I’ve been wanting to float and fish the upper Selway for a few years, but couldn’t ever score a permit. So this year, for our annual summer trip, Ron and I decided to do it post-season, launching on August 1. We flew into the Moose Creek airstrip July 29, with Dave Pettet at Orofino Aviation. This allowed us to avoid the bony late season water in the upper section, but we still had 25 miles of great wilderness floating and fishing. Nearby wildfires made it touch-and-go up to the last minute, but it turned out to be a memorable trip. It was really hot, and the fishing was best early morning and late evening. We learned this right away. After Dave dropped us and our gear off, we strung up the rods and went down to Moose Creek to check the fish. At the ridiculously late hour of 9 am. We knew it was late when we started passing people on the way back from fishing, who told stories of numerous fish (mostly 5-10 inch) that would hit just about anything. “Just tie any old fly on.” Yeah, right. After two hours of zero, we hung our heads and slogged back up to the airstrip campsites for a much-needed cold beverage. The campsites on the airstrip are nice. Old wooden picnic tables, plenty of shade and flat space, and campfire rings (that we couldn’t use because of the phase I fire restrictions). But they are about ½ mile from the river, and the airstrip is really busy with airplane traffic. So we humped 9 loads of gear down to the Moose Creek/Selway confluence, set up our boats, and ferried our gear to a nice little sandy beach just downstream. That became our M.O. for the rest of the trip. We avoided the larger, established high-water camps the whitewater buckaroos use in the Spring, opting instead for leave-no-trace stealth camping on little low-water beaches and nooks. We spent three days at Moose Creek, until we could launch. From there, we fished upstream (not so good) and downstream (much better). The deep green flatwater pools were a bust. We could see fish in them in the afternoon, but they were lockjawed and lethargic. The rougher pocket water in the rapids, and the tail of pools right before they drop into rapids, was the best ground. Even though there were a lot of grasshoppers, the surface game was pretty slow. Instead, we were tossing nymphs and streamers. My favorite set-up was a #6 black rubber-legged wooly bugger with a #14 beadhead hares ear or prince nymph. We caught mostly small scrappers on the dropper, but occasionally a 12-14 inch westslope cutt would hit the bugger. It wasn’t the best catching, but it was some of the finest fishing I’ve ever done. It wasn’t all fun and games, though. In retrospect, maybe we bit off a little more than we could chew. I had been researching the Selway since last winter, and had a river map that showed all the rapids. I’d seen video clips on YouTube of huge boat-eating water, with big drops and foamy hydraulics. But that was in the spring runoff, I figured, and in low water the rapids wouldn’t be so bad. Heck, if we had to, we could just jump out of the boat and wade/guide it through the rock gardens. Wrong. Me and Ron have done a few Class II-III- rivers, and weren’t prepared for Moose Juice. That’s the name of the roughly three-mile section of river below Moose Creek. Ten distinct rapids Class II-IV+. We had scouted all the rapids from the trail during a layover day at Moose Creek, fished through them, and had our lines pretty well scouted. Some of the rapids were narrow fast chutes with plunge pools below them, but most were technical little rock garden dances. Ladle is considered to be the hardest of them all. I was feeling pretty good, even a little cocky after we had gotten through Divide Creek rapid, Double Drop and Wa-Poots. It was my hubris that almost killed me. Near the bottom of Ladle, I got tossed from my boat when I didn’t hit a narrow chute head-on straight. My left pontoon got hung, and as the boat violently swung, the trailing pontoon sucked under, and I got thrown upstream of the broached boat. I came up between the pontoons, grabbed the footrests, and hung on for dear life as the raging current flowing between the rocks the boat was stuck on tried to rip me away. Ron told me later that I was only under for about ten seconds, but it seemed like forever to me. He also told me it was sheer terror for him, too, because he was too far away to effect any kind of rescue immediately. He thought I was dead when I disappeared beneath the stuck boat. Somehow, I managed to hang onto the boat, and pushing up with all my strength, against a boulder at my back, maneuver it so the current pulled it into the plunge drop below the V-entrance, dragging me along with it. After I got the boat out of the current, and signaled to Ron I was okay, I noticed one oar was gone. It was twenty yards downstream, and getting it back was another ordeal (even though I was carrying an extra). I shook for ½ hour after getting out of that, dumping off the adrenaline sweat. I skipped the next rapid, because it was an easy portage. Ron ran it easy, and I jumped back on the horse for the rest of the ride. Almost got dumped in Osprey rapids, too, but (barely) managed to hang on. Needless to say, it was a crash course (literally) in running hard rapids. Like I said, maybe more than we could chew, but it was certainly an adventure (if not a little bit foolish….) By the time we hit Pinchot creek, 9-10 miles from the trailhead, we started seeing a few more backpackers, but mostly it was solitude for the whole trip (except near the airstrip). We saw deer and elk, osprey, geese, ducks, bear tracks and wolf tracks (in the picture next to my reel). We saw 4 rattlesnakes, and we were fully prepared (even excited) to kill and grill a buzzworm (we both had .357s with snakeshot loads), but we never saw one in the evening near camp. We made that rule early in the trip, and figured if we were meant to kill and eat a snake, we would get the opportunity, but we didn’t. Didn’t eat any fish either, because it’s all C & R. That prevented much fish porn, too, because with the warm temps, we played ‘em and released ‘em quick. Oh, well. For the first three days at Moose Creek, we ate and drank heavy food and liquids. T-bone steaks, pork chops, fresh fruit and veggies, pinot grigio, magaritas and beer. By the time we launched, the ice in the cooler was gone, and we went mostly freeze-dried, to keep the weight down, but we saved a whole fresh pineapple for the last night. Man, that thing was insanely delicious!! We pitched a tarp at every site (unless there was good shade), and slept under the stars nearly every night, because the bugs weren’t bad at all, even though we had a tent. On the last day, about a mile after we launched, I spotted a fly rod/reel in the river, about 12 feet down, hung up on the bottom (the visibility of the river was about thirty feet….). We stopped, and after a few tries diving for it, came up with a GL3 8.5 foot 4 weight and a Ross Gunnison #2 reel. Crazy! It’s a beautiful area. Even the road-accessible (a loooong dirt road) lower Selway is awesome, with good camping. But the best fishing is definitely on the more-wild and less-pressured upper river. It would make a great backpack trip in the fall. Hmmm. That’s a great idea!