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  • Writer's pictureshelenboyes

Women, Cutthroat and Backcountry Views

Updated: Jul 8, 2019

When you think of how women might spend their days off from work or what they enjoy doing with their free time, the stereotypical woman is only given so many options. They’re either going to the city to shop, getting their hair done or decorating some room in an apartment. First, I’d like to make it very clear that all of those things are more than acceptable, and that I too enjoy getting my hair done when given the chance to treat myself. But I’d like to pose the question of how often do people imagine women using their days off to hike into the backcountry of a National Park in search of cutthroat trout? For starters, backpacking and camping in the woods isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and some might even go as far to say that it’s too dangerous or difficult, especially for a more ‘vulnerable’ woman and that only the bravest of souls (or just crazy) can do it. Well for one, women are very much capable of adventuring in the backcountry by themselves and in all honesty NEED that type of solitude to function. And yes, we are a bit crazy but that’s beside the point. To give a little more perspective on the subject, I wanted to ask other women anglers who I’ve come to know within the fly fishing community and get their views on the experience of backcountry fishing trips. Some of the questions asked revolved around the notion of what they get out of these various high alpine adventures and what they leave with before returning back to civilization.

The first woman I’d like to acknowledge is my good friend and mountain trail junkie, Shyanne (lower right.) Also known as shylikesmtns on social media, Shy was one of the very few women I had the pleasure of getting to fish with while living back in Colorado. This summer Shyanne and I hiked up to about 12,000ft with our fly rods, sleeping bags and nets strapped to our packs with the destination being an alpine lake which held promises of cutthroat trout. Being no stranger to the great outdoors and high-altitude hiking trails, Shyanne had completed 22 of the 53 peaks in Colorado over 14,000ft. It was quite a relief to have someone with real knowledge about hiking high altitude trails because while some might believe that it’s just walking up a hill surrounded by tree’s, there’s a little more to it. Some of the dangers that come along with being high up in the mountains include altitude sickness (symptoms include nausea, headache, fatigue and in extreme cases death), unpredictable weather changes, injuring yourself on the trail, and of course wildlife such as mountain lions and bears. But regardless of all those things, for Shy and myself as well as other die-hard lady anglers who have waited all year for ice off, it’s all worth the risks. Here is what she had to say on the subject:

“Prior to moving to Colorado my world was much less colorful. Nursing school consumed me, I had little to no time for physical activity, the great outdoors, or anything that resembled a passionate hobby. My fishing consisted of sitting in a chair with a piss colored beer in hand letting my stink bait flail in the current, just waiting for a catfish bite (Cringe). Then add in a little depression secondary to a full plate and a not so good family life. That was a lifetime ago it seems. The alpine has a special meaning for me. It’s been the best antidepressant I’ve yet to try and since its introduction into my life, the foreground of many important life decisions as well as a place to reflect on past ones. It started with casual hiking in cotton clothes that would make most pretentious Colorado mountaineers gasp, accompanied by continuous heavy breathing and the occasional "fuck." It was after ascending my first big summit that it evolved into much more. My first fourteener, Quandary, was a loose skree slog to the rocky top. I relied completely on my companion, Kelsey, to make short term landmark goals- usually 30 steps. I was chubby- it showed, and I hated every grueling minute of it, but something happened when I reached that miserable mountain top. I felt ALIVE and connected to this vast world in a way I never knew I was missing. The scenery is breathtaking and one peculiar perspective is gently placed upon you like the mountain whispering- you are small. I no longer thought of trivial matters like bills, or unfulfilling relationships that had plagued my mind the night prior. I only had thoughts of catching my breath with lungs heaving heavily like waves crashing on the shore, a long-labored inhale with a subsequent short exhale. I imagine that’s how our ancestors felt. In the moment, only seeking the bottom foundation of Maslow’s Hierarchy triangle: food, shelter and water. This feeling is exactly why I love the backcountry. You’re surviving off your own know-how and the white noise of everyday life suddenly has no value.

It was then that fly fishing entered my life. I was not the most delicate angler. It didn’t come as natural to me as it seemed to for most others and the frustration could be read on my boyfriend’s face in those beginning days (and Reed’s face hasn’t changed much :) . I tangled my line for months, I’d lose my catch right at my clinch knot and usually end the day with a South Platte bath, but the frustration that comes with fishing is the same reason why it’s so rewarding. You can’t have the sun without the rain, and boy I’ve had a lot of rain. Each and every trout I’ve caught has given me the same childlike giddiness that a mountain summit does, but more so. Walking up a mountain is a tangible achievement, catching a fish is not. Fly fishing is more mentally difficult and more rewarding, well, according to me- but what do I know. The first alpine cutthroat I caught was a trophy with a sunset pink adipose belly. She slipped out of my hands just after a sloppy, heartbreaking photo under a snow kissed ridge lining the skyscape. I had never handled a specimen so big and damn, she was mighty fine. It was the first smile I had cracked in days due to the fact that my mother had just passed away and as soul crushing as that was, it was holding that beauty that brought me a little bit of joy. The five-mile hike down was lighter and the wildflowers seemed brighter despite the snow creeping past my mid boots to saturate my socks. The magic memory was tucked back in my brain and I often thought of the backcountry dinosaurs. The truth is these slabs were dropped a little less than a decade ago as fingerlings via plane like little kamikazes, some flopping on the wildflowers while others made it into their new home. An even wilder thought is that I’ve held either an original kamikaze or an offspring. What a privilege it is to witness their beauty. What a peculiar thing to find joy from. I’ve been asked why trout play such a big part in my life. It’s simply that I’ve found a little spot where I can exist amongst the wild things, and isn’t that what we are all looking for?”

The second lady angler I asked to take part in this article is woman named Jessy (left.) Also known as fishingjessy on instagram, the 28-year-old Colorado transplant has an appetite for adventure as she often wanders in nature with her adorable pup Malachi by her side and a fly rod in hand. I had come to know Jesse through social media and have followed her alpine fishing adventures for over a year now. It’s not hard to think of her being one of the realest and most dedicated female fly fishers in the game, especially when it comes to catching alpine cutthroat. Jesse not only puts more time on the water than most, but she goes out on regular solo missions which I believe is pretty rad and badass. When asked what fly fishing in the backcountry meant to her, this is what she had to say:

“It wasn’t too long ago that I started my fly fishing journey, just over two years to be exact. I was introduced to fly fishing by a friend and quickly became addicted to the thrill of catching trout. I spent countless hours on the river and on the lakes around where I lived, catching browns, rainbows and brooks. But it wasn’t until I caught my first alpine cutthroat in the high country of Colorado that I found where my soul truly belongs. Fishing the alpine offers a multitude of challenges, especially when traveling alone, which I often do. It also offers what I view to be the best rewards. These rewards are made even better with the knowledge that you had to truly earn them. One of these challenges is the physical effort it takes to trek to alpine lakes in the Rocky Mountains. I have hiked thousands of feet in elevation, over countless miles just for one shot at a native cutthroat. Some of these hikes have taken me over boulder fields with 600 ft drop offs on one side. Some have been so long that I had to rest my muscles for days afterwards. Being able to feel every muscle in my legs and the burn in my lungs makes me feel like I am really alive. It’s a great reminder of what our bodies are capable of, which I often find is more than we assume they can handle. Every alpine lake I’ve hiked to has brought a sense of pride for my body and the challenges it can overcome. For all the physical effort I’ve put in and all the less than ideal situations I’ve found myself in (picture snow storms above tree-line and a few wildlife encounters), the rewards always, ALWAYS outweigh the challenges. In the year and a half that I have been alpine fishing, I have had my breath taken away numerous times by the sheer beauty of this world. Watching the sun peek over a distant mountain or sink down in a dazzling display of colors at sunset while above tree-line. Or watching pika zip across the rocks to gather food. Watching a moose slowly cross a clearing, with the air of a king observing his kingdom. Seeing nothing but mountains and wilderness as far as the eye can see. Catching a glimpse of bright red shoot under your fly line. Holding that same fire engine red fish in your shaking hands a few minutes later. All of these sights have become deeply embedded into who I am and keep me coming back to the alpine.”

Of course, for myself I can relate to both women’s statements on what it is that makes fly fishing and being in the high country so worthwhile. We all have our own special reasons, some of them being harder to put into words than others. I’d like to believe that the act of fly fishing alone is a means of therapy for people other than just myself and may eventually evolve into something more than just a hobby. It’s a type of self-medication that can turn a stressful week around or help fill the empty parts we might carry with just a few hours spent on the water. When it comes to fishing for cutthroat, although they are jaw-dropping and vibrant, sometimes it’s not even the fish that make the trip but the spectacular views surrounding you. If the dark blues and glass-like clarity of the water aren’t enough to visually satisfy, the wildflowers that casually grow near the banks on the mountains around the basin make for a stunning backdrop and one can’t help but feel extremely content with life and appreciate the world a little bit more. As a woman I take much pride in my achievements, both big and small. Accomplishing the task of just reaching an alpine lake is enough for me, but to tie in the success of getting to gaze upon and land one of nature’s most colorful and feisty creatures makes for a humbling experience that’s hard to replicate. Much like trout themselves, women can be extremely resilient and untamed. Next time you find yourself wanting to experience an alpine lake with a fly rod, don’t be surprised when you encounter not only stunningly beautiful fish and scenery, but a limitless lady angler chasing them as well.

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