Weekly Drivel®

Idaho trout trip: Quality, but not quantity

The last trout trip of the year was to a favorite, familiar place in northern Idaho that the Rangers (or at least most of the regiment) normally fish together in July. Marck and Morris tend to be a bit more obsessive about this place (or they’re more tolerant of the 8 hour drive) and are known to make an occasional weekend jaunt at other times of the year. I absolutely love the place, but I just can’t talk myself into a 3 day weekend in which 2 of those days are spent driving. Unfortunately, the July group trip didn’t happen this year. Instead, I took an extended weekend and visited the North Fork Clearwater, another northern Idaho trout zone merely one drainage away. That trip introduced me to a river I’d never fished before, and while a grand time was had, it left me missing the favorite Idaho river. And so, in August, Jimmy and I began discussing dates for a September trip, and waiting impatiently for the date to arrive.

We’d fished the favorite river in late September last year, and it was a beautiful time to be there. With lower flows, the fishing wasn’t as fast paced as it typically is in July, but the fish we encountered were all very healthy, mostly quite large (15 inches and above, up to 20″). It was a great trip, and we hoped to have a similar trip this year. Marck was unable to get the time off from work. We knew Goose and Nash wouldn’t be able to make the trip so we didn’t bother asking them. Morris decided to join in, but declined the offer to ride with us and instead drove his own car.

Fires burning in area—and all around on the Montana side of the Bitterroots—had made for very poor air quality in the weeks leading up to our trip. The smoke had been widespread across the entire Pacific Northwest, as well, due to fires burning closer to home. A bad year for fires. As we headed out on this particular Sunday in mid September, the smoke was thick at home, but began to clear the farther east we drove. Weather reports had suggested this would be the case and we were delighted that those predictions held true. The result was that we had 3 days of clear skies and perfect weather. A little cloud cover might have made for better fishing, but it was hard to complain about being on a beautiful river in the Idaho backcountry, under blue skies and 75 degree weather.

The only complaint was that, due to a burn ban, there were no campfires allowed, and sitting around an LED lantern at night isn’t quite the same as staring into a flame. On the other hand, we got plenty of sleep since there was no allure of a campfire to keep us up late and night, telling lies and sipping whiskey. This time of year the sun goes down by 6:30 or so, and is dark by 7pm. The first night we were in bed by 8:30 (getting old, apparently). The next night we were determined to stretch things out a bit and didn’t retire until 9:30. On the last night we did a bit better and may have extended our evening until 11PM thanks to a visit from the young guy camped nearby. He was there for a week by himself and had apparently become starved for conversation.

But enough about our lack of late night gumption, let’s get to the fishing…

Day One fishing was slow to start. Morris did better than either Jimmy or me, and I barely managed to land one fish all day long. A good fish, to be sure—a beautiful hen of around 16″ or so. But she paled in comparison to the absolute hog that Morris landed.

Day One Fish. The only fish on day one for UA.

Day One Fish. The only fish on day one for UA.

It was actually the second time he caught that fish on this trip. You see, the reason Morris drove himself was so that he could leave earlier than us, drive much faster than us (thereby arriving several hours before us) and fish all the good holes before us. But back to the fish: it was one of the bigger cutthroats one can expect to catch on this river. The Great Pumpkin Trout was over 20″, and likely closer to 21″ or 22″. This big old buck was more colored-up than any Westslope Cutt I’d ever seen, its belly as vibrant orange as imaginable. And it’s orange belly was full, suggesting that it had been feasting on the massive supply of Spruce Moths that were hatching.

Morris' trophy cutthroat

Morris’ trophy cutthroat: The Great Pumpkin Trout

Underbelly closeup of the Great Pumpkin Fish.

Underbelly closeup of the Great Pumpkin Trout.

We desperately tried catch the Great Pumpkin Trout again, but having been gullible two days in a row, it finally wised up and kept its head down for the remainder of the trip. The Spruce Moth hatch which I mentioned above was significant. The moths were literally everywhere: in the trees, on the trail, in the air, on the water. However the fish were not taking them. We watched and observed, and never once saw a trout take a live moth. Our hunch was that due to clear skies and a bright moon, the fish were gorging on the moths at night. Once the sun came up, the fish—like hungover college kids who’d been on a bender all night—wanted nothing to do with the hair of the dog.

The same held true for Days Two and Three. What few fish were caught were done so on everything from black ants to tiny PMDs, and the occasional October Caddis. I did better on Day Two than I had on Day One, but only by 2 fish. My best day was Day Three, when I managed 5 fish: still slow for the number of river hours we put in.

A Day Two fish: a nice big buck that took a tiny PMD.

A Day Two fish: a nice big buck that took a tiny PMD.

A Day Three Fish.

A Day Three Fish that took the October Caddis.

Day Three did hold one very satisfying fish, in particular, for me. One run we refer to as “The Swimming Hole” always has several rising fish. But it’s a difficult hole to fish because it’s very slow (almost no current), deep (perhaps 6-8 feet in low water), and there’s very little structure other than a few rocks on the bottom. The fish here have too much time to decide that one’s presentation is unworthy of their participation. They sipped regularly on some bug that was either emerging or too small to see on the surface. For two days in a row they refused to entertain the anglers that paid them a visit. On Day Three I managed to get lucky and fooled a Swimming Hole Fish into accepting my articifical offering. The fish was not large—maybe 13″—but it took line and fought better than any other fish of the trip. I was just happy to have finally hooked a fish in this run.

Another Day Three Fish: smaller, but very satisfying

The Swimming Hole Fish: smaller, but very satisfying.

Here are a few photos for you to enjoy without my accompanying Drivel®:

A mat of spent Spruce Moths.

A mat of spent Spruce Moths.

More spent Spruce Moths: biomass

More spent Spruce Moths: biomass

Morris tight to a fish.

Morris tight to a fish.

Morris lands another fish from a small pocket of holding water.

Morris lands another fish from a small pocket of holding water.

Hard to complain about slow fishing when here.

It becomes hard to complain about slow fishing when standing here.

Jimmy seeks a willing participant.

Jimmy seeks a willing participant as afternoon turns to evening.

The Streamer Hole did not produce any fish on streamers.

The Streamer Hole did not produce any fish on streamers.

When fishing is slow it affords one the opportunity to look around and take it all in.

The good thing about slow fishing is that there’s ample opportunity to look around and take it all in.

The day, and any hopes of catching another fish, fades on Morris.

The day, and any hopes of catching another fish, fades on Morris.

On the 4th day—the day we left for home—the smoke had moved back in. It was so thick driving back over the pass from Idaho into Montana that it could be tasted it through the ventillation system in the Man Van ( which lacks a recirculated air option). I felt sorry for the groups of elk hunters in the area who were camped in this. It would certainly make for tough hiking and scouting, and with no reprieve from the smoke once back at camp, well, no thanks. Good luck, fellas.

At the top of the pass from Idaho into Montana.

At the top of the pass from Idaho into Montana.

The smoke remained thick all the way way home. 2017 was the summer of fires: one to be forgotten and hopefully not repeated any time soon.

Central Washington: smoke from several fires.

Central Washington: smoke from several fires.

Bull trout in Idaho: To target, or not to target?

No need to not target these

No need to not target these

Some of you may recall a blog post from a couple of summers ago in which I was not targeting—and ended up catching—a bull trout in Idaho. The article was aptly titled, Not Targeting Bull Trout in Idaho in case you wanted to re-read it. I’ve always thought the term “targeting” was a bit vague and essentially unenforcible. I mean, who’s to say that you are targeting one species or another while fishing waters that holds more than one species of fish?  That said, apparently targeting bull trout in Idaho is not disallowed. A recent comment from a reader of the UA alerted me to an article on the Idaho Fish and Game website that I found rather interesting (thanks, Tony). The article, titled Casting for bulls: fishing for Idaho’s bull trout, can be read HERE.

So there’s no need to be covert in your targeting of bull trout while fishing in Idaho. Just be sure to treat them gently and release them quickly.

 

Into the Fire

As the date quickly approaches for a jaunt to Idaho for a bit of mid-September angling, I thought it prudent to look into the matter of any potential fires burning in the area where we’ll be headed. Since fire season is particularly bad this year all across Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon, the likelihood of a burn in the general vicinity of our destination seemed likely.

My hunch was correct.

A fire known as the Buck Fire in Idaho has been burning since August 7th. It’s currently 1265 acres and is 25% contained and is actively burning in a north-northeast direction. There are 10 personnel assigned to fighting this particular burn. The fire itself is a considerable distance away from where we will be, but the extended closure boundary is the width of the river away from the Forest Service Road we’ll take to get to the campground. A phone call to the Ranger District office confirmed that this is the case. If they move that boundary line 150 feet further north, we’ll have to alter our plans.

A detailed map of the fire closure boundary.

A detailed map of the fire closure boundary.

We’ve had significant rain events the past two summers when we’ve visited our favorite Idaho Panhandle River. There is no precipitation in the forecast this year. There will be no campfires this year, that is a given. Instead, we’ll sit around an LED lantern when the sun goes down.

Needless to say fire season is bad this year. Even western Washington has had several days of thick smoke and ash fallout from fires burning to the north, east, and southeast. Good thoughts to all those fighting  fires–stay safe out there.

Hopefully I’ll report back in a week or so with tales of many large cutthroat trouts that made poor decisions.

Fishpond solves the net problem

Before we begin, let’s call this a gear rave, rather than a gear review, because this is not a review in the sense that I was sent a piece of gear in exchange for mass publicity on my website. Nay, I’ve no affiliation with Fishpond USA whatsoever: no pro deals, ambassadorship, no insider information, nothing like that. I’m just a customer—a customer that has long-fretted over the best way to carry a hand net while wading. And so here I am, to share with my 3 readers, my solution.

Because it’s a problem.

Early on I had a small net attached to the back of my vest using some sort of quick-release devise. This was back when it was still socially acceptable to wear a vest (you didn’t get that memo?). The weight of the over-loaded vest—heavy, because it had so many pockets and I filled every pocket until it was maxed out—plus the added weight of the wooden net dangling off the back, called for a change (at the insistence of my chiropractor). Not to mention that the vest was effectively another layer of clothing which on hot days added to increased body temperature accordingly.

So I switched, for several years, to a fanny pack lower lumbar/waist pack. I liked the pack itself, quite a lot in fact. The problem with that system was that the there was no good way to carry a net. Yes, the net handle could be wedged between the pack and the fanny, but that left a lot to be desired. The result of this was that I nearly always went fishing without a net. If you’re catching small fish, this isn’t an issue, but on rare occasion I would hook into something that presented a challenge to land. Had I a net with me on those occasions, life would have been much better for me, and the fish. I also wanted something with a bit more carrying capacity, so the quest for a better solution ensued.

Next up was a waterproof backpack for carrying my gear. It could carry all I needed and more. It could get heavy, but because of the hip belt, the weight was kept off my shoulders. The problem remained that of how to efficiently carry a net (by this time I had come to possess a super lightweight Fishpond/Nomad Hand Net). In an attempt to remedy this I attached one end of a magnetic connection to a D-ring on the pack, the other magnetic end to my net. What I didn’t like about this was the manner in which the net would swing back and forth as I walked, more than once catching on brush and becoming detached. Fortunately I would hear the net as it separated from my pack and hit the ground. Except one time. Fortunately by the time I realized the net was gone, I hadn’t walked very far and was able to retrace my steps and recover it easily. But then there was the time I was on a particular river in Idaho, about 2 miles up from camp. Having been repeatedly shunned by a particularly antisocial fish, I sat down upon the riverside rocks to reassess my terminal tackle. Unbeknownst to me, the rim of the net contacted the ground first. As I lowered myself to a seated position, the handle of the net pushed upwards with enough force to separate the magnetic connection to my backpack. After tying up a new bug I returned to my feet and unsuccessfully attempted to entice the picky fish to accept my new offering. Without catching the fish there was certainly no need to reach back for my net (if I had, I’d have noticed it missing). For some reason I did not take notice of the fact that the net was not swinging back and forth as I hiked out, and it wasn’t until I returned to camp and removed my backpack that I noticed my net, or lack thereof. Crap. Expensive net. I had a pretty good idea of where it was and fortunately this is a pretty remote stretch of river so the likelihood of another angler stumbling upon my net, and adding it to their gear collection, was slim. The next day my net was recovered, thanks to Ranger Morris. And I began to obsess over a better way to carry the net.

I’d pondered a sling pack in the past, but like every other wearable, gear-carrying device, slings lacked a good system for carrying a net. And then I stumbled upon the Fishpond Thunderhead Sling. This pack has an integrated sleeve for the handle of a net. GENIUS! The net is tucked away in a secure manner behind me, easily reachable when it needs to be deployed; unnoticeable when not. I’ve used it several times while wet wading and I am still giddy over the ease with which I can now carry my net. And another thing I really like about the Thunderhead Sling is that all I need to do is unclip one strap, swing the pack around in front of me, and the waterproof zipper is right there, allowing for easy access to fly boxes, etc. This is a huge advantage over the backpack system where one must remove the pack to gain entry to its contents (and I don’t care for bulky front pack attachments). The Thunderhead has room for all that I need to carry, but it’s not big enough that I can carry excessive amounts of gear. It’s got a well thought-out system of external attachment points for nippers, hemostats, tippet spools, and whatnot. And because it has a fairly small footprint and breathable padding between the pack and one’s backside, it’s comfortable even on hot days.

For all the added features, however, the single best thing about the Thunderhead Sling Pack is, in my opinion, that it was designed to carry a net (for that rare occasion when I need one). I should note that my Nomad Hand Net has a very short handle, and truth be told, a longer handled net would fit the sleeve perhaps even better.

This pack is a keeper, as well it should be for what it cost. Because—remember—I paid retail just like the rest of you commoners.

Fishpond Thunderhead Sling (left) and Fishpond/Nomad Hand Net (right)

Exhibit A: Fishpond Thunderhead Sling (left) and Fishpond Nomad Hand Net (right)

Exhibit B: Thunderhead Sling with net inserted into sleeve

Exhibit B: Fishpond Thunderhead Sling with Nomad Hand Net inserted into sleeve (view #1)

Exhibit C: Thunderhead Sling with Nomad Hand Net inserted into sleeve (view #2)

Exhibit C: Fishpond Thunderhead Sling with Nomad Hand Net inserted into sleeve (view #2)

A mass of humanity in the Idaho backcountry

Looking down into Idaho from Hoodoo Pass.

A view of Idaho from Hoodoo Pass.

My timing is often far from impeccable when it comes to fishing trips. It seems I’ve a certain knack for planning trips that coincide with such things as—but not limited to—bad weather and rising rivers. Often times those two go hand in hand, as they did the past two summers on multi-day trips to my favorite Idaho Panhandle trout river. If so inclined, I delved into the bowels of the UA archives and extracted a couple of stories about those ill-fated trips HERE and HERE. And so, as my trip to the Idaho Panhandle this year approached, I naturally obsessed over the forecast to see whether the weather would show any indication of bad weather, or not.

There was none. Not a single day with a chance of anything other than clear skies and temps in the 80’s and beyond. That alone should have been a warning: with such a steady forecast of nice weather, I ought to have known that I wouldn’t be the only one with plans to visit the North Fork of the Clearwater River in Idaho.

I left home at 6:45 on a Thursday and drove 7 hours to Superior MT. From there it took me a couple of hours to make the 43 mile drive over Hoodoo Pass to Hidden Creek Campground, on the banks of the NF Clearwater in Black Canyon (for details on the drive itself, feel free to read THIS). The reduced rate of travel was due mostly to the fact that I was gawking at the scenery and therefore driving slowly. There was, however, no option other than to drive slowly once I reached the summit of Hoodoo Pass, and particularly once I entered Black Canyon, which is a winding, narrow, pothole-riddled gravel road, partially washed out in a couple places). As I idled into Hidden Creek I was surprised at how many people were camped there, and I was lucky to get the last of 13 campsites. 18 miles from Hoodoo Pass, Hidden Creek is a nice, mostly-shaded Forest Service campground ($10/night) with what appeared to be a great fishing hole right next to camp (I shall call this Knee Replacement Hole).

The sun sets on the NF Clearwater.

The sun sets on the NF Clearwater in Black Canyon.

After securing my spot I walked down to the river just to scope things out. There was a friendly, older gent just returning from the Knee Replacement Hole. We chatted a bit and he indicated that the fishing was great, particularly once the sun was off the water, which it would be soon. After dinner I grabbed my 4 weight rod and headed down to the river, hoping to ply the waters of Knee Replacement Hole. However, the hole was occupied by the same friendly, older gent I had met earlier. I had learned that he’d had 2 knee replacements earlier this year, and because of that he wasn’t likely to be moving either up or downstream anytime soon. I opted to fish down from there, landing about 8 fish in 45 minutes. Nothing of size (mostly 10-inch fish), but the action was lively enough to keep things interesting. The flow seemed ample, but I was shocked at how warm the river was, particularly while wet wading at dusk. It was a nice welcome to the river and I was eager for what the next couple of days of fishing might have in store. A little whiskey by the fire topped off the evening, and at 10PM I retired to the penthouse bunk in the Man Van as The Loud Three—camped directly across the road—laughed and cajoled well into the night. Nothing wrong with that; their raucous story telling didn’t bother me one bit. I’d driven 9 hours that day and was plenty tired. Sleep came easily.

Morning shadows on the NF Clearwater.

Morning shadows on the NF Clearwater.

The Loud Three were up at 6 AM, using their outside voices as they broke camp and departed. I made coffee and breakfast and briefly contemplated running down to Knee Replacement Hole to wet a morning line. Assuming it would be occupied by the namesake angler, I opted out and was on the road by 7:30 AM. As I proceeded down Black Canyon I stopped every mile or so when a particularly fishy looking run caught my attention and there was room to pull over. Black Canyon is steep in some places and the road is narrow in all places.

Black Canyon Road, alongside the NF Clearwater.

Black Canyon Road, alongside the NF Clearwater.

Many fishy looking pieces of water were far down steep embankments and the pullouts were not always in reasonable proximity to a fishy looking piece of water. Since I was road fishing I took the easy way out and only stopped where access to good water was easy. I don’t often fish in this manner—preferring instead to hike along rivers, working water as I go—but here I was: the road angler. The NF Clearwater through Black Canyon has a fair amount of gradient so not all the water was fishable. But when it was worth fishing, it paid off, and I caught at least a couple of fish everywhere I stopped. Nothing of size, mind you, but the fish played nicely.

This run suggested a presence of fish. It was well worth the stop.

This run suggested a presence of fish. It was well worth the stop.

I did not regret my decision to stop and fish here.

I did not regret my decision to stop and fish here.

Due to poor bank access, I passed up a lot of water that looked like this.

Due to poor bank access, I passed up a fair amount of water that looked like this.

There weren’t so many angler types in Black Canyon that I would consider it busy, so after stopping a few times I decided to proceed downward to Kelly Forks. From there it would be about 18 miles to my rendezvous point at Bungalow, where I was to meet up with my buddy, Jawn Owl, at 7 PM. Figuring I would stop and fish often along the way, I assumed I would have no trouble stretching the hours and making a full day out of it. My assumption was incorrect. The road from Kelly Forks downstream was a highway compared to Black Canyon Road. The river was also much larger, having added Kelly Creek to the flow and all. Every spot along the way that looked fishy had at least one or two anglers in it. And the road was rather busy with vehicles and 4 wheelers buzzing up and down, the plumes of fine white dust barely having time to settle before another rig drive past. I suppose I was anticipating a much less populated scenario than what I encountered, and in retrospect I should have paid Kelly Creek a visit, done some hiking to more secluded waters. Woulda, coulda, shoulda. Yadda, yadda, yadda.

The main NF Clearwater somewhere below Kelly Forks.

The main NF Clearwater somewhere below Kelly Forks.

I opted to proceed to Bungalow to secure a campsite and then head back out in search of some quieter water. When I arrived at Bungalow I was confused by what appeared to be only two campsites, both of which were full. I passed the two roadside campsites, trying to make sense of it all. Then, a friendly guy in a white truck pulled up alongside and asked, “Are you looking for Jawn Owl?”  Why yes— yes I was. Sort of. I didn’t expect Jawn to arrive for several more hours. “I’m planning to meet him here this evening,” I replied. The friendly guy, whom I shall refer to as Mr. Rogers, was Jawn’s neighbor back in Lewiston, and Jawn had told him I’d be in a van. Mr. Rogers saw me driving around looking confused and figured I must be the guy (the Man Van is hard to miss, so his assumption was a fairly easy one). He instructed me to drive up the road, just past the roadside campsites, and turn right onto a smaller dirt road. He assured me there was plenty of room to park the van at their camp. I thanked him, and when I nosed the van into the camp area I immediately grew claustrophobic: there were no fewer than 15 trucks parked in a large grass clearing, with travel trailers everywhere, circled like covered wagons. I broke out in a cold sweat and my breathing grew shallow; my vision blurry as I contemplated the situation.

Circling the wagons at Bungalow.

Circling the wagons at Bungalow.

The settlement at Bungalow

A small sampling of the settlement at Bungalow

The intensity of the mid-afternoon sun added its weight to the situation as I staggered down to the river to find a quiet spot, enjoy a cold beer and calm my nerves. After my heart rate returned to normal I realized that Bungalow, while it was exactly what I was looking for, was not what I was looking for at all. Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood was quite the outpost, and not what I had expected. Actually, I’m not sure what I expected, but in our minds we always conjure up images of what a place may be like in an ideal world. This was not it. I made the decision to head back upriver in search of a quieter spot to camp. 5 miles later I pulled into Weitas Creek Campground.

The bridge to Weitas Creek Campground.

The bridge to Weitas Creek Campground.

With only 6 campsites, Weitas Creek is not a large facility and I was lucky to grab what I assumed to be the last spot. Looking back at it now, I shouldn’t have been surprised to find it so busy, but at the time I was still in denial that there were this many people out recreating in the Idaho backcountry. I set up camp and chatted briefly with the nice older couple—the Hummers— in the campsite next door. The couple (named for two hummingbird feeders hanging from their trailer awning that attracted swarms of hummers) had been there for 2 days, doing a little fishing, a little napping and generally enjoying the good life. I apologized for moving in next door and, after setting up camp, walked down the trail to Weitas Creek, a hand towel in hand, to wash the stink off. When I returned to camp there was a guy (who would later become known as Mr. Brown) wedging his truck camper into a narrow space on the other side of the Hummers. It didn’t appear to me to be a separate campsite and I thought it a pretty bold move on his part to set up camp there, without at least talking first to the Hummers, who didn’t seem to mind. In my assessment, Weitas Creek was now beyond full, although it was still a far cry from the settlement at Bungalow. It would suffice nicely for the next couple of nights.

At 6:45PM Jawn pulled into camp. He had gone first to Bungalow, and, without having seen the Man Van or his neighbor, Mr. Rogers, he pondered, “WWUAD?” His first inclination was to drive up to Weitas Creek. If I wasn’t there he would proceed downriver to Washington Creek Campground. His intuition was sound, and we toasted his arrival with a couple of Hamm’s (the beer refreshing) from his cooler. He remarked that Bungalow was quite the congregation of people, and hadn’t been surprised to discover that I wasn’t there. He also noted that there seemed to be a lot of people on and around the river. I agreed.

After Jawn unpacked his truck it dawned on him that he’d forgotten something fairly significant. But Jawn is a sunny optimist and shrugged off the matter. Later that evening, after discussing Bigfoot at great length, and telling lies around the fire, we retired to the comforts of the Man Van. I offered a light jacket and an extra pillow to help ease the severity of situation facing him: a night without a sleeping bag. Despite that the day had been near 90F, the nighttime temps would cool considerably, making for good sleeping…unless one is chilled to the core for lack of insulation. Jawn wrapped himself in a couple jackets and gave the thumbs up.

It'll be fine...

It’ll be fine…

At one point during the wee hours just before dawn—when it tends to be the coldest—Jawn got up and removed the seat cover from his truck, returning to his bunk where he wrapped the seat cover around his legs in a vain attempt to trap some body heat. Suffice it to say he spent a near sleepless night. I hadn’t even heard him get up as I slept rather soundly—if not a tad bit warmly— in the comfort of my sleeping bag. When arose at 6:45AM I observed a semi-comatose rommate, his lips blue. I checked for and found a pulse, so I proceeded to make coffee and heated water for oatmeal. When he emerged from the van Jawn was semi-coherent; his motor skills slightly delayed. Probably a mild case of hypothermia, which gradually eased as he warmed himself by the morning fire. There was no need to ask how his night had gone.

The cold of the night kept the corpse from decomposing.

At least the cold of the night kept the corpse from decomposing.

We were scheduled to meet up at Bungalow with Jawn’s brother-in-law, Clem, (named for his propensity for pushing his supply of Clementine oranges on us generosity in sharing his supply of Clementine oranges) and Clem’s eldest son, Droo. We drove the few short miles down to Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, where we encountered Mr. Rogers himself. To make a long story short, we came away from the encounter armed with a sleeping bag for Jawn, who was still moving slowly. He noted that he felt like a snake: all he wanted was to seek out a rock in the sun. But we had fish to chase, which we would do after we found Clem and Droo, which we did a short while later. Clem noted that there were more people on the NF Clearwater than he’d seen before. Hmmm. He then offered us an orange.

We didn’t get onto the river until 9:30AM, by which time the sun was well up in the sky, leaving little shady water. We did find a few good runs and all got into fish: most of the which were small, ranging from 8-12 inches. Clem and Droo, in particular, found a pod of rising fish in one run and put on quite a catching clinic. Droo caught what he alleged was a solid 16-17″ fish, although I didn’t see the fish. Obviously I questioned his integrity I took his word for it. He seemed to be quite an accomplished young angler so I had no reason to doubt his claims.

Jawn warms himself in the morning sun.

Jawn warms himself in the morning sun.

Jawn gets tight to a fish as Droo moves in with the net.

Jawn gets tight to a fish as Droo moves in with the net.

Debate ensues over the matter of who gets credit for the fish: the net man or the one holding the rod.

Debate ensues over who gets credit for the fish: the net man or the one holding the rod.

Come lunch time Jawn had fully regained his target body temperature of 98.6F, and—with fully functioning motor skills—made sandwiches for us all back at camp. As we were eating, Mr. Brown strolled through camp, dressed in a manner to suggest he had been out fishing. We exchanged niceties and inquired how the fishing had been. Mr. Brown had hiked a ways up Weitas Creek (a tributary of the NF Clearwater) where he caught a few fish: “Nothing too big—mostly browns.” When I heard that I cocked a raised eyebrow toward Jawn, who choked back a hearty guffaw. Knowing full well that the only trout in these rivers are westslope cutthroats (and bull trout, which aren’t really a trout), we had a good chuckle after Mr. Brown had returned to his camp on the other side of the Hummers. We ate a few Clementines as lunch dessert, after which we drove back upriver to Kelly Forks, into Black Canyon. We fished there until the sun went off the water, landing a few more fish, though nothing bigger than 10″ for me. I was shunned by a couple larger fish that wanted nothing to do with anything I threw their way. I finally hooked into a good fish, but before I could even see it, it snapped my 5x cleanly (it was probably a huge brown). Jawn managed a couple nice 12-14″ fish that seemed like absolute hawgs compared to what I’d caught.

A mouthful of artifical golden stone.

A mouthful of artificial golden stone.

Back in Black Canyon for more fishy looking waters.

Back in Black Canyon for more fishy looking waters.

Jawn works the waters of Black Canyon.

Jawn works the late day waters of Black Canyon.

One of Jawn's NF Clearwater hawgs.

One of Jawn’s NF Clearwater hawgs.

It was getting late, and as we waited for a caddis hatch that might (but did not) result in a trout feeding frenzy, the smell of grilling meat wafted downstream from a nearby camp. From that point forward all we could think about was our own feeding frenzy, so we drove back to camp after a day of acceptable—but not exceptional—catching. Dinner did not disappoint, as Jawn presented us with prime cut ribeyes that were no less than 3″ thick. The steaks, coupled with a plethora of sauteed veggies and two types of rice, left no room for Clementines, which Clem offered nonetheless.

Evening ribeye hatch.

Evening ribeye hatch.

After a few lies were told around the fire, we retired to our sleeping bags (yes, even Jawn) for a good night’s rest. We’d put in a solid day of fishing and had earned some shut-eye. Especially Jawn, who’d gotten by without much of that the night before. I heard him cooing gently as he crawled into his borrowed sleeping bag.

The next morning we arose early, packed some bacon and oatmeal on top of the steaks we’d consumed less than 10 hours earlier, and headed upriver to seek out some cooperative trout. We didn’t find many. The day was headed well into the 90’s and the fish seemed to know it, preferring to hide in deep pools behind large rocks, with little intention of coming out to play. We fished with relatively little success until returning to camp around lunchtime. Like the trouts, nobody seemed particularly hungry (although I did accept another offering of Clementines).  Clem and Droo packed up and headed downriver toward home, planning to fish along their way; Jawn left a short while later. They all had less than 3 hours of travel ahead of them. Myself, I had more like 9 hours of road between where I was and home, but I had no intention of making that drive. My plan was to slowly meander downstream, maybe do a little fishing (if I could find some shady water) and spend the night at Aquarius Campground, 30 miles from Weitas Creek. Along the way I found no water worth stopping to fish, though I did pass by several spots were hoards of people were frolicking at the river’s edge. Being a Sunday and all, I figured the majority of people would be leaving to get back to their jobs in the civilized world. I assumed campsites would likely be half empty.When I arrived at Aquarius the campground was fully occupied. It was 3pm. I decided to do the unthinkable and make the 409.3 mile drive home. At least I would have the highways mostly to myself as few people should be trekking across eastern Washington that late in the evening. What I didn’t bargain for was a concert at the Gorge Ampitheatre in central WA, which must have gotten out around 10PM. There was a heavier-than-there-should-have-been traffic on I-90, from Vantage westward, and by the time I reached Snoqualmie Summit on I-90, it was 11 PM and I was in standstill traffic (due in part to road construction lane closures).

This ain't right.

This just ain’t right.

As I crawled along at speeds seldom exceeding 3mph I reflected back on the weekend and how crowded the NF Clearwater had been. Then it hit me: I had no right to be bitter about it because, after all, I had been there, too: I was part of the problem. My impeccable timing merely added to what many agreed was the busiest they’d ever seen it on the NF Clearwater.

Maybe if it had rained it would have thinned the crowds. On second thought, I’ll take the nice weather.