We passed the state line into Wyoming, parked at the trailhead, and started hiking up the trail towards Hidden Corral Basin, a location, as the name indicates, complete with nineteenth-century outlaw lore. South Bitch Creek flowed through the basin, and as soon as I saw it I knew–this was A Fisherman’s Paradise. We broke out our fishing rods, me with my fly rod and my companions with their spin casting gear and got started.
Early on, in an attempt to sneak up to a hard to access portion of the brook, I quietly fought my way through the thick speckled alders lining the shore. As I finally broke through the trees in anticipation of landing a big trout, I looked up at the far side of the stream and staring directly at me was a bull moose. Carefully, very carefully, I backtracked allowing the trees to close in, shielding me from the Moose’s stare. I looked for another place to find trout.
I found it upstream at a bend in the stream with a six-foot-high boulder that had helped create a pool about forty feet across. I snuck up behind it and lay out some perfect casts. No luck. After working it hard for a half hour I finally climbed up on the boulder and looked down into the pool. I saw at least a dozen beautiful cutthroat trout hanging out without the least bit of interest in what I had been showing them. Finally, I declared the fish the winners and headed back to camp.
My three companions were having similar luck. They too hadn’t caught any fish. I suggested they look for some worms–the conquistadores of novice fishermen. They hiked a mile up and down the trail digging for worms, grubs, or anything else to put on the end of their hook that might attract fish. No luck.
Over the next three days I fished as hard as I ever had. I tried every fly in my box, working the meandering stream miles in both directions. I caught two fish.
Early on the evening of our last day before heading back to civilization, three of the four of us were at camp contemplating what we might have for dinner and feeling sorry for ourselves for Lady Luck’s absence. Suddenly, across the meadow we saw our fourth companion Chris walking slowly towards us. He had something in his hand but we couldn’t make it out. Chris was in his last year of graduate school wrapping up a PhD in chemistry and was about as straight an arrow as you’ll ever meet. Easy going, smart, and extremely likable, although he didn’t have a wealth of outdoor experience, especially with fishing. As he got closer it was clear he had a wide smile and in his hand was a stringer of eight of the most beautiful cutthroat trout I’ve ever seen. He sat down and told us a story that few believe. But I do.
Chris had found the same pool with the big boulder that I had fished and he fished it hard with his Phoebe fishing lure, but without luck. He cast into the pool at least thirty times without results. Finally he accidentally cast across the pool and caught his lure in the grasses on the far side. His pole bent hard as he pulled and pulled trying to free the lure, but trying not to not break the line. Finally the lure broke free and came sailing across the pool. He reeled it in and on the lure’s hook was a beautiful four-inch worm. Being as smart as he was, he laid the worm on a log and proceeded to cut it into half-inch pieces.
Each half-inch piece caught him a gorgeous trout.
But that’s not quite the end of the story.
Two of those trout made a great dinner for the four of us and the other six were cleaned and put in a plastic bag to be packed out the next day along with my two fish.
We packed up early the next morning and hiked out. Whenever we took a break, to keep the fish fresh, I put the bag in the wide glacier-fed stream.
At the last rest stop I sat on a rock along the shore and placed the bag of fish in a small eddy. For an extra measure of safety I put a good size rock on it as I had at the previous stops. Then I turned away in conversation and when I turned back, the bag was floating away in the middle of the stream.
I jumped in and ran out into the swift thigh-deep current to retrieve our precious catch.
I fought my way into the middle of the stream and reached for the bag, my fingers so numb I wasn’t certain they had grabbed it. Miraculously I did, and slid and slipped my way back to shore, thrilled, chilled, and triumphant.
As I stood on shore grateful I hadn’t lost our catch, I realized why I’d risked my life for eight lousy cutthroat trout: I was damned if I was going to let our Bag O’fish be caught by those Coors-drinking, lawn-chair-sittin’ fishermen down by the highway.