Thursday, July 22, 2010


One day during the Sun Valley trip we headed through the mountains over to Stanley where many tributaries comprise the headwaters of the Salmon River which runs through Stanley before winding its way over 400 miles to the Snake River. The Snake River then drains into the Columbia River which drains into the ocean. We did not do any fishing while in the Salmon River drainage, however we did visit the fish hatchery there which was the highlight of the trip. There were a few holding areas with stocker rainbows waiting to be planted in the region. Then there were several holding areas where tiny chinook (king) salmon were being raised up to a certain size before they are put in the river to make their journey back to the ocean during spring runoff. Many of these tiny salmon were near the end of the holding pen where a small current comes in and they were trying to jump up and over a plastic barrier. There are some wild salmon that do return to the upper Salmon but they are few in numbers. In fact I think the number of wild returning sockeye was in the single digits last run. I believe there are still wild chinook that return but their numbers are most likely fairly low too, probably not as low as the sockeye though. It is an amazing phenomenon for fish to travel around a thousand miles upstream to spawn whether they be wild or not. After seeing the juvenile fish we drove over to the far side of the hatchery near the river to see the adult chinook in the holding pens. It was awesome to see the big salmon cruising back and forth and imagining them on the end of your line. I then went over to see a small latter system that had water spilling over at different levels. The fish were jumping up and trying to proceed further into the concrete system of the hatchery. I think they manually let the fish in each day or maybe just net them and throw them into the holding area. Regardless of how it is exactly done it was sure fun to see the fish leaping and smacking themselves against a rubber mat that was placed there to avoid injury. Some of them would pull an easy six foot vertical jump, very impressive. Then I went over to the river where there was a small spillover dam barely downstream of the ladders. If you kept your eyes glued there for about thirty seconds you would usually see a salmon rocket out of the water trying to make it up the spillover. One probably caught six feet of air and traveled a good 15 feet horizontally, it was amazing. I wish I had my camera on me to capture the fish in the air but I had dropped it off at the car after seeing the fish in the holding areas, oh well. Stanley was really a beautiful area and I hope to visit it again someday!

The Big Wood

My wife's family rented a house up in Sun Valley (Ketchum) Idaho for a week in mid July. The Big Wood River runs right through town and picks up water from many tributaries that are scattered across the valley. The first day of fishing was happening on a Monday and the glimpses of the river I had caught the previous two days got me pumped. The Big Wood is a true freestone stream with wild rainbows and the water was running gin clear.

Jim, David and I headed down to an access point a few miles south of Ketchum. We got down to the river and I was surprised how much water was still flowing. I guess Idaho had a cool spring and we were seeing the tail end of the run off. Regardless, the river was definitely fishable and we went for it. David struck first with a nice fat whitefish by nymphing a little pocket along the bank. We worked the water but the first section we were on did not have a lot of structure or bends to break up the flow so we decided to look for some more promising holes so we hopped in the car and headed further down river. The second spot had some good holes and I also got a nice fat whitefish. For a few minutes David had a nice little tail-out dailed in and had three or four takes in a row but they all popped off within a second or two. After this things shut down and the action came to a halt. We didn't see any sign of bugs coming off the water which surprised me. I headed up to a big back eddy and was able to pull one small fish out. I could see quite a few fish but could not figure out what they wanted. David had a few follows in the back eddy throwing a bugger but that was it. Jim worked his way upstream of us and after a bit we headed up too. There was no action after that and we found Jim upstream aways and he ended up getting skunked for the day. We all went back to the car talking about the tough fishing. It was a beautiful stream and a great day out but the catching left us wanting a bit more. The next evening we wanted to try a small tributary of the Big Wood called Warm Springs where the fish might be a little more willing. As soon as we left the car the mosquitoes were on us and we forgot the bug spray. We walked down stream and found some nice looking holes with no takers. Jim was working his dry at a nice little hole below us and got a nice (for the stream size) rainbow. I had a small nymph rig and switched over right away to a dry. From that point on it was lights out action. The beautiful little rainbows were sipping, slurping, and smacking our dries with reckless abandon. Every place that looked like it held fish did with a few special areas that held dozens of fish. It was the kind of night that you don't forget. We all caught somewhere around 20 fish. We did not document the trip but it is seared in our minds and we created a great memory. The next day David and I decided to hit the Big Wood again. After lunch we headed out and the river had a different feel to it. It seemed alive and bugs were coming off. We started off at a deep hole and ran a nymph rig through it several times with no luck. I tried a Green Drake and started getting hit after hit. I missed a nice fish more than once but landed a smaller rainbow out of the first hole. We then worked our way upstream and had success on Green Drake and PMD dries. These fish were some of the prettiest rainbows I have seen with some having a wide dark red band across their sides.

We missed a lot of fish at each hole or run we fished so the action was pretty hot. At a little side channel I got a nice rainbow to come up and swipe at my Green Drake dry on at least 4 drifts but I never could hook up. I eventually put the fish down but it was fun while it lasted. We then worked our way back downstream and came to some nice pockets and back eddies at a particular turn in the river. David saw a group of three rainbows suspended just above a tree in the water and drifted his fly over them. They looked but none took the fly. Then he skittered his fly upstream and as it was skittering over the fish the second largest trout of the group breached the surface and grabbed it right out of the air! It was a beautiful rainbow. I then switched to a nymph rig and ran a stonefly/green drake nymph (that I had previously snagged and brought up from the river bottom on the first day fishing) in one of the back eddies and my indicator shot under after a few drifts. I had my drag a little too loose and got caught a little off guard and the fish started stripping out line and ran me toward a nightmare of a snag. I thought the fish was gone but I put some pressure on him and by some miracle I got him into the back eddy and he came right back towards me exhausted from the runs he made.

This trip definitely gave us redemption from such a tough day of fishing a few days prior. The river seemed much more alive and willing to give up a few of its gems this day. We saw Green Drakes, stoneflies, and PMDs hatching during the afternoon but a big Green Drake dry was definitely the hot fly of the day.

Tube Jiggin'

I don't pick up a spinning rod all too often anymore aside from ice fishing. Due to the slow nature of our first trip up to Strawberry I thought a spinning rod might be key in picking up a few more fish. I thought that throwing some big weighted tube jigs tipped with red side shiners in 30 feet of water might be a little more productive than fishing shallower with our fly rods. Since neither David or I had a type V sinking line to dredge the depths it seemed like a logical option. We got back up to Strawberry a few days after our first trip up and the wind was whipping a little bit. We kicked out against the wind and chop and started vertical jigging just off the bottom. It was slow at first then David picked up a nice cutthroat.

Then from there on we started to get quite a bit of action with several missed fish. The chop died off and it turned into a beautiful evening. Between the two us we probably landed a half dozen fish with several long line releases and hits.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

High Country Happenings

I was back "home" in Utah for a few weeks and my brother-in-law David and I had stillwater on our minds. The first trip out was up to Strawberry Reservoir. Due to the transitional nature of the reservoir at the time we thought the fish would be a bit shallower (and we would have less wind) if we waited until early evening. So we decided to fish the tail water until evening started to approach. It is a beautiful little stream with crystal clear water but the fishing was very difficult.

We finally saw some nice browns holding in a slower stretch but our attempts were fruitless and we spooked them after a few casts. Then a big thunderstorm hit and we took shelter from the rain under a tree. I know when there is lightning you should not hide under a tree but we were deep down in a canyon and the bolts were not striking very close to us. There were thousands of other pines too so it was a calculated risk. We just didn't want to get soaked then freeze in the evening out on the reservoir since we didn't have rain gear with us. It started even hailing for a little bit and then things let up. A hatch started where we saw the browns holding earlier and they started rising but it was so sort lived that by the time I got a dry fly on they had stopped. It was just a mini hatch maybe brought on by the change in temperature or pressure of the thunderstorm, who knows? We decided to head down to a different stretch of the tail water further downstream where its nature changes a bit to try our luck there. I guess the big thunderstorm that just clipped us picked up some steam because we ran into a small flash flood while attempting to access the lower section of the river. Some fairly hefty (and jagged) rocks were washed across the road that would have probably been problematic for our sedan's tires so we were forced to turn around.

We got back up to the reservoir in the early evening and launched our float tubes and kicked over to a promising shoreline. We had on a John Barr fly on called the "Meat Whistle" which imitates a crayfish and thought it would be good since Strawberry is full of them. We tried casting along the shoreline and trolling but it was proving to be a tough day. After an hour or so David was in the process of trolling when a fish smacked his fly, the kind of hit that startles you when you are not expecting it. He got the fish in close but it got unbuttoned just as he was trying to get a better look at it. Things went dead again after that but I re-tied the meat whistle on since it had produced a violent strike. After pounding the shoreline my arm was getting tired so I decided to troll for a bit. As I was lazily trolling I experienced a similar startling strike as something attacked my fly with fury. Strawberry cutthroat are not known for being the hardest fighting fish but when you have a fish that starts stripping a little line you know its a good one. The fish immediately started stripping line like crazy and started going very deep. I was in freak out mode and kept telling David "this is a big fish, this is a BIG fish!" I was worried the beast was going to find some underwater vegetation, get wrapped up in it and break me off. When I said big I thought somewhere at least in the high 20's in inches, a true trophy trout. I did have the thought that maybe it was a large rainbow instead of a massive cutthroat.

As I continued to fight the fish something did not feel quite right, I could not turn the fish or lift him toward the surface. I also could not feel head shakes. I started to think that the fish was foul hooked. I still kept my hope alive and once he surfaced aways out David confirmed it was a nice fish, exactly how large he didn't know. I finally was able to bring him up next to me and lo and behold it was a nice cutt that was foul hooked around the top of his neck (if a trout has a neck). No thirty inch behemoth but it was over 20 inches. I was slightly disappointed at first because just minutes before I thought I may have had a fish of a lifetime on my line, but any disappointment soon left me and I was satisfied with the gorgeous fat cutthroat.

Most places a trout that exceeds 20 inches is a trophy and I thought of how awesome it is to fish a place where catching trout in the 20 inch range is a common occurrence. It also amazed me how much power the fish had when hooked where it was. It was like walking a bulldog on a leash. During the fight David was trying to get a pic and had his rod laying across his tube with the fly on the hook keeper. He leaned on his rod a little and the large hook on the meat whistle was right over the float tube bladder and you can guess the rest of the story. As I was fighting the fish David was losing air in his tube. Luckily after the fish was released he got to shore in time. He tried fishing from the bank but it proved to be difficult. We soon called it a day and David started hiking to the car while I opted to troll across the bay back to the car. After a few minutes my legs were so tired I just kicked to the closest shoreline and took his route back to the car as well. It was not an easy day for catching fish but it was great to be out and see such beautiful country and it left us invigorated and ready for another return trip.