Exploration: the Key to Discovery

by Hartt Wixom

Exploring is a major part of fishing. For example, I drove to the Uinta Mountains where every lake but one at a lower elevation was iced over. The date was June 30. Snow had only been recently cleared on SR 150 from Evanston, Wyo. to Kamas, Utah and both sides of the road showed white banks higher than my head.

Nothing left but to cast into the one ice-free lake, Whitney Reservoir. No action in the deep water near the dam. But I hadn’t yet explored the shallow, warmer water in a side bay. Instant success: a dozen rainbow and tiger trout (brown trout x brook hybrid) on nearly every cast. They were there and they were hungry.

While most of my angling these days is with a fly rod, I do my best exploring with a spinner. No. 3 Mepps to be exact. The flashing blades, readily seen, usually bring instant action, if there‘s any to be had. I keep the rod tip low to skim bottom barely above the moss or rocks, and at as slow a speed as possible to achieve a “fluttering” effect. I also like to make the retrieve steady and monotonous so that the imitation minnow appears vulnerable and easy to catch. Done right, few fish can resist it.

I was especially excited to find tiger trout, the only place in the Uintas where I know they are found. They are a beautiful species, full of explosive energy. These fish, so called because of their tiger-like body stripes, were in the 12-13 inch range, but felt bigger. One “Bengal” had a minnow protruding from its jaws; how it managed to also get a spinner of any size into its mouth only that critter knows. I have also done exploring on Google…leading me to some beautiful brook trout one day as I looked at a mountain creek with deep pools in a meadow. (Not all exploring must be via foot or vehicle.)

I like to do my “fish prospecting” alone. Someone with high expectations might be disappointed. I’m not, for there is always something to learn.

I remember taking an acquaintance with me to what was supposed to be a hot deer hunting area. At least it had been. Now, it wasn’t. His remark: “Well, you wasted my time bringing me here.” I answered, “My friend, if deer were like cattle we might find them a little more easily. But that is the lure of the outdoors. There is so much to learn.”

If seeking a sure thing, one might wish to be slow in venturing outdoors. I like the words of Teddy Roosevelt: “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena…who strives to do the deeds…who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Teddy lived up to that statement. He erred over and over, particularly in trying to live the “strenuous” life. But by not quitting, by erring and trying again, he overcame a, weak eyes, frail body and hesitant spirit to become an outstanding outdoorsman/conservationist.

One fact can always be said of doing anything new: you will learn something simply because you haven’t been there before. Desert or mountain, one might overlook nature at work. Is that just a hole in the ground or the home of a burrowing owl? A snag in a tree or a small songbird impaled by a northern shrike? Vacant bush or one about to explode with Gambel quail?

Some exploring does not bear fruit now but will later. On that last Uinta foray trip with snow up to my eyeballs, there was no possible access off the main road. But one can learn to judge when access might be possible. Cracking ice will usually go within two-three days. (Of course, you will have to take temperature into consideration but you can learn to factor it in.) A few days after it does go, fish begin filling empty bellies. It is a good time to be there….as happened at Whitney Reservoir.

Whitney Reservoir is located on the West Fork Bear River drainage on north slope of the Uinta Mountains. You have to explore. You may strike out. But the point is, there are many such rewarding places.

I don’t know where. But they are waiting to be found.

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