south fork snake river
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)
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?
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.
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.
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).
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.
Morris probably won the biggest fish with his heavily spotted beauty of a rainbow, the proof being in the pudding (or, rather, the photo):
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:
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.
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?
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.
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.
Day two of the friendly tournament (in which the catch results really didn’t matter) began for Team Olive at Palisades Dam. We would be floating what was referred to as Section One: approximately 14 river miles to our eventual take out at Conants. Unlike the previous day, the air was cool and made all the moreso by the howling wind and ominous shadow cast by the large earthen structure. I was without, and wished for, a light jacket for the first hour of the day, but somehow managed to survive. Another notable difference on this day was the kicker motor mounted to the stern of Will’s and many of the other drift boats. The motor would prove invaluable for the first hour.
We launched and motored across and upstream against the strong current, taking up a position on the rock bulkhead just below the dam. With weighted nymph rigs set deep, we worked a heavy seam for what we hoped would be big fish: big trout, to be exact. Casting these gems, with the solid side wind doing what it could to make sure we didn’t cast them, then trying to get a good mend, proved challenging. Marck was clearly up to the challenge and quickly worked his charm on what would be the best fish of the day: a nineteen inch rainbow. As Will recorded the eighteen inch rainbow on the score card we accepted the fact that given his staunch integrity from the day before, there was no chance of us convincing him that the fish was
probably 19 inches.
After 20 minutes this stationary location yielded no more fish so we jumped into the boat and drifted a another seam below the dam. Aided by the current and the wind, it was a short drift. At the end of the run the motor was put to good use as we positioned ourselves at the top of the section and worked it again. And repeat. A couple of nice whitefish were hooked but no other
19 18 inch trout. The motor was stowed and we were on the go with the flow for the rest of the day.
Another thing that was different about this second day was the presence of clouds. After a clear start to the day, we seemed to be surrounded in all directions by ominous clouds that threatened electricity and rain.
We kept our fingers crossed that the sun would be obscured and the fish would starting looking up in earnest. We actually did have one cloud make a weak attempt to settle over us during which time a half dozen raindrops even fell. This very brief respite from the glaring sun did result in some actively rising fish but the clouds would not remain long enough to bring any sort of prolonged benefit. As we floated and pounded the banks with hooper/dropper, double dry and double nymph setups, a recurring theme began to materialize: mend.
The fact that the weather remained largely sunny and hot didn’t mean that we wouldn’t catch any nice fish, however. I managed to land my trout of the trip in a side channel where the current was slow. It was classic dry fly water and we were able to anchor up and watch for rising fish. One thing an angler learns over time is that the fish making a ruckus when rising to bugs are smallish fish. It’s the the subtle riseforms that reveal the bigger fish. Those are the riseforms you want to target, particularly if you’re in a tournament where size matters.
Fortunately for Team Olive, we couldn’t have cared less about the the size of the fish we were catching. And so with this in mind I targeted a particular sipping fish whose riseforms were barely detectible. After a good mend the PMD slowly drifted closely to where the fish had last been seen, and then Hell broke loose. The take was subtle, but the thrashing that ensued put a solid bend in my 6 weight and shattered the still surface of the water. When the fish flashed its brightly colored flanks I could tell that this fish was unique. After landing the big cutt, it was clear that the old buck had been around the block a time or two. He was dark and vibrantly colored, with a protruding snout and plenty of scar tissue in his lip from a long life of having made bad decisions.
Will scored this fish accurately at 18 inches (easily an inch shorter than Marck’s 18 inch rainbow from the morning) and we continued on our way. Though our two best fish of the day were now behind us, we obviously had no way of knowing this, so we continued fishing with hope that our best fish was still to be caught. We relentlessly pounded the banks, doing our best to follow the orders to mend. Doing so resulted in several more smaller fish and the other two fish that would be scored for the day: Marck’s 17 inch cutt and my 16 inch brown, which appeared much smaller because it was the only skinny fish we’d caught on this river in two days. Why this “snake” was as he was is anyone’s guess, but my hunch is that the fish was burning too many calories chasing imitation bugs and not spending enough time eating the real thing.
As with the day before, on this second day it became apparent that only fish over 16 inches are worthy of a photo and so the skinny 16 inch brown did not make the cut. I did manage to convince Will that a particular sub-16 inch cutt was worth a photo. Maybe Will silently acknowledged that the fish was actually 16 inches, or may he held it in higher regard because it was a native fish to this river.
As the day wore on the catching slowed a bit, although we did continue to add numbers to our total tally. And every cast brought with it renewed hope, so we kept casting for a fish; for a cure. And mending. We even managed to enjoy the beautiful scenery of the river.
We got off the water at about 7 PM, adding an impressive 10 inch rainbow to our total while the take out was in view. At the end of the day we’d managed to improve our performance over the previous day: Team Olive’s total for day two was 27 trout, including an
19 18 inch rainbow, 18 inch cutthroat, 17 inch cutthroat, and a 16 inch brown. I joke that it didn’t really matter the size or numbers of fish caught because we were there to raise money and awareness for Rett Syndrome. And that’s true. However, each team’s total was assigned a dollar amount ($10 per fish) that would be donated to the International Rett Syndrome Foundation in the name of the angels the teams were representing. Marck and I were pleased to have $490 donated in the name of Brooklyn.
Overall the event netted over $40,000 for the International Rett Syndrome Foundation. To quote C4C Executive Director Bill Farnum, “This will fund some very important clinical drug trials that we are starting to pull together.” Right on.
I don’t want to showboat my math prowess, but there were some interesting figures that resulted from the two days of fishing:
- Compiling the length of the 8 biggest fish per team, 2,686 inches of trout were caught
- The average size of the biggest fish was 16.8″
- The average total number of trout caught per team was 47.04
- The total number of trout caught was 988
Team Olive caught 49 total fish and our average biggest size was 16.6″. That indicates that we were right in the ballpark of the overall average, despite Marck’s best efforts to make sure we were better than average. I reckon if you take Marck’s angling skills, add them to my unaccomplished angling skills, you end up with an average skill level.
Yes, I’m definitely going back next year. In fact I have to because I unintentionally brought the card key to our room home with me. It must be returned. In the meantime I’m going to lobby for the addition of a new category for the Biggest Whitefish. I caught 12 of my best whities ever, and I’d like credit for that. And next year Marck and I are going to request Greta as our guide. Sorry, Will–nothing personal. I assure you it has nothing to do with your staunch integrity. 😉
Thanks to Bill Farnum and Jim Copeland for putting on such a great event. Thanks to Will and Worldcast Anglers for putting us and the others on some invaluable fish. Thanks to everyone we met for an incredible time, and thanks to all my friends and family who helped get Team Olive to Victor. It made a difference and will continue to do so until the cure is found.
I’m about to embark on a trip, the likes of which I’ve never taken before. It’s been a long time in the making, and as the departure date draws near I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t giddy as git-out. Fishing is part of the trip, a big part of it to be sure. But there’s much more to the trip than fishing.
In May of 2010 I was contacted by a gentleman by the name of Bill Farnum, who is the Executive Director of Casting 4 A Cure. He buttered me up by telling me he enjoyed reading my blog, and then invited me to join his organization for one or both of their two annual fundraisers. I questioned his taste in blogs and told him that unfortunately I wouldn’t be able to make it to either event last year. But I gave Bill my word that I would be at one of them next year (this year).
Casting 4 a Cure is an organization that was started as a means to raise awareness and funding for the International Rett Syndrome Foundation. Rett Syndrome is a neurological disorder affecting almost exclusively young girls. It’s a rare, life-shortening affliction that robs them of their verbal and gross motor skills. Bill’s daughter, Ella, was diagnosed with Rett Syndrome in 2007. After the diagnosis, it became Bill and his wife Beth’s mission to help find a cure. By combining Bill’s passions for fly fishing and fund raising, Casting 4 A Cure was founded with the help of Bill’s longtime fishing buddy, Jim Copeland. In the first four years, Casting 4 A Cure has raised over $200,000 for Rett Syndrome research and family support. Funds raised this year will got to 2 different projects: 1) a new clinical trial for a drug that could really help with some of the more excruciating symptoms and 2) funding for a new Rett Syndrome clinic in Denver at Denver Children’s Hospital. This will allow Rocky Mountain families in Colorado, Idaho, Utah etc to access Rett Syndrome specialists for the care and advice they desperately need but is hard to find locally. Casting 4 A Cure holds benefit events each year in Steamboat, CO and Victor, Idaho. The goal is to raise $1M by 2015 and have a cure in hand by 2020. As Bill says, “Lofty goals, but we have the people with the passion to make it happen.”
It’s Victor where I’m headed. The South Fork of the Snake River. Never been there, never done that. I am, to state things mildly, out of my mind with excitement. Yes, the fishing should be good. In fact, there’s a very strong chance that it should be out-of-this-world good because after a summer of raging flows, the river is just dropping into shape. There should be clear water, and big fish including cutthroat, rainbows and browns. Hungry fish. Big, hungry fish. But whether the fishing is good or not, I’m excited to meet Bill and Beth, and Ella. And the many other great folks who are converging on the town of Victor for this great event.
I spent the last year finding creative ways to raise money through auctions, raffles, pledges from friends and family, and from the modest sales of my Olive the Woolly Bugger books, to cover the majority of cost of the entry fee for Team Olive. My team mate and I came up a little short so we scraped together the rest. Had I been smart I’d have sold grizzly hackle to teenage girls and easily been able to sponsor two teams.
There are 24 teams coming to the event, and each team will fish with a guide from World Cast Anglers for two days. I recognize some of the names of the other anglers, and some of them I’ve never heard of. People come from all over the country for this event, and so one thing I am sure of is that they’re a group of accomplished anglers. For obvious reasons I’m going to be out of my league. This is a tournament of sorts and that means competition (albeit of a friendly variety). And that’s exactly why I’ve chosen the team mate I have…someone who is as fishy as they come…a man who can stand trout to trout with the best of them. That’s why the backbone of Team Olive is Marck.
We’re leaving a day early so we can fish the Bitterroot in Montana along the way. The Bitterroot is a river I have long wanted to fish but the opportunity has never presented itself until now. Having passed by Missoula countless times on I-90 with my nose pressed against the car window, staring south into the Bitterroot Valley like a forlorn pup, it’s about time I did something about it. So, this time we’re getting off the interstate and spending a day with guide Jay Dixon, who runs Dixon Adventures. It’ll be a great way to tune up those hook set reflexes and break up the long drive to Victor.
This trip is going to include some great fishing on some beautiful rivers, but the ultimate point isn’t just to catch fish–there’s much more to it than just that. There always is. But this time is special. I encourage you to take a look at the Casting 4 A Cure website–maybe you can be there next year.
Henry David Thoreau said, “Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.” Bill Farnum knows what he’s after, and I feel privileged to join his group for this event, because each cast gets will get us closer to a cure.