Steens Mountain, OR
High Desert Oasis
By John Shewey
I love angling for bonefish in inches of water on ivory-white hard-sand flats. But bonefish don’t live at 8,500 feet, in a near-frozen lake, in a remote part of the Great Basin West.
But as far as I was concerned, this was close enough: Lahontan cutthroat trout materializing on a shoreline shoal like wraiths, ghosting up from the adjacent depths and feeding on something that compelled them to venture into potentially perilous shallows. The slightest wind ripple on the water made the fish difficult to track.
“They’re cutthroat in an alpine lake; how hard can this be?” I told myself.
I sent a beadhead Prince Nymph zinging over the shoal. The fly plopped down, the line cast a shadow, the fish vanished. Ugh. I should have been more careful, more respectful. Hubris can carry a price.
I waited. A trout, then two, then three appeared on the shoal, easy to see when they turned broadside, but nearly invisible when they turned head-on to where I was kneeling just 30 feet distant.
I snipped off the beadhead, added 6 feet of tippet, and tied on a nondescript little fuzz ball that I suppose might have been a scud pattern. I soaked the fly first, then cast just far enough that the leader and tippet laid out over the light-bottom shoal, but not the fly line itself. I waited while the fly sank to the bottom. I waited some more. The breeze died and the water stilled. Two cutts approached the general location where the fly lay in wait. I twitched it once, then again, and both fish scooted quickly forward—and then wandered off, unimpressed.
This was a lot like pursuing big, suspicious bonefish in skinny water.