Mrs. UA and I recently moved, and in our new home the office of the Unaccomplished Angler is on the first floor, immediately off the entry, on display for all who enter via the front door. Because of this prominent location, I’ve been instructed to keep my workplace clutter to a minimum and refrain from working in my skivvies. The adjustment has been challenging but I’m slowly learning to keep clutter to a minimum.
Aside from the aforementioned challenges, a big part of settling into the new first floor digs has been choosing office decor that meets with the discerning approval of Mrs. UA
while still suiting my interests. After hanging some family photos and other meaningful display items I was left with a rather large, blank wall that needed something special. It was decided that my grandfather’s old bamboo rod would hang proudly along the top 1/3 of the space. I’ve had the rod for years but it has, until recently, sat in a closet tucked safely inside it’s vintage tube. I’d always intended to display the rod, but there was never a space that was quite right, until now. The rod is a “Challenger” model from the Old Faithful Rod Company of Denver, Colorado. Giving it a place of honor on the wall was an easy decision, but before that could be done I had to find an era-appropriate reel to compliment the rod (which is from the 1940’s-1050’s). Fortunately I was able to find a Pfleuger Medalist 1496 1/2 reel that was manufactured during that same time period. The rod and reel pair nicely—neither of which was a fancy, top-shelf piece of equipment during their respective days of employ. My grandfather was a notoriously cheap man. He would not have owned fancy, expensive gear. Nor would he have shied away from criticizing those who did.
With the rod and reel hung in place, I
built crafted a rustic, floating shelf from reclaimed barn wood and affixed some equally rustic, forged steel hooks. A 1950’s era hand net from the Ed Cummings Company out of Flint, Michigan, dangles from one hook. From another is an old, unbranded fisherman’s creel (made in Japan). Both net and creel were acquired from Etsy. Who knew there was such a magical place as Etsy? It’s a crafter’s dream!
Sitting atop the shelf are a few old aluminum fly boxes (including a couple of Wheatleys) each containing a variety of vintage-esque flies. I also have a couple of old aluminum leader dispensers and a Cortland Crown reel, identical to the first reel I had as a kid in the mid 1970’s (I still haven’t found a rod to replace that which was lost). Of course no fly fishing display would be complete without some classic books, one of which is A River Runs Through it (first edition, 4th printing, so not terribly valuable as a collector’s edition, nor too pricey). A set of priceless Olive the Woolly Bugger books is also displayed on the table below the shelf of knick knacks, as well as a couple of personal fishing photos: one of the UA and his son, Schpanky, on the Hoh River in 2011 after Schpanky had caught his second (or was it third?) wild steelhead of the day. The other photo is of the UA with his first respectable fish on the Yakima River many years before the other photo was taken. I’ve still not bested that fish on the Yakima River.
The Wall of Fly Fishing was nearly complete save for a gaping hole between the floating shelf and the rod.
With the approval from Mrs. UA I went rogue and decided that a wood carving of a trout would look good there, so I found a “Hand Carved Brown Trout” from an online seller (the one that offered the lowest price and cheapest shipping for this commodity, which can be found elsewhere online). While perhaps not jaw-droppingly beautiful, the online photos actually looked pretty darn good for a mass-produced albeit allegedly hand-carved item. When it arrived I was excited to get the last piece of the puzzle hung on the Wall of Fly Fishing. When I opened the box my enthusiasm ebbed as I instantly noticed that something was horribly amiss.
If you look at an actual brown trout (or any other trout for that matter), the eye is well forward of the trailing edge of the maxilla and fairly high up toward the top of the trout’s head. The Hand Carved Brown Trout I received looks as if it has a lazy eye after having met the business end of priest. Now before you get your shorts all twisted in a nail knot, realize that a “priest” is a tool also known as a fish bat, or “persuader”. Imagine knocking a fish upside the head with a weighted baton and you start to get the sense of things. The Hand Carved Brown Trout I received appears to have eye placement more akin to a Bighead carp, which is quite low on the head and well behind the maxilla.
The tag affixed to the Hand Carved Brown Trout states (verbatim):
Certified Hand Crafted
This art piece is a genuine handicraft, in a world of stamped out, mass produced, faux finished products, our crafts remain hand carved and forged using centuries old techniques in a natural village environment. Each piece is designed by American artist and brought to life Balinese artisans using free trade principles. To learn more about this artwork, the partnership of artist and artisan, free trade principles and the magical island of Bali, please go to: www.tidesign-info.com
I will say the Hand Carved Brown Trout does appear to have been carved and painted by hand, and therefore I accept—and would expect—subtle differences between the item displayed online and the item I received. After all, no two hand-crafted items are going to be identical and I reckon that is the beauty of something not created by a computerized machine. I can excuse subtle differences in paint and even some of the small carving details, but the misplacement of the eye is troubling. Rather than a regal example of a majestic brown trout, what I have is more akin to an inbred, cousin-kissing brown trout. It almost seems like a classic example of bait and switch but I’m not sending the Hand Carved Brown Trout back to the seller, despite its challenged appearance. No, I shall instead embrace said Hand Carved Brown Trout for what it is: a truly unique and less-than-perfect piece of genuine handicraft carved by an artisan in a village in a far-off land who has probably a much better chance of seeing an actual bighead carp than a brown trout. At the very least it’s a good conversation piece and draws attention away from the fact that I’m sitting in my office, in my skivvies.
(EDIT: since I published this entry I stumbled upon an online auction site (not EBay) that had a very similar rod listed. Instead of a pack rod it was a two piece rod (model 8220), but everything else about it rang very familiar, down to the color of the blank and wraps as well as the style of grip. Unfortunately this auction had ended recently (the rod sold for a paltry $50!). Photos from that auction are posted at the end of this entry for reference.)
Been a while it has since last I scribed an entry. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, or so it goes. Or, maybe not. For anyone who still reads this blog, I’d like to request your help in locating a specific fly rod, my first fly rod. It was gifted to me in about 1974 or 1975 by the friend of my dad, who was a gonzo fly fisherman. His wife worked at Eddie Bauer back when Eddie Bauer actually produced outdoor gear such as camping and backpacking equipment as well as fly fishing gear. The rods that he gifted my brother and I were Eddie Bauer branded, though obviously made by another rod manufacturer. Maybe Orvis? I dunno. It was either a 7’ or 7-1/2 foot spin-fly combo pack rod. The cork grip was full length without a reel seat. The retainer rings for the reel foot could be slid forward or aft depending on the style of reel and fishing to be done at the time. The blank was likely fiberglass and was a either a dark maroon or brown—I can’t recall at this time. I don’t recall a weight designation. It came with a nice aluminum tube, somewhere upon which was my name, neatly engraved by my mother, using her Dremel tool. I have no photos of the rod, just memories that are more fleeting with each passing year. Back in the day I had the rod paired with a Cortland Crown reel (I have since located and acquired an identical reel, but it needs the old rod to be complete).
The last time I used the rod was on a family boating/camping trip on Lake Roosevelt in eastern Washington in 2002. I unintentionally left it behind at a campsite one night, and by the time I realized it was missing, it was too far to go back and search for it. I’m sure someone found the rod, but no attempt was ever made to return it to me. None that I am aware of, anyway.
In this day and age where, in the deep bowels of the internet one can find most anything, finding a similar rod has proven futile. I’ve performed many a Google search, most often turning up nothing. Any hopeful leads have always resulted in an old listing that has long since been closed, or a forum discussion that yields no definitive information. The fact that I am not even sure what model rod I am looking for makes the search even more challenging. To date the following has been the most promising, but I was never been able to confirm as it was an old listing on some obscure website that doesn’t exist by someone masquerading as be Jim Bridger (the famous mountain man). Bridger died in 1881 so I know it wasn’t really him.
If you know or can dredge up the whereabouts or hear of a such a rod, please let me know (there’s a finder’s fee for you). To summarize, it’s an Eddie Bauer Pack Rod, Spin-Fly combo, 7.5 ft fiberglass rod from the mid-1970’s era. Quite possibly a model #8238.
The following photos are of the auction rod I mentioned at the top of this entry.
Help a brother out in his quest for a needle in a haystack. Like bigfoot, there must be one out there, somewhere.
somewhat odd fascination with the JanSport D3 backpack was explained in an earlier post: Ode to the JanSport D3 backpack. What follows here is a very general roadmap of the D3’s history, and that of its sibling packs, the D2 and D5. I have tried to piece together an approximate timeline to satisfy my own curiosity and this information will be of absolutely zero interest to those who continue to follow this blog, hoping to read about fly fishing. I’m merely putting this information out there for the rare person who, like me, may find it somewhat interesting or even useful.
And why, one will surely ask, might this information be useful? Well, because there are a fair number of vintage JanSport packs available through various online marketplaces, and most of those packs are clearly being sold by people who don’t know much—or anything, really—about their item. For example, I’ve come across more than a few eBay listings for packs that are often described as follows:
“Vintage 70’s 80’s JanSport K2 External Frame backpack Hip Wings HUGE”.
While I acknowledge that most of these ads merely feature popular search terms to draw buyers in, there is also a lack of knowledge about the items being sold. Nearly always the seller doesn’t even know what decade the pack is from and seldom do the ads list the model of the pack. That’s because the sellers don’t know. And likely the seller
could care less could not care less. Chances are they came to obtain the pack at a flea market or second-hand store and they just want to sell it for a quick profit. I’ve encountered only two sellers who actually knew something about the origins of their packs: One was selling a D3 they had acquired from a friend who was the original owner. And while the seller had access to the year of manufacture, the original owner didn’t know the model of the pack. Another seller was the original owner of the pack they were selling, but even they did not remember the model. I’ve also lurked in various hiking forums where certain JanSport packs were being discussed, and many folks, while they know enough to use the term D2, D3 or D5, don’t know really one JanSport model from another. I’ve even seen “D4” used to describe these packs, and of course there was never a D4 pack.
It’s understandable that there can be so much confusion over an item that was manufactured as long ago as the early 1970’s. And despite there being some level of demand for these vintage packs, it’s a very small number of people who make up this market. I personally find this micro-niche to be quite interesting, and while I’ve gathered what information I could, there’s still an awful lot I don’t know about the history of JanSport’s D-series of external frame backpacks of yore. JanSport as a company is a far cry from what it was during the 1970s and it’s not as though one can call up customer service and get any sort of meaningful information about products from an era long-removed from the present. I’m sharing what I have been able to track down to date, and would kindly request that if anyone reading this has more detailed information, please leave a comment so I can correct/update my information.
JanSport began making innovative panel (front) loading packs in 1967, the frames of which were the first adjustable aluminum pack frames. Based on that early design, the D-Series of technical mountaineering packs was launched in 1971, originally designed for a Dhaulagiri Two expedition in the Himalayas. Specifically, this first expedition-oriented pack was called the D2 (Dhaulagiri Two) and was the largest capacity pack of the D series (5220 cubic inches). It can be easily identified by the large “JanSport” logo across a removable fanny pack attached to the outside of the man pack bag (this detachable bag was for carrying crampons). The D2 also had a single, large pocket on either side, with sleeves for carrying skis or poles. It was a panel-loading pack with a U-shaped upper bar, from which the top of the pack bag was suspended. This trademark feature carried across many other JanSport models, giving them all a somewhat similar appearance. In 2011 JanSport released a modern version of the D2. The re-issue pack even featured the original style hip suspension system and a retro second-generation JanSport logo. I’m not sure how well the reissued pack sold given the trend toward internal frame packs and ultra-lite backpacking.
Similar to the D2, the JanSport D3 seems to have been designed less specifically for mountaineering expeditions and was geared more toward the long-haul backpacker (which is not to say that the D3 wasn’t also a mountaineering pack). The D3 was a large capacity pack (4146 cubic inches) capable of carrying very heavy loads more comfortably than other packs of its day. If availability on the used market today is any indication, the D3 became the most popular of the JanSport D-series packs over time. A trademark feature of the D3 is the large leather attachment patch (or crampon pad) on the outside of the lower bag compartment.
The JanSport D5 was the little brother (or sister) to the D3. Both models are virtually identical in appearance although the D5 was designed for smaller folks up to about 5’7″. While the D3 measures 39″ from top to bottom of the frame, the diminutive D5 measures a mere 34″. The depth of the D5 is about 8″, which is 2″ smaller than the D3. The width of the D5 bag is 14″compared to the D3 which is 14-3/4″ wide. The upper frame extension on the D4 is contoured as well, likely to provide more clearance for the wearer’s head. It is not impossible to find a D5 on the used market but it is more challenging than finding a D3 because sellers do not know what they have. To the untrained eye, a D5 may easily be mistaken for a D3, but if one knows what to look for, they can find it. I’ve been able to find only four packs that I determined to be the D5 based on measurements provided me by the seller. After months of scouring listings I was fortunate to find one in excellent condition that was worth purchasing. The D5 is a very reasonably sized pack that I actually intend to put into service. I’ll save one of my monstrous D3’s for when I do a thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail and don’t want to stop to resupply 😉
Another thing that the D-series packs had in common—and what also set them apart from non-D-series JanSport packs—was the much-ballyhooed hip suspension system. Apparently this was an optional feature so you may find an old D3 or D5 without it. As time progressed and JanSport added more models to the lineup, other non-D-series packs could be had with the hip suspension system. But it was the D2, D3 and D5 that first featured the hip suspension bars, oft-referred-to-as “Hip Wings”. These U-shaped tubular bars were attached to the pack frame via pivot joints that allowed the wings to swing inward and outward (and to be folded out of the way or laying the pack flat). The suspension system can also be adjusted fore and aft to adjust the angle of the pack while being carried. Early versions of the hip suspension joints featured pivot joints that were metal on metal. JanSport obviously saw this as a design flaw which they soon remedied by adding plastic/nylon bushings on subsequent models. Overall the quality of the D3 was considered to be very good, although it has been said that the bushings in the hip suspension were prone to cracking over time. One of my late-70’s D3 packs has a cracked bushing but is still perfectly functional. The hip wings were attached to the hip belt via clevis pins fastened through leather-reinforced nylon patches (JanSport used ample leather in their design of these packs). The shoulder straps were also anchored to the hip wings.
I’m not sure exactly when but I believe that it was circa 1979-1980 that JanSport moved away from the tubular hip wing and began using straight aluminum bars for the hip suspension system. I base my assessment on the fact that in 1979 JanSport launched the Alpine Phantom mountaineering pack which featured the new hip bar design. This newer design was attached in a similar fashion to the hip belt, again with a healthy patch of leather for reinforcement. Ultimately JanSport changed the hip suspension to feature all plastic parts and, from what I’ve read, this was not necessarily an improvement.
JanSport was owned by Vashon Island-based K2 Corporation from 1972-1982. If your pack has the frame tag bearing reference to K2 you can be sure of the decade in which it was manufactured. After 1982 frames featured a different tag.
The D3 retained virtually the same appearance until around 1982 (when the company was sold by K2). After that, black compression straps with plastic side-clasp buckles replaced the tan-colored straps and metal ladder buckles. Back padding, shoulder straps and hip belt also were black and featured mostly plastic hardware. Around the beginning of the post-K2 era JanSport frames changed from the earlier bronze-colored, anodized aluminum to a bare finish. Later in the 1980’s the D3 further evolved in appearance, incorporating areas of contrasting black nylon on the different colored main bag. The bag become attached to the frame via plastic clips as opposed to the previous-era packs which used fabric straps and metal ladder buckles. The shape of the zippered main compartment changed from the earlier, rounded/half moon shape, to more of a somewhat squared-off look. In the late 1980’s a zippered pocket was added to the outside of the main bag. By the 1990’s the D3 took on an even more different appearance and the trademark large leather patch appears to have become no more. I believe by this time leather was no longer used anywhere on the packs. I’ve heard it said that later versions of the D3 were not of the same high quality as were the older packs, and based on my limited experience I would agree. I have three D3 packs from the early, mid and late-1970’s and every component remains intact and solid. I bought a mid-1980’s D3 that was in like-new condition for the most part, but both of the shoulder straps were broken where they attached to the frame using plastic tabs. The seller did not disclose this, so I returned that pack. The cost to repair the straps was nearly as much as the cost of the pack itself.
JanSport changed their logo over the years and that—depending on the logo your pack bears—may help place the approximate age of the pack. I wrote to JanSport’s customer service department but they were unable to tell me what years their different logos were in service. Instead, they suggested I send my packs in to their warranty department for assessment. The cost to ship the packs is prohibitive, however, so general approximations will have to suffice.
If you have a JanSport pack that appears on the surface to be a D-series but has neither the large leather patch on the front of the bag, nor the hip suspension system, the pack could be the JanSport Cascade. There were enough similar (yet different) models of JanSport packs made over the years to make it confusing today. There is no mistaking a D2. The D5 and D3 are easily identifiable with their large leather crampon pad and hip suspension system (although, as mentioned earlier, this was an option). Another JanSport model, the Appalachian, was similar to the D3 but has a different pocket configuration and is easily identifiable. It’s too bad JanSport didn’t affix the model name to every pack they made through the years. If they had done that we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
In 1973 a JanSport D3 would have cost $75 (source: article from Field & Stream, December 1973). Back in the day that was a fair chunk of change to drop on a pack. Factoring in the cost of inflation, that $75 would amount to $439 today. I’ve not seen one listed for even half that amount, so despite there being a market for these old packs, they’re not keeping pace with inflation. Prices are not unreasonable on the used market (typically less than $150), but shipping is not cheap for such a large item and that can be as much as or more than the pack itself, depending upon where the pack is being shipped from. As collector items, these old JanSport packs are probably not the best investment, but hey—you can’t place a value on nostalgia. Perhaps in another 20 years my collection of vintage JanSport D-series packs will be worth a little more than what I paid for them.
I’m looking forward to a multi-day backpacking trip this summer, and filling my JanSport D5 with much lighter gear than was available when the pack was manufactured in the late 1970’s.
As 2020 enters its final month (good riddance, you piece of dog turd year), I give pause to think back on the strangeness of the past several months, hoping to remember some good things that occurred since the COVIDS swept the globe. I didn’t have to think too hard to realize that despite the weirdness of it all, I can’t complain about the fishing during 2020. I no longer fish with great frequency, but I do rather enjoy a high quality of time when on the water when I do fish. And this is despite that most of the guys I fish with are unsavory lowbrow types who lack social refinement and would say the same about me.
With 2020 still in its infancy, the whole COVIDS thing seemed fairly obscure and didn’t have much significance as pertaining to my life (or the lives of most Americans for that matter). Then suddenly in early March it became clear that the pandemic was going to affect things close to home. On March 13th (Friday the 13th, no less) Washingtonians were presented with guidelines for 3-foot social distancing. In late March the Gubna of the great state of Washington closed down pretty much everything required for outdoor recreation, including access to all public lands and all recreational fishing.
Fishing During the COVIDS: Part One
Fortunately I was able to get out with the Brothers Albacore for a day on the Yakima River before the lockdown was mandated. I don’t recall any fish being caught other than one whitey, but I do remember a fine time being had by all. There may actually have been some trout caught, but that wasn’t the measure of success on that day. Three foot social distancing was easy to maintain as the distance between seats in the boat is at least 3 feet, and the Brother’s Albacore are each about 3 feet (or more) taller than I am.
Once the lockdown was in full effect, no fishing took place. In fact, not much of anything else took place, for that matter. During this time I begrudgingly rode my mountain bike on the streets and binge-watched Shameless on Netflix (highly recommended if you haven’t seen it). As April approached I did as I always do and began thinking ahead to the annual pilgrimage of the Firehole Rangers in early June. However, during the months that preceded the trip, it became uncertain if we would actually be able make the trek to Yellowstone, as the state of Montana had closed down fishing to out of state anglers, barring a 14 day in-state quarantine. Fortunately for us the ban was lifted just in time and we were able to pull off the trip. And it was a success, as always.
Fishing During the COVIDS: Part Two
On June 3rd we fished the Bighole with the guys from 4 Rivers Fishing Company in Twin Bridges, MT. The river was not crowded and we enjoyed a fine day on the water. It was a beauty of a weather day and some typically nice Bighole fish were caught. And plenty of them.
That evening we made the 2 hour drive to West Yellowstone. It wasn’t a ghost town by any means, but it wasn’t crawling with the numbers of tourists that we come to expect each year. The big change for us this year was that instead of staying at the infamous Ho Hum Motel (which has been our home away from home since forever) we were forced to find other accommodations. The Ho Hum was not open for business this year, and while we missed our time with Bernadette (AKA the Cat Lady), we adapted as best we could to the change and stayed at Al’s Westward Ho Motel. In all honesty it was a considerable upgrade, and it was comforting to know that there is still a Ho in West Yellowstone.
The next day the Firehole Rangers were once more on our namesake river in Yellowstone National Park for another beautiful weather day. Fishing was better than it had been in recent years, though still not on par with what it was 5 years ago, and before that. The weather was brilliant and there were far fewer people fishing than is typical for this time of year. And there were no tour buses. Win-win-win.
As is always the case for this trip, a good day on the Firehole was followed by a
good day on the Madison, and on June 5th we made the stop at Three Dollar Bridge for some Madison River humiliation. We are never the only anglers here, and the river is always high this time of year. This year there were scores of other anglers spread up and down the river, the Madison was higher than I’d ever seen it before. It would be easy enough to know where the fish would be: tucked under one’s toes at the river’s edge. As every angler knows, the wind always makes casting a double nymph rig a pure joy, especially along a brush-lined river bank. And it wa windy. After an hour I had all but resigned to having my ass handed to me by the fish of the Madison. Then, surprisingly I landed one decent 16″ brown and had another, bigger brown, break me off and leave me with one fish for the day. That was cause for celebration, as that single fish ensured that it was not my worst day on the Madison.
Other Rangers who typically do better on the Madison did better on the Madison that day as well, though not as well as they typically do. It had been two years since our last visit to Three Dollar Bridge, and the changes there were impressive. This area is so popular that it gets loved to death by anglers year round as they trample the sensitive areas that are in close proximity to the parking area. But a collective effort by Western Rivers Conservancy, Montana Fish and Game, Montana Land Reliance, and Trout Unlimited had seen to it that this would be remedied. A new picnic shelter had been constructed, as well as hundreds of feet of boardwalk for accessing the river while protecting the sensitive riparian zone nearest the bridge.
As the day wore on the weather continued to deteriorate ahead of an incoming storm. We departed Three Dollar Bridge, but not before attempting to make the annual donation of $3. Unfortunately the donation envelopes were not available this year—another sign of the COVIDS, no doubt. And with that we headed off down to road toward Twin Bridges. The next day we were scheduled to fish once again with guides from 4 Rivers, and the forecast promised an interesting day of thunderstorms and potentially torrential rain.
The next morning, under dark skies and rain, we met at the shop and it was decided we would fish the Jefferson as overnight storms in the hills to the west had caused the Big Hole to blow out. I love fishing the Big Hole, but I was excited about the prospects of a new river as I had never before fished the Jefferson. We had worried overnight that the wether would force us onto the Beaverhead so we were relieved when that would not be the case. I’m glad we made that decision because the Jefferson, while it may not have given up the numbers of trout that the Big Hole is known for, did produce some serious brutes.
We got fairly lucky as far as the weather was concerned, too, as we managed to dodge the only squall that dumped rain on our boat. The bridge that provided shelter from the storm could not have come at a better time as we pulled in and waited out the brief deluge. A few miles behind us, the other boats didn’t fare so well and got a bit wet throughout the day.
After that single squall we continued to catch fish with the wind being our only complaint. Truth be told, even the wind wasn’t all that bad, and even if it had been I wouldn’t have complained because the fish kept us distracted. I caught my biggest brown to date and would have been able to say the same of a huge rainbow had she not broken me off at first sight of the net. Suffice it to say that the Jefferson made some new fans of the Firehole Rangers that day.
After the fine day on the Jefferson, the fishing part of our fishing trip was concluded. The next morning we arose early and departed Twin Bridges for the 10 hour drive home, which would be a bit longer due to Ma Nature. As we climbed the Continental Divide we enjoyed winter-like driving conditions. Descending into Butte, the snow continued to pile up and we were escorted westward by a June snow storm that dumped several inches of white stuff and turned interstate 90 into a winter wonderland of driving snow, limited visibility, and spin-outs (though fortunately not for us out-of-state drivers).
Fishing During the COVIDS: Part Three
The remaining weeks of June flew by quickly as July fishing in Idaho neared. The annual trip to the Idaho Panhandle has become my favorite trip of the year for many reasons, but most notably because it entails backcountry fishing where we rarely see many other angling types. Certainly it’s not completely devoid of other people, but the state forest campground is accessed by a forest road in an ever-worsening state of deterioration that likely keeps out some folks with RV’s. The campground is limited in size, and not all other campers are there to fish. And those who are there to fish don’t usually hike as far upriver as we do, which means we often have a lot of good water to ourselves. This year was different. Because people were not living their normal lives and taking their normal summer vacations, apparently they were all in the Idaho backcountry camping and fishing.
Goose and I arrived late in the afternoon on Tuesday following the 4th of July weekend, and by doing so on any normal year we would expect to pretty much have our pick of the best campsites. Well, to be completely honest, the best campsite is usually taken, but we can almost always have the second best spot. This year we felt lucky to have gotten the last site available, a site that we have always avoided with intention. The other campsites were filled mostly with multiple families that were dug in and appeared to have been here for several days already. There’s a 14 day limit here, and from the looks of things many were testing that limit. And the majority of the campsites revealed the presence of fishing gear as well, so we knew that no untouched water likely awaited us.
Goose and I set up camp, noting that it was more than a tad chilly for this time of year. We walked down to the river and dipped a hand to check the temperature: it was COLD. Back at camp we put on warm jackets, built good fire and waited for the next arrivals. Jimmy, and Marck rolled in after dark that night and couldn’t believe that the campground was full. Our second-rate campsite turned out to not be so bad, and in fact afforded us a vantage point close to the trailhead. From the comfort of our chairs which we could keep track of the several vehicles that would drive in from downstream campgrounds and park across from our site each morning.
On the morning of our first full day we sipped coffee and relaxed as scores of anglers made their way up the trail that follows the river. The day was cloudy and cool, and we decided we would avoid the morning rush and let the day warm a bit before heading out. After breakfast and a second cup of coffee, we decided that the fire needed more wood and we needed something a bit stronger than coffee. As the day progressed, we did just the opposite: ambition levels were low.
My pal Chuck was driving down from his home in Whitefish, MT, and would be joining us that evening. When he finally arrived around dinner time (which was a good thing because that was his meal to provide), Goose, Jimmy, Marck and myself were all gathered around the warmth of the campfire. Chuck enthusiastically asked how the fishing had been and no doubt our response both surprised and disappointed him: We had not left camp. The day had never warmed to anywhere near summer-like temperatures and we just never worked up enough gumption to leave camp, especially knowing how many other angling types were upriver fighting for a spot to fish. In full disclosure, Marck and Goose did gear up and walk downstream of camp for about an hour of fruitless fishing earlier in the afternoon. It was obvious that their half-assed effort was merely an attempt to feel better about themselves. Conversely, Jimmy and I had been content with our decision to stay behind and hold down the fort. Lest one should think the day was wasted, think again. We had brought plenty of liquor and even more firewood, and while we kept both going all day long we had not burned through either supply yet. Fishing could wait until tomorrow.
This would be a new river to Chuck and I’d previously captivated him with children’s story-like tales of a vast wilderness, ample solitude and plentiful Westslope cutthroat trout. Suffice it to say he was eager to set foot in the fabled waters of the Idaho Panhandle, and the next morning we set out to make his dreams come true. Unfortunately the fish were not real welcoming of Chuck, or any of the rest of us for that matter. The recent, unseasonably cool weather had ensured that the wildfire danger was low. It had a similar effect on the fish, which were not particularly active. There were exactly no hatches coming off. With the river as cold as it was, waders were donned by the majority of us (or at least those of us who had brought waders). It’s easy enough to endure the cold water if the air temperature is warm, which it was not. Waders in July? Blasphemy! I’d never have believed I’d be wearing anything other than shorts and wet wading, but this was 2020, after all.
On our second day of fishing I left the waders behind at camp. My legs below the knees were numb most of the day, but the air temperature was a bit warmer than the previous day so it was bearable. Fishing, however, never heated up and our catch rates were way below what is typical for this time of year. Obviously the weather had something to do with it, but with the numbers of other people camped and fishing, the pressure on the fish was also a factor. 2020 was certainly a very different experience on the Idaho Panhandle river and this phenomenon of overcrowding was something that was seen all across the West this summer. Hopefully next year will see a return to the way it was before the COVIDS. Then again, maybe this will be the new normal?
Fishing During the COVIDS: Part Four
It was late August when I next grabbed my rod and wet a line. My buddy Lancelot had invited myself and Large Albacore to join him for a Friday float on the Yakima. Backstory: Lancelot and Albacore grew up in the same town of Wenatchee and were school chums, so they’ve known each other for countless decades. Albacore and I were college fraternity brothers, so we’ve known each other for nearly countless decades. Lancelot’s wife and Mrs. UA were college sorority sisters, so he and I have known each other for almost nearly countless decades. So, that’s the connection. Anyway, the three of us had enjoyed fishing together before, but apparently not enough to have done it for a few years. After hounding us incessantly for months, Albacore and I finally ran out of excuses and conceded to take Lancelot up on his invitation to fish the Yakima.
It was decided that Lancelot and I would maximize the opportunity and slip in a quick evening float the night before, and spend the night in Cle Elum. This would allow us to sleep in until 6:00 the next morning, as opposed to getting up at some ungodly hour to drive over the pass to meet Albacore at 7:30 on Friday morning. And so at around 5:30 PM Lancelot and I met up at the Bristol put-in with Young Bill (Lancelot’s eldest spawn). Young Bill had recently passed the bar exam to become an attorney, but rather than put his hard-earned education to use as a productive member of society, he had opted to
waste spend his summer as a fly fishing guide on the Yakima. Young Bill is not the first overeducated fly fishing guide I’ve known, and I’m not here to judge him—or anyone else.
At any rate, the plan was to have Young Bill take us in his raft, just as if we were real, paying clients and he was a real, paid fly fishing guide. But before we began our float we would need to run our own shuttle. While Young BIll waited with the boat, I drove his beat-to-hell Toyota Tundra and trailer to our take-out as Lancelot followed in his not-so-beat-to-hell Toyota Tundra. Along the drive I marveled at the condition of Young Bill’s truck. It certainly looked the part of a guide’s truck: random flies strewn about the visor and dash, food scraps and spent burrito wrappers on the floor. A thick layer of dust covered the interior, and nearly every dash warning light was fully illuminated. The odometer showed somewhere over 200,000 miles and exhaust sounded as if the muffler was missing entirely. Suffice it to say that
when if Young Bill decides to pursue as career as an attorney, he’ll likely need to replace his fish bum truck with an Audi sedan, and get a haircut.
But enough about Young Bill’s life choices. Lancelot and I left Young Bill’s truck at the Green Bridge take-out and backtracked upriver to begin our float. We got into fish right away and our overeducated fly fishing guide continued to put us on many good fish. In fact, I cannot remember the last time I’ve had as much consistent action on the Yakima—it was fantastic! Why would a young man with this much talent as a guide choose another vocation? I cannot imagine!
The evening was pleasant and we were on the water well past sunset. It was, in many ways, a near-perfect float and we pulled into the takeout in high spirits. The only thing that kept our float from being perfect—aside from Lancelot’s pink fishing shirt, which he maintains is actually “salmon”—would have been the presence of the keys to Young Bill’s truck. Which were, of course, in Lancelot’s truck. Which was more than 10 miles upstream. That’s a long walk in the dark.
Fortunately Young Bill’s roommate back in Cle Elum had nothing better to do that evening than to drive 20 miles to our current location, pick up Young Bill and take him to Bristol, where Lancelot’s truck was parked with Young Bill’s keys locked safely inside. Right where I’d left them. While we waited in darkness for Young Bill to return with the keys, Lancelot made me promise to publicly document my moronic actions, and so here I am to open myself to public ridicule and harsh judgment. You’re welcome.
The next morning Lancelot and I met Large Albacore for full day float on the Yakima. Missing from this day were any shuttle snafus, and the numbers of fish. While it was a grand day willed with debauchery, foul jokes and the corresponding laughter, the fishing was more typical of what I’ve come to expect from the Yakima. This may have been due in part to a low pressure system that had begun moving in during the day, bringing strong winds ahead of heavy rains (fortunately we dodged both while on the water). More likely it was just a normal day on the Yakima, with the exception having been the evening before. At any rate it was a fantastic float and Large Albacore and I look forward to fishing with Lancelot again. In another five years.
Fishing During the COVIDS: Part Five
I actually wrote a separate entry about my final fishing trip of the year, to the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. If you missed it, and aren’t tired of reading by now, it can be found here: Finding our Groove on the Middle Fork Salmon.
And so there you have it. I’m all caught up on fishing for the year. I wish all 11 of of my remaining UA followers a peaceful and COVIDS-free Holiday season. Here’s looking ahead to a New Year that sees an improvement over 2020, which, in hindsight, wasn’t such a bad year for fishing. Just different.
I recently returned from one of those trips that changes a person. I’m not just talking about the week’s worth of facial scruff and weather-tanned hide. Nor am I referring to the body musk that would cause rival bull elk to lose their minds, stomping and snorting and pissing all over everything. I’m also not referring to the 5 pounds I gained due to the amazing food. No, while this trip certainly afforded all those things, it stirred something deep inside me: the romantic desire to disappear off-grid and live as a hermit in the beautiful wilds of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness in Idaho. At least until the first snow fell and my food supply ran out, then I’d undoubtedly reach for my Garmin InReach and send an SOS message to Mrs. UA.
OK, just because I’m not fit to live permanently in such a rugged and remote place, spending some time there did sound appealing when, nearly a year ago ago, Jimmy suggested that the Firehole Rangers do a multi-day float on the Middle Fork Salmon River. He had done the trip a few times before with his daughters and seemed to think the Rangers might also enjoy it. Jimmy and his brood had done earlier summer floats when the emphasis is on whitewater rafting, with the opportunity to do a little fishing as rafts descend the river from the Boundary Creek launch (River Mile 0), to the take-out at Cache Bar on the main Salmon (River Mile 99.1). Our trip (September 12-17) would differ a bit from summer trips, with fly fishing being our main course with a side of whitewater (which is not say that there isn’t any whitewater later in the season). As flows drop late in the summer, the Boundary Creek launch is used only by the guides to get their boats to the river. From there they navigate the boney, rock-strewn river and meet the guests downstream at Indian Creek (River Mile 25). Below Indian Creek the river is considerably more boat-friendly during the late season flows.
Previously this year both Jimmy and Marck had the nerve to break ranks and move to Boise (not together, per se, although they do live within a couple miles of each other). Those of us Rangers left behind to endure the endless gray skies and incessant drizzle on the western side of Washington (close-ish to but definitely not Seattle) flew to Boise on Friday afternoon. Fortunately the flight is just over an hour long, because wearing a mask (thanks, Covid) any longer than that would be a deal breaker. Uber-Marck picked us up at the airport and drove us to his house where everyone was gathered to feast and toast to our upcoming trip. Those in attendance included Marck, Jimmy, Goose, Nash, myself, and sometimes-on-again-off-again-Firehole Ranger, Erique.
The next morning we awoke far too early and drove 3 hours under the cloak of darkness from Boise to Stanley, ID. Upon reaching Stanley one thing became rapidly apparent: we were not dressed for the early morning at 6253 feet elevation. While the daytime high may have been headed upwards of 80 degrees, the temperature at 7:30 AM was a brisk 21 F. Consequently the frigid air slapped our shorts-clad legs like a thin willow branch swung by an ill-tempered stepfather. We immediately donned protective long pants and grabbed a quick breakfast before meeting up with our host for the trip, Jerry Hughes. Jerry is the founder of Hughes River Expeditions. While his full-time river-rat days are now behind him, Jerry and his wife Carole are still very much involved in the business that bears their name. We gathered our outfitter-supplied dry bags and signed our lives away before hopping on a school bus for the 2 minute ride to the Stanley Airport. With the Sawtooth Range as a backdrop we met the pilots whose job it was to load guests and their gear, in a balanced manner, into small planes for the 20 minute flight over the mountains to Indian Creek. Most of the planes were single-engine Cessna type something-or-anothers. I was relieved to be loaded aboard the largest of the planes, a twin-engine Britten-Norman Islander operated by G&S Aviation. It’s always good to have a back-up engine in the event that one engine decides to not function in mid-flight, right?
The flight from Stanley to Indian Creek was uneventful—just the way I like it—and I enjoyed a great view from the seat to the right of the captain (while I may have felt like the co-pilot, I was instructed to sit on my hands and not touch the controls). Both the takeoff and landing were very smooth but I was still glad when the plane came to a stop and we set foot on terra firma once again. The day had warmed considerably and long pants were traded in for shorts. 16 total guests assembled for a formal welcome/introduction from those who would be our guides, chefs, and camp attendants for the next 6 days. We were finally about to embark on the main feature of this multi-faceted trip, and in short time we were aboard a variety of rafts that would carry us downstream: three 17-foot rafts that carried non-fishing guests and five 13-foot rafts that provided transportation for those of the fly angling persuasion. The most impressive vessel was the sweep boat, a twenty-something foot-long inflatable river boat that was a cross between a black ops military raft and the keelboat used by Lewis and Clark as they made their way up the Missouri in 1804. Essentially a cargo barge, the sweep boat was heavily laden with the overwhelming majority of the gear and was manned by two guides. The oarsman stood mid ship, pushing and pulling comically large oars with blades the size of a half sheets of plywood. The oars blades were fore and aft, rather than starboard and port, enabling the plus-sized craft to navigate relatively skinny chutes. Had the oars been mounted as they are on a standard raft there is no way the big boat could make it down the river.
The first day of the trip felt not entirely unlike the first day of high school: exciting, for sure, but a bit awkward as we slowly got to know the other
kids guests and guides. The guides are like the cool kids at school. The Seniors. And the river is their campus. They all drive cool cars and hang out in the parking lot while the guests are like the incoming Freshmen: naive, a little too clean-cut and wearing clothes that our moms laid out for us the night before. This is not to say the guides weren’t welcoming, because they were. It just took a day to settle into the easy groove of river life (and a couple more days to remember everyone’s names).
Marck and I were were assigned our Day One River Guide, Texas Gus. Seriously, he was named for Agustus McCrae of Lonesome Dove fame and I instantly respected his parents for their decision. What a fantastic TV series and an even better novel. Anyhoo, we boarded his raft and began the requisite small talk. I could tell right away that we wouldn’t have any trouble from Gus. The conversation came easily as we got into the rhythm of the river. Go with the flow, as they say. And that we did. After the previous 15 hours which had included flying and driving and flying, it felt good to finally be floating. And fishing. It wasn’t long before the first fish was brought to hand.
And the fishing was amazing for the next 6 days (catching was pretty good, too). Were the fish large? A couple were in the 18-inch range (hearsay) but more commonly were under 15 inches. But even a small fish, using the force of the river’s powerful current to their advantage, put a good bend in a 4 weight rod, and many fish felt bigger than they ultimately revealed themselves to be. The vast majority caught were westslope cutthroat, with a smattering of very aggressive steelhead. It had been 6 years since I’d last caught an Idaho steelhead, and in one afternoon on the trip I caught 7 (fortunately I had my Idaho steelhead punch card handy). Did I mention the steelhead were 6-8 inch smolt? Minor detail. A couple of smallish bull trout were caught during the trip (not by me), as well as one or two Rocky Mountain Bonefish (on the first day Marck caught a whitey in a fast riffle, on a dry fly). I even managed to catch a 16-inch
Squawfish Northern Pikeminnow that would have ended up on the river bank as fodder for scavengers on most any other river. Here, it was no more a salmon and steelhead child molester than the heralded bull trout, so back it went. At times—usually in the morning—fishing was a tad slow, which was totally fine because so were we. During these lulls in the action I resisted the temptation to run a nymph underneath a dry. After lunch the catching always picked up and was quite good.
Purple was a popular bug color with the fish of the Middle Fork. Be it a Purple Haze, purple Chubby Chernobyl, purple Amy’s Ant or purple Hippy Stomper, all were generally met with great enthusiasm. Small black ants and cinnamon ants also produced, as did black/cinnamon ants and orange stimulators and red hoppers and well, just about anything else. Did I mention purple? But if ever a place was deserving of the old saying, “There’s more to fishing than catching fish,” it would be the Middle Fork Salmon. It’s a vast and wild place and I missed a few fish because I was gazing upwards, slack-jawed, at the steep mountainsides most of the time. Once we dropped into Impassable Canyon the geography became downright distracting. It was absolutely gorgeous country despite the haze from distant wildfires that thickened a bit each day.
Each morning the Firehole Rangers would select a different fishing partner for the day and the company was always good (at least from my point of view). We usually fished with a different guide each day and we were always in capable hands of whomever was on the oars. I had the good fortune to fish with Gus, Colin, Drew, Colin, Tony, and Colin. As Vice President of Hughes River Expeditions it fell upon Colin to deal with problematic guests, which is why I was in his boat three times.
Much has been written about the Middle Fork Salmon and if detailed information about the river such as landmarks, specific points of interest and names and descriptions of particular rapids is what you seek, there are far better resources than the UA. I do, however, want to tout the merits of our host company. The guides for Hughes River Expeditions were all exceptional. They rowed our rafts expertly through whitewater while still going the extra mile to put us on the best water for catching fish. The sweep boat would run ahead each day and have camp set up each evening by the time we arrived. And by setting up camp I mean the tents were all pitched for us, the kitchen was established and food prep was taking place (appetizers were ready for us). And perhaps most importantly, the “Groover” location had been designated and the facilities were fully operational when we stepped off the boats for the evening. The Groover is the name given the camp toilet and is derived from the not-so-olden days when river floaters had to drop their deuces into steel ammo boxes, the sides of which were known to leave grooves in the backsides of the users. The modern day Groover includes a regulation-sized toilet seat, and while I find very little to be unsavory about shitting in a steal box with a toilet seat mounted to the top, I do recommend being first in line, if at possible. The Groover has a dedicated place of honor at each camp and the location always ensures privacy. The location also comes with a soothing view of the river so settle in and relax–but don’t take too long. Several hundred feet from the Groover itself is where the line begins. We were debriefed on how things work and it was made very clear that a kayak paddle is placed perpendicularly across the trail to denote that someone is presently in a meeting at the Groover. It was hammered into our brains that we were NOT to forget to return the paddle to the parallel position once finished with our business. Located at the site of the Poop Path Paddle was also a foot-pump activated hand washing station that we were strongly encouraged to use after each visit to the Groover. Sanitation was of paramount importance—especially during this Year of the Covids—and a hand-washing station was readily available in camp, as well as at the Gateway to the Groover.
Butt enough with the shit chat, let’s talk about food! After a long day on the water, as we guests sat around and enjoyed ourselves, the guides cooked amazing fare in Dutch ovens and on charcoal -fueled grills. We could not have eaten better had we been on a swanky Tour de Bistro vacation. To give you an idea of of the menu, the main dinner courses consisted of Bristol Bay salmon, Cornish game hens (which I could eat for dessert–ask my wife), Forty Mile Stew (amazing, but you’ll have to go to know because this is a Hughes special recipe). We had pork brisket of which even the end cut was amazingly tender and moist (and I typically tend to steer clear of end cuts of any meat). Our final supper was Surf and Turf that included delicious shrimp and the absolute best ribeye steaks I have ever had (major props to Chef Josh). Desserts included upside down pineapple cake, chocolate cake, berry cobbler, freshly-baked brownies and some others that I can’t recall because I was usually in a food coma by the time dessert was served. As a guest of Hughes River Expeditions you will not go hungry, nor will your thirst ever go unquenched. Guests brought their own bottles of spirits, and ice-filled coolers contained all the soda and beer you could ever want. Thankfully the beer selection included my grade of swill, too, and just not a bunch of crappy IPA’s and such. PBR, Coors Yellow Jackets, and Rainier were in ample supply despite my attempt to single-handedly deplete the inventory. At one point the flotilla pulled over at Loon Creek (the location of a remote air strip where more beer had been flown in). That was a monumental day.
There was ample fresh, filtered water on hand at any and all times, and coffee was always ready by the time guests arose each morning. Breakfast was hearty and served hot. If one preferred a lighter fare, yogurt, granola and fresh fruit were also an option (you could have a bit of everything if you wanted). Lunch consisted of fresh sandwich fixin’s and chips and cookies. We discovered that a dollop of peanut butter on an Oreo was an absolute game changer, and that a glob of peanut butter between two Chip-Ahoy cookies was the definition of decadence. Lunch was a perfect mid-day break from fishing but we generally didn’t linger long as there were always many more miles of river to float before evening camp. Long days on the river didn’t feel long, however, and time flew by. Even on our longest day when we covered 18 miles.
Rather than drone on incessantly, allow me instead highlight the trip with a few photos (though these few photos will not do justice to the Middle Fork). In a nutshell this is a trip you should take if you like vast wilderness, whitewater, excellent fly fishing, top-notch guides and exceptional hospitality and food. And if you decide to book a trip, I cannot recommend enough that you do so with Hughes River Expeditions, and be sure to tell them you heard about it here on the UA. Or, not. To be very clear, this is not a paid advertisement and I received no special treatment for this writeup other than having my name on the Poop Path Paddle. I would, however, like to pursue the possibility of sponsoring one of the Groovers.
On the last morning we begrudgingly loaded up for the two hour float to our terminus at Cache Bar on the main Salmon. Before we reached the confluence we got to enjoy some of the most plentiful whitewater of the trip, and whomever was in the bow of the boat got wet. We also continued to catch fish. In fact the last day saw my two biggest fish of the trip including a nice 16″ cuttie on the main Salmon. Once on the Salmon the water changes, from the gin clarity of the Middle Fork to a more turbid green, and we were told that we shouldn’t expect to catch any fish here. In the front of the boat was Erique, who, despite being drenched from the many stretches of whitewater that morning, also managed to catch a good fish on the main Salmon. We weren’t on the Salmon for long and then, just like that, we arrived at Cache Bar and it was over. We gathered our personal belongings and bade farewell to the crew (who was busy breaking down raft frames and loading up gear for another trip that would begin in a couple of days). My earlier high school analogy seemed fitting as the last leg of our journey included a 4-hour school bus ride back to Stanley. The awkward band of high school Freshmen had gained an education on the river. We learned new jokes (most of which if not all are ill-suited for this family-friendly blog) and made new friends and gathered fond memories.
While the rest of our group departed for other destinations, the Firehole Rangers spent one last night in Stanley. Showers felt good and flushing toilets were a welcome luxury (which is not to in any way diss the Groover). As if more food was needed, we did enjoy a fine meal at the Sawtooth Hotel (it was no Hughes River Feast but the food was delicious). We were joined by our recently newfound pard whom we’d met on the trip, Don Snow. Don is 88 years young, a Viet Nam veteran, Trout Unlimited Life Member, tier of flies, catcher of fish and liver of a good life. Don had driven from his home in Oregon and made the trip by himself and it was a pleasure to get to know him. Sharp as a tack and spry as someone many years his junior, we should all be more like Don. The next morning he was off to visit friends in Idaho and do more fishing before returning home to Oregon in a couple of weeks. He may not approve, but we voted to make Don an honorary Firehole Ranger.