By Sam Larson
Jeff and I settled into searching for greenbacks. We stood on top of the cutbank near the top of the trail, the only place where our backcasts were clear, or a few feet off-shore to quarter our casts along the banks, tracing a drop off where we hoped cruising greenbacks congregated. Earlier in the day we had hooked a raft of rainbow stockers at the inlet of Chambers Lake and I chose to stick with the quick-sinking pine squirrel zonker I had used then. The lake looked dead and I had no insight into what else I would tie on. What we had read about Zimmerman mentioned elk hair caddis and medium-sized dries that lured trout to the surface, where they slashed indiscriminately at almost anything that had a clean drift. In the absence of any active surface bugs or hatches I planned to work from the bottom up, starting with a heavy searching pattern and ending with chironomids left to drift in the currents. Three or four false casts, then I shot as much line as I can manage towards the middle of the lake. I developed a rhythm; cast, count to 15 for a good, deep presentation, strip line for a three count, rest for a five count, repeat. Sometimes I’d throw in a twitch or a sharp jerk to change things up a bit.
The lake shore grew warmer as the day wore on. Jeff and I stopped talking, tired and hungry after six hours of casting and hiking with only Clif bars and apples to keep us going. We took turns on the embankment, or walked down the shore a bit, casting in isolation and turning the day over in our heads. Mental fatigue set in. This weekend was supposed to be the trip that defined the early season, a chance to high-five over double hookups, fish ten hours a day, and generally set the tone for the summer ahead. And so far we had almost nothing to show for it. Near-hypothermia in a recently iced-off mountain reservoir, too much time in a van looking for fishable water, a late night spent searching for a runaway dog, and a total absence of grayling. That would change before the weekend was over, but we couldn’t know that here on the shores of Zimmerman Lake, sweating in the hot sun and listlessly casting fly line.
I moved into the shallows, stepping over and on top of slime-slicked rocks to try and cast towards a tangle of deadfall that I could see beneath the water. I stopped for a minute to let the water grow calm and rest any trout that might have been spooked by my splashing and stomping. Far on the other side of the lake, against the backdrop of the bluffs and cliffs, an osprey soared in over the tops of the pine trees. I tossed off a couple loops of fly line, letting it drift while I watched the osprey circle above the lake. It quartered back and forth, barely flapping its wings, searching the lake’s surface. Dive, I willed the osprey, Find a fish. I wanted the osprey to stoop and plummet to the lake, to rise back into the air with a struggling trout in its claws, if only so I could verify that there were trout in the lake. I turned back and forth to keep the osprey in sight, letting the fly line get pushed around by the wind and currents. Finally, after long minutes of shading my eyes and staring into the too-blue sky at the circling osprey, the bird offered a final shake of its pinions to the waters below and flew slowly over the pine trees and down the valley, likely headed to some other lake where fish were plentiful.
I resumed casting, stripping the lead-weighted zonker across the bottom of the lake, casting in an arc across the lake shore, laying down line every six or eight inches to cover every part of the submerged tree and the underwater drop off beyond it. From behind me I heard a soft clatter of rocks and a jingle of dog tags. The family that we had left behind had arrived with their dog and their spin rods. They stopped at the top of the embankment to inspect the lake, casually waving to Jeff and I as we waded near the shore. I did my best to channel the ire of the skunked fisherman, thinking to myself, Go away, there are no fish on this side of the lake for you, knowing full well that there might not be fish here for anyone, the the greenbacks might still be circling deep in the center of the lake, struggling to kick off winter’s torpor. The family headed around the lake, circling the bank counter clockwise. I could hear their voices fading as they trekked off into the trees. Had fish been rising every three feet with aggressive splashy takes would I have urged them towards the other side of the lake? Likely not, but desperate times call for desperate measures, and our hopes for the first gonzo weekend of the season, no jobs, no partners, nothing to do but fish until we were cross-eyed and barely capable of cooking ourselves dinner, seemed to be slipping from our grasp.