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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Fishing Memory: Alderson Lake

            This summer, as a sidelight to the Quill Gordon mystery series, I’ll be writing occasional blogs about memorable days of fishing. It’s a good way of getting those memories on the record and keeping myself in the right mood for writing the next book in the series.
            To begin, I’ll recall a day from the first year I took up fly fishing, 1982. That was also the year Linda and I bought a used 1977 VW camper and took one of our longest driving trips ever. Leaving Santa Cruz in late July, we drove north to Seattle, spent a few days with my sister there, then headed north to Canada through British Columbia to Jasper and Banff National Parks.
            From there, we went south, spending a few days at Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada and Glacier National Park in Montana before finally coming home. Total elapsed time: a little over three weeks. It’s hard now to imagine that we could ever get away for so long.

Right Equipment, No Clue

            That June I had bought an Orvis fly rod (my first of three), and it could be argued that a sales person with any ethics shouldn’t have sold it to such a greenhorn. Before the big trip, I’d taken the rod out on a couple of weekend trips where I hadn’t caught a thing. Much as I’d like to blame it on the fish or the weather, the fact was that I had no idea what I was doing.
            I fished at Banff and Jasper with similar results and by the time we got to Waterton was a bit down on my new hobby. Looking around for a day hike to take, we found on the map a trail leading from Waterton to Alderson Lake, about six and a half miles away. On a day with no rain in the forecast, we started out, with me carrying my fly rod by hand; waders and a box of flies were in my backpack.
            It was a stunningly beautiful hike, steep with switchbacks, through alpine terrain with breathtaking views. It took us about three hours to get to the lake, and we arrived a bit after 11 a.m. It was sunny, with passing clouds; the air was achingly clear, and the lake, more like a large, glacier-carved pond, had fish in it that were sporadically feeding on the surface.

Trout for Dinner

            The lake had a rocky bottom, but I was able to wade out waist-deep and cast a dry fly (an Adams or Humpy) over deeper water. The fish were cruising the lake and I and I caught three when they came near me — two cutthroats and a brook trout, 13, 11 and 10 inches long. It was legal to keep a few then, and it was before I converted to catch-and-release fishing, so we took them back to camp for dinner.
            In the three or four hours we were at the lake only a few other people came by, and they didn’t stay long. We pretty much had the place to ourselves. At some point we had a picnic lunch of sandwiches we had brought, and I had to take breaks from fishing on a regular basis because the lake was so cold it was numbing my feet, even through the boots and waders.
            Alderson Lake and the hike to it were so splendid, it would have been a special day if I hadn’t caught any fish. But because it was my first decent result with a fly rod, the day was even more special. You could say that was when I got hooked.