The Canyon

I went on Saturday after three days in Olympic National Park to my secret spot in the canyon. Like all secret spots—that creek in the Sierras, the meadow stream in Montana that everyone seems to pass by, a remote stretch of the Cape that keeps moving bass when everything else seems to shut down—I will describe, but refuse to tell.

I’m a trout guy, no surprise there, and I like all versions of this game fish: rainbows, browns, brookies, but far and away, cutthroats are the prized of choice, and Oncorhynchus clarki clarki (coastal cutthroat trout) top that list.

The Canyon is their home. There is a river population—small and hard fighting—but in September their big brothers and sisters begin to show up from the salt, and by October the “harvest trout” are mingling with their salmon cousins in the deep, black pools, rising for dries in the slower out flows, or slashing tippet in the riffles and rock ledges. They’re very aggressive, and I have seen them attack their own young on more than one occasion, biting smolts clean in half, or just leaving them shocked and bleeding on the surface, only to be swallowed whole on the next pass.

You wet wade the Canyon. There’s no room for rubber pants or felt soled boots. The water averages waist to chest deep and you have to approach from down stream, casting from the back of cliff faces or behind large boulders. Stealth is everything if you want to gain the upper hand. There was a trail of sorts years ago when “garden hacklers” would drag the bottom for big fish. That stopped when the regulations changed and then the road closed in a storm. Swimmers sometimes find its cool, shaded waters on those scorching days in August, but all I’ve seen lately are empty beer cans and cigarette butts.

The only other resident I saw was the otter who lives in a crack in the cliff face on the opposite bank. A big male, he grows fat on the Canyon’s abundant crayfish. He doesn’t bark at me anymore—just moves inside and closes the door. I lost my sense of time this trip, as I sometimes do, having to remind myself every once in a while of the rich daylight flowing along the walls, the blue fall sky with its hint of mare’s tail and colored trees, the silver flanks and orange slash of the prize pulsing in my hand.


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