Monday, August 2, 2010

Headwater Refuges

I set out last Sunday on a different type of fishing excursion. I wanted to leave the weekend crowds behind and look for a 100% pure westslope cutthroat. A local biologist had mentioned a very, small headwater stream that had pure cutts in it...and it was close to home. So I packed up my 6' 3wt, a lunch, and my camera and hit the trail.

It took some bushwhacking to finally locate the tiny stream, and when I did I have to admit that I was skeptical. The stream had a steep gradient with lots of woody debris, and not much water. It was set into a relatively steep ravine that made walking difficult, not to mention fishing. I wasn't about to turn around though, and started up the brushy ravine trying my best to drop my fly into all the pockets I could. I had on my trusty foam beetle...a pattern that rarely fails to produce on small creeks. On this day, however, the beetle was not the ticket and after not getting any action out of one of the deeper spots I switched it up to a small stimulator. The next cast into the pool instantly produced a small fish, and I was excited to meet this little cutthroat. As I bent down to unhook the fish, though, I could see something was wrong. This little fish didn't have the distinctive slashes of a cutthroat and was much too spotted. It was a rainbow trout that had managed to swim upstream through the obstacle course...and now threatened to compromise the genetic integrity of the cutts. I was momentarily stunned, and the fish sensing my current state expertly flopped itself out of my hands and back into the water before I could execute it.

I continued on upstream, and came upon a short level stretch with a couple of better looking pools. I fished these and was pleased to see some fish attempting to hit my fly...I guess this tiny creek has some life in it. A thunderstorm suddenly broke, and I as I watched the rain pour down I realized how hard the fish must have it in this stream. Just this quick little storm was rapidly affecting the level of the stream, as well as the clarity. I could only imagine what a raging torrent it must be in the spring. It is a testament to the tenacity of these little fish, that they can survive in these conditions...and at the same time, it is sad that this habitat is all they have left. As the storm passed, I began walking downstream towards the confluence with a larger stream full of rainbows and brook trout. I flicked my fly a few more times into a good looking pocket, and a tiny flash of silver hooked itself. Here it was, in my hand, a little cutthroat trout with its colorful slashes looking like small jewels. As I fumbled for my camera, the little fish (with an impeccable sense of timing) flipped up in the air and went nose first back in to the creek. It's least I know he's there.

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