September2013

A lack of integrity on the South Fork.

This is Part I of III. At the time of this writing Part II has not yet been written, but Part III has been, in case you dismissed it last week. (Editor’s Note: Since this article was first published, Part II has also been published)

This is not a jet.

We departed Seattle on a DeHavilland Bombardier. I only mention the type of plane because a UA reader by the name of “Wade” commented on a recent post, proclaiming surprise that we were not flying on a Horizon/Alaska jet from Sea-Tac to Boise. No, Wade—it was indeed a turbo prop as evidenced by the photo above. The pleasant, one-hour flight sure beat what would otherwise have been an 8-9 hour drive. Our limo picked us up at the airport and whisked us away on the next leg of our journey: A 6 hour drive to Victor, ID.

Air travel, limousines…livin’ large! Actually it wasn’t quite a limo that greeted us at the airport—it was one of Marck’s daughters who attends Boise State, and we commandeered her car for the rest of our trip. It was amazing that we got 4 guys and all their gear into the 1999 Nissan Maxima for the uneventful drive across Idaho. There’s not a lot between Boise and Victor worth mentioning anyway, except for Silver Creek—which we would visit on the last leg of our fishing journey (Part III). But I’m getting ahead of myself by mentioning Silver Creek. Or am I getting behind? It’s so confusing to write outside of chronological order…George Lucas did so with his Star Wars trilogy and it worked for him, so why not? Sorry, where were we?

The Ranger Limo…

Victor served as our base camp from which we would fish the South and Henry’s Forks of the Snake River over the next two days. Actually “base camp” may be a bit misleading because we were hardly camping. In fact, we stayed in the lavish accommodations at Teton Springs Lodge. Now, before you start judging us harshly for being high-brow traveling anglers, take note: Morris had won a couple nights’ free stay at the Lodge in a raffle a year before at the Casting 4 A Cure event held in the same location. So while we were poshly pampered, we did so for less than what we typically pay at the Ho Hum in West Yellowstone.  Anyway, we were here to fish—not marvel at our accommodations. A bed is merely a place to sleep. If there’s a shower, that’s a bonus but not necessarily a requirement.

I think this means “UA is Number Four!”

We met with our guides, Hope Strong and Zach Barrett, at the Worldcast Anglers shop at 8 am. It was determined that we’d be fishing section 4 (Byington to Lorenzo), so off we went. I presented Hope with an Unaccomplished Angler hat and the request that if he didn’t want to wear it, would he at least pose for a photo? Off came his other hat and on went the UA Trucker, where it remained all day long except for twice when it blew off in the w#nd. Hope retrieved it both times with an urgency that suggested he had developed a strong fondness for the hat. That, or he just wanted the protection from the sun.

The OJ Simpson guide mobile.

After a 45 minute drive in Hope’s road-weary early 90’s era Ford Bronco, we were on the water by 9 AM. Mostly clear skies and calm air welcomed us as we commenced our float. It wouldn’t rain, but the w#nd would become problematic during the afternoon. I’d fished two other sections of the South Fork two years prior so this wasn’t completely new water to me, and our angling antics were pretty much what I expected: nymphing a variety of droppers under a “turd” (Pat’s rubber legs). Sometimes a 3-nymph setup, AKA “tangles.” Other times we hopelessly fished streamers in water that begged for it but seemed devoid of fish. We hoped hoppers would rise a fish and yet they yielded nothing. Lest you should think that we got skunked, we did catch fish, though catching was far from red-hot. To make things more interesting we had an inter-boat contest going for the categories of first fish, biggest fish, smallest fish and most fish. Morris and Marck comprised Team Dishonesty; Jimmy and I represented Team Integrity (yes, Jimmy drew the short stick and was paired with the short angler).

Team Dishonesty.

It’s a given that Marck always catches the most fish, and while there is no way to know for sure how many he caught, it’s a safe assumption that he won that category. However, Jimmy was first on the board with a beautiful, heavily-spotted and respectable brown. There’s no refuting that because I was there to confirm it.

Jimmy’s first fish.

Morris probably won the biggest fish with his heavily spotted beauty of a rainbow, the proof being in the pudding (or, rather, the photo):

Morris and the big fish.

Throughout the day our boat had a handful of 16-18 inch browns. Had there been a category for doubles we’d have won that, too. Or at least Jimmy would have, as I offered very little when it came to categorized catching. I know with extreme certainty that Team Dishonesty did not have any doubles:

Jimmy’s double: brown on brown

My best trout was a monster brown until it was brought to the net to reveal its much smaller size. I’d been deceived: A belly-hooked fish will do that to an angler. I’d hoped for a photo but it was tossed back into the river before I could ready my camera. I’m pretty sure it would have still won biggest fish.

My Trophy Brown

Barring a photo as evidence of the would-be winning brown, my next best fish was a fine Snake River Whitefish. It should count for something—certainly largest native species, right?

Whitefish on the worm.

As indicated earlier, the contest results could never be accurately tallied due to dishonest accounting from the other boat. All that is known for certain is that both boats landed fish—not an overabundance, if there is such a thing, and certainly less than we’d hoped—but it was a fine day of angling under mostly sunny, warm skies. It threatened, but we managed to avoid thunderstorms which was particularly good fortune for Morris, who’d accidentally knowingly left his waders back home. And nobody enjoys waving a 9 foot graphite stick in the air when electricity abounds.

W#nd blows.

The one thing we could have done without was the w#nd, which blew. It always blows, but it really blows when it blows when you’re fly fishing. Nothing much you can do about that but angle on, which we did.  A still photo cannot  properly capture the drama of bending cottonwoods, billowing shirts, and fly lines blown off course, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. You can trust me: I was a member of Team Integrity, remember?

We got off the water at 6 and made our way back to Victor for some exceptional BBQ at Scratch. After a good soak in the hot tub (another nicety missing at the Ho Hum) we hit the hay at a respectable hour. We contemplated hitting the golf course ponds with some mouse patterns under the 3/4 moon, but decided we’d save our energy for the next day. After all, we’d need to bring our angling A games to the Henry’s Fork, so a good night’s rest was in order.

At least Team Integrity slept well that night. A clear conscience will allow for that.

Team Integrity.

The secret to catching fish at Silver Creek Preserve

This is Part III of III, although Parts I and II have not yet at this time been written. (Editor’s note: Since this article was first published Part I and Part II have also been published)

The last stop on our whirlwind trip to Idaho was the World Famous Silver Creek Preserve. Even if you’ve never fished there you’ve likely heard about it— either from reading or from firsthand horror stories accounts. The Nature Conservancy has done a wonderful job of preserving this delicate jewel of a spring creek located in the desert of central Idaho, about 30 miles from Sun Valley. As most spring creeks do, Silver Creek runs cold and clear and boasts an abundance of aquatic vegetation and insect habitat. And a ridiculous number of fish: something along the lines of 6000 trout per mile. Oof.

And like many spring creeks, fishing is um…challenging, at Silver Creek Preserve, where the fish can get very large: Trophy fish, allegedly. And when fish get very large they tend to get rather smart. Trophy fish tend to get smarter than the anglers that pursue them and this is perhaps amplified at Silver Creek, where even the smaller fish have seen just about every imitation fly known to mankind. “Tightlipped” doesn’t due the trout justice here. No, I’d say downright disrespectful is more accurate.

The Firehole Rangers at Silver Creek.

Jimmy, Marck, Morris and I arrived after a 3 hour drive from Victor. One doesn’t expect to encounter complete vacancy at a place like the Preserve and to that end we were not disappointed as the parking area was full. It wasn’t all that surprising given that this place is legendary. I mean, it’s not everywhere that an angler can walk in the footsteps of Ernest Hemingway, who wrote in a 1939 letter to his son, Jack:

“You’ll love it here, Schatz…There’s a stream called Silver Creek where we shoot ducks from canoe…Saw more big trout rising than have ever seen…Just like English chalk streams…We’ll fish it together next year.”

With only 3 hours at our disposal we didn’t have time to visit the Hemingway Monument. Dictating our schedule was our return flight to Seattle that evening. This is a place that definitely requires a return visit simply to take it all in—there’s more to just fishing at the Preserve, but we were there to do just that on this particular day.

An older gentleman was just preparing to depart his vehicle for the creek so we chatted briefly with him, noting that we’d never been here before and had only a narrow window of opportunity in which to angle. He was kind enough to share some information with us that would surely hopefully aid us in the quest of catching fish, “Small dries, size 22, ” he offered. “Cast downstream to rising fish.”  Sage words from someone who was clearly a seasoned Silver Creek angler. He looked the part: Patient. Wise. And, patient. With the shared wisdom we quickly geared up, signed in, and left a small cash contribution in the donation box at the Cabin.

Silver Creek Preserve Visitor’s Center

As we found our way down the trail to the creek we passed by a half dozen others standing in the creek looking very serious. Their grave expressions suggested that this was not a place one comes to enjoy a light-hearted trout outing. A short walk further upstream afforded several entry points to the creek. It should be noted that many access points are closed for stream-side vegetation restoration and we honored those signs, walking until we found suitable access.

Once we dropped into the water it became immediately obvious that the numbers of fish are not exaggerations. Hundreds of browns and rainbows could be seen cruising the clear lanes of gravel bottomed stream-bed. The vast weed-beds hid even more fish.

Count the fish.

We spread out, tied on tiny baetis patterns to the end of 6x tippet and began to experience Silver Creek Preserve. There are too many micro-currents to allow for a drag-free drift so one must cast straight down to the fish as was imparted upon us by the Wise and Patient Angler. Suffice it to say most of us began immediately having a certain amount of success catching very small fish. I, however, did not. It was a while before I managed to land my first, though not on a size 22 baetis. After a half hour of no luck I switched over to a size 18 cinnamon ant and managed to land a beautiful, legendary Silver Creek brown. Perhaps not the trophy brown that anglers come here to seek out, but a Silver Creek brown is a Silver Creek brown is a Silver Creek brown. Riiight.

Silver Creek hog brown.

Downstream, Marck, Jimmy and Morris seemed to be enjoying a bit more success. Dumb luck, I presumed, and continued to switch patterns and add a couple more feet of 6x. The fish cruising the gravel lanes didn’t even bother to look up and instead scattered when my artificial offering drifted overhead. I eventually managed a small rainbow on a size 18 Adams, and had several other takes but no hookups. Nothing larger than 5 inches, however. A gentle breeze carried with it a haunting sound—Hemingway was laughing.

Morris is welcomed by the trout of Silver Creek.

As I slowly fished downstream toward my compadres, I could see that Morris was connecting with several fish of respectable size. What he was not doing was casting tiny dries downstream. Instead, he was casting directly to the opposite bank, where larger browns lurked. He was regularly hooking up, so I inquired from a distance, “Say, old sport—you seem to be enjoying a good bit of angling success.” His rod bent sharply as a good fish splashed at the end of his line. “Pray tell, what’s your secret?” Morris’ reply came riddled with colorful expletives that would have made even Hemingway cringe. Not only that, but his methods and choice of fly went against everything this place of genteel angling tradition stood for.

In a fit of disgust I hollered back, “Sir, you are an outrage! Your inferior breeding, foul language and dirty angling techniques will not be tolerated here at The Preserve!” I marched off upstream to put greater distance between myself and the atrocities. Reaching into my bag I realized I’d left my box of “other” flies back at the car. Gosh darn it!

I’d gone through just about every reasonable dry fly pattern in my possession so I decided to revisit the cinnamon ant. Looking toward the far bank I observed what appeared to be a good-sized fish quietly rising. As most large fish are known to do, it ate quietly; gently sipping and making just the slightest riseforms in the glassy surface. An atypically decent cast placed the fly right where it needed to be and then it vanished in a small ripple. Fish on!

Well, for a split second anyway. I set the hook and my line came hurtling back toward me: Missing was the fly, and a couple feet of 6x. I’ve never felt so alone as I did at this point. As I was retying, I saw a disturbance on the water’s surface that caught my attention. Something very large dashed out from under the cut bank—from exactly where my fly had last been seen—and swam downstream very quickly for a distance of perhaps 20 feet, leaving a wake behind. My first thought was some sort of large aquatic mammal—like a seal or small whale. I then rationalized that it was one of those legendary world-class browns, chasing down a grebe for lunch. I commenced to break into a cold sweat.

Lonely is the Unaccomplished Angler on Silver Creek.

Downstream I could hear the splashing of large fish attached to the end of Morris’ line. My catching, however, had ended for the day. I desperately wished for more time to target the fish who’d stolen my fly, tippet and pride. I’ll be back some day, and I’ll go armed with flies that catch fish on Silver Creek Preserve. In case you happen to visit this wonderful place make sure you have plenty size 22 baetis patterns. But keep them in your fly box and tie on one of these: The Morris Silver Creek Special.

The Morris Silver Creek Special.

This was the last leg of our whirlwind journey through Idaho. We’d caught fish on every river we visited, but Silver Creek was the least welcoming, unless your name is Morris. Mine is not.

A report of findings.

Leavin’ on a jet plane…

Soon I’ll embark on my first flight to a fishing destination.  Alaska? Kamchatka? Patagonia? South Andros?

Uh, not quite.  Does Boise count?

And it won’t even be a jet, so the headline above is misleading.

I must say that I’m rather excited to finally have a chance to use my Sage Travel Rod Tube that I got several months ago. The one that’s been sitting in my closet collecting dust, wondering when it will ever be employed for duty. I’ve filled it with two rods for the trip that will take us first to Boise, where we’ll hopefully land safely on day one.  From there we’ll embark on the drive to Victor, ID where we’ll fish the South Fork of the Snake on day two, followed by the Henry’s Fork on day three, and lastly to Silver Creek on our way back to Boise on day four.

A whirlwind trip for sure. I’ll be back here selling UA hats before you know it—what, you didn’t get yours yet?

In addition to Rangers Morris and Jimmy, Marck will also be along on the trip. So at least someone will catch fish.

I’ll report back with our findings.

The World’s Most Unaccomplished Angler?

Christmas trees and pond monkeys

A lifelong friend of mine is a rural land baron and holds title to several thousand acres in the backwoods of the southern Hood Canal region. My family has owned a cabin in this area since I was 3 years old, and when my brother and I were in high school and college we spent summers getting to know many of these acres when much of the land was used primarily to grow Christmas trees. The summer months marked the shearing season during which we would walk countless rows of cultivated Douglas, Grand and Noble Fir trees, armed with lightweight, razor-sharp shearing knives. It was our job to shape each tree with great care: Great care to not remove too much new growth; great care to properly cut the top of the tree to the correct bud; great care to hopefully avoid slicing a finger or other body part in the process. I was successful in all accounts all most of the time.

Let the record reflect that there were never cute girls on our shearing crews.

In the 25-30 years since then market for Christmas trees has become saturated and there’s little money in that endeavor. Consequently nearly all of the land has been turned into timber property, the former Christmas trees now thinned and allowed to grow toward maturity. To visit most of the property nowadays paints a starkly different picture of the vast, formerly open fields of trees that were once 4-10 feet tall. The trees of my youth are now 40-60 feet in height and I suppose they wouldn’t recognize me, either, though not because I’m any taller. Those years provided good memories of long days spent toiling in the hot sun, running from enraged swarms of bald-faced hornets and developing forearms that would’ve made Popeye proud.

Since the demise of the Christmas tree market, one nugget of this former Christmas tree property has been turned into a recreational endeavor. It’s still working property, mind you—very much so in fact. In addition to ample timberland, several thousand Noble Firs are still maintained—no longer for harvest as Christmas trees, per se, but instead as trees for Christmas bows. Bear with me for a moment as this is where the English language gets confusing: “Bows” (as in the type of bow that rhymes with ‘now’)—not “bows” (the red ribbons that rhyme with ‘nose’).

But I digress. Amidst this beautiful, remote location there are also a series of ponds created many years ago as a means of providing entertainment for my friend and his family.

Natural ground springs in this very precipitous corner of the region make for a rather damp area so it took just a little bit of imagination (and an excavator) to create a series of ponds with a steady supply of cold water. Outflows from the ponds allow for water to flush when the heavy rains of the Pacific Northwest winters ensue. What was merely an experiment (and some down-time in a depressed timber market) decades ago has turned into a very healthy environment for rainbow and coastal cutthroat trout that were released into the ponds. Not only have the fish survived, they’ve thrived: There are nautrally reproducing fish from fingerlings to 3 ponders . A few native cutthroat also make their way naturally into the ponds via small waterways leading to a nearby river.  It’s a really neat environment that was created over the past 20 or so years.

Certainly the water gets a bit warm during August, but my friend monitors the temperature and has found that the fish survive quite well, as evidenced by the big fish that can be seen hanging out at the mouth of the springs where they enjoy the cold water and ample natural food supply, chasing off the smaller fish. I’ve visited these ponds several times over the years, always hoping to hook up with one of the big players, or even a respectable 15 inch fish like Schpanky caught years ago. I’ve yet to do so.

If a kid can do it…

It shouldn’t be so hard, right?  After all, these fish don’t see any sort of regular fishing pressure. The public has no access to the property and only a handful of people ever fish here, and then only sporadically. And never with a fly line, expect for on a very rare occasion. I suppose I should point out that the fish in these ponds are welfare recipients: they do receive their regular rations of feed pellets. And during these feeding sessions the ponds erupt with fish. Knowing their favorite food, I reckon an angler could simply tie on a pellet imitation and it would be akin to shooting fish in a barrel.  But I’m a proper angler and would never stoop so low barring a pellet fly one tries other patterns in their fly box.

On Labor Day weekend I paid a visit to the ponds—my first visit in a couple of years. Enough time to heal old wounds, right? My buddy told me the fish hadn’t been fed in a couple days so they should be hungry—perhaps even careless, I assumed.  Stupid, fat, greedy pond monkeys.

My kinda fish.

When I arrived it was clear that the neglected freeloaders had resorted to foraging for themselves as there were rise forms from one end of the pond to the other: Small fish eagerly leaping out of the water; mid-sized fish splashing raucously; big fish sipping softly as big fish are known to do. Small mayflies were hatching and the fish appeared to be picking off emergers.

Child’s play.

Confident that there was no need to get all technical, I tied on a big, bushy hopper.  There were hoppers in the grass surrounding the ponds, after all. My first cast yielded an 8 inch rainbow that shouldn’t have been able to get its mouth around the fly.  A few more casts resulted in nothing.  “OK,” I thought, “so you ingrates wanna play THAT game…”  I tied on a size 18 Adams—again, no need to match the hatch exactly. Besides, the Adams is my confidence fly.  Rather, it used to be my confidence fly. I was shunned by all but one 10 inch rainbow that made a hasty decision.  During the course of a 2 hour period I switched flies and flanked the pond from nearly all sides, casting to different fish. The hatching mayflies were very light in color but even a size 18 PMD was merely nosed by several very respectable fish. None would take my offering. Various streamers including small black and olive woolly buggers were followed by curious fish from 8-18 inches, but none were willing to play. After a couple hours I called it quits. I had places to go and people to see, so broke my rod over my knee down and packed my pride.

As I drove off I shook my head. Even I was more than a bit surprised at my angling unaccomplishments at the hands of these stupid, gullible pond monkeys.

Next time I go back to these ponds in the woods, I’ll be properly armed: