Last Cast: February 2018

I am sure you have heard the phrase – “Go to your Happy Place”?

A fishing buddy taught me that phrase years ago. Most of us call it daydreaming. For me, given this recent period of brutally cold weather, I find myself “Going to my Happy Place” fairly often. Where’s “My Happy Place” you ask? It’s a small alpine lake in northwest Montana that I fished last Summer.

Red Meadow Lake
Red Meadow Lake

Last September, I spent an amazing week fly-fishing near Glacier, Montana, with 5 close friends. It was a special week of fly-fishing and enjoying the company of lifelong friends. The night before the last day of our trip, we learned about a small alpine lake loaded with grayling. Catching a grayling is a pretty rare opportunity in the lower 48 so a chance to catch one was just too exciting to pass up.

The lake, called Red Meadow Lake, was not part of our original plans for the week but it ended up being the best day of our trip. In fact, I would say it was probably one of my Top 3 days as a fly-fisherman!

The lake was located about 35 miles from our lodging and west of Glacier National Park. Unfortunately, the last 20 miles involved traveling on a narrow dirt road up into the mountains. Red Meadow Lake is a small lake and at the most, is only about a ¼ mile in diameter. It is surrounded by a rocky shore except for a small beach on the western side.

Red Meadow Lake, MontanaWhen the 3 of us arrived, (did I mention that 3 of our crew foolishly flew home that morning), we had the lake to ourselves. Immediately we started to rig up and began fishing from the rocky shore. The crystal clear water was about 3’-4’ deep with a rocky bottom. I started with a size 20 black midge with my 5wt TFO rigged with 6x leader and tippet. A 3wt would have been perfect for this lake. The action was pretty quick and within a couple of casts, I had my first grayling on the line. Very quickly, my 2 buddies, Don and Matt, were also catching grayling.

At first, you didn’t see any grayling in the water and none of fish were feeding on the surface. We found most of the fish hiding behind the larger rocks on the bottom. Usually, once your fly hit the water, the grayling would shoot from the bottom of the lake and aggressively take your fly. In fact, several times, the fish would jump entirely out of the water when grabbing your fly. It was incredible! Other times, you would cast your fly and let it float on the surface for a minute. The wind would move it over one of the large rocks on the bottom. Usually, that is when the grayling would aggressively hit your fly. They were not big fish, but what a blast to catch. They were typically 7”to 9” and they put up a nice fight. Plus, they were taking dry flies!
It was a perfect day, except for the weather. When we arrived at the lake, the temperature was in the low 40’s and windy. By lunch time, the temperature had dropped to 38 degrees with light snow. I was not prepared for this. So, for the next several hours, our routine was to fish for about 45 minutes until our fingers got numb. Then we would get back in the car with the heater turned on for about 15 minutes. Repeating this for the next 5 hours. During the afternoon, we worked the shoreline and ended up at the beach. Just about everything we used caught fish. Matt preferred his leach pattern while Don had luck with any dry fly that was a size16 or smaller. For me, a size 20 midge and a size16 purple haze were very effective.

At around 4:00, we called it a day and what an incredible day it was. We lost count of the number of fish we caught that day. All of mine were caught on dry flies. When you add the fact that you were able to share it with a couple of good friends, it is an awesome day! I know the 3 of us will be bragging about this day for many years… especially to our 3 buddies that left that morning!

So if you see me at the next meeting and I appear to be not completely focused, I have an excuse, because I am “going to my Happy Place” for a few minutes.

See you at our next meeting!

— Larry Forte