Thursday, May 16, 2019
North Idaho Anniversary Adventure
Seven years ago, my wife and I made a trip to northern Idaho to fish for northern pike. Our timing was late, and although we caught a few northerns, we were determined to return another year when the fishing was prime. This year, for our anniversary, Katie suggested we make a trip North again to catch the hot northern pike bite. Married well, I did!
From my research, early to mid-May was supposed to be the best time. We planned our trip for the first week of May, hoping to catch the big pike in the shallows just after they spawn. The weather forecast took a turn for the worse a few days before we left; daytime highs in the 50's and nighttime lows at freezing! Not ideal, however some plans are not flexible to change, so we were going regardless!
With the boat loaded and all of our stuff crammed in my truck, there was little room for anything else, except one last item: my shotgun.
"Honey, how upset would you be if I happen to stumble upon some turkeys and maybe, just maybe went after them for like, 20 minutes?" I asked delicately.
"That would be fine." Katie responded with a smile.
"Sweet, because I packed the shotgun." I chuckled.
By 6 pm we were pulling into the campground at the southern end of Coeur d'Alene Lake. We set camp, ate dinner and launched the boat. Tomorrow we planned to fish Chatcolet lake, Benewah lake and go for a bike ride on the Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes.
I woke early the next morning to pre-fish Chatcolet Lake. Water temps in the shallows were in the mid 40's! I fished hard for a couple hours, talked to some turkeys on private land and returned back to camp skunked. When Katie woke, we went for a bike ride on the Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes.
An old railroad converted to a bike path, the Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes is spectacular and long. It starts at the south end of the lake and follows the Coeur d'Alene river past Kellogg. The path is super smooth and very scenic.
Benewah Lake produced nothing that afternoon as well, giving Katie and I the first "skunked" day in years. That evening we drove into town for a delicious pizza dinner.
The following day we headed to Harrison, where we had access to another section of the bike trail, Harrison bay, the Coeur d'Alene River and Anderson Lake. By 10 am we were riding the scenic bike trail where we spotted a young moose and an otter.
The water we passed was gorgeous and calm; I couldn't wait to launch the boat and fish! Mother Nature had slightly different plans though. As soon as the boat touched the water, a blast of wind hit us. I looked up to the sky and cursed that blasted thing called wind. That was the start of a very windy afternoon. We fish hard with one fish to the boat; a pike! Although small, it was a start.
We returned back to the truck for dinner before returning to the wind swept waters. This time we drove up the river and entered Anderson Lake. We headed straight for a fallen tree that surely held some fish. We weren't disappointed, for this tree held some big crappie!
Katie also managed to rope in a large sucker on her balanced minnow.
As the evening progressed, the waters calmed and more fish were caught, including a very nice largemouth and more crappie.
The next morning we packed up camp and had a great breakfast in Coeur d'Alene. We also stopped at the local fly shop, Northwest Outfitters, for the latest reports. This shop has always been friendly and helpful to me.
"Yep, water is cold. You're early. You should try for some trout in some of the streams." Mike told us.
We were given good intel on some hot trout bites, but we had hauled the boat all the way up there and were determined to catch some more pike.
By 3 pm we were launching the boat on Rose Lake. Rose produced some bass, bluegill and crappie, but no pike.
We camped that night at a new campground. By 6 am the next morning I was solo on the water of another chain lake, casting to the bank in search of pike. As the sun rose, I heard a turkey gobble on a hillside near me. Another bird responded, followed by another. Three different gobblers could be heard on the same hill, likely checking in on each other and their hens as they prepared to fly down from the roost. I motored the boat closer and started gobbling back to them. All 3 birds eagerly challenged my gobbles. A huge smile formed on my face as I checked my map, finding this hillside to be public land. I raced the boat back to the ramp, grabbed my shotgun, peaked in on Katie sound asleep and took off toward the turkeys. I was ill prepared for serious turkey hunting; all I had was a Simms digital-camo hoody, white quick-dry pants and a grey ball cap. Regardless, I had 3 gobblers excited about the day and I had an hour to make something happen.
I began to hike up the hill and crept within a couple hundred yards of the last location I heard a gobble and started calling. The birds responded, only this time they had traveled a few hundreds further away and higher up the hill. I slowly walked uphill and closer to their gobbles. Each time I would stop and call, they sounded the same distance away. Eventually I realized I must have passed one of the gobblers. Then I heard it; a loud chest reverberating gobble directly behind me. Oh yeah! I yelped back at him with my mouth and he gobbled loud and long in response. This bird wants to play! I crawled on my hands and knees to a downed log and slowly crested my shotgun over the top, peering down the barrel. Sixty yards away on the opposite hillside, strutted a red-headed, bearded gobbler. The bird slowly worked his way closer, stopping here and there to check his surroundings. I couldn't believe this was happening. Was I going to get a turkey on my anniversary trip? No sooner had the thought popped in my head, the bird stopped at 45 yards, perked up and made an alarmed yelp. Perhaps it was the strange gray ball cap sky-lined on the hill in front of him or he had seen me move. Afraid this was my only chance, I aimed for the base of his head and pulled the trigger. The bird fluttered for a moment and then took off in flight. Not good! I cycled the empty shell out of my gun as the obviously not dead gobbler glided out of sight. I blew it! Instant depression set in. As I walked back to camp, I thought of all the different things I did wrong: I was impatient, I should have stayed further back and let the bird sky-line himself, I should have tried to call the bird closer, I should have patterned this choke tube with these shells prior, I'm a pitiful hunter.
I moped into camp and woke Katie up, telling her what had happened.
"Maybe you'll find him later this afternoon. Sounds like you probably hit him, just not a lethal shot." Katie consoled.
"Perhaps. If I did hit him, he'll probably hide somewhere and become coyote food. Darn it, I suck," I said with a huge frown.
"Maybe you can look for him later today?"
"Let's go fishing and when we come back to camp tonight I'll go look for him. I seriously doubt I even hit him."
We headed to Hayden Lake for the day. Hayden Lake was gorgeous and loaded with great pike water, except no pike wanted to play this day. We did however, get into a mess of large crappie!
All day I thought about that turkey. Guilt and disappointment filled my conscious until I couldn't take it anymore. With 12 crappie in the cooler, we headed back to camp, hoping to also add a turkey to the spoils.
I headed up the hill behind camp in search of my bird. I doubted I would find any evidence of a wounded turkey. I didn't even know for sure if I had hit the bird! Once you pull the trigger, you owe it to any animal to confirm if your shot was a hit. I made it all the way up to the spot where the bird had stood when I shot. Not even a feather lay where the bird had been. I slowly made my way in the direction the bird had flown; back towards camp. I had almost made it back to camp when a turkey feather caught my eye on the ground. I gazed into the woods to the right and then to the left. A small red object caught my attention only 30 yards away: a turkey head! Crouched next to a burnt stump was a turkey! As soon as we made eye contact, the bird stood and took off running down the hill. That's got to be my bird! The turkey took flight and headed straight for a large ponderosa pine. Below me, through the gaps in the trees, I could see the turkey flapping as he tried to land in the tree. Then, as if he hit a brick wall, I saw him fall straight from the sky and hit the ground. Great, he's going to take off running again. I'm never going to get this bird! I took off down the hill, hoping to catch the bird as he ran off. As I neared the tree, I saw a dark object laying on the ground. Great, he's probably crouched and hiding again and going to take off like a bat out of hell when I get close. I approached slowly, ready for battle with the 10 pound tom. But a battle was not necessary, the bird lay limp and clearly dead. What just happened? Had this bird had a heart attack? That last flight and rush of adrenalin had done him in. I was happy and relieved that I was able to apprehend my bird. I had seriously doubted I would find this bird again. There was absolutely no evidence this bird had even been shot, but dead he was and I was thankful. I notched my tag and hauled him back to camp. From pure depression to thankful relief, it had been a roller coaster day.
The bird was a middle-aged tom with a 7 inch beard. I breasted and de-legged the bird, leaving the feet with spurs to show evidence of sex for transport. I still found no pellets or signs that this bird had been shot, but I figured he was somehow my tom.
The following day we would be leaving for home. It had been a great camping, biking, dining and fishing trip in new waters. The pike had once again eluded us. Perhaps in another 7 years we'll return hoping, "the third time's a charm"!