Game On

At first, there was just one. Gracefully and silently ascending through the water column. It was shadowing a school of bait-fish that had wandered too far from shore. Soon, it was joined by more hunters of the marauding party. They were on the move. Game on.

They were deliberate in their action, cruising laterally along the shoreline picking at insects and feeding on the overnight buffet that had washed ashore. Battered Crayfish, wounded Minnows, sickly Snails, distressed Damsels and lethargic Scuds that had been trapped and ensnared in yesterday’s mix of surf, detached aquatic weeds, and foam – were being dispatched by these predawn raiders as they harassed the shoreline with aggression and predatory tactics.

A hungry Rainbow Trout couldn’t resist the egg pattern drifting by in this cold tailwater river in the high country of Colorado.

They appeared from total darkness to feast on the unaware prey, having free-roam over their territory before slipping away at the first sign of trouble – back into the cold dark depths of the high mountain reservoir. These fabled raiders, often in excess of 15lbs, were the stuff of campfire folklore. These Rainbows were the stuff of Legend and I had spotted mine.

Standing immobile in the fading moonlight, sensing the very first hints of sunrise, I tracked the Beast through the glassy smooth water as I exhaled into the cold early morning mountain air. Like a ghost, I floated silently towards the edge of the embankment to catch a better glimpse. Slouched low, fly rod in hand, I slowly made my way towards the water’s edge as the fish appeared to be prowling just off the steep shoreline – a mere 10 feet ahead. When I successfully reached the edge of the ridge undetected, I ever-so-slowly peered down and saw it.

With a massive jaw, torpedo shaped body, colossal Caudal fin, blue-green tint and enormous pink stripe down the side, the Rainbow Trout breached the surface with its shark-like Dorsal Fin and inhaled all-at-once a large raft of insects and mangled Minnows that were suspended in the foam. They disappeared instantly, leaving no trace of the slaughter that had just occurred – except for a tiny ripple in the surface. This freakishly massive Rainbow stealthily swam along-shore again, in search of its next victim. Seeing that this fish was on the move, I readjusted my route, back-tracked to not spook it, and planned a new intersection point along the steep shoreline further down the lake.

A solid Brown Trout battled in the early morning hours with a Crayfish pattern in North Park, Colorado.

In the early morning glow, just barely visible, it made its way along the rocky shoreline. It was swimming freely in its own domain – eyes wide and scanning – cautiously cruising several yards behind the main group, taking its sweet time, hunting in the boundary territory and probing for its own predawn trophy – just like me.

After sneaking several yards ahead, I realized I had to make my cast or risk missing out on this fish.  I slowly got ready by unhooking my streamer from one of the lower guides on my St. Croix 5WT and began stripping line out from the Waterworks-Lamson reel. With excess fly line dangling and streamer in-hand, I eyeballed the Brute and estimated I needed to be just a little closer before this attempt.

Suddenly the fish slowed. Then stopped. It began bumping around under some floating weeds, snacking on Scuds and other invertebrates stranded there. Now was my time, but I needed to get just a little closer.

Suddenly, as I raised my foot to make my move, a few rocks slid out from under my wading boots and crashed down the steep overhang and splashed into the shallow water below. Like a rocket ignition, the massive Rainbow blasted off towards the deeper water with just one burst of caudal fin thrust. The massive trout drifted away, further and further into the depths until I could no longer make out its outline through the ever-darker water. Panic-stricken, I cursed, kicked the ground, and nearly sent myself over the edge into the water below and finally out of frustration, sat down with a thud on the cold hard bank and stared out of over the glass calm waters. I had blown it.

The beautiful high country of Colorado.

As I sat catching my breath, I took notice of the dark green slumbering forests surrounding me. The pink tinted peaks, high above this secluded reservoir signaled the day’s proper arrival. The sky was now a mixture of pink, red, orange, and dark purple on this humid morning in mid-June. The lake was as flat as a mirror. It lay without a ripple in the silver-blue water as if time itself had been frozen. The reflection from the surrounding peaks stood tall and impressive. From the pines around the edge came not a sound, no movement of branches, no birds calling, no campers camping. Silence. The scent of Sagebrush stung my nose as my breathing had returned to normal. I realized in that moment I had ruined my chances at one of these fabled fish. This was as close as I had ever come to getting a proper cast at one. I was devastated.

Then, suddenly, as if right on cue, out of the corner of my eye I noticed movement under the water. Another school of early morning Rainbows were pushing through the area. Just as soon as I had thought I had completely blown it, I was reinvigorated with hope once again. I slowly rose to my feet.

Game on.

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