Hayden Mellsop - The Accidental Angler

We took one rod between us, the intention being to alternate fishing and watching. In the event she chose a nap instead, finding a place to nestle in the sun and out of the wind while I entered into a battle of wits with several high mountain cutthroats, very much the jerk on one end awaiting a jerk on the other.

The forest through which the trail to the lake climbed alternated between scree slopes and stands of pine, dank and glistening in the early morning light. Veils of mist rose off branches still wet from the previous night’s rain, taking my mind back to the rainforests of my birth-land where decaying leaves form thick carpets and tree limbs drape heavy with moss.

After a couple of miles, the tall trees gave way to more stunted versions of themselves, bent to the prevailing winds, interspersed with meadows rich with wildflowers and mosquitos. 

Upon reaching the lake, we slipped off our packs, broke out snacks, and sat on a promontory to take in our surroundings. 

A gentle breeze scuffed the otherwise gin-clear water, every detail and crevice of the rocky bed laid bare to the naked eye until fifty feet from shore whereupon the shelf dropped away and the water turned a cold, impenetrable green. 

For twenty minutes we sat, alternately watching for fish and searching the surrounding mountainsides for the white specks of mountain goats. A single cutthroat, presumably the same one, cruised the drop off twice, no discernible pattern to its beat.

“Perhaps there’ll be more activity across the other side of the lake,” I posited. We gathered our gear and relocated. Here she found a slight hollow in the ground, protected from the wind by low bushes, and lay down using her pack as a pillow while I sat and rigged my rod then kneeling, watched the water in front of me for signs of fish.

The drop off curved closer to shore here, with several fish cruising in irregular beats, some clockwise, others counter. I cast out among them, gave the fly a little twitch, and one fish, rising vertically beneath it, engulfed the fly in a boil of water and a slash of brilliant crimson along its flank. The fish had heft, and I felt it head-shake down deep, stripping line from my grasp before a sudden release of tension told me my leader had snapped.

Too late I forgot how easily sound travels across open water as I failed to stifle a curse. Turning, it was now I discovered she’d chosen to catnap over witnessing my ineptitude.

This turned out to be something of a blush-saver. A repaired line, a fresh fly, and a few minutes later another fish, another boil, another slash of brilliant crimson, another head-shake, this time the barbless hook spat out rather than a broken line. Two more fish rose in quick succession. 

On both occasions, in my eagerness to make amends for the previous failures, I set the hook too early, feeling only the briefest of tension before the line slackened.

Then the lake fell silent. Rain clouds threatened over the surrounding mountains, the wind grew more persistent, and she awoke. I related my tale of woe, of almost this and nearly that.

“Well,” she replied, “I suppose you could say you half caught two fish.”

I laughed. “Thanks, but that’s a long-winded way of saying I caught no fish.”

We began making our way back down the trail through the wildflowers toward the forest below. Up toward us hiked three anglers.

“Any good?” the first enquired.

“Very good,” I replied. “Too good for me.”