The extreme battle for survival that the native cutthroat trout of the west have had to endure in order to perpetuate their species from generation to generation; from pluvial times of millennia ago, to searing parched drought conditions of today’s western desert, have been recounted in previous posts; with what was deemed to be a reasonably complete picture of the strife and the struggle that these trout endure on a perpetual basis.
We were aware of raw scouring scourging flooding in recent history; times where many trout were washed from their home creek, to oblivion in the desert flat. We’d seen the water so hot and sluggish that it felt warm to the touch, and the trout surely were dealing with virtually zero oxygenated water to keep their life-blood flowing. We’ve seen moss and creek grass die off in such volume, that it was impossible to present a fly into the stream— without bringing in a tangled mass of dead decaying vegetation on the line. And predatory black crowned night herons poised on the creek —not far from our favorite fishing holes—waiting for trout to make a fatal mistake.
But we were yet to see what the horrid throes of winter would be for these rugged survivors of the desert — until now, perhaps, given a brief glimpse into winter during a recent visit to the system over the Thanksgiving break.
The adage is that “a picture is worth a thousand words,” but in reality, I’m not sure that the pictures do justice to the stark, harsh, brutal surroundings that we walked along — and struggled to make sense of how trout could endure, and survive, in such an extreme, hostile, and frigid environment.
Indeed, many holes we had fished, and caught fish, in the past—were frozen skating rings, where Dori (Vizsla Fishing Dog) aptly walked, and even sat, to ponder where the fish might be in these frozen surroundings.
While one of the feeder streams introduced a gutter-trickle of water that was either warm enough, or mineralized enough, to keep ice off the stream for a stretch from where it entered the system—absolutely no trout showed themselves during an extended effort to find them in this passive stretch of stream. So very odd.
Yet, into the stretches of water that were frozen, and threatening to become all frozen habitat; a few trout did show themselves under the ice, and along the edges of the few openings that remained—where the water had flowed through notable ripples, or over drop-offs; disrupting the surface enough to allow for an opening for a fly into the trout’s under-ice domain.
I have to say; while I thought the trout were sluggish and unresponsive in late October, little did I realize that the trout would now be holding in frigid passive under-ice refuges—with a responsiveness to my presentations that was roughly the same as goldfish, open mouthed, taking sprinkled crumbs from the surface of their fishbowl. (I’ve seen Carp and Coy do the same thing for bread crumbs spread on the surface of a river, canal or pond . . .)
Seriously; the few trout that did respond, and “strike” at an offering, moved in slow motion, and with such dulled senses, that if one was hooked and yet somehow got off, they continued to pursue the offering as if it was the first time that they had seen it (in slow motion, with mouths gaping wide open).
These poor fish.
Along the way, there were a few other sights to behold . . .
Time didn’t permit moving beyond this region that required an auger to drill through the ice in order to fish. . . . We’ll leave that for another day, perhaps when the whole region is under a snow blanket to help keep the ice a bit warmer than it was on this expedition!
© Kortum of Discovery, November 2013