The car door slams shut at the trailhead parking lot and the backpack gets
shouldered. The waist belt clicks in, shoulder straps are tightened, and the sounds of dirt crunch beneath each step taken up trail. The phone instantly turns to airplane mode. The weight of the pack is shared, as the mind is also heavy. Going through the checklist, weighing down on the conscious, pondering if anything was forgotten. Though there can be uncertainty about the absence of an essential item, the certainty is that there is time allotted for a trip into the backcountry. And the trail slithering its way into the wilderness, devoid of humans, makes any effort and stress of packing worth it.
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The day clicks away and each bead of sweat pours down your face reminding of the effort needed to continue forward. The bird’s chirp away, the wind sways through the trees, and the cascading creek adjacent to the trail reminds you of where you’re going. An alpine lake is on the forecast and the sun beating down is the first hurdle of doubt to your location. The weight of the pack is another doubt with the trail doing nothing but going up.
A rest is taken where snacks are pulled out for a necessary refueling station. The
food always seems to taste better in the backcountry. The water filter is dipped into the creek and the water bottle begins to fill with cool alpine water shared by eager mountain trout.
Steps continue to be taken now as the odometer rolls over with each mile. Climbing more and more as it rolls through the hundredth of a mile, rest areas become more readily accessible despite the barren highway that is the trail. Covered in sweat and parched from thirst, the forgotten danger of predators are a distant memory where the focus now lies with each step, each breath, and the cold and clear, deep blue of the alpine lake that Google imaging inspired.
A crest in the trail shows a break in the climb where the goal lay just over the hump. Arriving after a three-step beat of walking per breath, the false summit of a small runoff lake still shows the trail continuing up to one last cirque mixed into the treeless granite splendor. Trout are now in site, rising sporadically at nearly anything that falls onto the surface.
A tempting stop to set up the rod, but a deep breath shoulders the backpack one last time and the remaining couple hundred feet of climbing off trail makes the final sweat workout in the sun worth it. A deep blue lake, nestled high in elevation greets you after a slogging in the summer sun. Where the thaw of ice from the long winter offers windows of dry fly action for hungry trout, making the lake look like it’s raining on a cloudless day.
A smile rips across your face and a quick walk to the shore slams the backpack down without a care in the world. The rod tube zips open, the top compartment of your pack unloads the reel, tippet, and flies that lay waiting to be rigged, and the buzzing mosquitoes remind you of what to tie on.
The slow wade into the near-freezing lake stings the feet that have a few new
blisters. The drag of the reel screams as you pull out line to cast and the sound of line hitting the water nearly echoes around the granite, silently waiting for a sound to send back to your ears.
A subtle twitch in the fly makes a quick slurp from the eager trout. The rod bends and the fight of the tiny trout is quick to hand. A smile and even laugh rips across your face as the effort of all the miles and sweat it took to get to that moment was for a six-inch trout that was fooled by a fly nearly a 1/5 of its size. What the fish makes up for in size is the beauty of its spots, speckled in all the right places and rivaling the beauty of the landscape it lives in.
A quick release from your wet hands allows the fish to swim back and join the
others that start to come to hand on nearly every cast. Each one easily fitting into the measurements of a ruler, but all with a color palette more impressive than any artist that has ever lived.
The sun slowly dips below the horizon as the watch shows the time well past most school nights. But the alpine glow on the granite wall skyrocketing to the heavens from the lake demands your attention far more than any television show that could keep you gripped. The slow shutter of the camera is the proper click of technology for a place like this, not that of a television remote, tuning into a show that distracts us from places like this.
A small collection of remaining firewood sparks into flame and the slow crackle of
wood keeps you company. The trout continue to feed well past daylight with sounds of them leaping from the water, inspire casts for the next day. The light pollution from the campfire is hardly a glare as the clear night sky almost begs of a night camped outside the tent. With each half hour through the night, the mercury dips as each star sparkles.
The next day cracks well before any desire to want to climb out of your sleeping bag. But the unzipping of the tent is greeted with a dark hue of orange, lighting up the granite in the reflection of the lake, showcasing an array of trout gorging on early bugs buzzing the surface.
A quick spark of the camp stove brings water to a boil and coffee is served while
gazing out at the lake shining brightly with each minute the sun crests above the horizon. Breath can be seen with the warmth of coffee and the frost encapsulated on the tent and fly rod slows the enthusiasm to begin your casts. But the solitude of the moment and the sad return to the car and life later in the day sparks even the most procrastinated to tie a fly on.
More and more small trout come to hand on a cast-to-cast rhythm. Each with its
own signature move to keep you entertained for the next one, the wonderment of what lie adjacent in the cirque up the nearby valley or even in a different range altogether begins the inspiration for the next trip.
The rod is the spine to the whole operation. The reel is like the backpack, keeping everything organized and at bay, until it is time to be pulled out and released. The guides on the rod are like the compartments of a backpack. The line is like the trail en route to the lake, guiding you the way to your cast. And the fly is the golden ticket, the entrance fee, and the persuader to entice anything that lay and wait. As these are just tools to get to the places that keep you inspired, Google mapping, reading about, seeing pictures of, and experiencing all to yourself, without a soul in site.
The connection of backpacking and fly fishing is through the solitude of being in
nature. The water is the fuel for the engine and the trail is the road to your desired location. There isn’t a need to break bank and fly across the planet to a remote location. There isn’t a need to book plane tickets and a lodge to find that amazing fishery you’ve been daydreaming of. Many locations are just outside your backdoor or just a few hours drive away. And with a little creativity and some desire to hike away, solitude and serenity aren’t far behind.
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Article and photos from Sean Jansen, an avid angler and writer based in Bozeman, Montana. Follow along with his adventures at @jansen_journals.
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