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Remembering the Good, Old Days of Simpler Sporting Goods

By: Randy Tucker

I wandered into a local sporting goods store last week to buy a small bottle of gun oil.

I don't use gun oil much, but I needed to clean a badly fouled gun and thought I'd just walk in, buy a bottle, and walk out.

No such luck.

When I was a 20-something, Otter was pretty much the only cleaning or lubricating fluid on the market. But last week, a display of several dozen varieties specializing in unique solvents for shotguns, pistols, and rifles took me aback for a few minutes as I searched for a plain, old, generic bottle of oil.

It seems that everything in the sporting goods world is now a specialty item. Boots designed for stalking upland game, hiking alpine terrain, walking in desert conditions, species-specific hunting and especially fishing items now entice the avid consumer to buy a pair for each and every sporting venture.

As a dinosaur who is nearly impossible to market to, I have a single pair of hunting boots.

Times weren't as affluent for me when I was a college kid in the late '70s and later when I was a teacher living on less than $800 a month. But lack of funds never stopped me or my friends from enjoying the great outdoors.

The string of lakes stretching from Fiddlers all the way up to Island was a favorite hiking area for many of us 40 years ago.

Traffic was much lighter before the Loop Road was paved, and the area still held a bit of a wilderness aura.

My roommate Frank Schmidt and I worked construction in the summers of 1979 and 1980 building the water treatment plant near Central Wyoming College. When Fridays rolled around, we were usually on our way to a weekend of fishing adventure, either above Lander or on Union Pass.

One weekend, we decided to try to catch some golden trout at the top of the seven lakes. It was late June, and the snow was off the trails, but still remained in the shadowy areas on the north side of large trees and rock outcroppings.

We had simple cloth sleeping bags, backpack frames that cost just a couple of bucks at garage sales, some tin foil, a bag of salt, a couple of pounds of cheese, a few oranges, and some matches.

We parked at the trailhead near Fiddlers Lake and began ascending the 1,600 foot, 10-mile-long trek to the top of the trail.

The first day went exactly as planned. We caught a few trout for dinner that first night and built a roaring "white man's fire." Cloth sleeping bags aren't the high-tech rated bags of today, the kind that can keep a camper warm on open ground down to 30 below zero. We slept under the stars, and the wind picked up while the temperature dropped just after sundown.

I fell asleep, but woke up a couple of hours later to discover the bottom of my bag was smoldering. I had inched closer and closer to the fire until it caught the bottom edge of the bag on fire.

There weren't any worries about grizzlies in those days, though black bears were a fairly regular sight. The most common large mammal on the trail was a seemingly endless string of moose. Young bulls dominated the area and were fun to watch as they inquisitively checked us out. What wasn't so fun was the handful of cows and calves we encountered. A protective cow moose is an intimidating animal to come face-to-face with on a remote mountain trail, and we avoided them quickly.

Each of the string of lakes was fed by a willow-covered stream that literally teemed with brook trout. Upper and Lower Silas and Tomahawk lakes offered great fishing on clear bubbles and flies as we marched up the mountain.

Frank found a wide opening in the stream on the second day and was hauling in 15-inch Brookies on nearly every cast. What he didn't notice was the young bull moose that watched him. The moose gradually moved closer to Frank, who remained enthralled with catching trout.

The stream masked the sound of the moose's approach. When the bull was about 15 feet behind Frank, I yelled, "Turn around!" As Frank turned, he startled the moose, and both of them ran in opposite directions --- the moose across the meadow and Frank right into four feet of icy mountain stream.

Frank didn't think it was nearly as funny as I did.

We reached Island Lake, but most of it was still iced over. No golden trout on this trip, but we did catch a large cutthroat with the telltale marks of an old scar from an eagle's talons.

We returned down the trail, fishing at a more leisurely pace until we reached the truck.

The trail remains for those industrious enough to hike 20 miles over a long three-day weekend and is one of the unique areas of the mountain wilderness we call home.

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