Little Moose Lake was more a pond than a lake but I didn’t care. I was invited to go there and by golly, if it had fish in it I was all for it. The invitation had come from a wealthy businessman that had a cabin just outside of Cooke City, who just happened to be a very good friend of Uncle George. He also had a Land Rover and a small boat. This was long before all the Land Rovers were owned by yuppies...back in a time when they were actually driven in the dirt and gravel. This one looked like it had left the Serengeti just last week. For years our only mode of motorized transport up into the Beartooth had been WW2 surplus jeeps, so to ride in comparative luxury was gonna be a new experience. He said that the lake was full of good sized rainbows and that it was rarely fished. Our nemesis, Erwin A. Bauer* hadn’t been there, so it was a lock that we would have it to ourselves.
Little Moose Lake was a short but bumpy ride just off the Beartooth Highway towards Red Lodge in Park County, Wyoming. At about 8,000 feet elevation it looked like many other of the lower level lakes...a very swampy put-in area at the mouth and surrounded by heavy forests...some very fishy looking shallow water and of course some deep drop-offs where the cliffs met the shore. As we slogged the boat across the muck into clear water it was obvious that we were at the wrong end of the lake. The air was dead calm and there wasn’t a single rise form to be seen. The other end of the lake was another matter. The water was almost choppy from the feeding trout.
I was placed in the middle of the boat with the oars, between Uncle George in the front and our host at the rear, and was told to head us towards the fish. Having been with Uncle George on many an adventure, it was no surprise that I, a healthy teenager, was invited and given the rowing duties. Fifteen minutes later we were surrounded by feeding trout. A few casts were made and the water went still. Glassy water, with only the reflection of the mountains to hold our attention. Figuring that the hatch had ended we changed techniques and continued to fish until one of my elders happened to notice that the other end of the lake was now alive with activity. “Head us back that-a-way Alan!”
Unlike our first foray, we approached as quietly as we could. Didn’t matter. After a few casts the activity came to a halt. I should say at this point that we knew what we were doing...at least my boat-mates did. They had fished these high mountain lakes for years and they were accomplished fly-fishermen so it wasn’t a matter of incompetence. But this trip was different...these trout were determined to humiliate them and they were being very successful.
So I spent the next three hours wishing we had a small outboard, rowing us around the lake chasing rising trout.
Finally it became apparent that we were going to have to change our ways, and I was directed to row us towards one of the more promising looking shallows. I was completely beat. Four or five trips from one end of the lake to the other had worn me out. I positioned our little john boat within casting distance of the shore and decided that a short nap was in order. Even at that early age I knew that I would never catch a fish unless my fly was in the water, so I threw that big Royal Wulff as far as I could out towards the middle of the lake, away from the shoreline that Captain Bligh and his partner were working.
With my arms crossed over my knees and my head resting on them, I dozed off for a while as they worked the shoreline. By then a small breeze had come up so I was confident that the boat would drift slowly down the shoreline, negating any immediate need for my services.
I have no idea how long I was out...take a warm sun, a soft breeze, exhaustion and quite passengers, and it could have been five minutes... or it could have been thirty. Whatever it was, it came to an abrupt and noisy end with Uncle George yelling “SET THE HOOK! Alan! SET THE HOOK!”
Dropping your rod into the bottom of the boat is not the recommended way of setting the hook but it worked.
Fish on! And it was good one...easily the largest trout I had ever hooked. He jumped, he sang the reel and five minutes later he was mine. With already sore arms it was a wonder I got him to the boat. I’ll confess that at one point I considered handing Uncle George the rod to finish the job. What a fish! Probably the finest looking rainbow I’d ever seen, and certainly the prettiest one I’d ever caught. They guessed that he would easily go eight pounds.
The resentment towards my passengers now gone, I soaked in the praise as we admired my catch. Soon after, I doled out my two remaining Wulffs and they began to catch some as well. As I remember it, we made it back to the cabins in Cooke City the proud possessors of a half dozen very nice trout, which we promptly laid out on the grass for all to see.
As my family gathered around to take some Polaroid’s, Mr. Shaw, the proprietor of the cabins, came on the scene to let us know that Bauer was in town and inquiring as to how we did that day. “Better get those fish cleaned and in the freezer Alan...before he gets here!”
There’s a price to pay for everything.
* Anyone of my vintage will recognize the name as one of the more prolific trout fishing writers back in the 50’ and 60’s. He was notoriously despised by the local anglers as the guy responsible for the growing popularity of “their” home waters, but he was a hero to the lodge owners, outfitters and others that catered to the tourist trade.