The thermometer on my dash read 19 degrees when I parked the car. The heat was on full-blast as the sun peeked over the ridgeline and warm light spilled through the dirty windshield. The summertime temperatures had come and gone, and within just a few weeks, this trailhead would be buried under a foot of snow. I took the last sip of coffee, grabbed my gear, and stepped out into the cold morning air. The hike was 14 miles roundtrip through pine and aspen groves, with plenty of elevation gain to get me above timberline. Winter was fast approaching, so this was my final alpine fishing excursion of the year.

I moved to Denver one year prior in the fall of 2022. In the years leading up to the move, I cut my teeth on small-stream brook trout fishing in the hills of Virginia. There’s nothing quite like a day in Shenandoah National Park with friends, a 3wt, and a couple of dry flies, but I yearned for bigger mountains and open spaces.

I arrived at the foothills of the Rockies in awe of the mountains in front of me, and began consuming information about alpine fisheries before the moving truck was even unloaded. To my chagrin, I learned quickly that the season had passed and I’d need to wait until spring to chase these trout. I poured over satellite imagery and topographic maps all winter in search of lakes at the proper elevation, with structure, drop offs, and trail access. When summer rolled around, I dedicated my time to exploring these fisheries and learning — through trial and (lots of) error — what made for ideal conditions for large fish to thrive in these harsh environments.

In those four months, I missed more fish than I caught. I caught more fish than I expected to. I lost plenty of gear. Rolled an ankle or two. Made some new friends. Was caught off-guard by a couple of thunderstorms. Was really caught off-guard by a snow storm in June. Taught myself some patience. Bumped into a few moose. And, I captured a few thousand photographs.

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Which brings me back to my last outing of the season.

My dog and I were perched along the rocky bank of the lake for the better part of an hour, when a 20” cutthroat cruised by. It was the biggest fish I’d seen all year and exactly what I’d come up here for. The fish ignored my first few offerings of chironomids and leeches, disappearing into the darker depths of the lake. A few minutes passed. Had I blown it? I sat back down along the bank, accepting that I may have spooked the fish I’d been working toward all summer long.

Then, 30 feet away, a big nose broke the glassy surface of the lake and a flash of red caught my eye. It was him – the fish was back. My heart raced as I tied on the smallest caddis from my box. I roll-casted my fly in front of its path…and watched as the fish cruised through the deep water beneath my fly. Then, its body language changed – a quick flash of red as it made a move toward its next meal. A momentary inspection, then it sipped the small fly from the surface.

With fish in net, I realized that this fish – a trophy, as far as I was concerned – was the culmination of months of research, practice, failure, and success. There could be no better end to a season of fishing than this. I softened my grip, and he bolted away into the deep blue water of the lake... Till' next time.