In certain fishing circles the very word "purist" is anathema. "What're you, some kind of purist?" an angler might inquire of a friend spin casting a red-and-white Dardevle spoon from the stern of the boat while he lobs a skewered shiner into a school of hungry bonito churning in the chum line. Or, standing elbow to elbow in the rain on the banks of the Eel River during the November steelhead run, a fisherman will sum up a companion's refusal of his proffered jar of neon-orange-dyed salmon eggs in favor of a homemade concoction consisting of beef suet and lemon peel soaked in sardine oil: "Never mind Charlie, he's a purist." In the language of politics a purist is the "effete snob" of the fishing fraternity; the term has become as much of a catchphrase as that other handy vilification, "special-interest group."
Specifically, a fishing purist is an angler who prefers fly casting to any other form of the sport; it is a mandarin choice, a matter of style. Further refinements abound; there are dry-fly purists who look upon weighted nymphs and sinking lines with the same disapprobation with which they would regard a purse seine. A common purist tendency seems to be a willingness to release the catch, the philosophy of "limiting the kill rather than killing the limit." This isn't to say that there aren't those fly-fishermen who, with the aplomb of a wily worm merchant, stack trout in the deepfreeze like cordwood, but on the whole purity means an empty creel and a continuing postgraduate course on artificials for frequently hooked fish.
Significantly, more and more public waters are being restricted to fly-fishing. In many areas the fish population, even when aided by expensive stocking programs, is no longer equal to the pressure from ever-increasing legions of weekend anglers. Yellowstone Park, for example, confronted summer after summer by thousands of trout rotting in campsite garbage pails, has outlawed bait fishing, and many of the finer rivers (the Madison, the Firehole and stretches of the Gibbon) are posted: FLY-FISHING ONLY.
Still, park regulations permit the use of spinning tackle with a plastic casting bubble on the restricted water as long as the lure is an artificial fly—hardly a concession to the purist ethic. There is, however, in the Deschutes National Forest of eastern Oregon, a fishing spot reserved for the purest of the pure—a lake where the limit is zero. Not only is fly casting the only fishing technique permitted, but the flies must have barbless hooks. To a purist, Hosmer Lake, with the volcanic cone of Bachelor Butte mirrored on its still surface like a Hokusai view of Fuji, is the Zen center of the art of angling.
Twenty years ago it was known as Mud Lake. Shallow, and dense with carp, the silly bottom was continually roiled by the vacuum-cleaner feeding habits of this whiskered, thick-lipped fish. Now a carp may be a fine addition to a rice paddy but it is hardly a species dear to the hearts of many American anglers. So Mud Lake was selected by the Oregon Game Commission as part of an experiment in introducing Atlantic salmon to Western waters.
Starting in 1951, with salmon eggs from Quebec, a state hatchery succeeded by 1958 in breeding a second generation of disease-resistant salmon. Mud Lake was treated with rotenone and tons of poisoned carp were removed. By the time the first Atlantic salmon were planted, the silt had settled and the coffee-colored lake was crystal clear.
The first open season at Hosmer Lake was 1961. A creel limit of one fish per person was permitted, but even this proved too heavy a toll, and by the second season the regulations stated that "all fish must be removed from the hook and released in the water unharmed." Over the years the restrictions were narrowed to exclude spinning reels, monofilament line (except as backing) and the commonplace barbed hook. Hosmer Lake became a purist's Mecca.
To get there you drive 35 miles west of Bend on the Century Drive. Solid curtains of pine surround the lake, but it is not the spectacular scenery which is the main attraction here; the headliner at Hosmer Lake is the aristocrat of freshwater game fish, the Atlantic salmon.
On a day with no wind a fisherman can see a considerable distance through the clear water. The nearly white bottom is everywhere scribed with the vermiculations of caddis larvae dragging their handmade pebble-and-twig armor through the silt. Long unwavering belly-tracks of feeding fish bisect the scrimshaw. Standing in a small boat an angler can spot cruising salmon, singles and groups, and make his cast to a particular fish.
Hosmer Lake is best described as two separate bodies of water. The lower end, serviced by the boat ramp and campsites, is deeper and appears to contain fewer fish. Although motors up to 10 hp are permitted (except when fishing), the noise of an outboard is an unwanted intrusion, and the lake is really small enough to make rowing seem a pleasure. Between the lower and upper ends, where a waterway winds through tall stands of reeds, billowing clouds of green algae pass beneath the gliding boat. Occasionally, large brook trout are seen here, the white edges of their wavering dorsal fins distinct against the shadows. They may be kept if caught, but are extremely wary and make for the reeds at the slightest disturbance.