Half of the Firehole Rangers made a quick trip to one of our favorite Idaho panhandle rivers recently. We’ve always fished this river in July, which is considered prime time, but never before this year have we fished it in late September. We were eager to see what this favorite place is like in the Fall, and expectations were cautiously high. The weather didn’t look favorable a week before the trip, but the forecast improved gradually as the departure day approached. Still, the weather cannot be trusted in the mountains that divide Montana and Idaho—we’ve learned that much. The past two years, we’ve had trip-ending rain that blew out camp, and the river. In July. We were hoping that would not be the case this time. Almost without fail, the catching is exceptional in July (until the rain puts the fish down). We knew the river would be lower in the Fall, but we hoped the fish would still be willing.
Here’s a nutshell recount for those who don’t have the attention span to read my typically rather lengthy Drivel®:
- As we pulled into the campground a young cow moose jumped off the road and ran into the woods.
- It rained during the night on Friday.
- In the wee hours of Friday night/Saturday morning we heard an elk bugling as it walked down the road next to camp. Then, it bugled as it walked back the other direction. One does not hear elk bugling in July. Ah, Fall.
- It did not rain the rest of the weekend.
- Saturday it was a cool day in the mid to upper 50’s. The fishing was slow. Fish were tight to the bank. I caught 2 fish all day. Jimmy caught 3, or 4. Morris did considerably better.
- The fish were all tight to the bank, and were mostly 16-18″ and very healthy. Only a couple fish were 12 inches. My net came in handy.
- We saw what must have been the same cow moose we’d seen near camp the day before. She was a couple miles upstream. We would not see her again.
- We had the river entirely to ourselves until just before we reached our terminus point, where we ran into two other anglermen.
- Late in the day I sat down on a particular flat rock at the “Bull Trout Hole“. When I sat down, apparently I knocked my net—attached to my pack via magnetic connection—loose. I did not realize this until we were on the trail back to camp that evening. Damnit. Unless another anglerman picked up the net, it would be there tomorrow, and we saw only one other anglerman in that vicinity—chances are he would not see the net. I rationalized that it should be there the next day.
- Morris prepared our supper that night: spaghetti with sausage meatballs.
- As we sat around the fire on Saturday night there were a gazillion stars overhead.
- It got cold Saturday night. I expected frost to be on the ground Sunday morning.
- Late during the night Jimmy heard what sounded like a herd of elk stampeding up the river—in the river. More bugling ensued.
- On Sunday morning there was no frost on the ground. Despite remaining clear all night, it had warmed up.
- Idaho takes pride in its outdoor recreational facilities. The “outhouse” at our campground is very clean and attended by employees that take pride in their work.
- On Sunday morning we each took advantage of the outhouse. 3 times each. Must’ve been the meatballs.
- The weather warmed up on Sunday, into the 70’s. At one point it was almost warm enough to complain about being too warm. We did not complain.
- The bugs were popping in the warm weather and fish were feeding in the seams and moving to flies. October caddis, black ants, mahoganies…most fish weren’t too finicky. Some were very picky.
- I caught 4-5 fish on Sunday. Jimmy caught a fish or two more than that. Morris caught considerably more although it was all on his word because he moved downstream ahead of us around midday and we never saw him again until we returned to camp that evening. All the fish, save for a couple, were large and vibrantly colored, like the foliage lining the river.
- When I got to The Bull Trout Hole, my net was not there. But a uniquely marked rock cairn indicated that Morris had discovered my net and picked it up. At least I hoped that’s what the cairn indicated.
- We had the entire river to ourselves on Sunday.
- A gazillion stars shone that night as we sat around the last fire of the season.
- On Sunday morning we broke camp and drove home, wishing we had at least one more day to fish.
- 2 days driving: 881 miles
- 2 days fishing: 15 miles hiking/fishing
- A great trip to end the trout season
And now some photos:
Next up, a trip to a vastly different Idaho river to not catch steelhead.
Recently I had the occasion to visit the Washington State Fair in Puyallup (pronounced (pew-al-up). This is the grand-daddy of Washington’s state fairs: it runs for nearly the entire month of September and attracts a large and varied lineup of big name entertainment. We were there to see Alan Jackson, who happened to put on a great concert.
I hadn’t been to the Puyallup Fair since I was in high school, which was 35 years ago. I’m not a big fan of state fairs—too much traffic getting to and from, crowds—lines everywhere. Pretty much everything a social recluse like myself loathes. OK, I’m actually not a social recluse, I’d just much rather be wading in a secluded river than wading through crowds of scone-eating fair-goers. I do, however, enjoy observing people, and people watching doesn’t get any better than at state fairs. In fact, that alone is nearly worth the price of admission. But when given a choice, I avoid crowds like the plague. Hell, if not for crowds we wouldn’t have plagues in the first place. But I digress.
When my kids were young we did take them to The Evergreen State Fair in Monroe, WA a few times. You can’t deny kids the childhood experience of visiting a fair, and they certainly enjoyed seeing the animals. And getting jacked up on cotton candy and soda and then going on the rides. I get that part—it’s all fun (until someone throws up). But what struck me the hardest on this latest trip to a fair was the food. When did state fairs become all about food (and I use the term loosely)?
Actually, fair aficionados will quickly point out that state and county fairs, since their inception in the mid-19th century, have always been about food. Agriculture was at the heart of the matter and livestock judging was a key element to the early days of the fair; something that still exists today. Food, in both its production and enjoyment, has been the centerpiece of fairs from the very beginning: Farmers competing to see who could grow the largest crop specimen; home baked pies and recipe judging. That old chestnut.
And while I’m not sure that the current culinary offerings are what the early fair attendees would have considered food, consumables are still king: Elephant Ears the size of serving trays; tubs of onion rings; loaves of french fries; corn dogs (called Crusty Pups); and burgers, burgers, burgers—every vendor claims to have the biggest burgers at the fair, and the only way to know for sure is to try them all! If its fried, you can find it at the fair, just don’t expect small portions. Serving sizes, like most of the swines on display in the livestock pavilion, are not dainty.
And let’s not forget bacon! Bacon maple bars, bacon stuffed burgers, bacon wrapped hot dogs, bacon on a stick, waffle fried bacon. I love bacon, but some of these concoctions sounded a tad disturbing. I’m sure the 4H swine would have agreed with me.
But not everything at the fair was typical greasy fried fare—there were some more “exotic” foodstuffs to be found as well. For example, Rabbit-Python Sausage. I didn’t try any, but I did have to wonder how it was made. Was the python ground up and then mixed with ground-up rabbit? Or was it an incidental sausage whereby the python was in the process of swallowing the rabbit when it was ground up? And who was the first to think of this combination—someone deep in the swamps of Florida?
At one point while waiting in another line to get a beer (to wash down the Crusty Pup), I noticed a group of young people who were presenting their passports as identification—clearly an indication that they were from another country. It caused me to ponder, if one were a foreigner visiting the states for the first time, and happened to visit a state fair, can you imagine the thoughts running through their heads? “So, THIS is America?” I’m not sure if they would be amused or dismayed—probably a bit of both. I know I am.
So to put the fair further into the distance in the rear view mirror, I’m heading into the remote Idaho back country in a few days to do a little wading in a freestone mountain river. The surroundings will be about as different from a state fair as one could hope to find. If we’re lucky we may not see another person, and the only lines will hopefully be tight to hungry cutthroat trouts, gorging themselves. Like people at the fair.
And there will be bacon. And beer.
I recently received an email from a reader. The email said:
Are you guys off fishing? Haven’t seen anything in a while.
Thanks for caring enough to write. To answer your question, no—neither myself nor any of my compadres have been fishing since our trip to Idaho in July. It’s sad, really, to admit that, but for me it was a really busy summer that went by faster than normal. What with the few weekends we have here in the Pacific Northwest (typically we consider summer to encompass July and August, which equates to 8 weekends), summer always goes by fast. But this year seemed more hectic than normal. Weddings, social engagements, a couple weekend day hikes here and there, yadda yadda yadda. All of a sudden, summer was gone without so much as wetting a line.
The past two years the Rangers have done Fall trips: to Fernie, BC two years ago where we fished the Elk and Michele Creek (read aboot that trip here, here and here); to Columbia Falls, MT last year to fish the South and Middle Forks of the Flathead (read about that here, here, here, here and here). We were planning to do another trip this Fall, but before we could agree on a destination, Goose, Nash and Marck proclaimed their
inability lack of testicular fortitude and dedication to make the trip.
The good news is that Jimmy, Morris and I are headed back to Idaho later this month, and looking forward to seeing one of our favorite places under a different seasonal light. There’ll be a chill in the air—perhaps even frost in the morning. Wet wading will likely be out of the question, the fire danger should be a non-issue so we can gather round a good fire at night, and hopefully the trouts will be eating October caddis. And hopefully no rain like we’ve gotten the past two trips in July. I’ll let you know how it went.
Anyway, I wish you hadn’t had to write and inquire—it means you’re bored and I haven’t been fishing enough.
I’m sorry it it had to come to this.