How we found Lost Lake

Lost Lake

This story was published in Wyoming Wildlife magazine in March 2006.

It was 1970 and I was driving my new Bronco home from the dealership. My first four wheel drive! No longer would I be confined to the road, forced to fish where others fished. Now I could go ANYWHERE! Bear in mind this was before the SUV craze. Now, in the twenty-first century, it seems everyone has 4WD. But in 1970 if you wanted to fish any distance from a road you usually had to [gasp!] walk.

Our annual family vacation out west would be coming up soon. We always stayed for ten days at a “guest ranch” located on a state highway. Until now my father-in-law and I had done most of our fishing close to a black top road. In fact the highway paralleled the river for several miles. The roadside was public access but we had permission to fish the private water on the other side. But those little blue spots on the topo maps, high mountain lakes up where the elevation lines were close together, had always beckoned seductively to us. Small streams with names like Little Alder Creek, Lime Spring Branch, Dead Man Run … names that fairly screamed I AM FULL OF TROUT… all these places and more would now be accessible to us.

I began to subscribe to off-road magazines with cover photos of Jeeps, Broncos, and Land Cruisers high in the air, bouncing at high speeds off huge boulders. I could never get enough of those photos of off-road trucks with huge, aggressive tires, roll bars, and jerry cans of extra gasoline strapped to the rear.

I sent away to state game and fish departments for maps, brochures about National Forests, anything I could find that would enlarge our list of remote fishing spots. Doc and I studied them for hours, looking for exotic, hard-to-reach lakes and streams that would be ideal for day trips. We needed places where we could leave early in the morning, arrive at the chosen lake or stream, fish for several hours, then return in time for dinner. This was after all a family vacation. No sense unnecessarily antagonizing the women folk, who would be left all day to care for the children.

One of the many things I loved about my father-in-law was that he had somehow hung onto that boyish quality that most sixty-five year olds have long sense lost. I marveled at how a man thirty years my senior could get as excited as a small boy.

After much discussion we chose a small body of water with the enticing name of Lost Lake. The name reverberated through our fish brains like a number ten Royal Coachman being snapped off on a bad back cast. Lost Lake appeared to nestle snugly in a small meadow between two ten thousand foot peaks. The lake apparently covered about twenty acres and was just remote enough to make it interesting. Actually it wasn’t “off road” in the strictest sense. According to the legend on the Forest Service map we would leave the highway a few miles from our guest ranch and travel steeply up-hill about fifteen miles on a winding solid black line which indicated a gravel road. The solid black line would then become a dotted line indicating a Jeep trail. In other words there would be no one there who DIDN’T HAVE FOUR WHEEL DRIVE! Or maybe a horse.

Giddy with anticipation, we got up early the next morning, packed our tackle and lunch and headed for the high country. On the way we discussed our plan of attack. The trout in Lost Lake, probably native cutthroats or brookies, would be very shy, having never seen a human before. We would have to stop and rig up quite a ways from the water, then crawl on our bellies through the grass and, without getting too close, lob our flys onto the water, then wait for the unsuspecting trout to fight each other to see who could reach the tasty morsel first. We should also keep our eyes peeled for bears and the occasional mountain lion.

Our excitement grew as the road turned to gravel. We rolled the windows down so we could smell the cool mountain air. As we approached the fifteen-mile mark I checked to see if I knew how to engage 4WD as I had never actually done it before. Doc began to think aloud about which fly we should try first, a hopper pattern or a Rio Grand King.

Fifteen miles of gravel road came and went… and we were still on gravel. “So what?” I thought. The fifteen-mile distance was only an approximation. We’d be hitting that Jeep trail any minute. Probably just around the next hairpin curve.

I glanced at the odometer. “We’ve been on gravel for twenty-five miles now”, I said. Doc puzzled over the map in silence as we rounded one more curve and ascended higher and higher into the mountains, the smooth gravel road lined on both sides by tall pines and aspens. Something didn’t seem right.

The exact moment when you learn your plans have gone awry is not always apparent. Sometimes it creeps up on you. But not this time. A little girl, no more than ten years old, came roaring around the next curve toward us on a tiny motor scooter, her blond ponytail flying out behind her. She waved as she sped downhill past us and we rounded the curve and saw, for the first time, Lost Lake.

“Check the map again”, said Doc. “Maybe this isn’t it”.

I stopped the Bronco and grabbed the map off the console and stared at it.

“It’s gotta be”, I said. “But what happened to the Jeep trail? We could have driven up here in your Buick!”

A wooden Forest Service sign near the shore confirmed the bad news. This was, unfortunately, Lost Lake.

The lake was indeed nestled between two high peaks. And the scenery was beautiful. But the near side was lined with motor homes and camper trailers, some apparently pulled by low-slung family sedans. Fords, Chevvies, and Caddies. Someone had set up a net and two families were playing a heated game of badminton. The metallic clang of horseshoes hitting a post could be heard above the sound of several boom boxes in noisy competition with one another. Small children floated and splashed on inner tubes and colorful plastic rafts near the shore. Senior citizens rested in aluminum lawn chairs along the bank. Some of them dozed or read newspapers, their casting rods propped in forked sticks in front of them. Another child raced past us on a motor scooter and several boys zoomed about on bicycles. A toddler stood in a playpen as his mom sipped a can of beer and rigged up a heavy casting rod with prepared trout bait on a treble hook. I looked down at the nearby shore and saw one small dead rainbow trout, floating belly-up in the water, impaled on a large metal stringer secured to a tackle box.

The far shore of Lost Lake was steeper than this side but only slightly less congested. The newly graveled road completely encircled the lake and campgrounds full of happy campers were marked with neat wooden signs. One man appeared to be changing the oil in his Plymouth. A launching ramp at the far end was crowded with boats and trailers, some just now launching, others coming out. Several fishermen in boats appeared to be dozing on the water’s surface.

A green Fish and Game department pick-up rolled slowly toward us on the gravel road, stirring up a white cloud of caliche dust. The game warden was coming from the launching ramp where he had apparently been checking licenses and bag limits. He pulled his truck along side my Bronco.

“Why so glum, Fellas?” he asked, giving us a friendly smile. “It’s a great day to be out and about.”

I showed him our map and asked him about the Jeep trail.

“Oh, that”, he said, handing the map back to me. That’s the old 1963 map. He reached into the glove compartment and handed us a crisp, neatly folded new one.

“Take this one”, he offered. “This road was graveled clear to the lake two years ago. The county grades it and re-gravels it often because as you can see it gets a lot of traffic.” He opened the pick-up door, got out and leaned against the Bronco fender.

“If you plan to fish I’ll check your licenses if you don’t mind”.

Doc and I looked at one another. We had fished together long enough to read each other’s minds.

“Nope”, I said. “I think we’ll just try to get in on the badminton game.”

“Or maybe pitch some horse shoes”, added Doc.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Colorado trout fishing in the 1950s

This story was first published in the August 2008 issue of Wyoming Wildlife under the title Trout Tourist.

 

 

 

 

 

“I’m just not going to fish like that!” yelled Doc, my father-in-law, as he stomped back into our rented summer cabin. He hung his fiberglass fly rod on two nails driven into the plywood wall, hurled himself into a chair, and started peeling off his hip boots.

“What’s wrong?” I asked innocently. I was new to trout fishing and didn’t understand stream protocol.

 

“What’s WRONG?!”, he roared, sending one hip boot skidding across the linoleum floor. “Some son of a bitch got in the water not two hundred yards from me! I’ll be damned if I’ll drive all the way out here to fish right next to some inconsiderate bastard!”

The clear mountain air was blue with swear words as he shuffled a deck of cards and started dealing a game of solitaire, slapping the cards violently onto the old wooden table.

 

That was 1958, my first year of marriage to his daughter and my first trout fishing trip. Since then I’ve enjoyed many years with the daughter and so many enjoyable days with her father on western trout streams that I can’t count them all. But I have to tell you, there have been a lot of changes since the ‘50s, some beneficial, some not.

 

Our equipment today is vastly superior to what was available then and we have a much greater variety of goodies from which to choose. Back then we used automatic fly reels. Mine fit horizontally against the reel seat and was filled with level fly line. In those days letters instead of numbers designated line size. A double taper might be HCH, a level line might be simply C or whatever. When I wanted to reel line in I pressed a protruding lever with my little finger and the spool whirred inside its green aluminum case, sucking in line like you’d suck a long string of spaghetti into your mouth.

 

Graphite fly rods might have been available somewhere but I didn’t see my first one until the ‘70s or ‘80s. We knew bamboo rods existed but we thought they were only for rich people. In 1958 if anyone had told me I would someday pay over $400 for a fly rod, $250 for a reel, and $60 for a fly line I would have laughed. Our rods were fiberglass, had names like Shakespeare and South Bend, and they served us quite well. Mine was all shiny and new in 1958 but Doc’s had been around a while and some of the guides were held on with black electrician’s tape. To say the man was not an equipment freak is an understatement.

 

The only flies we used were Rio Grande Kings, Royal Coachmen, and something called a Gray Hackle Yellow. In fact we didn’t even know about fly shops. We bought our flies at the hardware store, right next to the shovels and pick axes. The flies were all “snelled”, which meant they had a 3” piece of what appeared to be fifteen-pound test monofilament tied to the eye, with a big loop on the other end. One wall of the hardware store featured paper tracings of huge trout that had been hauled out of the surrounding waters. The name of the angler, trout’s weight and fly pattern, lure, or bait on which it was taken was written inside the outline of the fish. Doc and I would stare at those lunkers and hope that someday we would add a tracing of our own to the wall, but the biggest fish of the trip for us was always a thirteen or fourteen incher, flopping in the cabin sink and rapidly losing its color. We later learned that many of those “wall fish” were caught by local fishermen in the spring before runoff. We tourists were left to thrash the warmer July and August water for the little ten to fourteen inchers.

 

I didn’t own a fishing vest until much later. Besides rod and reel my equipment consisted of an old army gas mask bag for the few flies I carried, a pair of long-nosed pliers, a pocketknife, and an aluminum-frame net with an elastic cord. Dry flies as opposed to wet flies? Tapered leaders? Get serious! We tied straight sections of monofilament – usually the same six-pound test we’d been using for crappie – onto the looped end of the snell and started fishing. As long as the fly floated it was a dry fly. When it sank it became a wet fly. The trout didn’t seem to care and neither did we.

 

And yes, we ate some of the trout we caught. We stayed in the cabin ten days, tried to have a fresh trout dinner once or twice, and we usually managed to take home a possession limit. We never violated the regulations and Doc was proficient enough to release many more trout than he kept. I, on the other hand, was so proud of myself when I managed to actually catch a limit that I would put them on wet grass in my “creel” to keep them fresh while I took them around to show people in the other cabins. It was only after I became a more efficient predator that I discovered the joys of catch and release.

 

That first year my attempts at trout fishing were bumbling at best. I wore a borrowed pair of leaky stocking foot chest waders and my “wading boots” were high-top Ked sneakers. We didn’t know about felt soles yet, so I slipped and fell in the river a lot. However, to my surprise, when I kept my fly out of the trees and got it into the water I found I could occasionally bag a few small brownies and rainbows.

 

Years later a photograph of the opening day crowd at a popular Missouri trout park appeared in a national magazine. In the photo fishermen were literally lined up shoulder-to-shoulder waiting for a siren to blow signaling the start of trout season. I showed the photo to Doc and he thought it was a joke.

“You’re kidding me,” he said, staring in disbelief at the photo. “Nobody would fish like that.” I didn’t have the heart to tell him it was true.

 

Eventually Doc and I started fishing the Rio Grande twice a year, the second trip coming in the fall with a small group of other men. The weather was crisp, the aspens were bright yellow, and the trout were still reasonably cooperative.

 

Doc was usually head cook on these outings, and he said that after he got too old to fish he still wanted to come out with the group to cook for us and play cards. But a strange thing happened. As he grew older his wading and fishing skills stayed fairly sharp but his cooking deteriorated to the point where he had to be gently persuaded to let someone else take over most of the kitchen duties.

 

As I look back on fifty years of fishing Colorado I wouldn’t trade my experiences for anything. Oh, I could do without some of the burnt biscuits, the scorched trout, and the dunkings I took while balanced in rubber soled boots on slippery rocks. But over all they are some of the most enjoyable memories of my life and I can hardly wait to get back out there and make some more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Full Circle

When I first waded into the swift, cold waters of Colorado’s Rio Grande River in 1958, wearing Ked tennis shoes over borrowed stocking foot waders, I hoped to catch a trout… and not fall down and drown. As I became a more proficient wader and angler I started hoping to catch a limit of trout. As the years rolled by I caught many limits of trout. I ate some and released more. I’m ashamed …but not much… to say I gloried in sometimes being that guy on the stream who caught trout when no one else could. But I was nice about it. I willingly shared my home-tied flies with other anglers. Now that I’m eighty years old I find once again that I hope to catch a trout … and not fall down and drown.

I’ve come full circle.

Bennett Spring

 

 

 

 

Just for the halibut

My  Colorado friend John Norman caught a big halibut in Alaska recently. Actually I don’t know anything about halibut so maybe, relatively speaking,  this is a SMALL one.

I’ve seen John land 26″ rainbow trout on #22 flies. He’s a good fisherman. But I suspect he caught this monster while fishing from a charter boat using a block-and-tackle or maybe an amphibious fork lift.

I’ll bet it was a bitch to clean.