Monday, August 3, 2015

Huckleberries and Brook Trout

Every summer around mid July, an indescribable calling wells up inside most Southern Idahoans; The urge to get to the high country. Why people go to the high country varies greatly, though. For some, it's simply to get out of the blazing heat. Others, it's to hike and experience the beautiful mountains and trails Idaho has to offer. For me, it's to hike into a high mountain lake and fish. My wife, however, has one thing in mind this time of year: Huckleberries. So naturally, I try to kill two birds with one stone.
My mother had told me about a secret spot to pick huckleberries. I then grabbed a map and tried to find a place nearby to fish. I'd heard about a swampy beaver pond in the area that was loaded with small brook trout. Bingo. Several hours of picking berries followed by a little fishing.
By noon, we were hiking through the brush looking for huckleberries. After hiking a ways with no luck, we almost gave up, thinking we must be too late or in a spot that had already been picked. That's when we stumbled upon the "mother-load". Before long I started coming up with phrases all starting with: "You know huckleberry pickin' is good when..." Examples included; "Your pants have purple stains all over them." Or "You drop a berry and don't bother to pick it up because there are so many more." Our containers filled up fast, and 3 hours later, we had a gallon of berries.  
After a nice lunch, we drove to the pond. Beavers never cease to amaze me at what they can build. This beaver had created quite a large pond for himself. Despite the encroaching flooded grass, there was quite a large, open pool to fish.
We parked and rigged up our rods. There are two flies you must always have on you at a high mountain lake or beaver pond; A pico ant and a beetle pattern.
We began to wade out to the open water. The decomposing grass and mud squishing through my toes made me second guess my choice to wear sandals instead of waders and wading boots. My pace through the grass quickened as I saw a ring on the pond where a fish rose. My next step sent me up to my waist in the water as I sunk into a deep beaver channel.
"Honey, don't step here." I said with a chuckle, looking back at my wife standing there with a grossed out facial expression. "Oh, the places I take you too!"
"You're lucky I like to fish with you," she replied as she continued forward through the knee deep flooded grass.
We reached the edge of the open water to stand in mid-thigh deep water on an uneven, soft bottom.
"Ok honey, catch a brook trout!" I said with a cheesy grin.
Katie's fly landed 10 feet out into the pond. Before the rings could even settle, a 6 inch fish pounced on the ant and Katie set the hook. The fish thrashed with all it's might as it was hoisted to her hands. 
The next 15 minutes, we giggled as we caught a dozen or so small brook trout. The beetle fly was noticeably out-fishing the ant pattern, so I tied one on Katie's line. Katie's next cast produced a whopper.
"Dang babe, that one is a monster! I bet its a whole 4 inches!" I said with artificial enthusiasm.
We continued fishing, catching one after another. 
Brook trout are prolific fish and tend to overpopulate and stunt themselves. The average size of the fish we were catching were evidence of that phenomenon.  
Determined to "do my part", I wanted to keep a few of the larger ones to help thin the pond a little. However, I was struggling to bring myself to keep a 6 inch fish.

Katie brought in a larger fish that might be 7 inches.
"Ok, looks like he's about as big as I'm going to get," I said as I apprehended him.
I felt strange killing such a small fish, but I knew I was helping the "greater good" of the pond. I decided to wade over to another area of the pond. On the way there I noticed a large swarm of tadpoles. Some had already grown legs and were making their transition to air breathing animals.
Once I made it to the new fishing area on the pond, the catching resumed. I looked back to see my wife casting and catching as well.

I set the hook on another fish and brought it in. I grabbed the line and tried to take a few photos of the beautiful little fish in the water. But no photo could do this fish justice. 

We continued to fish awhile longer before calling it quits. We waded out of the swamp and walked back to my truck. As we were changing and taking the rods apart, we heard a crash in the brush above the road. I looked down the road just in time to see a black, fuzzy animal run down off the hill onto the road. It took me a second to realize what I was seeing run down the road; a black bear cub. The cub looked far too small to be on it's own already. We quickly packed up the rest of our gear and got into my truck before mama bear decided we were too close to her cub.
I ended up only keeping a few of the small brookies. When we got home I wrapped them in some foil and threw them on the grill. A delicious ending to a wonderful day in the high country.