Bucket List checked off

The Ladder Day Saints of Pyramid Lake and the joy of a successful check on the bucket list.

What to do, what to do? With ski season brought to a hasty pause, live music on hiatus and large gatherings over 10 discontinued, it feels like things are way out of sorts.

The days are still getting longer and nicer, so there is little incentive to stay inside, glued to the TV (Although I heard that CNN and FoxNews are tied as the early frontrunners for the Best Dramatic Series Emmy.).

In these times of outer uncertainties and the fears that can creep in, it can be helpful to have the safe refuge of dreams. Especially long-term dreams realized, even if they are relatively simple ones.

Thus, when faced with confounding circumstances and trials, dusting off and enacting a bucket list goal or task that slipped by the wayside in simpler times can often provide a balancing aspect of life we didn’t even know we missed.

One of the great things about the fly fishing bucket list is that the items don’t often require a ton of time or money to enjoy. They can be actualized in a socially distanced arena, without a stockpile of hand sanitizer or TP, and a wealth of fresh air and sunshine.

One of these dreams manifested for me recently, rooted in a teenage angler’s memory of a picture in a magazine. A “Fly Fishing” magazine, friends! The image was one of people standing and fishing on ladders, in a lake full of monster trout, surrounded by desert. It looked like they were on Mars, with the fish created by Salvador Dali. If you’re 14 and a fly rod addict, such images stick.

For decades, this image sat at the bottom of my list, despite a ton of research into the practice and a deep yearning to see what this was all about.

Life continued to get in the way and gradually, the dream lost its import. A similar item on the list, to catch all the 13 subspecies of cutthroat trout in their native waters was all that kept the embers fanned.

What I discovered back then was the existence of a large, deep lake in west central Nevada called Pyramid. It was the ancestral home of the Lahontan subspecies of Cutthroat Trout and on the Paiute Indian reservation.

At that time, the fish were nearly extinct from overfishing and water mismanagement and just starting a comeback in Pyramid itself.

While the world record cutt of 41 pounds was caught there in the late ‘30s, there were a ton of ifs on their recovery.

A new strain of the Lahontan called the Summit Peak is being used to reestablish, even though they don’t grow as large as the original strain. Still, I made notes of lakes in eastern Washington where the original fish had been stocked, as a backup plan.

What I didn’t learn of until later was a great bit of sleuthing by an aquatic biologist, Dr. Robert Behnke. He had uncovered anecdotal knowledge of the original fish being inadvertently stocked in the Pilot Peak drainage of eastern Nevada, when the train they were being transported on broke down.

Rather than let them perish, the fingerlings were turned loose. This turned into an alternate brood stock for Pyramid and they are growing to immense size for a trout once again. 20-pound specimens are now present and 10 pounds is relatively common.

Well, news of their recovery in their original habitat was all it took to reinvigorate the dream, set plans in motion. It took several more seasons of life in the way, before this adventure made the top of the list in fall 2019.

Now, about the ladders. Because of the structure of the lake, the relentless wind, chilly waters and the feeding patterns of the trout, local anglers developed a unique approach of fishing.

Basically, you walk out to waist deep in the lake, set up a 6-foot platform ladder, climb out of the waves of icy water and can more easily cast out past the shelves where these giants cruise for the smaller fish they consume.

It’s a surprisingly comfortable way to fish, if you’re dressed right, well fed and hydrated and 100 feet from the car. During the best season of spring, conga lines of ladders stretch along every beach, a hopeful angler atop each one.

For this hopeful soul, the moment came on the last cast of the second day. We had been at it since shortly before dawn, moved between several beaches and rocky points, tried multiple tactics and techniques.

Armed with skills and flies we’d learned from the guide (Yes, I’m smart enough to hire one when I don’t have a clue.) on our first day, the others had had success, but my goal was unmet. With the light fading fast, the others were cozy in the truck, beers in hand.

“Just one more” is the mantra of every successful, over-achieving addict and I’m no different. Stretching out as long a cast as a tired arm would allow, letting the flies sink deep into the water, and starting a twitching retrieve done entirely by feel, you can’t help but feel a little resigned to the promise of warming fingers and a hot meal. Each sigh emerged as steamy breath as the flies crept closer.

All is forgotten when the line comes tight and muscle memory take over at the strike of a bigger trout than you’ve ever hooked before.

I felt two big head shakes and the unseen at the other end ran hard, not out, but down into the dark waters. Fortunately, the gear and practice paid off and he was halted with a few yards to spare on the reel and I began edging him little closer with each turn of the handle.

Many minutes later, there was the moment of relief to see this beautiful creature, preserve him in pictures, and watch him finning out into safe water after a careful release.

And in that moment, the dreams of a teen and the efforts of a 65-year-old were poured and stirred in the bucket of memories, for life. Be sure to add to yours soon.

Andrews is head guide for ArkAnglers fly fishing guide service and an internationally recognized artist. His artwork can be viewed at AVDI Gallery in Buena Vista and at viewgallery.com

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