall we were too exhausted to do anything but listen to Chris LeDoux on the drive home.
That’s a success, in my book.