Monday, August 15, 2016

On to Idaho! - Summer 2016 - Part Five

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I was surprised. It had been quite some time since I had a large trout on in the current of a river. After the deep pull, it stayed still in the current. I couldn't move it and I dared not pull harder and tax my 6x tippet. It was just this cutthroat and me, now locked together. Here we were until one of us decided on a new tactic. It would be the cutthroat's decision. This is what I had come to northern Idaho for. The Lady was on shore, ready with her ghost net. "That's a nice fish!" she cried, her smile beaming from ear to ear. "Keith!" she yelled over the song of the river's current. "He's got a good fish on!"

It can be hard, finding a good middle ground that will suit different styles. So when Cousin Keith made the suggestion of four nights at the Lochsa Lodge and making day trips out to places recommended by a buddy from his fly fishing club, we were game. To us it hardly mattered about fishing, this was a sweet opportunity to meet up again, fly rods (and ghost net) in hand, on the water, with a dear friend.

Lochsa Lodge is laid back and comfortable. Its rustic, but clean look fits the place, on a bluff overlooking Idaho's  Lochsa River. Keith had us sharing a room with two beds, comfortable and just right. Dinners were on the deck off the main lodge building. We could build Peets coffee in the morning in the camper and fruit and cold cereal was just right for breakfast for the three of us.

Tuesday afternoon we went over Keith maps and notes supplied by his buddy - a big thank you for Jim for his thoughtfulness! He had even made phone calls to get current information on roads. We made an excursion in Keith car to get a sense of the area.

Wednesday morning we tried out Brushy Fork and Crooked Fork of the Lochsa River. Brushy Fork had brush and it also had big rocks.

The current was strong and it was not an easy river to wade. I crossed over and fished the left side. Keith worked the right. It was more or less one big riffle, hard to fish. Good floats with the dry fly were short lived amid the competing currents. I watched the Lady try to cross over to my side and slipped in up to her waist with her pack. She was Sherpa Girl, hauling lunches for hard working fly casters. The river held small rainbows, possibly juvenile steelhead? At least that's what we connected with.

Always on the verge of taking a slip and going in hard wore on us. "Let's try the Crooked Fork!" suggested by one of us got a quick, "Okay!"

We navigated a labyrinth of dirt roads following Jim's map. The river down below was looking marvelous, big gravel bars and deeper runs. But how in the hell to get down there? One promising road took us down, down, down, and got narrower and narrower. We decided to walk it. Finding a turnaround spot further in, I ran up  and retrieved the car as the Lady and the Big Guy continued down. The road stopped at the top of a 100 foot cut bank down to the river. The vegetation was a impenetrable tangle of the Pacific Northwest finest. We pulled out our lunches, ate,  and stared at the unreachable river below us. Back to the maps and careful reading found the road number Jim had used for access. Back toward the main highway we again descended a steep two track. We parked and walked down a narrow no longer used road that took us to a washed out log bridge. We were on the river!

It wasn't quite the delicious deep runs we had seen upstream, but there were a few deeper spots that maybe would hold larger trout. We went hunting for them.

Keith kept connecting with small rainbows.

I did too.

We worked our way down stream and found a nice run. Keith insisted I take the prize slot. He did some floats from above into the top of the riffle. I caught two or three small rainbows as I worked my way to floats over the deeper water. A ghost came from the depths and solidly grabbed my large caddis pattern. I was surprised. "This is a good fish!" I said. It pulled deep and I worked hard to maneuver it away from a rock to dive under and cut the leader. It took anchor mid current. This was the trout I could not move. The Lady was in the water too. Keith was beside her. The trout ran and fought. Several attempts to bring it into the ghost net ended with another dash out into the current. Keith helped the Lady and the solid 14 inch westslope cutthroat was admired and "returned to its watery fold."

I caught and released another nice, not as large, cutthroat in this run. We worked our way down stream in hopes of finding another prize run without luck. On our return we let Keith try to connect with a nice cutthroat.

Keith handles a fly rod very well and we filmed and filmed in hopes of catching the take...........................

......................without success.

We wanted a change of scenery for Thursday. And we got it. Jim's notes suggested hiking into the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness to a meandering high country meadow section of Big Sand Creek. 2.5  miles of trail would take us down to heaven. The trailhead at the ridgetop was burned. The small lodgepoles coming back in looked to be around 10 years old. When was Jim last here?

Our hopes high on this lovely mountain morning, we started down.

"I have a theme for my story!" I called to my partners ahead - the Lady and the Big Guy. "What's that?" they grunted back to me. "Give a couple of fly fishers a little tidbit about trout and they will do anything! Absolutely anything!" They saw my humor but would save the laughter for later, much later.

The view skyward only told about a tenth of the story.

The other nine tenths were on the ground.

And we would not give up.

It was a maze. It was a puzzle. It was a challenge. We were obviously more Lutheran then Catholic in our upbringing. There were signs of our passing.

Ever onward!

It took us 3 hours to travel the 2.5 miles to Big Sand Creek. I should mention the deadfall had been cut from the first mile of trail at the top. A couple of stories about trips we've done with Keith that he shares in his book, he calls us "The Backpackers From Hell!" Now we have become the Black Butt Hiking Bunch."

The creek was beautiful. "But, you know after all this work we're only going to catch 6 inchers!" Keith predicted. There were huge moose tracks in the gravel bar. This had to be a good place.

Although recovering from fire, it was amazing how lush this place was with new grasses.

We agreed I'd go downstream and the Big Guy upstream. Damn it, we were going to fish after all that work!

The creek was easy and wonderful to wade. It made a deep run just upstream with the confluence with Bridge Creek. This is where I'd start. The Lady was with me.

I waded in, up to my knees, and made my cast upstream. It was a perfect float, even if I say so myself. I was in awe. The caddis floated toward me as I retrieved line in to match its speed. I said to myself, "This is so good I can't waste it. I'll let it go by and on downstream as long as there's no drag!" Watching in my daydream,  the beautifully floating caddis passed me. A ghost came up from the depths, full power charge, the surface exploded, and the trout was on.

The Lady was in the creek with me. "This is a nice fish!" she said to me. "This is a nice fish!" I said to her. We admired and released another westslope cutthroat.

We went upstream to see how the Big Guy was doing.

We lured him back down to our fishing hole with tales of large cutthroat. We also wanted footage of the big take.

Who would have thought these trout were camera shy? I should have just buried the camera in my pack. But Keith was looking good as he moved down to deep stillwater.

He did connect with a few smaller cutthroats, beautifully colored.

Our fishing time ended. We thought about the time needed to climb over those thousands and thousands of down trees and get our black butts back up to the car. Still, even in this huge burned area, beauty was all around us.

We were getting good with our jungle gym wilderness deadfall gymnastics. It only took us 2.5 hours to come back up!

Smoke from a monitor and let burn lightning strike fire deeper in the Wilderness cast a hazy pall over us as we climbed.

We celebrated our feat over dinner on the deck. We black butt hiker bunch still had some power in our muscles, medal in our bones, endurance in our hearts. Maybe just not much upstairs? All in all it was a great day.

I should mention my cousin Keith is eleven years my senior and does pretty well at 75 years old.

A change of scenery was needed for the next day, Friday, our last full day of fishing. Jim, in his notes mentioned Walton Lake so we decided on a complete change of pace. Let's fish a high mountain lake. Jim's notes stated, "Filled with 6 to 9 inch beautiful cutthroats!" Maybe they had all grown up. You have to be an optimist to fly fish.

It is an interesting, narrow, winding 11 miles of shelf road to the unmarked short spur road to the trailhead for Walton Lake. The road continues on another mile and a half to a larger Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness Trailhead without any signage. Ask us how we know.

Like our excursion the day before, we started at the ridge top. Today the distance would be less than half but the drop twice as far.

The wet areas held wonderful displays of Gentian.

Walton is a heavily used but beautiful lake.

Keith tried everything while flying from the rocky point. He connected with several small cutthroat; Jim's notes were correct. But they did not come easy. "Who would think little trout could be so finicky?" he stated just like a retired professor would. I explored a nearby shore lined with a light weed bed. Just off the weeds, the little tikes took a realistic hopper pattern with reckless abandon. Keith and the Lady joined me. Jim's notes were correct. They were so very pretty.

We grazed on wild huckleberries we picked on our trek back up the trail. "That was fun," Keith stated, "Catching all those little cutthroats. We didn't wear out our rods by getting them bent too far. Nothing broke. We didn't have to worry about a damn big fish pulling all our fly line off our reels and getting deep into the backing. The bearings in our reels will last a while longer. Our arms don't ache from hauling in big fish after big fish. That was just right! A good day!" I believe everything my cousin tells me about fly fishing for trout. It was a good day.

We had a great time with Keith, The Big Guy. We all headed west down highway 12 along the Lochsa River early Saturday morning. We stopped for a traditional road house breakfast in the tiny hamlet of Lowell.

"He was a cantankerous sort. Didn't much get along with anybody," the waitress explained. "We just up and asked him to leave. We can do that, being a small town and all."

"Everything is better now?" I asked. "Everything is ship shape?"

"Yup, it sure is!" she answered proudly.

We said good bye to Keith, hugs and handshakes all around, with promises of future fishing trips. "I'll keep working on the leg lifts!" he promised. "Let's make the next get together in less than 5 years!" we promised.

The Big Guy headed back toward Seattle. It was time for us to point it back toward home. But we shouldn't go straight back, should we? That just wouldn't be right.

Our adventure continues in Part Six - Please Click Here

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