Trip Report Idaho Backpacking

My wife and I took the week after fourth of July off and used the time to drive over to Idaho to get away from everything. We car camped at the Potholes reservoir on the way out to break up the drive, then proceeded to head into the woods on the Idaho panhandle. This was our first time exploring Idaho's backcountry, and I have to give a big thanks to those on this forum that gave us some pointers beforehand to help us narrow down our search parameters.

This report covers a 4 day and 3 night backpacking trip. This was a fairly loosely organized trip, we knew how many days we had and how many we wanted to spend out, then adjusted as we went.

Distance: 40 miles
Total elevation gain: 6000 ft
Environment: River valley, high alpine lakes
Notable species: Cutthroat Trout, Mule Deer, Black Bear, Goldfinch, Grouse, Garter snakes, lots of scat and tracks that we documented along the way to later identify

Day 1:

Promising views of the river as we drove in:

IMG_2442.JPEG


The first day was mostly about getting in to the woods and covering some miles. The only camp we knew we were going to hit for sure was an alpine lake 20 miles in from the trail head and we wanted to camp about 10 miles in on the first day. So we passed a lot of river that we would normally stop to fish, making note for our return trip out:


IMG_2443.JPEG

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We found a lovely campsite and setup up fairly early in the day:


IMG_2462.JPEG


With the early camp, we had plenty of time to explore! Fishing rod out we did some backtracking, forward scouting, bushwacking, and kept a fairly picky mindset until we found the right conditions to get some flies in the water. Fish were rising and although we couldn't get THE fly, we found some that did the trick when on the right lane at the right time:


IMG_2478.JPG

IMG_2498.JPEG

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Gorgeous cutthroat that ran the gamut of subtly sipping, crashing the dry in fast water, and jumping clear out of the water like a surfacing buoy. It was fairly hard to predict the size of the trout from the tug, they all fought so well. In line with the varied approach to eating our flies, each fish was unique in its looks. Some had small spots across their bodies; others were virtually spotless on the front half with big, bulbous tail spots in back. Some had vibrant jaw slashes on pale shaded bodies, others were dark, scarred, and had fiery red sunsets permanently tattooed on their bellies.

The longer we fished, the more the fish caught on to our act. We had to increase the pace of changing flies to keep them interested, and eventually we put the rod down and sat by the river enjoying my favorite part about backpack fishing: no pressure, no time limits, and a real ability for me to put aside my stress and just sit by the river without feeling a need to be actively doing anything at all. After some snacks and knowing smiles, we headed back to camp for another rare treat: a fire while backpacking! Most of the time we are at elevations and in areas that do not allow fires while we backpack, so the simple fact that we got to have a fire each night of this trip was a luxury.


IMG_2511.JPEG


Water was fast, shallow, and ripply at our camp. I couldn't see enough in our section to leave the comfort of the fire in the evening, but this type of water covered much of the river so it is something I may have to test out in the future.


IMG_2517.JPEG

Thunder and lighting lasted through the first evening and brought some fresh rain that we would have to deal with on day 2.

Day 2

After some continued river acclamation in the morning (much less successful than the afternoon fishing the previous day), the second day had us fording the river and ascending to the local mountain peaks. As soon as we crossed the river it was apparent that we were on a path rarely traveled. Downed trees were constant obstacles and we lost the correct trail once and had to backtrack half a mile. As we pushed through a large chunk of our total elevation, we were wading through huckleberry bushes that were fighting to overtake the trail. These bushes were covered in last night's rain and thoroughly soaked our pants and boots. Eventually I was squishing water out of my boots with each step.

At this point we were traversing a semi exposed ridge, and the wetness and wind seriously took my heat away. We paused to switch out socks and to get warmed back up in some cover before continuing along the ridge:

IMG_2541.JPEG

IMG_2548.JPEG


After a bit of a slog, we had our first alpine lake sighting!


IMG_2550.JPEG


A change of scenery gave us some fresh legs, and we pushed another three miles to the lake that we would be sleeping at. This one required a bit of a drop to get to, all elevation that we knew we had to gain back in the morning. But with the general theme of the week, this campsite was made for luxury and was well worth the trip:


IMG_2569.JPEG

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After setting up and getting a fire going to start the gear drying process, I could no longer ignore the plentiful rises dotting the shoreline of the lake and strung up to cast in:


IMG_2604.JPEG

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Not much love on the dry flies I started with, so I switched over to a wet fly. That did the ticket. Fish per cast for the next 30 minutes, and these were some stunning alpine lake cutthroat:


IMG_2581.JPEG


The lake was crystal clear and you could see them as they ventured near. I spotted one particularly large fish and cast in front of her. She went right to the fly and took it fairly gingerly. Once hooked, she was one of the fish that acted like she knew the drill and let me bring her right in to the net. Turns out, I believe she was pregnant. Would appreciate any differing insight if something else was going on though:


IMG_2583.JPEG

IMG_2584.JPEG

IMG_2585.JPEG


Unbelievable coloring on her. Fishing this lake was one of the most off and on experiences I have ever had at an alpine lake. For a period, it was a fish every cast. Then we would go through an hour where the fish wouldn't take anything. Eventually, we returned to shore and tended to our drying gear and ate plenty of dinner.

As we sat around the fire at night, we continued to hear rises. Amy put on her headlight and checked out the water, and was surprised to find numerous sets of glowing eyes looking back at her in the water. The fish were schooled and cruising the shorelines for food. Well, you know what that means, night fishing:


IMG_2611.JPEG

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Day 3

The sun came out this morning for a brief time period to help warm us in the morning, than kindly eased up through our toughest hiking day of the trip.

IMG_2633.JPEG


After breakfast we had to ascend back up the ridge with some additional climbing to our highest point of the trip (6900 ft). We then dropped down in to an incredibly untraveled portion of the valley where we would slog for 8 miles over grown in trails with at least 50 downed trees to stumble over. This portion got to us. Along the way we were elated, interested, hopeless, bargained, pleaded, and eventually planned our following day where we promised ourselves we would be focused on fishing. Ultimately it was quite the day that included tantalizing river views to keep our hope up and ended at yet another glorious backcountry campsite:


IMG_2648.JPEG

IMG_2670.JPEG

IMG_2683.JPEG


I caught one very small trout in the rapids by our camp to keep the streak of catching fish each day alive. We had a fire and promptly fell asleep after dinner. The next day we had a plan. If possible, we would hike back to our car (11 miles away with no detours), BUT, day four was about fishing. We would gladly spend another night in the backcountry if that is what the fishing dictated. My favorite type of day: lots of potential and no rules about how we wanted to use it.

Day 4

I was up early and quickly got the camp put away and the rod put together. We would be hiking with rod in hand this day. For anyone who fishes with a significant other, or maybe a friend who isn't quite in to it as you, you will understand the risk Amy was undertaking by agreeing to the parameters of the day: we can stop anytime we want to fish, and if the fishing is good we won't step away.... how could we ever make any progress?! Well, there is a reason we are married, and with all that risk and trust this day became a crowd favorite. I was good, and we ultimately ended up pulling off a very impressive and healthy balance (if I do say so myself):

  • 13 miles hiked
  • 5 dedicated fishing hours
  • Made it out to our car by 8:30 PM

I was picky, and we only stopped at irresistible sections, places where we saw rising fish, and places where I could claim I knew there was fish; so kind of everywhere:

IMG_2697.JPEG

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Sometimes we stopped and took packs off and settled in, other times I kept the pack on and hit at as we went:


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IMG_2783.JPEG

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At 1800 hrs. we finally called it quits on the best section and fishing of the trip, and pushed the last 5-6 miles out to the car. Our feet were killing us, but by doing the push all in one day we were able to car camp that night, and get home with the weekend cushion before work to unpack and reflect on our trip. We will certainly be going back.

-Tristan
 
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Swimmy

Well-Known Member
Backpacking the best. Well done
MsmNiWk4_o.gif
 

Upton O

Blind hog fisherman
Brought back fond memories of 50+ years ago. Most excellent report, perhaps the best I’ve seen. Well done.
 

Old Man

A very Old Man
Good report. I can't believe you were fishing barefooted in snow fed river. The water must of been quite cold.
 
My wife and I took the week after fourth of July off and used the time to drive over to Idaho to get away from everything. We car camped at the Potholes reservoir on the way out to break up the drive, then proceeded to head into the woods on the Idaho panhandle. This was our first time exploring Idaho's backcountry, and I have to give a big thanks to those on this forum that gave us some pointers beforehand to help us narrow down our search parameters.

This report covers a 4 day and 3 night backpacking trip. This was a fairly loosely organized trip, we knew how many days we had and how many we wanted to spend out, then adjusted as we went.

Distance: 40 miles
Total elevation gain: 6000 ft
Environment: River valley, high alpine lakes
Notable species: Cutthroat Trout, Mule Deer, Black Bear, Goldfinch, Grouse, Garter snakes, lots of scat and tracks that we documented along the way to later identify

Day 1:

Promising views of the river as we drove in:

View attachment 246687


The first day was mostly about getting in to the woods and covering some miles. The only camp we knew we were going to hit for sure was an alpine lake 20 miles in from the trail head and we wanted to camp about 10 miles in on the first day. So we passed a lot of river that we would normally stop to fish, making note for our return trip out:


View attachment 246684

View attachment 246685


View attachment 246686


We found a lovely campsite and setup up fairly early in the day:


View attachment 246688


With the early camp, we had plenty of time to explore! Fishing rod out we did some backtracking, forward scouting, bushwacking, and kept a fairly picky mindset until we found the right conditions to get some flies in the water. Fish were rising and although we couldn't get THE fly, we found some that did the trick when on the right lane at the right time:


View attachment 246689

View attachment 246690

View attachment 246691

View attachment 246692


Gorgeous cutthroat that ran the gamut of subtly sipping, crashing the dry in fast water, and jumping clear out of the water like a surfacing buoy. It was fairly hard to predict the size of the trout from the tug, they all fought so well. In line with the varied approach to eating our flies, each fish was unique in its looks. Some had small spots across their bodies; others were virtually spotless on the front half with big, bulbous tail spots in back. Some had vibrant jaw slashes on pale shaded bodies, others were dark, scarred, and had fiery red sunsets permanently tattooed on their bellies.

The longer we fished, the more the fish caught on to our act. We had to increase the pace of changing flies to keep them interested, and eventually we put the rod down and sat by the river enjoying my favorite part about backpack fishing: no pressure, no time limits, and a real ability for me to put aside my stress and just sit by the river without feeling a need to be actively doing anything at all. After some snacks and knowing smiles, we headed back to camp for another rare treat: a fire while backpacking! Most of the time we are at elevations and in areas that do not allow fires while we backpack, so the simple fact that we got to have a fire each night of this trip was a luxury.


View attachment 246696


Water was fast, shallow, and ripply at our camp. I couldn't see enough in our section to leave the comfort of the fire in the evening, but this type of water covered much of the river so it is something I may have to test out in the future.


View attachment 246697

Thunder and lighting lasted through the first evening and brought some fresh rain that we would have to deal with on day 2.

Day 2

After some continued river acclamation in the morning (much less successful than the afternoon fishing the previous day), the second day had us fording the river and ascending to the local mountain peaks. As soon as we crossed the river it was apparent that we were on a path rarely traveled. Downed trees were constant obstacles and we lost the correct trail once and had to backtrack half a mile. As we pushed through a large chunk of our total elevation, we were wading through huckleberry bushes that were fighting to overtake the trail. These bushes were covered in last night's rain and thoroughly soaked our pants and boots. Eventually I was squishing water out of my boots with each step.

At this point we were traversing a semi exposed ridge, and the wetness and wind seriously took my heat away. We paused to switch out socks and to get warmed back up in some cover before continuing along the ridge:

View attachment 246698

View attachment 246699


After a bit of a slog, we had our first alpine lake sighting!


View attachment 246700


A change of scenery gave us some fresh legs, and we pushed another three miles to the lake that we would be sleeping at. This one required a bit of a drop to get to, all elevation that we knew we had to gain back in the morning. But with the general theme of the week, this campsite was made for luxury and was well worth the trip:


View attachment 246701

View attachment 246735


After setting up and getting a fire going to start the gear drying process, I could no longer ignore the plentiful rises dotting the shoreline of the lake and strung up to cast in:


View attachment 246704

View attachment 246708


Not much love on the dry flies I started with, so I switched over to a wet fly. That did the ticket. Fish per cast for the next 30 minutes, and these were some stunning alpine lake cutthroat:


View attachment 246703


The lake was crystal clear and you could see them as they ventured near. I spotted one particularly large fish and cast in front of her. She went right to the fly and took it fairly gingerly. Once hooked, she was one of the fish that acted like she knew the drill and let me bring her right in to the net. Turns out, I believe she was pregnant. Would appreciate any differing insight if something else was going on though:


View attachment 246705

View attachment 246706

View attachment 246707


Unbelievable coloring on her. Fishing this lake was one of the most off and on experiences I have ever had at an alpine lake. For a period, it was a fish every cast. Then we would go through an hour where the fish wouldn't take anything. Eventually, we returned to shore and tended to our drying gear and ate plenty of dinner.

As we sat around the fire at night, we continued to hear rises. Amy put on her headlight and checked out the water, and was surprised to find numerous sets of glowing eyes looking back at her in the water. The fish were schooled and cruising the shorelines for food. Well, you know what that means, night fishing:


View attachment 246709

View attachment 246710


Day 3

The sun came out this morning for a brief time period to help warm us in the morning, than kindly eased up through our toughest hiking day of the trip.

View attachment 246714


After breakfast we had to ascend back up the ridge with some additional climbing to our highest point of the trip (6900 ft). We then dropped down in to an incredibly untraveled portion of the valley where we would slog for 8 miles over grown in trails with at least 50 downed trees to stumble over. This portion got to us. Along the way we were elated, interested, hopeless, bargained, pleaded, and eventually planned our following day where we promised ourselves we would be focused on fishing. Ultimately it was quite the day that included tantalizing river views to keep our hope up and ended at yet another glorious backcountry campsite:


View attachment 246716

View attachment 246717

View attachment 246718


I caught one very small trout in the rapids by our camp to keep the streak of catching fish each day alive. We had a fire and promptly fell asleep after dinner. The next day we had a plan. If possible, we would hike back to our car (11 miles away with no detours), BUT, day four was about fishing. We would gladly spend another night in the backcountry if that is what the fishing dictated. My favorite type of day: lots of potential and no rules about how we wanted to use it.

Day 4

I was up early and quickly got the camp put away and the rod put together. We would be hiking with rod in hand this day. For anyone who fishes with a significant other, or maybe a friend who isn't quite in to it as you, you will understand the risk Amy was undertaking by agreeing to the parameters of the day: we can stop anytime we want to fish, and if the fishing is good we won't step away.... how could we ever make any progress?! Well, there is a reason we are married, and with all that risk and trust this day became a crowd favorite. I was good, and we ultimately ended up pulling off a very impressive and healthy balance (if I do say so myself):

  • 13 miles hiked
  • 5 dedicated fishing hours
  • Made it out to our car by 8:30 PM

I was picky, and we only stopped at irresistible sections, places where we saw rising fish, and places where I could claim I knew there was fish; so kind of everywhere:

View attachment 246721

View attachment 246722

View attachment 246723

View attachment 246724

View attachment 246725

View attachment 246726

View attachment 246727


Sometimes we stopped and took packs off and settled in, other times I kept the pack on and hit at as we went:


View attachment 246728

View attachment 246729

View attachment 246730


View attachment 246731

View attachment 246732

At 1800 hrs. we finally called it quits on the best section and fishing of the trip, and pushed the last 5-6 miles out to the car. Our feet were killing us, but by doing the push all in one day we were able to car camp that night, and get home with the weekend cushion before work to unpack and reflect on our trip. We will certainly be going back.

-Tristan
Sweet report. Has me strongly considering squeezing something similar in early September. Thanks for sharing!
 

Tristan Mikoleit

WFF Supporter
Glad that you guys enjoyed it. We are already itching to get back out there.

@Todd C the fly of the trip was a low riding caddis that I often avoid due to it being semi high maintenance to keep afloat, but every time I pull it out I wish I used it more often:

20200725_165822.jpg

20200725_165851.jpg

Green goose biot body
Flank feathers over black cdc for wing
Yellow cdc wrapped around the thorax/head
 
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