Surf Casting, Wyoming Style

I've never been much of a still water fisherman. It's hard to pry myself away from the streams, rivers, and creeks, but there are times when I'll head to a pond or lake to try my luck. Generally this happens right after ice off or during high water, when the rivers are blown out and unfishable. While catching fish in any circumstance is good, the lack of structure, movement, and my own lack of knowledge about lake fishing tires me much quickly than fishing a river. Every once in a while though, the combination of location and fishing success hold my attention and I am transformed into a true lake fisherman.

Over the past few years, I've been lucky enough to spend my birthday on the Deschutes River, bike fishing for steelhead. I can hardly think of a better way to spend a birthday. Being in Wyoming, and out of striking distance of the Deschutes, I have to settle for some of the best trout fishing rivers in the country. Life is hard. So in lieu of swinging feather wing Orange Herons for steel, I headed to Yellowstone Lake in search of monster cutthroats cruising the banks of the largest high altitude lake in the US to celebrate 32.

Hiking solo along the beach, I walked for an hour, jumping over driftwood and hopping rocks along the way. Weather on the lake can be intense, with high winds, waves, and extremely cold water. At 136 square miles, Yellowstone Lake is the closest thing to an ocean in Wyoming. This day did not disappoint with 30 mph winds, white caps, and 4 foot waves curling over unseen shoals. Not exactly ideal fly fishing conditions.

Undeterred, I made the best of it. A two handed trout rod helped immensely, cutting through the wind and sending my fly 40+ feet past the breakers. The fishing was slow, but I managed to entice a few cutthroats following my fly as I stripped it towards the bank. One memorable fish showed itself sprinting after my streamer in the trough between two waves. Momentary excitement got the best of me and the hookup was blown.

Hours later, while blind casting into the surf, a LARGE gold and ruby colored cutty came cruising 15 feet from the shore, casually sipping an errant mayfly right in front of me. I quickly yet purposefully pulled slack from my line, and recasted 20 feet in front of his path. Slowly I stripped in line bringing the bunny strip streamer in front of where I hoped the fish would be. Luck held out, and my line came tight on the largest cutthroat I've ever encountered. The large buck made a run or two into the surf, adding a new challenge to landing a big fish among rocks and crashing waves. I eventually brought him in to the shallows, and while grabbing my leader to haul in the final feet, he sprung free and paused shortly at my feet before darting off into the deep. While really hoping to look up close at this gorgeous specimen, I savored those few moments before he swam off. Sometimes the most memorable fish are the ones that don't come to hand.