Courtesy Colorado Division of Wildlife
Colorado fish tale: to the spawning cutthroat trout, it's still springtime
August 5, 2008 —
Rumors of red-bellied fish came our way via an Outward Bound instructor who emerged from the wilderness just long enough for a drink at West Vail’s Bagalis. We loosened her up with Crown on the rocks and she gave up the goods, delivering a full state-of-the-high-country address in the corner table by the door.
When the word “spawning” came into the conversation I marshaled my doubts. Not impossible, I said, but still the kind of thing worth repeating to friends and fellow fishermen. After all, trout spawn in fall or spring, and this conversation was taking place in late July (in fact, it was already August 1, but as my last blog explains, in my world, it was still July.)
I’ve seen icebergs floating in the top lakes of Seven Sisters well into July, but even in this big-winter year I wasn't wholly convinced of the veracity of this latest fish tale (generally speaking, I find doubt is a reliable companion when walking into any fishing conversation, particularly in a bar, so in retrospect I suppose I was unfairly biased in the direction of distrust).
Into the file marked “never doubt an Outward Bound instructor when it comes to the wilderness” goes my latest fishing experience, when every cutthroat I pulled from upper Lost Lake showed me a blood-red belly – the surest sign of spawning there is to see (there were other signs, but we’ll leave talk of innards to chefs and wildlife biologist.)
The brook trout, who spawn in autumn, were calm, collected, and bearing gleaming white bellies. The cutthroat, on the other hand, were at it like the stars of the latest Ron Jeremy film.
So I learned something I'm sure more experienced mountain fishermen already know, which is that trout have a different way of looking at the seasons, and probably at time in general. Springtime is in late July (or August, if you insist). Summertime is perhaps one week long, or at the highest of lakes, perhaps just a few hours when the sun is shining, the monsoon winds have calmed, and the lake surface is a silvery, dead-silent mirror.
Then, when that first wintry chill blows new ripples, summer is deemed over and the brookies begin the red-bellied, slow-moving, mamba dance of the spawning fish. As the brookies' next generation is bobbing in the shallow redds, their rainbow and brown cousins, far downstream, will still be lounging in tepid waters.
So if summertime in the mountains feels perniciously short to you, as it does to me, it may help to remember that in comparison to the summer of the high lakes trout, we have a long and warm solstice indeed.
By the time our winter comes around, it’s likely I’ll have repaid that Outward Bound instructor, who also happens to be my sister-in-law, with her next round, this time on me, and we'll see what winter secrets we'll uncover after that first fiery tumbler of Crown.
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