Airstream Time

Exploring North America in an Airstream

Posts from the ‘Fishing’ category

Scouting Penns Creek and Fishing Creek

Saturday, June 22, 2019

As we packed up at Bumblebee RV Park, Andy came by to say hello with his dog, Charlie. We chatted for a while. This is a nice campground with very nice owners. Since Lisa and Andy work remotely, their WIFI system is great. They have owner’s WIFI, camper’s WIFI and full-timer WIFI, so there is plenty of capacity for everyone. With an excellent shower house, good water and electricity, we are going to miss these conveniences. 

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We drove 4 hours northeast, mostly on 220. Again, it was a beautiful, uncrowded highway through the mountains. We didn’t trust our phone GPS as we turned onto a gravel road 11 miles from Poe Paddy State Park, especially when a sign pointed to Poe Valley State Park. Were we going to the wrong place? Creeping along, we finally came to Poe Valley State Park and a paved road. There were lots of houses and cabins and a lake with a big swimming area. It was cool here in the mountains, about 72 degrees, a great escape from the summer city heat. We were sure we were in the wrong place when we saw a sign for Poe Paddy State Park 3.5 miles ahead. 

Then the narrow road turned back to gravel and followed a gorgeous trout stream – Poe Creek. Finally we arrived at Poe Paddy State Park, happy we weren’t in the wrong place. There was no office, so we stopped and found an information board with a map of the park and campground. We had reserved site #146 for four nights, since we had three streams to fish in this area, and the campground is on one of them – Penns Creek. The sites are huge in this nice park but here are no showers, power or water hookups.

After setting up, we drove to the end of a road and walked along an old railroad bed. This was a logging camp years ago, the train being used to haul lumber. Now it is a beautiful bike/hiking trail along Penns Creek. The river was muddy and flowing pretty fast. Seems to be our trademark when fishing – camped right on the river, but too muddy to fish.

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We have a printer in the Airstream that we use to print fishing licenses on the internet, but there was just one problem – no WIFI and no cell service. With our cell booster, we got one bar of service, but it was not enough to get on the internet. As we started to drive out of the parking lot, a warden drove up. I rolled down the window and asked if they sold fishing licenses at the Poe Valley Park office. No, he said as he got out of his brown truck and came up to the window. “You have to go to Milheim hardware store over the mountain”. Of course we know nothing about where we were. He could quickly see we were going to get lost, so he pulled out a map showing us where to go. He also told us they stock “the heck out of Poe Creek”. Then he showed us where Fishing Creek was and where to fish it. Turns out he is a school teacher, teaching physical education and history, and works as a warden part time. He was a fit guy with a big, easy smile. He was wearing a bullet-proof vest and a tool belt with a pistol, flashlight and other gear. I asked if we were in a rough neighborhood, and he just laughed. Why he took so much time with us, I don’t know, but he said, “Look, I’m headed home in that direction. I have to make a quick stop to check people at the boat launch, but you can follow me”. What lucky people we were to find a guy like this! His name is David Martin. Pennsylvania is lucky to have a guy like this.

After a quick stop at the boat launch, David brought us a copy of the rules and regulations with a list of all the trout streams – Geez! Then he takes a right on a gravel road going up the mountain. It’s a narrow road with a fair amount of traffic. You have to hug the edge to pass other cars and trucks. Tom stopped to pick up a big chain someone lost in the middle of the road. As he was picking it up, he looked back and yelled, “SLOWDOWN!” I hadn’t even noticed the car behind me that had obviously skidded to a stop. It was Saturday and everyone was out. At the bottom of the mountain we turned right to follow Penns Creek into Coburn, where he stopped at The Feathered Hook Fly Shop. They didn’t sell licenses, but a nice young man inside brought us two printed maps of the roads, towns and streams on it. Milheim was only 2 miles down the road.

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Seeing we were in good shape now, David said he was going home to take his wife out to dinner. We thanked him profusely and went into the fly shop. This is quite a fly shop with everything in it. The wall is lined with fishing boots in every size! I looked around while Kelly talked to Tess. She said the trout can see better than you think in cloudy water, but the time to fish is late in the evening. Apparently there is a hatch at that time. Memories flashed back to the Columbia River with our guide, Rod, out of Castlegar, BC, when there was a huge mayfly hatch from 6:00 until dark. He had said there was no real sense in going out until then, since the fish waited to gorge on big mayflies. 

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Tess is quite the fisherwoman, having fished her way across the United States recently. We told here we had fished our way across Canada in 2013, so we traded favorite trout streams. Her favorite is Penns Creek. She told us what to use, so we bought $40 worth of flies. With the hundreds of flies we have, why do we never have the right ones? We could tell she knows what she is talking about and later decided to see if she could guide us, but she was booked up. Too bad. It would have been fun and educational to fish with her.

Using the map they had printed for us, we headed over to see what Fishing Creek looked like, and maybe get in a little fishing. The trouble was the map listed route numbers, but the road signs were in street names. We found Fishing Creek in Lamar, but couldn’t find the right way to the area Tom had told us to fish. We stopped to ask a gentleman sitting with his wife in the shade of their garage. He told us which way to go, but we still couldn’t find it. We were embarrassed when we passed by him three more times. I was ready to give it all up, and I was ready for a drink when Kelly talked to a young man at a gas station. With fresh directions, we finally got on the right track. 

As we headed up Fishing Creek, once again it was muddy. We passed two seasoned fishermen walking up the road. They looked tired and grumpy, but I slowed down and asked how they did. One said, “We’d have done better at the water treatment plant. At least we’d have caught something brown!” That’s what I needed, a good laugh. I guess there are brown trout in this stream. 

After cruising the stream a while, we headed back home. It was 6:00 and we were tired, but the decision for tomorrow was easy. Everything was muddy except Poe Creek near our camp, and Tom said it was well-stocked.

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Fishing The Savage River

Friday, June 21, 2019

We know fishing the northeast is technical, meaning you have to match the hatch, and the fly has to be presented without drag. There are lots of hatches, so depending not only on the time of the year, but sometimes even the time of day, the hatch will change. These are things we are not good at, but I recon we are going to have to learn. We brought hundreds of flies, but we never seem to have the right things, and end up buying more.

On our way down the mountain on a narrow road, we came up on a truck stopped in front of a tree that had fallen across the road. Walking down to the truck, we met Tom, who had a strap tied to the tree. He had chopped the remaining trunk where it had broken with a hatchet. Then he tried to pull the end across the road, but the trunk was now locked behind another old tree stump. After standing, looking at the tree for a while, Kelly suggested getting a bottle jack to lift it over the stump. I never would have come up with that one, but I do have two bottle jacks. We had to lift it, then put RV leveling blocks under it so we could move the jack closer to the stump. Finally we got it above the stump and Tom was able to drag it. Suddenly, as we celebrated our victory, I saw the power line shaking over my truck. The other end of the tree was on the power line, and I envisioned the line dropping onto my truck. While it wasn’t  broken line yet, it might be soon. I jumped into the truck and quickly backed up as Tom slowly dragged the tree. A telephone pole folded my side mirror forward. Luckily, it folds that way and didn’t break. Tom was grateful for the help and gave us some tips on where to fish.

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First we fished the tailwaters below Savage River Reservoir. Kelly fished at the bridge and down, while I fished up toward the dam. We changed flies frequently. It is always more fun to fish dry flies on top of the water, where you can see the fish strike. I had two hits and two misses. The river is moving fast where I fished, so it is hard to maintain a perfect drift, but I had enough to warrant better action. Who knows? Well somebody knows. Is it the wrong fly, the wrong time of day or the wrong presentation. I think the fish are probably there, but they have seen LOTS of fishermen, flies and presentations. I saw one fish come up, inspect my dry fly and then disappear. 

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This part of the river is slippery with big rocks, making it hard for a 72-year old to walk the stream. It was a bad idea to walk and fish at the same time. By 12:30 I was tired, frustrated and hungry, so I climbed the steep bank and walked back to the truck. After a phone call, Kelly came up. He hadn’t had any luck either.

We went down to the Savage River Fly Shop and talked with the very nice owner, Tom, who was free with information on what to do and how to do it. We bought 8 small sulfur flies that he told us to fish without casting. Any drag on the fly would tip off the fish, so he recommended dabbing – holding the rod out over the stream while dangling the fly in the water around and under big boulders. We dropped downstream a ways and tried the suggested technique. Nada, nothing, zilch. Wrong time of day for dabbing? We dropped downstream and tried it again with no luck.

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Then we drove up to a beautiful, little feeder stream, Middle Fork, and Kelly fished. I followed and took pictures. He had several decent rolls at his small Royal Coachman. It’s just the way it works. Then a big one hit. Kelly only felt it for 10 seconds before he got loose. That one would keep him awake that night. He kept seeing the flash of red or orange on his belly. He had one more nice strike before we got to private property and had to quit. 

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The Savage River

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Unlike our four-month expedition in 2013, the sun was shining. We drove through beautiful country, north on I81, west on 33, then north on 220. We have driven 220 on many sections and is one gorgeous road. 

We reached our destination, Bumblebee RV Park just outside Accident, Maryland. The new owner, Lisa, met us and showed us around. It’s a nice, little campground with good restroom/shower facilities and very nice owners.

We quickly went on reconnaissance for fishing the Savage River above and below the Savage River Reservoir. We watched several people fishing a large bridge pool without any luck, then headed on to the Savage River Fly Shop. The owner, Mike, met us, and was very nice about telling us the lay of the land and what to do. He has 3 very nice cabins for rent right on the river and his small shop has a little of everything one might need to fish the area. We almost had a trip-ending accident in Accident. Kelly was helping me unhook the trailer spring bar. There was too much pressure on it, and when it sprung, the release bar barely missed his valuables.

We decided to fish above the reservoir, where native brook trout live. There are several tributaries around the reservoir ranging greatly in both length and size. We fished Poplar Lick for a couple of hours with several strikes, and Kelly caught a small one. Maybe tomorrow we will try below the tailwater section.

We then returned to the campground and, over cocktails and dinner, began our recollections and comparisons of today and our Canada trip six years ago.

Middle Fork Salmon River, Sunday

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Sunday, July 22, 2018

Sipping coffee, I watched these amazing kids carry their heavy bags, sleeping bags, day bags and water bottles to the boats. By now everyone had the routine down. Too bad it’s the last day with two of the biggest rapids. Ron got into the boat with Ty. It was the only day he didn’t fish. Hmmm, how big were these rapids? Apparently they are below the junction of the Main Salmon with the Middle Fork, or what they call the Main and the Middle. Why would it surprise me that Sarah, Llydia and all the girls were in the paddle boat with Bob and Dog. As we came to a gorgeous spot that reminded me of Half Dome in Yosemite, I asked Ty for my Nikon, which I had kept in a Pelican case when we were on the water, only taking it out mornings, evenings and some lunches. I found if I strapped the cast to the bed pad I was sitting on, I could get to it quickly, then put it back in rapids. Geez, it took 6 days to figure that out! By the time I got it sorted out, we were passing the photo opportunity. Next time I will know better. 2020, God willing.

Then Ty said, “There’s the road.” Damn! Civilization! I looked back at the paddle boat behind us as we entered the second worst rapid on the river. Was that Llydia riding on the front of the paddle boat???? “The Bronco Seat”, Ron said. They were too far back to get a good look, but then we came to the second rapid. With the camera strapped down, I got on the floor and grabbed the rope. Ty handled it expertly as all the guides had done the entire week. We eddied out the watch the paddle boat in case something happened. There was a dark-haired girl in the Bronco Seat now, with a GpPro on her head. Sarah! The story goes she asked her parents if she could sit in the Bronco Seat for this rapid. Her father, Chris, said, “We all make decisions Sarah.” Her mother said, “Good luck” as they kept fishing. These girls are my heroes, and they were from the first day! As the boat floats past, Sarah just flashes that beautiful smile.

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There was a great lunch at the landing. Jess was there. I had a great talk with Carla, who helps with driving, loading and whatever else is needed. She told the story of riding a bike across the country from the Oregon coast to Virginia in the 70’s. She talked about the roads, the difficulties, but mostly the people she met, and the generosity of them. As I have seen time and time again, the adventure is one thing, but the people we meet make it special. That is certainly the case on this trip.

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We loaded on a very nice bus for a one-hour drive to where Ron had his car shuttled. I could easily have fallen asleep, but the entire drive followed the Main Salmon River. It was too pretty to sleep, and I shot a few pictures out the window.

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Here’s to you, all my new friends. That FireBall is darned good! Thanks for sharing!

Middle Fork Salmon River, Saturday

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Trying to define the way Cartwheel Bob came down the mountain last night, Steve asked Sarah and Llydia to demonstrate handstands and cartwheels. The crowd voted it was more cartwheel.

I got in the boat with Steven with Brian in the front fishing. Many had said their favorite day was the 5th, and now I see why. Early on we stopped at an incredible, ancient cave overlooking the river. A perfect, grassy area was in the front for a perfect camp. Pictographs were all over the cave. Probably used for thousands of years as a major camp, I can only imagine the stories that went around those campfires. Back down the rocky climb, Tristan, Tanner, AJ and Steven were jumping onto a big rock and then doing flips into the river.

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The next stop was a hike up to a brilliant little waterfall tumbling over the wall of a blind canyon. This was the home of a man who died in the 1930’s. He was one of many who enjoyed the beauty and solitary lifestyle. He had a tiny cabin beside the river and a ladder up the cliff wall, which led to an grassy, open area where he built a larger cabin. He had a garden and grazed his animals. Steve had climbed the cliffs to explore in years past. I gazed at the cliffs and imagined climbing it.

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We stopped for lunch next to Big Creek at 11:00. Steve said we could jump off the bridge, which of course the guides and the girls did, and that’s a high bridge. We could hang out, swim or walk up Big Creek. I opted for a walk up Big Creek. I hadn’t gone far before I turned back to get the Nikon camera. What a gorgeous, classic western, clear blue trout stream! Maureen, Cathy and Sharron walked ahead. Steve warned to be careful fishing it, as it is hard to get to sometimes. I found John casting from a rock above the stream. Flowers and berries were everywhere. I kept looking among big rock slides for a rattlesnake, but never saw one. I did find several grouse, and John caught me to point out some sheep. I walked up to a bridge, passing the ladies as they walked back. I later learned that Steve has a 6-day trip to Big Creek. You fly in, then take a horseback ride to a cabin. He said the stream rarely gets fished. Now there’s a trip I would like to take!

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We heard stories about “The Wall”, where Maureen had turned over her kayak last year. That’s why I wasn’t in a kayak and was in the boat with Steven. As we rounded a bend into a long stretch of calm water, I could hear the rapid in the distance. I have learned through the years if there is a big calm area, there is often a big rapid at the other end. As the first boat neared the rapid, Steve yelled, “STAY AWAYYYY FROM THE WALLLL”. Each guide echoed the cry up the river until the paddle boat made some defiant cry I couldn’t understand. The river makes a right-hand turn where the whole force of the river powers its way up against a giant wall. We barely touched it – the only rock we touched the whole trip, with the exception of some shallow rocks we floated over. All the boats eddied out below and beside the rapid. A group was camped across from the rapid, and had obviously been practicing the run through it. Our paddle boat came through like professionals with everyone cheering.

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When we got to camp, we settled into the routine, which entailed finding our tents, rolling out the sleeping bag, finding a headlamp, shaving kit and other essentials. Then to the chairs for cocktail hour…s and so many stories, great stories and lots of laughter. Then Steve began asking “Who was born on the first? The second?” Of course the question came, “What month?” “Doesn’t matter. Who was born on the third?” Then he starts digging a hole in the sand and buries a white bucket and fills it with water. Then the same about 40 feet down the beach. He filled beer and soft drink cans with sand and water and explains the game. It’s like horseshoes, or Cornhole. Nearest to the bucket gets a point, a leaner two points, in the bucket gets three. Two practice throws and off you go. I was paired with Tristan, but let him down. Cathy, it turns out, is a senior horseshoe champion, and they crushed us. Who knew? Before going back, I will have to practice. With everyone playing, including guides, it takes a while, but drinking is not prohibited. Steve forbids electronics of any flavor, and makes you sign a form in agreement. At one point during the game, Sarah was showing the ladies the GoPro movies of going through “The Wall”. “Put that away!”, he said with authority. “You can watch that next week.” With no TV, no cell phones and no computers, there is so much more interaction, so much entertainment and so many great stories! The game resumes, and it was lots of fun. The evening was topped off with Smores brought out by Maureen.

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Middle Fork Salmon River, Friday

Friday, July 20, 2018

What fun it was to paddle kayaks in the morning with Llydia and Sarah. Although most of the rapids weren’t bad, we had a couple of challenging ones. They both hit a rock in one and I think came out of the boats. By the time I got past and looked back, they were in the boats laughing and having fun. We kept hearing about “The Wall”, so none of us paddled after this, although Ron said it was all fine. He has paddled the entire 102 miles in a kayak.

We visited a huge Native American cave with pictographs. Steve quipped, “The Smiths have an overhang honey. Why can’t we?”

That evening there was a cake-eating contest, which Bob won. I didn’t see much cake under the whipped cream, but he did have extra strawberries.

Mountain Challenge #2:

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After we setup camp, I was into my second glass of wine when Steven ran down the side of a raft, dove in the river, swam across the river like an Olympian and ran up the mountain, finally standing on top of a granite rock, arms in the air. I am guessing there was some record-keeping for fastest times because soon enough Steve jumped in and hustled up the mountain and climbed on the rock, arms in the air. I wasn’t keeping time, but I think Steven won. Then Tristan dove in the water and hustled up the mountain, and there were three standing on the rock. When no one else followed, they came back down. I stopped drinking and toyed with the idea. I could swim across the river, though the current is fast. The first part is very steep, but after that it looked like it leveled off for the second third. The last part was steep again. By then everyone was back down, and Steve asked the girls if anyone wanted to go. There were no takers, and the regular conversations went on. Then those two darned girls, Llydia and Sarah, raised their hands and said they would go. “Put on a life jacket and some good shoes”, Steve said, and they ran off. Couldn’t believe it. I picked up the camera and followed them to the river when Bob and Maureen walked past me. “Hell, if they’re going, I’m going” I said, scurrying back to put my camera down. It was a harder swim than I thought. Bob reached out a hand, but I declined. The “trail” up was loose gravel and sand with little to hold onto but grass. Gasping hard, I tried to keep up with Maureen when we got to the top of the first third. It didn’t level off. Steve yelled down from somewhere above to take our time. By now he was ⅔ the way up with the girls right behind him. The last third was very steep and slippery. I was pretty sure we didn’t have a shot at the record! We made it though, still gasping for air as we climbed the rock. Steve was talking and telling stories, knowing we needed time to recuperate. Meanwhile Llydia was climbing around on a ledge on the other side of the rock. I didn’t know if I was going to have a heart attack from breathing so hard or watching Llydia so carelessly climbing around. Finally I couldn’t contain myself. “Llydia, get back over here!”

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OK, going down should be easy. Maybe if you are Steven, who ran the 90-some miles up this canyon, or Steve who has spent a lifetime guiding hunting and fishing in these mountains. Totally unaffected, he climbed this mountain twice today. As we trudged down, Steve and the girls walked over to a vertical cliff overlooking camp. Making our way almost to the bottom, Bob’s knee buckled on him and he went head-over-heels down the trail! He was behind a tree, so Maureen and I couldn’t see it, but those in camp thought he was going to die. Thinking I was safely down, I took a slide on the loose gravel with my arm catching a sharp rock. I hit it hard enough, I thought it might have broken, but it was fine – just some good cuts that Steve would later say looked like a bear bite. We walked along a ledge on the river bottom to get upstream before swimming across. Bob and Maureen are expert swimmers, so I followed Maureen. Unfortunately we were swimming downstream. By the time I looked up, I was at the end of the boats, but got safely to shore still panting hard.

After some rest and water, Steve, who looked like he hadn’t done anything all day, said “Get yourself a drink. It’s margarita night.” Then we heard the others talking about Bob’s fall and how scared they were. Steve asked the girls if they could demonstrate a cartwheel to see if that’s what it looked like, but no, that wasn’t it. Then he asked Bob to do one, and everyone agreed that was it. From then on, he was known as “Cartwheel Bob”. I was hoping for “Bearbite Greg”, but it didn’t happen.

As I got ready for bed, I handed out dental floss. We had been discussing the need to floss and that you only have to floss the ones you want to keep.

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Middle Fork of the Salmon River with Steve Zettel

Monday, July 16, 2018

Monday July 16, 2018

Visiting Ron Lowry last summer in Boise, he said, “You MUST float the Middle Fork with us next summer.” I had seen his pictures from previous years, and he has been going for 14 years, so it must be good. He goes with Steve Zettel and Idaho Wilderness Co. (www.floatidaho.com). He has been hunting with Steve since Steve was in his 20’s, and he is now 56. Ron has the highest respect for him, along with many stories of their adventures. The trip is down “The River of no Return” through the Frank Church Wilderness Area where there are no roads. You can walk through it, ride a horse, or float through it. Hmmm, how bad would these rapids be? “The River of no Return”! Am I crazy? Well, he has been doing this for 14 years, and he is a year older than me. OK, I’m in. 

Ron picked me up at the airport after a long day of flying. A glass of wine at “The Ram” helped, along with nice conversation with his friends Dennis and Theresa. When we got to his house, he gave me a book, “Anything Worth Doing” by Jo Deurbrouck recounting the incredible stories of Idaho river guides Jon Barker and Clancy Reece. I read a few pages before falling asleep, but quickly picked it back up in the morning. What a story!

I repacked my stuff into two waterproof bags Ron gave me to use. Then we set out for Stanley, Idaho. Along the way, we met Bob and Maureen Marks, Mike (Mad Dog) and Sharron Tennent and Brian Auge. They took us through Sun Valley since I had never seen it. Along the 2.5 hour drive, Ron told hunting and fishing stories. Most of the hunting stories were with Steve Zettel, while most of the fishing stories were with his great friend, Mad Dog. We stopped for lunch in the busy town of Sun Valley where a rain storm came through while we were eating. 

Back on the road, we headed for Stanley, about an hour away. As we came over a big mountain, Ron pulled over to an overlook of the Sawtooth Valley. It is the origin of the great Salmon River at 9,200 ft. elevation. It is one of the only free-flowing rivers in the Continental United States, traveling 425 miles to meet the Snake River, then joining the Columbia. This is one of the prettiest overlooks I have seen, right up there with the Peace River Valley in British Columbia, which is soon to be lost to a new dam. 

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It was a beautiful drive to Stanley where we checked into the Mountain Village Resort. Still having a few hours before orientation, we drove up to Redfish Lake. Once known to be teeming with sockeye salmon, now teeming with tourists. Some salmon still make it, which is amazing. They have to get around 14 dams on the Columbia River. There are an astounding 60 dams on the Columbia River watershed! That is what makes the Salmon River so special, as it is still free-flowing. 

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At 8:00 we went down for orientation in front of the river. It’s a beautiful, big creek at this point. Steve introduced himself, along with Jessica and his son. He told us how to arrange our gear into a big waterproof bag and a day bag. We would leave at 7:30 by bus in the morning and plan to be on the river by 10:00. We would have another orientation at the put-in. 

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The first rapid

As it turned out, we were on the river at 10:00. 20 seconds later Ron was sitting in the water beside the first rapid. My first thought was, “Man that must be a good fishing spot if Ron got out there!” Turns out he got popped out of the raft. He was tangled up in his fishing line and his rod was 40 yards downstream. It was a struggle to get him back in the boat, but our guide, Tanner, held the raft in position in a strong current. We managed to pull in the fishing line and finally the rod as we went through the rapid. Hmmm, “The River of no Return”! A few drinks into the evening Ron would have a new name: “20 Second Ron.”

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We only had 10 miles to go to the campground, so we stopped for lunch at a nice, big pool. I was surprised to see almost everyone fishing, and most were catching. There are lots of salmon smolts in the river that were hungry. Mostly, people were catching cutthroat trout, although there are rainbow and bull trout. Within 30 minutes a great lunch was produced, after which we headed downriver, making camp by 4:00. Tents were all set up, the “kitchen” was set up and chairs arranged. Finding our drybags, we set up our tents, rolled out sleeping bags and our group of 8 sat around for cocktails, and the stories flowed. By 8:30 I was tired and went to bed.

Fishing The Bitterroot River with David Hufman

September 9, 2017

We drove 30 minutes to the Grizzly Hackle Fly Shop in Missoula to meet our guide at 7:00. We met David Hufman and did all the paperwork in the shop and put our rods in his Toyota truck. We drove south about 45 minutes to the Bitterroot River. We thought we were going to fish Clark Fork, but David said the Bitterroot was fishing better. We talked about the fires as we headed toward Lolo National Forest. He said the smoke acted like a cloud cover for the river, keeping it cool and making fishing better. I asked about his beautiful Boulder boat. He said it is the third one he has had. A client had given him this one! He has guided this man on many fishing trips. He is a very wealthy man, now 90 years old, and still comes fishing with him. He had bought the boat and wanted his aid to learn how to use it and to take him fishing. That never quite worked out, and it sat in a shed for two years. One day David got a call from the man’s aid, who said, “David, this is your lucky day. Mr. … is giving you his Boulder boat. He is going to have it shipped to your house.” The drift boat is a light, thin-walled boat that slides easily over rocks.

We learned that David grew up in western Pennsylvania. His best friend moved to Montana and kept telling David he needed to come join him guiding fishing trips. Finally, he came, and now he has been guiding for 18 years. By the time we got to the river we learned David is a bright guy with tremendous knowledge and enthusiasm for his profession. After pushing off into the river, he put tippet and different hoppers on our lines. Then he gave us some instructions on how he wanted us to fish. We told him we were here to fish, but also to learn, and we welcomed any instruction and coaching. You might think we know how to fish, and we do to some extent, but a great guide, like David, is fishing every day. He talks to other professionals, and he spends every day with fishermen and women, talking and watching techniques. He knows where the fish are, what they like to eat and what time the hatches are. Even if you had a boat like this to float the river, we would just start fishing flies we thought might work, but we would likely make the wrong choices, the wrong colors or the wrong presentation. We would probably catch some fish, but we would not have the kind of day we were about to have.

David coached constantly, in a soft, positive manner all day. It was like going to a clinic with a great expert. We started catching fish from the start – big, strong cutthroats, rainbows and a cutbow, which is a cross of the two. The biggest fish of the day was a 19-incher Kelly caught. He almost made the 20/20 club, where you catch a 20 inch fish with a size 20 fly. That is a very tiny fly! After about an hour and a half the Trico hatch started. These are tiny little flies that hatch, spawn and the males die. David said they must be like cocaine for trout, because the love them, and while feeding on them, they will ignore everything else. We watched a real bug float over feeding fish, and they ignored it.

In one area, they had put old cars on the bank to try to stabilize the river banks. It didn’t work so well, but it makes great cover for fish. It also makes a great place to break your line and lose fish. It doesn’t look like these old car frames will do what they wanted. David said the powerful river moves every year, washing these sandy banks away. In one  area the river will likely go up and over the banks and take an entirely new route.

We have seen feeding trout before, but never like this. Big noses poking out of the water as they sipped Tricos. They were schooled-up in certain areas with 10-15 fish feeding. David called them pods of fish. He could tell the big ones by the size of rings they made in the water. Sometimes you would get a glimpse of the tail or the whole fish sipping tiny Tricos, 3-4mm in size. Looking into the water by the boat, you could see hundreds of dead males floating by. Similar to salmon, they hatch and mate. Then the males die while the females live on. This river is full of food for fish. The trick, and it’s a demanding trick, is to pick out a ring where a fish is feeding and cast the tiny fly one foot above it with absolutely no drag from the line. You have to drop the fly right on the target, not a foot in front or behind. Why would the fish move when the food just keeps coming down the river. You have to drop the tiny fly so gently, it looks like it has a parachute on. The fish then has 100 options, one of which is your fly. If he takes it, you must wait for him to swallow it. He has his big mouth open and if you jerk the fly, it just comes out of his mouth before he has a chance to close. This is a whole, new level of fishing. There were so many fish feeding that we managed to catch some of them. Big, powerful, hard-fighting fish that and take 15 minutes to land. Even then it takes an expert lunge of the net by David to finally land the fish.

After a while, we went back to hoppers and kept catching fish. We agreed this was the best day of trout fishing we have ever had. It was a beautiful day on a beautiful river with a great guide and coach. It just doesn’t get any better than that.

Spotted Bear River

Monday, September 4, 2017

We realized somewhere driving in yesterday that we had not bought fishing licenses, and it was a long, rough drive back to town. Besides, the fly shop would be closed for Labor Day weekend. Well, we would just have to show them our lifetime fishing licenses from Virginia and the yearly license we bought in British Columbia. Then tell them we were just old farts who forgot to get a license when we went to the fly shop.

We drove south toward the Spotted Bear River stopping to take pictures at a beautiful overlook of the South Branch of the Flathead River. The big river was down considerably, as was the reservoir. They haven’t had rain measurable rain for 78 days. We saw a sign for a ranger station and wondered if they would sell a license. As we parked in front of the station, I checked for a wifi and found they had one. If they didn’t sell it, we could go online and get one.

We walked in and met Terry He was retired from the Forestry Service, but had come in to help while others were busy fighting four fires. I thought about Jane-Ashley’s warning about not getting trapped by a fire. We were certainly in an area where you could get trapped. There is only one way out. Well, you can go back on either side of the reservoir. The fires were on the other sides of the mountains. I was comforted knowing this busy ranger station was working hard to fight the fires. If this valley was in danger, they would clear us out.

Terry apologized for being slow, which he wasn’t. He had to answer the phone as he went online to fill out the licenses for us, along with a conservation fee and an ALS number. Then he pulled out a map and marked areas to fish Spotted Bear. We thought about how lucky we were to stumble upon this guy.

Kelly’s friend, JC Hanks, had gone in at mile 1, telling us it was a 45 minute hike in. We passed that one and went to the next at mile 7. The bumpy road stopped at a cliff overlooking the river. This was a perfect area to camp with a fire ring and a beautiful overlook of the river. There was a lightly-traveled trail going in both directions, but we didn’t know if either went to the river. After walking it a bit, we opted to try another easier spot. That made it the falls, behind a horse and mule staging area. There were some nice-looking, fit mules in there. Apparently trail rides were a popular thing here. It’s also hunting season, and I’m sure they use these animals to ride into remote areas. My GPS showed trails going everywhere for miles and miles long after the roads stop.

The falls were not really a waterfall as I had expected, but they were beautiful with clear, bluish water rushing over, around and through solid rock. One pool in the middle looked like a swimming pool. In another there were probably 200 trout, so we started fishing. These had to be stocked trout as I have never seen that many fish in a pool, but we could only entice the little ones to bite. We fished up and down from the falls with minor success. Surely this was one of the most fished areas on the river. You can keep two fish under 12”, but we didn’t find dinner.

Then we went back down and fished behind another campground, another area that is heavily fished. We had the similar results, but it is a gorgeous area where Spotted Bear meets the Flathead. Kelly kept two small fish that wouldn’t be enough to feed two.

Fernie to Hungry Horse Reservoir

September 3, 2017

We got off to a leisurely start. Taking the trash and garbage to the disposal area, we found a man sorting recycling into different bags. Kelly struck up a conversation with this lean gentleman, probably in his 60’s named Holmes. He is an retired engineer, who had to go back to work because his pension wasn’t doing well enough. He comes to sort recycling, takes it to a center and then gives the proceeds to a senior center charity.  Once I told him I was from Charlottesville, like everyone else we meet, he went on about how we were still fighting the civil war. I had to set him straight. He is from Newfoundland, and talked extensively about its politics and history. I told him that is where I would like to go next summer. We probably talked for an hour before we left. It would have great to talk more over cocktails as he is s very interesting guy with a great sense of humor.

Then we went by Elk River Guiding Company to buy some flies. They have a huge collection of beautiful flies. Leah helped us and told us to stop at Larry’s Fly Shop in Columbia Falls, which is owned by a girl named Hillary, and to tell her hi. We thanked her, headed out and picked up a Starbucks coffee for the road.

Smoke clouded the mountains as we drove south toward the border. The grasses were dry and brown. There were only two cars in front of us at the border, and the crossing was easy with a nice young man telling us where the fires were – all over, but we should be OK at Hungry Horse Reservoir.

In Columbia Falls, where there are no falls, we found Larry’s Fly Shop, went in and again bought a few flies. Disappointed Hillary wasn’t there, we talked to a nice fellow who gave us some good information. Spotted Bear River was really low, but the Flathead was fishing good. We thanked him and after crossing the dam, drove a rough road for 45 miles.

We found a beautiful campsite next to the reservoir. Once we got set up, we took a drink down to the lake as the sun sunk behind the mountains. The water was crystal clear as small fish broke the surface. To the south was a huge grassy plain. I searched for bears or elk, but didn’t see any. It’s a little spooky, but cool at the same time to be in a remote place all by yourself with bear warning signs all around. As the evening went on, a full moon lit the smokey sky.