Going for Hidden Lahontans

I needed to be in South Lake Tahoe for a meeting in late September and knew that the window to catch native lahontan cutthroat in the Tahoe basin was quickly closing. For those of you who don’t know, any waters that drain into Lake Tahoe are only opening for fishing from July 30 to Sept 30 each year. These 90 days are all you get. There may be a few exceptions here and there but for the most part, that’s the law. The CA Dept. of Fish and Wildlife very adamantly protects the spawning cycles of it’s prized fish and fisheries. Check the regs of whatever water you want to fish. It’s not worth a major fine.

Anyways, back to the story. I love cutties. There is just something about them. I think it stems back to when I first learned that there are cutthroat that are actually native to my home state. When I was younger I knew of the famed cutthroat of Yellowstone. I’d seen photos of beautiful Colorado’s caught in the lakes of central Utah in full spawning dress. But I never realized that within the boundaries of California lived three species of cutthroat trout: the coastal, lahontan, and Paiute…which is really more of a subspecies of the lahontan to most biologists (which I am not).

From that moment on, CA’s cutties were magical to me. I’ve made one unsuccessful trip to Llewellyn Falls in search of a wayward Paiute that was swept over the cascade. I’ve never ventured to the coastal redwoods when the world’s only anadromous cutties are running. But you better believe that I savor the 90 days when Tahoe’s lahontan’s are fair game. There are numerous lahontan waters outside of the Tahoe Basin but for my money, the Upper Truckee River is about as good as it gets. There are numerous tributaries, beaver dams, and lakes that hold heritage genetics of monster relics. Research clued me into a remote and trail-less stream that was rumored to hold some of the nicest looking stream variation lahontans. I’m a sucker for tight quarters where the “bow and arrow” method needs to be employed to place the dry fly in the perfect spot. That feeling of hitting the bulls’ eye and watching a never-before-seen trout rise for a take is the perfect adrenaline rush.

My wife and I packed our day gear and made the drive to the trailhead. After a few hours of walking, we set off and blazed our way through rocks, boulders, and the thicket to find a tiny fast-moving stream. We both knew that our only hope with the low water levels was to find plunge pools. After a few hours of searching and spooking multiple 3″ guppies we finally found “the spot.” Creeping up on hands and knees I peered into the water and saw a lovely cutthroat holding in the eddy. One launch of the arrow, a momentary pause, and the trout snatched the caddis like it hadn’t eaten in days. After a brief struggle I found myself holding one of the prettiest cutthroat I’ve ever seen.

After a quick photo session I sent it back to the center of the pool to recuperate in peace. In doing so I received the scare of my fishing life. Something big, fast, and dark lurched out of the undercut. I painted the air with very brightly colored outburst. Seriously, my wife (who couldn’t fit in the tight setting) thought I’d seriously hurt myself. Little did she know that my only shame was in nearly soiling myself. I kid you not when I say that the cutthroat that made me shriek like a young child was a beast that had no business being in that small water. How it got there, how long it had been there, I have no idea. Truly I’m stumped. The specimen below has not been edited or doctored. I humbly promise that it was in the same hole as the “little one” posted above. Oh, and the hole is the photo at the top of this post.

What a whopper:

Upon releasing the monster and letting our hearts calm down, my wife and I scrambled our way back to the trail and jubilantly made the hike back to the car. We speculated over and again how on earth that pig got itself into such a small body of water. Regardless, it was a day to remember.

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