Pink, Red and White: Not catching steelhead Part I
October 17, 2012
I suppose I should look into the origins of the name “Pink House“, but I’m too lazy busy to do so. Suffice it to say that the recreation site and campground on the Clearwater River near Orofino, Idaho is simply named just that: Pink House. And that is precisely where we camped while flogging the waters of the Clearwater with Spey rods on a recent trip.
“We” consisted of the Albacore Clan: Junior, Large, Chunky and Papa. And myself, the odd man out. This is a great group of tall fellows who enjoy good food, good beer, and good scotch. Conversely I am not so tall, and while I do enjoy good food I’d be content living off of dry roasted peanuts and elk pepperoni. I prefer cheap beer and am incapable of discerning much of a difference between a good single malt and Cutty Sark. Truth be told I’m not much of a scotch guy, preferring instead a blended whiskey myself. This made me somewhat of an outcast in camp, as if being a foot shorter than the others wasn’t challenging enough. And still, despite my shortcomings, I was invited along on this trip to chase steelhead with the Albacores.
Backing up a bit, I began my journey by departing western Washington at 5:45 Thursday morning. By the time the sun crested the eastern horizon I was over the hump of the Cascades and well into central Washington. The sunrise was particularly lovely, due in large part to the smokey haze from the wildfires which had been burning for months to the north. Across the entire expanse of eastern Washington the skies bore the reminder of our unprecedented dry summer and fall, and where the smoke from the central Washington fires lost its reach the smoke from the fires burning in Idaho took over. The bottom line was that there was a smokey haze the entire way to Idaho.
The Clearwater River is a beautiful stretch of water that flows from the Bitterroot mountains toward its confluence with the Snake River in Lewiston, Idaho. From Lewiston the view upstream hardly suggests the beautiful river that beckons anglers to come hither and seek out its steelhead trouts. But once one gets past the Potlach pulp mill the view improves and the river actually begins to resemble a river. From Lewiston it’s some 40 (plus or minus) miles to the Pink House near Orofino. The road follows the river the entire way, and as I proceeded onward like a modern day Lewis and Clark on their homeward journey through this same country more than 200 years earlier, two things became obvious: First, there are limited roadside pullouts in which to park; and secondly, there were rigs parked in nearly every roadside pullout. It appeared that there were other fly anglermen who’d had the same idea as us.
But before an angler gets to the Pink House they must turn right at the Peck Junction and pay homage to The Red Shed. This place needs no introduction, as folks come from near and far just to say they’ve been there. From what I could discern, Peck is just a speck— a wide spot in the road. But set boot inside the Red Shed and you’ll find a very well-outfitted fly shop where one would not expect to find such a well-outfitted fly shop. Spey is the name of the game here, although if one looks hard enough they will also find beads (one must look behind the door, near the floor. I doubt the product placement is purely coincidental and I was hoping to meet the legend himself, Poppy Cummins, and ask him about that. Unfortunately he had the afternoon off when we stopped in.
In addition to the full line of rods, reels, lines, tying materials, assorted gear and sundry, one can also find a fine selection of fly fishing books. The orange cover caught my attention: Olive Goes for a Wild Ride. I believe it’s the third in a series of three, and I hear that they are all excellent.
Onward, upriver. After arriving at the Pink House and meeting up with the Albacores, it was time to hit the water. I was the last to arrive, and while my compadres had fished the morning, a steelhead had yet to be caught. Not to worry, the day was young and there was plenty of time for that. I strung up the Sage One 7136 Spey rod that I’d brought along to test out. I was looking forward to seeing what the rod was all about and putting it to a head-to-head comparison with my Z-Axis 7136. It would be fun to not only cast the One, but also play a fish on it. I didn’t have to wait long, as we quickly got down to the business of fishing.
I’ll not spend a great deal of time talking about the Sage One here; there’ll be a time and place for that later. Suffice it to say the rod cast nicely, felt light in the hand, and had no problem landing the 11″ Whitefish that I swang up that afternoon. It was the only fish caught that day, and before the peanut gallery criticizes the Unaccomplished Angler for catching a diminutive whitefish, when was the last time YOU caught a whitefish while swinging flies for steelhead? That’s what I thought. Besides, a Whitefish is a native indicator species; not something to be maligned by way of gamefish snobbery.
Back at camp that night we dined, drank and toasted my angling prowess. I was decided that a campfire would have to wait for the next night as Large and Junior Albacore had already fallen asleep; after all, not catching steelhead is hard work. Begrudgingly the rest of us turned in for the night; the Albacores sharing the comforts of a tent trailer while I slept in the relative comforts of the Fish Taco. With it’s 5-foot bed, it would prove a bit tight even for the sawed-off likes of me. But with no rain in the forecast for another day, I opted to leave the tailgate down so I could extend my legs. I slept just fine until the alarm went off at 5:15. Time to fish.