The Instagram Top Nine is an annual occurrence around the end of the year for many people. It’s fun to see what people found interesting, and which pictures fell short. Although I didn’t share mine on the app, I did take a look at which pictures were my nine most popular of the year.
There were two main reasons I didn’t share the overview of my most popular images. For one, I’ve been trying to be on social media less. But even more importantly, all the grid shows is the content that people double-tapped. It doesn’t share the stories behind the images, or the feelings those moments evoked.
Not surprisingly, most of my top photos were of fish. The photos don’t necessarily look that different from one another. But, the experiences behind this seemingly homogenous photo collection vary wildly. So, instead of sharing my Top Nine on Instagram, I’m going to do a Top Nine blog post, where I lay out what actually went into each of these moments in 2020.
1. The most remote fish I caught
I caught this cutthroat on my Socially Distanced Flyathlon Challenge, in which we hiked 15 miles in one day to land some beauties. There were several highs on this trip. The scenery was amazing, we passed only a handful of people despite being out on a Saturday in the mountains, and the fish were stunning (and large!). This photo is not only a memory of this fish, but also of another fish I caught that day that did not hang around long enough to be photographed. And it happened to be far and away the biggest cutthroat I had ever landed. As I lifted it for a picture, it heaved itself over and back into the water, which was much too deep for me to attempt a recovery. When I see this photo, I see that fish.
2. My all-time favorite brook trout
This was another of the most impactful fish I landed this year. For one, I caught it while on a backpacking trip with my friend, Ali. It was one of the only big trips I was able to take in 2020, thanks to coronavirus and an online Calculus II class that lasted most of the summer. Additionally, this was probably the most colorful brook trout I’d ever caught. While its pelvic and anal fins had the classic white slash, its pectoral fins instead had a bright yellow slash. It was so striking, I could distinctly see that yellow slash as soon as it took my fly. I didn’t catch many fish that day, but I didn’t need to. This fish was more than enough.
3. A day spent appreciating a local river
My buddy, Sam, took this picture on one of our days spent fishing in early October. He had just started to get into fly fishing more seriously, and the previous day he’d landed his first cutthroat and brown trout. We decided to hit a somewhat local river that I often overlook, and had a ball soaking up the nice weather.
4. A backpacking trip during my only break of the summer
The only other backpacking trip I took this summer was on my single weeklong break from Calculus, in early July. We hit two lakes that trip, both of which had plentiful hungry trout. We also got hit by a massive hail storm while trying to pump water, an occurrence that seemed as inopportune as possible while it was happening, but that after the fact makes a great story.
5. Our second 14er of the year (and first of four that day)
Calculus is becoming a theme in these photos, since it took up so much of my time over the summer while I was also working. It was on an accelerated schedule, so even on weekends, I was spending most of my time on it. We normally spend most summer weekends out of town either backpacking or car camping, but this year, I couldn’t afford not to be home each evening. So, we made the best of a bad situation and decided to check off some 14ers, many of which we’re able to climb in the morning and still have time to be back for dinner. This was the first of four we did in one day.
6. The most colorful cutthroat I caught this year
This fish also came from our trip to the Sangre de Cristos. It wasn’t particularly large, and it didn’t put up a legendary fight, but its colors were unmatched by every other cutthroat I caught in 2020. It was one of the last fish I landed before we had to head back to the truck (and back to the “real” world).
7. The lone fish I caught on a brisk morning
This was another fish I caught when my buddy, Sam, was in town. This was a cold morning, and we were struggling to keep our fingers warm. We stopped by some beaver ponds on the way to the river, and we struggled to find fish willing to eat. Much of the water was also frozen over, limiting where we could successfully land a fly. Right before we packed up to leave, this colored-up brook trout came out from under the tumbling water of a beaver pond outlet, saving us from a skunk and giving us something to smile about.
8. A grayling I caught shortly before this area was burned by wildfire
My boyfriend and I had been planning for a while to head to this spot to belly boat. I had been there years before to catch grayling, and he had never gotten to fish for them before. This was the year we finally made it happen, and we each got to land a bunch. We kept a few to cook at camp as well. About a week after we were there, the largest fire in Colorado history, the Cameron Peak Fire, started about 10 miles away from where we camped, and only a few miles from this spot.
9. Learning to shoot a rifle properly
This was the only photo on the list that wasn’t related to fishing. On what turned out to be one of the hottest weekends that summer, we took a course to improve our marksmanship. Wearing long sleeves and pants to prevent burns from hot brass, we lay on blankets in the dust and dirt to get some practice in before rifle season. I still practice dry firing in my basement using the skills we learned this weekend.