My Grandpa had a bucket list item he had not yet completed. A pretty audacious item considering the fact he was 76 at the time. He wanted to hike into a small brook trout lake that had evaded him his entire life. I had heard the story of him making the several mile trek once before with his son, but upon their arrival they were greeted by an immense thunderstorm that made it unsafe to fish. He left soaking wet vowing to return one day.
He told me about the beauty of this place, and the many stories he had heard of the trout there. You could tell it haunted him. Now, he’s in phenomenal shape for a 76 year old, but it was still a shock when he proposed his idea - the two of us walking the few miles into the wilderness to fish this brook trout haven.
In Virginia this type of fishing is few and far between. There are really only a handful of lakes that are like this holding trout year round. Though I have never been to one, I would assume it is a slighter more tame version of the high altitude lakes out West in the Rockies.
I met him at the crack of dawn, and we drove the hour and a half before the sun began to show. In the glowing red light of his little red truck he told me stories of the rivers, fields, and hunting buddies of days gone by as we drove down the dark road. We arrived in the bitter cold and freezing wind. Not really knowing what to expect, and being a gear junkie I packed just about everything except the kitchen sink. He had a beanie on his head, his fishing pole in one hand, a tackle box in the other, and a smile beneath his mustache.
At the start of our walk we saw a small sign waving in the distance, “Lake Ahead.” We’d barely began and already seen the sign in the early morning light! This was great news! I was under the impression this lake was a few miles away not just a 15 minute walk. And in the bitter cold I just wanted to get there and be warmed by the adrenaline of landing fish.
An hour later and we were still on the trail, slowly, methodically, moving down the wet, cold, and windy trail. Every 10 minutes or so we had another slap in the face, “Lake Ahead”, “Lake Ahead”, “Lake Ahead” all those extra signs just served to remind us that we hadn’t yet arrived.
In one particularly wet spot I made it through the muck on the path, and continued walking when I heard the sound of a something falling. I turned to see my grandpa stuck knee deep in the mud! The crash I heard was the sound of his tackle box landing. Apparently, when he got sucked into this hole, he threw it in order to maintain his balance. My heart sank and I quickly ran back and helped him out. I think we both had a minor freak under our calm demeanors knowing that if something were to happen like a broken bone, or twisted ankle, we were two miles in the woods on foot and several deeper by car, without phone service. After that little scare I became a little more “servant-minded.” He was perfectly fine, but remained a little muddy.
We both walked up a steep hill and could hear the turbulent sound of rushing water. Which meant we were getting closer to our destination. The bucket list.
As we ascended the peak of the hill we could see the far corner of a lake. A turquoise, bluish green that quickly disappeared when we began our descent down the hill. Soon enough we were beside this beautiful body of water.
As we got closer we realized it was covered by a thin layer of ice. Not optimal for fly fishing, or fishing all together, but we realized one portion of the lake had been warmed just enough to leave open water… on the other side of the lake.
We walked some more, and set up shop.
He stopped to soak in the sites and drink a little bit of coffee from my thermos, and sent a cast into the water. I was still rigging up when I heard his first deep chuckle. I looked over to see his rod bending and water splashing. Our targets. The beautiful ten inch brook trout came to the surface and caused a wonderful feeling within us both.
By the time I had my rod rigged together my grandpa had landed 3 fish on just a few casts.
This was a place of dreams it seemed. A bucket list item well worth the effort.
Throughout the bitter cold day we landed fish after fish after fish. Some bigger than others and a few that were rather large for brookies in our area, about a foot long. (Though I have heard of far bigger ones people caught in this lake). It felt like how fishing was meant to be, more catching than waiting.
After my grandpa had his fill of fish, and was tired of casting and catching, he sat back on a desk-sized rock that overlooked the lake, and watched me cast into his completed bucket list. The fish were clearly starving because they were inhaling sz. 10 dry flies, sz 8 wooly buggers, and everything else I was chucking at them. I seriously used every fly pattern in my box just to see what didn’t work. It was one of the first days I learned about the beautiful ferocity of brook trout.
On that overcast day, everything worked. I continually threw big dry flies so my grandpa could enjoy the spectacle as he sat and soaked in the sight with a smile and a nearly frozen Dr. Pepper.
We ate the lunches I carried in together then made our trek back home with cold hands and warm hearts. The hike back was far worse on our legs, but far sweeter in our minds knowing we had just left such a spectacular place.
I have been back several times since then, but have never been able to replicate the feelings that the first time provided me. I suppose in some regards writing it out helps me to relive those moments I cherish…
No. I will not share what lake it was!