A few weeks back when the aspens leaves were still clinging to the trees and painting the world in golden colors we set out with our fishing gear and a thermos of margaritas (often an essential piece in our day hike ensemble). There were rumors of an “okay” lake with a bounty of trout and we thought the fall weather was perfect for fishing above treeline. The person providing the beta on the lake being average, which is still praise in the San Juan Mountains, failed to mention the fantastic cascade of water tumbling through the willows and overs rocks all along the hike. If there were going to be fish in the lake they sure weren’t swimming upstream to get there. We, however, were eager to get up to the source of the soundtrack.
The lake ranks several grades higher than average quality, and luckily, was not super crowded. It sat at 11,000 feet nested beneath craggy peaks and a glorious blue sky. The teal and turquoise water glistened and a rocky promontory beyond the few picnicking non-fisher people looked ideal for our afternoon of fishing (and sipping). Even before we reached our chosen spot we caught glimpses of the promised fish. Red flashes just below the surface. We grew impatient.
I had a fly on the water first and watched several sea monsters masquerading as trout inspect the offering. When one could no longer dismiss its curiosity and took the fly I was in for a giddy dance. The ruby throated gem that wound up in my net is without a doubt the most beautiful fish I have caught, and likely the largest. But it was just the first of several the two of us would have the pleasure of touching that day.
While we enjoyed the fishing and the margaritas in that slice of alpine heaven, another couple approached our location. She set up her rod and reel. He explored the lake shore. She had no luck. The fish weren’t dancing with her. And each time one of us would scoop up a new trout you could hear her sputtering. When the gentlemen returned we heard her complain we were catching all of the fish. That’s when he decided to find out our secret. I talked with him, and even after his condescending comment on our Tenkara methods—“oh you are stick fishing”—I offered him one of my flies that had been working rather well for us. I’d tied it just the night before and somehow handing it off to this stranger vested me in her outcome. She tied it on to her line with such hope despite her nonbeliever husband who didn’t trust stick fishers.
I spoke with the trout swirling around us and implored them to go visit the neighbor but they didn’t budge. Despite my donation to her cause, she failed to elicit a dance partner on her line. I almost felt bad when I netted one last cutthroat before we packed up. She continued to accuse us of something nefarious and threw dagger-eyed looks our way.
As we walked back to the truck admiring the late afternoon light on Lizard Head and the other peaks above Telluride we couldn’t help wondering if the woman took our spot and found the fish more amenable. Maybe she would go home and look up Tenkara. I was over any disappointment I felt lakeside that my fly failed her. We had a really good trip to the okay lake full of giant fish with our sticks.