Montana Golden Fish
Avalanche Lake was a fairy-tale spot for me in the 1940s when I was young and could do anything. It was few miles north and west of where, in 1959, a mountain fell and dammed the Madison River that formed Quake Lake.
To reach Avalanche Lake I had to climb about 3,000 feet, over a six mile stretch. In one spot the path was only 4 feet wide and had a 700-foot tumbledown drop on the left. It was a scary place and if my hat blew off I’d never see that thing again. The Forest Service said no one ever went up there because the hike was too tough.
My father warned that grizzlies ranged in the area where I was going so I planned to carry a dead fish. If I met a bear I’d throw the fish at him and run downhill. A grizzly’s front legs are shorter than its hind legs so I would have the advantage if it came to a race. Besides, my incentive would be greater than his.
After seven hours I reached the lake and started fishing. The water was deep and cold. Several dozen huge golden trout slowly swished through the glassy water. To my disappointment, none of them wanted any fly in my vast repertoire of lures, not even a wooly worm.
One of my most humbling dreads, and one that’s most idiosyncratic of my personality, is to be ignored by a beautiful fish. I didn’t catch any … not even one to throw at a griz if I met him on the down trail.
The next day, while preparing to leave, I placed my Dr. Pepper under a rock in the lake to save for next time. No need to haul it out. ZOWEE!!! That’s when I noticed the fresh water shrimp. It looked like a hundred of them scurrying about. They were small, maybe 1/4th inch long, and their yellowish-translucent color made them almost invisible. That had to be the answer. That’s what the fish were feeding on. I could hardly wait get home and make some flies that imitated the shrimp.
Several weeks later I took Donnie with me to the lake. I wanted to apply my fishing genius and show those rude trout who was their better.
Oh, somewhere near a placid mountain meadow
A mariposa lily blooms its yellow best.
And on the hills and in the valleys mellow,
The chirpy plover gathers grasses for her nest.
But on a lake that tries the sportsman’s skill,
He went to cast his line and catch a trout,
Alone he stood to test the wily fishes will.
And again the mighty fisherman struck out.