The colors of fish and Fall


Half of the Firehole Rangers made a quick trip to one of our favorite Idaho panhandle rivers recently. We’ve always fished this river in July, which is considered prime time, but never before this year have we fished it in late September. We were eager to see what this favorite place is like in the Fall, and expectations were cautiously high. The weather didn’t look favorable a week before the trip, but the forecast improved gradually as the departure day approached. Still, the weather cannot be trusted in the mountains that divide Montana and Idaho—we’ve learned that much. The past two years, we’ve had trip-ending rain that blew out camp, and the river. In July. We were hoping that would not be the case this time. Almost without fail, the catching is exceptional in July (until the rain puts the fish down). We knew the river would be lower in the Fall, but we hoped the fish would still be willing.

Here’s a nutshell recount for those who don’t have the attention span to read my typically rather lengthy Drivel®:

  • As we pulled into the campground a young cow moose jumped off the road and ran into the woods.
  • It rained during the night on Friday.
  • In the wee hours of Friday night/Saturday morning we heard an elk bugling as it walked down the road next to camp. Then, it bugled as it walked back the other direction. One does not hear elk bugling in July. Ah, Fall.
  • It did not rain the rest of the weekend.
  • Saturday it was a cool day in the mid to upper 50’s. The fishing was slow. Fish were tight to the bank. I caught 2 fish all day. Jimmy caught 3, or 4. Morris did considerably better.
  • The fish were all tight to the bank, and were mostly 16-18″ and very healthy. Only a couple fish were 12 inches. My net came in handy.
  • We saw what must have been the same cow moose we’d seen near camp the day before. She was a couple miles upstream. We would not see her again.
  • We had the river entirely to ourselves until just before we reached our terminus point, where we ran into two other anglermen.
  • Late in the day I sat down on a particular flat rock at the “Bull Trout Hole“. When I sat down, apparently I knocked my net—attached to my pack via magnetic connection—loose. I did not realize this until we were on the trail back to camp that evening. Damnit. Unless another anglerman picked up the net, it would be there tomorrow, and we saw only one other anglerman in that vicinity—chances are he would not see the net. I rationalized that it should be there the next day.
  • Morris prepared our supper that night: spaghetti with sausage meatballs.
  • As we sat around the fire on Saturday night there were a gazillion stars overhead.
  • It got cold Saturday night. I expected frost to be on the ground Sunday morning.
  • Late during the night Jimmy heard what sounded like a herd of elk stampeding up the river—in the river. More bugling ensued.
  • On Sunday morning there was no frost on the ground. Despite remaining clear all night, it had warmed up.
  • Idaho takes pride in its outdoor recreational facilities. The “outhouse” at our campground is very clean and attended by employees that take pride in their work.
  • On Sunday morning we each took advantage of the outhouse. 3 times each. Must’ve been the meatballs.
  • The weather warmed up on Sunday, into the 70’s. At one point it was almost warm enough to complain about being too warm. We did not complain.
  • The bugs were popping in the warm weather and fish were feeding in the seams and moving to flies. October caddis, black ants, mahoganies…most fish weren’t too finicky. Some were very picky.
  • I caught 4-5 fish on Sunday. Jimmy caught a fish or two more than that. Morris caught considerably more although it was all on his word because he moved downstream ahead of us around midday and we never saw him again until we returned to camp that evening. All the fish, save for a couple, were large and vibrantly colored, like the foliage lining the river.
  • When I got to The Bull Trout Hole, my net was not there. But a uniquely marked rock cairn indicated that Morris had discovered my net and picked it up. At least I hoped that’s what the cairn indicated.
  • We had the entire river to ourselves on Sunday.
  • A gazillion stars shone that night as we sat around the last fire of the season.
  • On Sunday morning we broke camp and drove home, wishing we had at least one more day to fish.
  • 2 days driving: 881 miles
  • 2 days fishing: 15 miles hiking/fishing
  • A great trip to end the trout season

And now some photos:

Spruce Tree Campground

Camp, for 3 nights.


St. Joe River Idaho

The clouds threatened rain but didn’t make good on that threat.


Idaho cutthroat trout

A thick, healthy cutty.


Watch your backcast: Jimmy retrieves his 79 cent fly from the tree while Morris holds his rod.



Young moose on the loose.



Morris the trout slayer.


October Caddis

It’s the Great Pumpkin Caddis, Charlie Brown.



Ample reason to look up from the water.


UA finds a willing playmate.

UA finds a willing playmate.


St. Joe River

Jimmy enjoys s casting spot without trees behind him.



Another beautiful Idaho cutty.


Idaho State Forest campground facilities, complete with LED garden lights.

Idaho State Forest campground facilities, complete with solar-powered garden lights.


Idaho's employees provide 5 star accommodations.

We were thankful that Idaho’s public land employees provide 5 star accommodations.



And another beautiful cutty.



And another chunky gal…



Jimmy, tight to a trout.


UA seeks a cooperative playmate.

UA seeks a cooperative playmate.



A beautiful Fall day draws toward a close.



A Fall scenery shot.



A uniquely-constructed rock cairn hopefully indicated that my net had been recovered.



Another Fall scenery shot.



And another Fall scenery shot.



The last shot of the river on the last day. Not a bad way to end the trout season.


And yes, my net was retrieved.

And yes, my net was retrieved.


Next up, a trip to a vastly different Idaho river to not catch steelhead.


  1. Morris

    I love it when I get to comment first, before Howard …. perhaps because I sometimes know when to expect your next masterpiece. I only have one comment – thanks for dumbing down your dribble with clear and precise bullets, it makes it much easier for me to follow along, however I think your other readers may rise in rebellion.

    • The Fading Angler

      No rebellion here. “That’ll do.” You gents were due for an awesome trip. And I am in awe. Beautify cutties!

      I do have 2 questions:
      1) Can Kirk really continue to refer to himself as “Unaccomplished”?
      B) Have y’all considered making Howard an honorary Ranger and inviting him on a trip? 😉

      • Kirk Werner

        There’s no denying the beauty of those fish—they’re always pretty, but maybe it was just the brilliant foliage surrounding the river that seemed to give them a certain vibrant glow. Since they don’t spawn this time of year, it’s hard to say why they look so amazing.

        To answer your questions:
        1. Yes. I continue to catch the fewest fish of anyone else in the posse.
        2. No. 😉

        • Howard Levett

          I accept. Actually, one of the more civilized Rangers invited me a while back. I was even going to offer you a net to replace yours if it was indeed lost. It’s my wife’s and specially made for short fisherpeople.

          • Kirk Werner

            This begs the question: does a net intended for short people have a long handle, or a short one? A short angler person would presumably have short arms, so a long-handled net would make it easier for them to reach down and net a fish. Then again, perhaps the short-handled net is better proportioned for the short angler with short arms. But then, what if the short angler as disproportionately long arms? As you can see, it’s not as easy as one might think. And as for the rogue Ranger who invited you on a trip, well, the long and short of it is that they’ve been placed on probation.

    • Kirk Werner

      I’m surprised to even see you commenting here. Hell, none of the other Rangers even read this crap any more. You get Participant’s Ribbon.

  2. Bill Potts

    Well, damn glad you caught some fish for your fall trip. Pictures beautiful as well. Isn’t eating questionable food and crapping like no tomorrow a standard in camping? At least there was a fine facility. Nothing worse than not having that and the surrounding woods become a minefield so to speak.

    Is that a picture of The Donald and Hillary stumping in northern Idaho at the top of the page?

    And for the record, I like the incessant ramblings of an under appreciated writer of prose more than bullets. Don’t let the heathanistic letter scratchers tell you otherwise, haha. Stand firm man!

    • Kirk Werner

      Thanks for stopping by with a vote of confidence for the incessant ramblings. Every now and again I try something different to see if it gains any more readership. It doesn’t, so I’ll go back to the long-winded Drivel®.

      You may be right about the photo of The Donald and Mrs. Bill Clinton. It’s hard to tell from the backside—they just look like a couple asses. 😉

  3. Howard Levett

    I actually liked this report Kirk. Great narrative, beautiful pictures and thoughtful comments. I would love to join up with the Rangers…as soon as they release me from the institution.

    • Kirk Werner

      Thanks, Howard. Perhaps we can forge a doctor’s note and get you released on furlough for a long weekend: Meet us in West Yellowstone‚ bring the cooked bacon for Morris to carry in his backpack.

      • Morris

        The animals in the park are mostly tame, domesticated creatures – not sure if feeding them bacon is acceptable with their care givers.

        Howard for President in 2017 – Rangers need a new leader.

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