Personal History: Lake Effect
by Toby Thompson
WE LEFT THE BAR AT MIDNIGHT, AND BENEATH A JULY MOON hiked five miles of lodgepole to a pristine Montana lake. “You’ve got to see this,” I’d told Buck. “Three acres of blue so cold the cutthroat wear mufflers to feed.” He’d shouted, “Let’s go!” But he’d snagged a girl, so we grabbed our rods and in cowboy boots and “wife beaters” half-pushed, half-pulled this Sally up switchbacks to the lake.
When we’d boogied at The Wrangler she’d told me, “You dance pretty good for a short fella.” I’d said, “How’s that?” She said, “My husband’s six-four.” I said, “Where’s he?” She said, “Dead. I shot the son of a bitch.” I said, “Why?” She said, “For peeing out the bedroom window.” So I let Buck have
At 10 a.m. flies woke me. I sat up, scratched. I’d slept in a patch of stale horse dung. Pulling on socks, I stumbled. Only then did I see the lake’s surface dimpled as a golf ball’s. Cutthroat were rising.
I knew the spot to take them was in slack water above a creek that roared down the mountainside. Trout hung near the banks, with others brazenly feeding farther out. Callibaetis spinners lifted from the water and their fibrous-white wings, supporting google-eyed torsos, speckled my forearm. They were flying sex machines; they molted, mated, then died. I had several imitations in my kit and tied on a number fourteen. Just then, Buck’s mummy sack began to undulate; he had bedded Sally at the perfect spot for casting. I was many yards south with no cutthroats dimpling in my vicinity. This was less a problem of etiquette than necessity.
I crept to where a long cast was possible, but given my hangover and half-crouch, the attempts did not reach. I dropped to the grass and elbow-walked farther, toward the love-roost.
Ten yards off I rose to my knees, stripped line and with a deft cast dropped my fly near the rising pod. A strike and I had one. The cutthroat raced, darted, then dove as Sally began to wail. I found this distracting, but landed my fish, a crimson-jawed 12-incher.
I crept even closer. On my third cast a cutthroat struck, and from the force to and bowing of my rod, I knew it was a good fish. It ate line, zigging for deeper water, shuddered, then zagged toward the lovebirds. I did not procrastinate. I rose, walking then trotting as I played the trout. Flesh was visible.
Buck saw me. “Got one?” he groaned, then fell to his labors. “Pansize!” Sally screamed, as my cutthroat arced closer. A good 18-incher, it hung by the bank just below them. I side-stepped in that direction. But the couple shot from its bag, startling me and my trout, which made one final lunge before bellying up.
I held my trophy, its jaws working, as Buck stood to admire it.
“She’s a beauty,” he said.
“That she is,” I allowed.