Trip Report Small stream fishing in Idaho

cabezon

Sculpin Enterprises
The plan was for all three of us to hike up for a mile or so along a trail that parallels a tributary to the “Garnet Sand River”. My friend Mike and I would scramble from the trail to the creek. We would fish upstream. Mike’s son Nick would hike up an additional 20-30 minutes, scramble into the creek, and fish downstream. When we met, we would hike out.

We stopped our hike when Mike and I found a spot where we could access the creek without plowing through too much riparian willow. We were hot from the hike and Mike cooled off in the creek.

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We could see a pool or two upstream.

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Mike was fishing an ant pattern with a white parachute post. I was fishing a generic tan parachute mayfly pattern with an elk hair post; I was running low in elk hair caddis flies and this looked similar enough. The nature of fishing this creek is that there is a lot of fast riffle water that either doesn’t hold fish or just a true dink or too. Occasionally there is a deep enough slot to hold a 6-8” fish in a stretch of riffle. But it is the pools that are our real focus. They are the potential haunts of the unusually large cutt, the fish that can make (or break) your day.

I had an encounter with one such fish. We had been fishing for a half hour, just long enough for me to acquire my first souvenir of the day, a long scratch down my right shin where a horizontal branch from a submerged tree trunk sliced a cut down my leg that oozed blood for the next 20 minutes or so.

We had fished a series of pools, two sequential 2-3 foot deep pools in the center of the creek leading to a third thigh-deep pool at the base of a small cataract. This upper pool was on my side, the right side of the creek, of the stream. While the tail-out of this pool was clear, overhanging willow branches blocked any casts into the upper section. We picked up one or two small fish from this series and then climbed over the cataract. In the pool above, there was one deep slot on the right side. Mike pressed on along the left side of the stream toward promising water ahead.

I climbed over the large bedrock that formed the upper edge of the willow pool and began to cast into the pool above. White water plunged into the top of this upper pool. A mid-stream boulder broke the current and created a relatively deep slot to the tailout. My first casts were into the calm waters of the tailout. Not unexpectedly, a six inch cutt rose to my fly. I set the hook and handlined it toward me to keep it from spooking the pool.

I made a few false casts to dry off the fly and began to extend my casts toward the white water at the head of the pool. I had several good drifts without any takers when it happened. From the deep water just downstream of the whitewater, a big nose poked up and grabbed my fly. I set the hook. The fish turned sideways in the calm water near the tailout and I could see that this was a very nice fish. I quickly got it on the reel. The initial fight was in this upper pool. But before long, it bolted downstream past me, over the deepest tongue of water flowing over the cataract and into the willow pool.

I saw this as good news and bad news. The flow was calm enough in the pool that I could net the fish more easily than in the fast water at the upstream side of the cataract. I just had to figure out a path to clamber down the cataract into the pool. The bad news was two-fold. First there were several sticks extending into the pool along the bank. I had to keep the fish out of these obstructions. Second, the overhanging willows limbs were likely to tangle my rod and interfere with the netting process.

Of course, once the fish dashed into the willow pool, it’s first move was to try to bury itself into the sticks along the bank. I put as much tension on as I could as the fish made several dashes toward the sticks. I had it stopped for the moment, but I was still perched above the cataract and not in any position to net this fish two feet or more below me.

Thwarted from reaching the sticks, the cutt bolted downstream into the next pool and then into the larger pool below. It was now 40 feet below me. But it was now in an open pool with some depth, calmer floes, and no obstructions. There was no way that I could horse this fish upstream with a 3 wt. rod and a 5x tippet. I would have to go after it. Mike was upstream and not in a position to help.

Keeping tension on the fish, I scrambled down the cataract into the more open, midstream section of the willow pool. From here, the wading was much easier and as I waded down the center of the stream, I kept the tension on the fish to keep it in this pool and not have it rocket farther downstream. Once I reached the head of the pool, I put enough tension on the fish to draw it up to me and lift its head out of the water. As it thrashed at the surface, I could see that my initial impression that this was a quality fish were confirmed. After a bit more surface thrashing, I slipped it into the net. Yahoo. It filled the net..... The fish was at least 14” long and hefty. It was clearly the pool boss for this series of pools but it was now in my net, albeit temporarily.

Mike had hiked down to witness this last phase of the battle. He took a few pictures of the fish with his iPhone camera and I passed him the LUMIX camera for a few more. The fly was stuck firmly in the roof of the fish’s mouth, but it came out easily enough once the tension was off the leader. Mike captured one picture of me holding the fish before it writhed out of my hands to drop into the pool. In no need on additional revival, it darted off downstream to complete its recovery in solitude. Such a nice fish from such a small creek.


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Well, I had my fish of the day. Anything else was gravy. So, I generally tried to give Mike first shot at the pools that we encountered for the rest of the afternoon. We managed to pick up more fish, but nothing much over 8”, even from the bigger pools.

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He picked up a few good fish for his efforts.

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I didn’t put my rod away by any stretch of the imagination. And I was rewarded by a few more nicely-marked fish.

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The scattered puffy clouds against a clear blue sky gradually changed to darker, more ominous cloud cover through the afternoon. It looked like we might have the precursors to an afternoon thunderstorm. In fact, if there were thunderstorms in the area, they missed us by a wide margin. The flat light under cloud cover made it harder to see our footing as we waded upstream and harder to see the drift of the fly in the complex flows of the creek.

A few hours after we started, we encountered Nick working his way downstream. He had caught a few fish this afternoon, nothing extraordinary.

We backtracked a few hundred feet downstream to a spot where the stream brushed up against the scree slope. It was a short, easy scramble to reach the trail. The hike back wasn’t hard, just tricky. I managed to pick up another souvenir when I ran my left lower thigh into a limb stump coming off a downed tree over the trail. Fun little creek to fish.

Steve
 

bozo

Active Member
Shoulda tossed a beer fly to that big fish wallowing in the shallows in that first photo. Aren't you glad Walter and I walked up there one day.
 

cabezon

Sculpin Enterprises
Shoulda tossed a beer fly to that big fish wallowing in the shallows in that first photo. Aren't you glad Walter and I walked up there one day.
I hear that that big fish is partial to IPAs... And yes, spending an afternoon up there is one of the "can't miss" days of fishing that I look forward to when visiting the bigger river.
Steve
 

bozo

Active Member
I think he prefers the emerging IPAs as he's become inured to the standard fare (though I've yet to see a refusal rise to any well-presented IPA). Hot here and fishing has slowed down a bit. I've been working so haven't been out for a few days but have seen a few spruce moths and hoppers here at the house. Hope to get out tomorrow in the evening and then next week when the Walters get here.
 

cabezon

Sculpin Enterprises
I think he prefers the emerging IPAs as he's become inured to the standard fare (though I've yet to see a refusal rise to any well-presented IPA). Hot here and fishing has slowed down a bit. I've been working so haven't been out for a few days but have seen a few spruce moths and hoppers here at the house. Hope to get out tomorrow in the evening and then next week when the Walters get here.
Give our warmest regards to the Walters. I'm off tomorrow for Boston. My brother and I hope to tangle with some stripers off Marblehead on Monday.
I have finished my daily reports for your little bit of water, but I don't know if I will have a condensed version for WFF before I leave.
Thank you for everything,
Steve
 

Matt B

...
When you called it an "encounter" I just knew you were gonna lose that fish. But I was wrong. You had a successful "casual encounter." :p
 

DukeCB

Active Member
Awesome report cabezon. I fished the St. Joe the last 3 years and a bit on the Lochsa and Selway. Super fun. I really want to do an Idaho trip with the intention of only hitting backcountry smaller streams for about a week. Your trip report really nailed what I have been daydreaming about for a long time, fishing in the backcountry of Idaho. A couple of years ago I unexpectedly caught a 16" Cutty in very skinny water in WA that gives up tons of dinks and few over 10". It didn't give the big fight yours did but was still a memorable time for me. Now I know it is possible again and I want to do it in Idaho this season.

Thanks again cabezon for this timely report. I've been spending too much time researching bigger rivers to go to (solo) and can't seem to make up my mind. This report did it. Now I'll just head to the central Id. panhandle backcountry and see what happens. For me, it's more about just being there and the river walking. If anybody wants to pm me ideas I wouldn't mind. ;)...even though I love to study maps and follow the little blue lines.
 

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