Rachael was calling it the golden ticket, obviously a reference to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory that as usual I missed. After several years of trying she had gotten reservations for camping at Lake O’Hara. With limited tent pads and camper numbers it’s apparently a bit of a challenge unless you live close enough to take advantage of cancelations. While she was excited for the hiking and landscape photography possibilities I immediately hit the Google machine to research the fishing.
Sitting at 6,630 feet elevation Lake O’Hara rests in the shadows of the towering Rocky Mountain peaks surrounding it. Filled with glacial run-off, the turquoise waters are home to brook and cutthroat trout and it seemed, very few fisherman. One of the reasons I feel okay with listing the name of the lake is because I was the only angler over the few days I was there. Difficult to get to, limited access and it would be almost impossible to get even a belly boat up there unless you’re staying at the ridiculously expensive lodge cluttering up the shore.
Ankle deep in Lake O'Hara, holding one of my first cutthroat trout. Notice the red slash under the jaw.
We got in a quick stroll around the lake our first day. Noting a couple places I could manage to fling a fly line around was about as close as I got to fishing since a thunderstorm moved in. Having experienced the numbing excitement of ground shock many years ago I was not in any rush to stand in the water and wave a 9 foot lightening rod around. It turned out that after four days on the road being tent bound and reading while listening to rain drops patter on the fly was just what the doctor ordered.
Finally under sunny noon skies while Rachael was off on a hike I managed to string the fly rod up. Stopping at the first creek mouth that afforded a bit of room I tied on my favourite searching pattern for still water trout and started slinging line. It wasn’t long before the black wooly bugger had some nudges that made me think there were trout down there. One more move and I was into my first cutthroat trout.
With a short growing season dreams of fat, trophy fish were not dancing through my head. These Lake O’Hara fish exist in cold, infertile, open water for just a matter of months, locked under the ice for the rest of the year. Bringing the first trout of the day to my feet I flipped it over and immediately saw the red slashes under the jaw, cutthroat confirmed and another species added to the life list. Over the course of the afternoon I lost count of the hits, lost a couple and landed a few more. Finishing out the early evening with a dry fly, when I finally settled into the timing and sunk hooks I was happy to call it the last fish of the day.
While writing this it dawned on me that I am living the daydreams of a kid who voraciously devoured Outdoor Life, Field & Stream, Sports Afield and Outdoor Canada. Growing up in a small Ontario farming community cutthroat were exotic, fishing writers at the time made a big deal about that little red slash, even if they didn’t seem to fight any different than rainbow trout and here I was out west catching them. I’m quite certain younger me would be smiling knowing I’ve been living his dreams.
See you on the water or the mountains.