Saturday, September 25, 2010

Clear Creek Trout

     Last week I devoted some opportune time to a little fly fishing.  Tie Hack Lake in the Bighorn Mountains was my destination, while the base of the lake's dam and the very source of Clear Creek was my target.  My brother-in-law reported catching many large rainbow and brown trout in the pools below the dam on a trip here two years ago.  This was my first trip back to the lake since then so I was not sure what to expect.  I had a variety of dry flies, twenty-some-odd feet of leader, a cooler packed with ice for a creel, great weather, mild wind (for Wyoming), and solunar timing was excellent midday.  

     Hunting season is in full swing around here so it is wise to wear something bright in the woods.  Although I would love to fill my freezer with elk meat, I am not an experienced hunter.  My shot is consistently accurate but there are many other factors involved in selecting and stalking a kill which I feel should be learned appropriately.  Last fall I worked at the local slaughterhouse as a meat cutter throughout the hunting season and witnessed the resulting damage caused by eager hunters with no experience.  A shot through the gut or a that shatters a large bone can ruin most of the choice cuts surrounding it.  Until I learn the necessary skills, I fish instead.     
     Making my way into the Cloud Peak Wilderness in the Bighorn mountains, I travelled up through the geological layers of time, past craggy spires of multi-billion year old rocks (the Bighorn mountains are some of the oldest in our country), and finally up into the high meadows with views of the now hardly snow-covered peaks above yellowing aspen and birch trees.  With very few cars and plenty of trophy mule deer along the road, Tuesday was a good choice to get out into the hills.

      I parked at Tie Hack and hiked down the trail to the falls over the dam.  The main pool is very large, plenty deep, and well oxygenated.  I found a log to cross a few yards downstream and got right to it.  The light was coming from above creating visual access through the glare with a pair of polarized glasses.  I could easily see fish approach and strike but with a lack of conviction.  For two to three hours I watched these picky little trout examine and dismiss four or five styles of flies.  I tried everything.  Different techniques result in different presentations which the fish are very keen to notice.  Finally around 2 p.m. I began having some luck.  Small brown Adam's fly, elk-hair caddis and mosquito each caught two fish.  One by one I landed a total of six rainbow trout, all good fighters on the line.  However, none were over six inches in length: too small to feel good about eating.  I tried my luck with a wooly bugger in the lake on my way back out but in the end, came home empty handed.  Oh well, a bad day fishing is still better than a day working!

     Fortunately, for the sake of this blog, I managed to pull a ferociously fighting, big brown trout out of the creek a little upstream from our house two days before on a small elk-hair caddis.  I prepared the fish in my personally favorite method and took some photos to share.

     Simply put, this is pan-roasted trout.  It is a cleaned, whole fish stuffed with sliced lemon, garlic, onion, and fresh thyme.  Wrapped a few times with butcher's twine, seasoned with olive oil, salt and pepper, it is then seared in a smoking hot pan on one side until golden brown.  A heavy cast iron or black steel pan distributes even heat while achieving excellent searing temperatures.  The whole fish is then gently flipped and finished in a 500°F oven for ten minutes or so.  One method for testing the doneness of a whole fish is to insert the tip of a small knife into the dorsal muscles along the back near the spine, then quickly check the temperature by holding the tip of the knife to your lip.  If it feels hot it's done.  Of course, be very careful when doing this.  Oh, and this is not an approved method according to any comprehensive sanitation standards, anywhere. . . But, it actually kind of works.

     Serve family style with rice or what have you.  Be careful for the little bones and enjoy freshly caught delicious!


  1. This reminds me of Snow Creek backpacking. I can hear it sizzling and smell it on the open flame in beautiful Yosemite. Thanks for the memory.

  2. Thanks for teaching me how to fish! It has inspired a strong love for the outdoors within me.